The Big East finally got what it needed last year. They succeeded in March. More importantly Villanova succeeded in March. That was always the knock on the ‘new’ Big East as a team like Nova would win 30 games and be home in time for Jay Wright to be on CBS for the Sweet 16.
On top of that Xavier finally looked the part of a major program as they were a No. 2 overall seed before losing on a buzzer-beater to Wisconsin. The conference got five teams into the NCAA Tournament and that should be the case again this year.
Five Storylines to Watch in the Big East
- Villanova’s Chance of Repeating
This is the one everyone will be talking about. A large portion of the core group of guys that won the title last year are coming back and looking to repeat. More importantly the best player from that team is back for another year in Josh Hart. While everyone is expecting Kris Jenkins or Eric Paschall to have big years, look for Jalen Brunson, who should have the ball in his hands more often without Arch there anymore and Wright has already said he wants him to run the offense.
- Xavier Capitalizing on Its Highest Preseason Ranking
The AP poll came out this week and Xavier is checking in at No. 7 – the highest preseason ranking in school history. They have two future NBA players in Edmond Sumner and Trevon Blueitt to go with a strong supporting cast led by JP Macura. They will have some nonconference challenges going to Colorado and Baylor while also hosting UNI and Utah, so we’ll have an idea just how good this team is as conference play starts.
- Can Seton Hall Compete Without Isaiah Whitehead
Seton Hall was expected to make the big jump this year before Isaiah Whitehead declared for the NBA Draft. They are still a top-4 team in the Big East and have three guys in Khadeen Carrington, Desi Rodriguez and Angel Delgado, who can solidify this team as a NCAA Tournament team.
- What Does Butler Look Like Without Roosevelt Jones and Kellen Dunham
Butler will begin life after Roosevelt Jones and Kellen Dunham, who both were in school for approximately 17 years. Jones was the safety blanket for the Bulldogs. He was an unconventional player – a bullish ‘guard’ that had no outside shooting ability. However he finished at the rim and was able to defend multiple positions. This team has talent on the roster, but without two guys who could bail them out of a bad possession or late in the game, where do they go now? Tyler Lewis has to step up on this team.
- Can St. John’s Show any Signs of Improvement
It was rough for Chris Mullin in his first year as head coach at St. John’s. The Red Storm finished 8-24 and won just 1 game in the Big East, a home win over DePaul. However, this year they don’t have to play Federico Mussini at point and move him back to his natural off guard spot, while running a backcourt with two good freshmen in Marcus LoVett and Shamorie Ponds. If they can compete in more games and win 4-5 Big East games, you’ll see Mullin continue to recruit well.
Preseason Player of the Year – Josh Hart (Villanova)
No surprise here again. I picked Hart as my preseason National Player of the Year as he was one of the most efficient players in the country last year. This year he’ll look to be more aggressive, but playing in Jay Wright’s system he’s still going to score efficiently. He’s a unique player in the sense that he plays more of a forward spot despite being a guard, but thanks to his strong rebounding Villanova can get away with it.
Preseason Freshman of the Year – Shamorie Ponds (St. John’s)
There aren’t a ton of freshmen in the conference this year, which is somewhat shocking. Shamorie Ponds though is a very-skilled player, who can score and is wired to score. He’s a gifted combo guard because of that and his ability to distribute. Look for St. John’s to run a lot of pick-and-rolls with him and the ball to be in his hands.
Coach of the Year – Greg McDermott (Creighton)
Creighton is slotted into that third spot to start the season as they have one of the best backcourts in the country with Marcus Foster and Mo Watson. If they have a strong nonconference, look for them to constantly be in the top-20 throughout the year.
All-Big East Team:
Josh Hart (Villanova)
Edmond Sumner (Xavier)
Trevon Blueitt (Xavier)
Mo Watson (Creighton)
Kelan Martin (Butler)
Desi Rodriguez (Seton Hall)
Kris Jenkins (Villanova)
Marcus Foster (Creighton)
LJ Peak (Georgetown)
Khadeen Carrington (Seton Hall)
- Villanova – A top-5 team in the country only makes sense to be first in the conference standings. The reigning national champions are healthy and while not having Spellman will hurt, there’s plenty of depth in the frontcourt.
- Xavier – Another top-10 team for the Big East. Similar to Villanova, Xavier would have preferred Jalen Reynolds come back to school for another year, but Edmond Sumner is a potential lottery pick and Trevon Bluiett can score. Once Myles Davis comes back from suspension, this team has a couple shooters that can open up the game.
- Creighton – The biggest question is here is health. Can Isaiah Zierden stay healthy to be that knockdown shooter? Marcus Foster should be one of the more electric scorers in the conference and it wouldn’t shock me if he led the league in scoring this year.
- Seton Hall – The three-headed monster I mentioned earlier is not getting talked about enough as we get ready to start the season. While Isaiah Whitehead was massively important to this team, there’s still plenty of talent. Two freshmen to keep an eye on are Myles Powell and Eron Gordon (yes, one of the Gordon brothers), who are both shooting guards and should contribute in the rotation.
- Marquette – I was bullish on them last year as I expected Henry Ellenson to dominate a little bit more for this team to be successful. However, they all have a year under their belts as Haanif Cheatham should be more consistent this year. Look for him and Luke Fischer to run a lot of two-man game.
- Butler – This should be one of the more balanced teams in the conference. Kelan Martin will lead this team in scoring, but after him you have about six guys that all can average over eight points a game. If Tyler Lewis is consistent and plays any sort of defense he rounds out a nice lineup. It wouldn’t shock me at all to see this team finish higher.
- Georgetown – One of the teams that has to be better to make the Big East more relevant is Georgetown. While they are grouped together with Marquette and Butler this year, there’s still a lot of questions. Can they get reliable point guard play? Does Rodney Pryor step in and alleviate some scoring pressure away from LJ Peak and Isaac Copeland?
- Providence – A team that is taking a step back only to take two steps forward again in 2017-18. Very few teams in the country can live the year after losing Kris Dunn and Ben Bentil, luckily Providence has a nice team that’s a year away from competing. They need to see Rodney Bullock and Jalen Lindsey be consistent this year. Too many times last year they looked like they didn’t belong out there.
- St. John’s – Chris Mullin is starting to get talent here. The fact they can play LoVett and Ponds in the backcourt will do wonders for this team. They have rim protection, but the question will be defense and rebounding. I think they are able to get 5 wins in the Big East this year.
- DePaul – It truly is a shame how much of a waste of Billy Garrett’s career here will end up being. He’s a nice player, but ultimately was surrounded by people that set him up to fail. The Blue Devils once again will struggle and be an irrelevant program sitting in Chicago.
Podcast: I sat down with Terrence Payne of NBC Sports to discuss the ACC and Big East. We predicted how we think the season is going, what coaches have the most pressure to win and spend quite some time talking Syracuse. Check it out here: