It’s officially preview season here at Barstool Sports. We’re less than a month away from games being played and your football teams might already be worthless. Last week we broke things down via lists – top players, coaches, jerseys, rivalries and more. This week it’s conference preview season. We’ll look at the major six conferences along with the AAC, A-10 and a mid-major preview. Disagree with anything? Let me know @barstoolreags
ACC Preview: Here
I know people love to hate on the Big East because it’s not the Big East of old. That’s true. It doesn’t have Big Monday, it doesn’t have the best 3-man crew in the game (McDonough, Bilas and Raft) and the obvious names like Syracuse, UConn and Pitt are all missing. That said, this is still a damn good conference. It’s been rated one of the three best conferences in America for all but one year since it became the ‘new’ Big East. They have a national title contender in Villanova. They have two other teams who are consensus top-25 teams in Xavier and Seton Hall. They have programs on the rise in Providence, Marquette and possibly St. John’s. Not to mention a Butler team who always seems to be relevant.
Times are good in the Big East. It’s the second best conference in America this year behind the ACC. There’s a strong top-3, a 4th team in Providence who is a tournament team and possible fringe top-25 and then a strong middle group from teams 5-8. They should send at least 70% of the conference to the NCAA Tournament – again.
Five storylines to watch:
1. Can Villanova continue to dominate the league
This is Villanova’s league. Granted, that’s not what the league had in mind when this came about a few years ago. They expected Georgetown to be the flag-bearer as they had the bigger name at the time and still thought of as a relevant program. Since then Georgetown has gone to irrelevance while Villanova has completely owned this conference. Since this conference formed in 2013, Villanova has gone 63-9 and won the regular season every year. That’s absolutely absurd, especially when the conference plays a round robin style. Villanova’s change in recruiting, essentially getting back to getting top-100 guys who fit the Nova system has allowed this dominance to happen. Wright is getting guys who can be roleplayers as freshmen and then take over the team during junior or senior year. It happened with Arch, Hart and now Brunson.
2. Battling for position from 5-8
As I mentioned before there are some clear sets here in the Big East. Villanova is the clear top team with Xavier and Seton Hall as the consensus 2 and 3 teams, in whatever order you want. After that there’s a little jump down to Providence as the fourth best team and then it’s a big question mark. Marquette, St. John’s, Butler and Creighton are all very similar teams in the sense of talent and expectations. That’s part of the reason as to why this conference is strong. It’s going to be a ton of fun watching those guys play each other and try to secure the 5th or 6th spot in order to secure that NCAA Tournament spot.
3. Khadeen Carrington moving to the point
After Madison Jones graduated, Seton Hall still has a top-15 roster. Angel Delgado is an All-American, the trio of Carrington/Delgado/Rodriguez might be the best trio of seniors in the coountry and Myles Powell is a sophomore star in the making. However, the Pirates still need to get a little help with the lineup and that comes in the form of moving Carrington to the lead ball spot. Personally, I think he’ll be fine. Reports out of Seton Hall is that the transition has been easy and he’s more than willing to help set his teammates up. It also helps that Carrington was the lead ball handler in high school and AAU, where the played with Delgado. If Seton Hall wants to be a Final Four contender they need Carrington to be more of what he as during conference play last year (23% assist rate and 14% TO rate).
4. Trevon Bluiett’s health
There were two parts to Trevon Bluiett’s season last year. One was inconsistent with him putting up okay scoring numbers but never looking the part. That was due to him battling nagging injuries. Then there was Bluiett late in the season and during the Big East and NCAA Tournaments. Anyone who watched Bluiett during that run would easily call him one of the five best players in the country at that time. He’s healthy heading into this season and there’s a legit chance he could average 22 points per game or so. This is arguably Xavier’s deepest roster and talented roster under Mack, but it doesn’t matter if Bluiett gets banged up. As he goes, Xavier goes.
