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Big East men’s basketball: best case, worst case scenarios

Which teams are most likely to finish at the top of the Big East? Which ones have no chance?

NCAA Basketball: Big East Conference Tournament-Creighton vs Villanova Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

How many teams realistically have a chance to win the Big East’s regular season crown?

Which teams are definitely going to finish at the bottom? Before the season, things look fairly clear-cut.

The Big East is pretty stable in terms of coaching and NCAA bids, with the number of returning minutes and stars on the teams.

Will there be three Final Four teams from the conference? That seems like a longshot.

But will there be four to six bids from the league again? That seems like an easy bet.

The league is so stable that it would be a complete surprise if the league descended into the two or three bid level that the old Conference USA, the current Atlantic-10 or the American conference seem cyclically organized to achieve.

But anything can happen, right? The stalwarts of the league could falter badly (hard to imagine, given the level of talent on some of the squads). And if those teams struggle, they could bring down the quality of the wins, and bringing down the quality of the wins in a league with at least one team that could be a single-digit winner on the season...

That could be difficult.

With that in mind, let’s lay out some baselines for the Big East, a league that also has a number of teams that could finish between fourth and eighth.

Note that the seventh-place team by standings last season was Xavier with a 9-9 record, a team that went on to the Elite Eight. The Big East is very balanced outside of the bottom two or three squads. An injury to a team in the middle of the pack could open things up for a lesser squad to have a better year than predicted (with respect to their finish in the standings).

Butler Bulldogs

Best case: 4th | Worst case: 9th

Butler may have the widest variance of any Big East team. The Bulldogs not only have a new coach in LaVall Jordan, but they also return the fewest in-conference minutes of any Big East team. Butler was very experienced - and loses a lot of experience and shooting outside of Kelan Martin, Kamar Baldwin (who was very good) and Tyler Wideman. A lot of turnover this season means more minutes for the likes of Joey Brunk and incoming Paul Jorgensen and Aaron Thompson - and a new building challenge for Coach Jordan.

NCAA Basketball: Creighton at Butler Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports

Creighton Bluejays

Best case: 4th | Worst case: 7th

Creighton was very tall inside - and talented. But they were surprisingly not an elite rebounding team. Is that a gap other teams can exploit? This year it's on Toby Hegner, the D-II transfer Manny Suarez and Martin Krampelj to handle the glass, while Ronnie Harrell will need to step up. The point guard situation will be a question mark, as well. Besides the two wins in the Big East Tournament, the Bluejays were not be very good after Maurice Watson’s injury.

DePaul Blue Demons

Best case: 7th | Worst case: 10th

The Blue Demons return the frontcourt that was not particularly effective, but those players will be supplemented by some skinny newcomers. A team that never shot threes will replace slashers (& perhaps many of walk-on Joe Hanel’s minutes) with a solid four-star point guard and two transfers who can shoot in Max Strus and Austin Grandstaff.

Georgetown Hoyas

Best case: 8th | Worst case: 10th

A new coach in Patrick Ewing will try to unleash the talent on a roster that has struggled in the past two years. Given the schedule the Hoyas put together, the staff has as many concerns about the team’s talent, especially in the backcourt, as the rest of the national hoops observers. The returning guards were all low-usage players - victims of the system? Or are they unable to be impact players at the Big East level? Jessie Govan and Marcus Derrickson are talents, though, and could surprise.

NCAA Basketball: Marquette at Georgetown Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Marquette Golden Eagles

Best case: 3rd | Worst case: 8th

Markus Howard shot 57% in conference play from outside the arc. That fact obscures the other aspects of his game - he was a good passer, snagged a few steals, was credible inside the arc. Can the Golden Eagles’ incoming freshmen big men (and transfer Harry Froling) help improve the defense around him and Andrew Rowsey? Because this team put up enough points to beat Xavier and Creighton twice, along with Villanova once.

Providence Friars

Best case: 2nd | Worst case: 5th

The team with no blue in their color scheme (St. John’s occasionally goes blue-free) is the team that returns everyone from a team that toughed its way into a surprise NCAA Tournament bid. That team brings in two big men to supplement the ruggedness of Emmitt Holt and Rodney Bullock, plus a top-50 point guard in Makai Ashton-Langford who will play behind the best returning PG in the Big East, Kyron Cartwright. Plus the team was fairly young; some improvements could be coming in returnees.

Seton Hall Pirates

Best case: 2nd | Worst case: 5th

Here is a space where we point out that while Seton Hall will have a dominant rebounder in Angel Delgado, a potent scorer in Khadeen Carrington, and return the second highest percentage of in-conference minutes, the Pirates are also a team that finished tied for third with four other teams (which, looking at the glass half empty version, is like being tied for sixth). Point guard Jordan Walker will need to give some minutes to allow Carrington to work off the ball, the role that Madison Jones played last season. An injury would expose the Pirates’ slim depth.

St. John’s Red Storm

Best case: 4th | Worst case: 8th

The Red Storm expect to improve on a solid leap last season with two transfers (Justin Simon and Marvin Clark, Jr.) to bolster the excellent backcourt. But with only nine available scholarship players (in other words, little depth), and with serious issues on defense overall, in defending inside and in interior scoring, how much of a leap can the team make? It depends on the interior development, perimeter defense and the ability of the team to keep more games close.

NCAA Basketball: St. John at Villanova Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Villanova Wildcats

Best case: 1st | Worst case: 2nd

Villanova actually struggled in the paint without Omari Spellman, sidelined by an NCAA ruling about classes he took, for the whole season. With Spellman, a big bodied forward, in the fold, the team’s glaring flaw should be less pronounced, give or take foul trouble. The team also adds two more four-star talents and returns Phil Booth from injury.

Xavier Musketeers

Best case: 1st | Worst case: 3rd

The Musketeers lost six straight last season... then played in the semifinals of the Big East Tournament, then the Regional Finals of the NCAA Tournament. Perhaps that was a fluke run through some of the nation’s most consistent programs (wins over Butler, Maryland, Florida State and Arizona), or this team is still pretty good. The Musketeers need a big man to fill in and the point guard could be improved. So four-star Paul Scruggs will have a chance to improve the latter, and transfer Kerem Kanter, who came to Xavier after entering his name in the NBA Draft will help the former.