The Big East Conference has done just fine in a post-Mike Aresco world. Thanks to the rise in prominence of the Villanova Wildcats, the Catholic Seven’s decision to avoid chasing football-money and become a basketball-only league has come with plenty of benefits.
Still, there are some out there who believe the league to be a mid-major, though those people are shrinking in number after each season.
The college basketball season starts, in earnest and with games, on November 6. With that being the case, CBB Today will begin its conference previews by looking at the Big East Conference — and what better place to start than the with annual cellar-dwellers?
10- DePaul Blue Demons
College basketball media and fans do love Max Strus, who is returning to the fold after testing the NBA Draft waters, but there remains little reason for optimism for Illinois’ black sheep of a basketball program. In fact, if we’re being honest about things, DePaul isn’t a sleeping giant. Hell, they aren’t even in a coma. The Blue Demons have been dead in the water for a few decades.
The silver lining in this otherwise gloomy could be the improved facilities. While it is not yet known if head coach Dave Leitao will be around long enough to benefit from fancy new amenities, it should help him on the recruiting trail.
Note the word ‘should’ as a keyword. DePaul should be good/better at a lot of things, but never are. Should. Could. Would. If. All words forever looming over the program.
If I only had a dollar for every single time someone would say the Blue Demons were turning the corner as a program, I could have two dollars.
9- Creighton Bluejays
Marcus Foster and Khyri Thomas are both gone, but Martin Krampelj is returning from an ACL injury after only appearing in 19 games a season ago.
Krampelj is an incredibly interesting player. Presumably, he’s going to be Creighton’s key offensive cog, as he was expected to play third/fourth wheel last season behind a few other talents, but he’s shown insane development season-over-season after coming to the program by way of Slovenia.
After two developmental seasons with the Bluejays, Krampelj began to explode last season, shooting an efficient 47 percent from the floor while averaging 11.9 points per game. He managed to rebound at a high-rate as well, averaging slightly over 8 per contest.
However, unless in-program development was expedited, Creighton has lost far too many playmakers to make its way out of the bottom half of the league.
8- Seton Hall Pirates
Khadeen Carrington, Desi Rodriguez, Angel Delgado and Ismael Sanogo are all gone the way of the dinosaurs. That’s an absolutely expletive ton of production needing to be replaced. In fact, that’s 63.38 percent of the team’s total points, 63.44 percent rebounds, and 63.94 percent of assists the Pirates will need to redistribute.
It’s important to note how those few players accounted for over half of Seton Hall’s minutes last season. Basically, in terms of raw data, Kevin Willard will need to replace over half of EVERYTHING from his team heading into the new season.
There’s not exactly a really high ceiling for the Pirates, either. Even if they play better than most everyone expects, the usual bottom-tiered Big East programs (Georgetown, St. John’s) improved so much that it might not matter.
Not all gloom and doom here, though. The floor isn’t being DePaul. So, ugh, hooray not being DePaul!
7- Butler Bulldogs
Let’s note this right out of the gate: Butler’s ceiling is actually high. While we have the Bulldogs projected as the seventh best team in the Big East, there’s a relatively realistic scenario where they finish fifth (or even fourth… or third. More on them finishing third later).
This largely stems from how great Kamar Baldwin’s great actually ends up being. He was already spectacular last season playing Marty Jannetty to Kelan Martin’s Heartbreak Kid, averaging 15.7 points and 3.2 assists a game.
That level of already quality play might only be Baldwin scratching his greatness-surface — whatever the hell a greatness-surface is, leave that to those who concern themselves with semantics.
Head coach LaVall Jordan, who won’t be operating with the benefit of the doubt his predecessors received, should have more familiarity operating in the Big East this season as well.
Honestly, it feels somewhat silly to have the Bulldogs this low, especially given how I believe Baldwin can be a borderline Big East Player of the Year talent, but Butler is currently in a prove-it/we’ll believe it operation.
6- Georgetown Hoyas
Georgetown went out of its way last season to make sure Patrick Ewing had a nice looking overall record following his first season, scheduling the nation’s most delicious cupcakes for the non-conference portion of the docket. It’s important to state that, as many came away impressed with the Hoyas’ 15-15 overall record, but the famed Big East program only went 5-13 during conference play.
There’s a ton of good news here, however. Nearly every player of impact — sans Marcus Derrickson — is returning to the fold and Ewing has a full season of coaching college under his legendary belt.
Jessie Govan, a 6-foot-10 wildebeest, is probably the best center in the league. He averaged 17.9 points and 10.0 rebounds per game last season. He’s in the mix for numerous individual Big East awards this season.
It’s not only the league’s resident large human who brings talent to the Hoyas. Govan is joined by sophomores Jamorko Pickett and Jahvon Blair; both of whom are poised for breakout seasons.
The floor is six for Georgetown. The ceiling is much higher and a trip to the NCAA Tournament is a realistic scenario for Ewing in only his second season manning the helm.
5- St. John’s Red Storm
Each new season comes with Johnnies hype. It’s an annual tradition unlike any other and the sort the program might be better off not receiving, as it rarely lives up to the expectations put on it.
What also doesn’t help the Red Storm this season is a woeful non-conference schedule. CBB Today detailed that only a few weeks back, but to summarize the idea of it, St. John’s will need to come away from it nearly unscathed and win a lot of league games to earn an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.
It’s a shame too, as the Johnnies have a hilariously gifted roster.
Shamorie Ponds, Marvin Clark, Justin Simon etc. and etc. All the talent is there. Depth might be an issue. How Chris Mullins adjusts as fourth-year coach might as well. Still, the Red Storm’s first five is a gifted bunch. Couple that with a few transfers from last year who are now eligible, the sky is the limit for the Johnnies in 2018-19.
Sugar plums! Didn’t some handsome Internet Scribbler literally just write about not having hyperbolic expectations for the Red Storm?
4- Xavier Musketeers
Losing Chris Mack is a big deal. Do not let how well the program has done in the past when transitioning from one head coaching era to another undercut the importance of Mack.
And yet, here we are, with the Musketeers not only projected as one of the four best teams in the league, but one likely return to the NCAA Tournament with very few missteps.
Yes. Yes. Everyone gets it. All the name-brand, fun narratives are gone from a No. 1 seed last season, but Quentin Goodin and Naji Marshall are positioned to fill the void left by (many) departures nicely.
It also helps three graduate transfers — Kyle Castlin (Columbia), Zach Hankins (Ferris State), and Ryan Welage (San Jose State) — will be day-one ready talents for new Xavier coach Travis Steele.
Fully expect Naji Marshall, a former four-star recruit who had to play in the shadows of then-more ready guys, to be one of the league’s breakout stars. Having only averaged 7.7 points per game as a freshman, he should parlay his 53 percent shooting from the floor and 35 percent from distance into gaudier numbers as he becomes an alpha.
Again, hammering this home harshly: Marshall is going to be a beast this season. After all, rare is the 6-foot-6 talent in the Big East who can do near anything. He’s the hero we never knew we needed.
Seriously. Simply insert all the positive adjectives next to his name and we’re good.
3- Providence Friars
Noted Ed Cooley fanboy right here.
Since the Big East kicked Mike Aresco and his damn football money to the curb, the Frias have won at least 10 league games each season. That’s nothing to scoff at, especially when you considered in two of those five seasons Providence was supposedly rebuilding.
Alpha Diallo and his 13.2 points and 6.6 rebounds per game return for the Friars. Those numbers, mind you, were acquired while not operating as PC’s primary scoring option. He’s likely to position himself for plenty of potential Big East honors this season.
It’s also worth noting Cooley is bringing in David Duke and A.J. Reeves; two top-50 talents from the recruiting trail.
While there should be concern over how a nation handles David Duke’s name/being with that of the more famous/evil David Duke, if he and/or Reeves is ready to play big boy basketball early, it provides Cooley with depth and talent.
Here’s the kicker, though: The floor can fall right under the Friars. As we mentioned before with Butler, the gap between the floor/ceiling here is immense. There’s a universe in which the Bulldogs and Friars can switch spots — which highlights the volatility, and coolness, of the league this season.
2- Marquette Golden Eagles
Welp. Here we are. In a place in space and time where this prediction could be rubbed in some handsome Internet Scribbler’s face in a few months.
For this to work, an absolute ton of benefit of the doubt needs to be placed Marquette’s way. Example; maybe this is the season a certain head coach known for his ‘gritty’ defense has his team actually playing some of it.
Nevertheless, if nothing else, Marquette has a ton of experience on this roster, including juniors Markus Howard, Sam Hauser, and Sacar Anim.
That’s not all. Ed Morrow, who spent his first two years of collegiate eligibility trotting about Nebraska, is finally eligible. So, too, is Joseph Chartouny, who will need to adjust from being a high-usage player at Fordham to a more role-ish sort with the Eagles.
Let’s not forget to mention Sam Hauser’s brother, Joey. A four-star forward who was also considered one of the 50 best players in the 2018 recruiting class, if Joey Hauser is able to contribute in meaningful ways immediately, Marquette might find its most success since Buzz Williams left for Virginia Tech.
Aside: A 30 for 30 needs to be made on Buzz leaving Marquette for Virginia Tech. From an outsider’s point of view, ignoring how many assumed the Big East would drop off the face of the map after conference realignment, and even with hindsight saying Williams is doing just fine with the Hokies…
1- Villanova Wildcats
Naturally, Jay Wright lost a ton of players to the NBA after dominating college for a few seasons. Hell, he even lost Big Red Pasta Sauce/Fake Ryan Alotofvowelos/Donte DiVincenzo far earlier than any sane person could have predicted. However, Nova is a Future 500 company and all that jazz.
Eric Paschall and the forever still eligible Phil Booth return to the Wildcats to add experience. Collin Gillespie, Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree and Jermaine Samuels should all receive — and do well in — larger roles. So on and so forth.
Is this blind belief in Villanova? Maybe. Probably. Wright lost four dudes to the NBA. Yet, despite that, I feel pretty confident in placing the Wildcats above all others in the Big East.
It also helps Nova has Jahvon Quinerly donning a uniform for them this season.
For good measure, Joe Cremo, who was an absolute marksman (46 percent from three) for Albany last season, will be immediately eligible. He averaged 17.8 points, 4.1 rebounds and 3.8 assists for a good Great Danes team last season. He’s a 42 percent shooter from deep for his career. Even if his athleticism does not translate to the Big East, his shooting should.
If only Joe had five more vowels in his name, we could continue Nova’s run of having all the vowel-heavy guards in the vein of Ryan Arcidiacono and Donte Big Mamba Red Sauce (or whatever nickname he had).
Joseph Nardone has been covering college basketball for nearly a decade for various outlets in a variety of ways. You can follow him on Twitter @JosephNardone.
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