5. Ed Cooley finally getting talked about more
If you’re a college basketball junkie or a Providence fan then you know how good of a coach Ed Cooley is. However, to the casual fan Cooley’s name doesn’t come up when discussing best coaches in America or even when talking about the Big East. It’s easy to forget about him because he’s not flashy, doesn’t have a Final Four, whatever it might be. What he does have though is a group coming back that surprised a bunch of people last year and a big time recruit in Makai Ashton-Langford. With the way Providence has recruited going forward and the group they have coming back, Cooley will be a name that pops up for national coach of the year.
Preseason Big East Player of the Year: Jalen Brunson (Villanova)
Brunson is my pick for NPOY and he was sneaky better than Josh Hart for most of Big East play last year. Last year he was 45th in the country in ORtg, 69th in effective FG%, 23rd in true shooting % and 157th in assist rate. That’s a pretty good starting point for a guy who averaged 15/4 last year as a secondary – sometimes third option – depending on how much Kris Jenkins felt like shooting. His total overall offense was graded as excellent, where he scored 1.106 points per possession, which was good for the 95th percentile nationally.
Preseason Freshman of the Year: Omari Spellman (Villanova)
Don’t be surprised to see Spellman starting this year with Eric Paschall coming off the bench for Villanova. Spellman should have been a freshman last year but due to the NCAA being, well, the NCAA, he was ruled ineligible. He’s a top-30 recruit and can slide into that undersized big man spot that Wright loves to play. Throw in the fact he had another year learning Wright’s system, he should be pretty polished from the start.
Preseason Coach of the Year: Kevin Willard (Seton Hall)
This is the year Willard has been waiting for. After being on the hot seat and rumors that he lost the locker room a few years back, Willard finally has his group that can compete in the Big East from start to finish. I think you see Willard thrive in moving Carrington to on-ball and getting him in sets with Delgado/Sonogo to attack the paint.
All-Big East Team
Jalen Brunson (Villanova)
Angel Delgado (Seton Hall)
Trevon Blueitt (Xavier)
Khyri Thomas (Creighton)
Kelan Martin (Butler)
Ky Cartwright (Providence)
JP Macura (Xavier)
Khadeen Carrington (Seton Hall)
Donte DiVicenzo (Villanova0
Shamorie Ponds (St. John’s)
1. Villanova – An absolute no brainer here for me. Villanova has depth with the additions of Spellman, Gillespie, Roundtree and Booth (from injury). Throw in the fact they have the best player in the league in Jalen Brunson and a team that can switch anything and beat you from all spots on the floor and it’s tough to not love them. Not to mention they have NBA talent too in Mikal Bridges.
2. Seton Hall – I mentioned before about Carrington moving to on the ball. What Seton Hall has that most teams don’t is four guys who can go get 20 a game if they need to. Delgado/Powell/Carrington/Rodriguez can all score 20 and if one of them is off one night it’s not going to kill them. Keep an eye on the growth of Jordan Walker and if he can get serious minutes at the point guard spot.
3. Xavier – Giving Chris Mack this much versatility is going to be a scary thing for the rest of the Big East. Mack has the ability to play small with Bluiett at the four or go real big with Macura/Scruggs in the backcourt and Bluiett at the three. There’s plenty of depth on this roster and with Bluiett healthy this gives the Big East a real solid top-3.
4. Providence – Even with Emmitt Holt being injured and possibly missing a significant amount of time, Providence has plenty of depth and talent to secure a top-4 spot in the conference. Without Holt, the Friars can slide Diallo into his spot, who could take a huge jump as a sophomore. Similar to Nova, this team can switch a lot on defense and offensively can really spread you out and beat you off the bounce.
5. Creighton – Khyri Thomas is a name you need to know this year. As a sophomore he was forced into a more serious role after Mo Watson was dismissed from the team/injured and averaged 12 points and 6 rebounds a night. This year he should have the ball in his hands even more and work a two man game with Marcus Foster. If Foster can become more consistent as a senior, Creighton will push itself to the tier with Providence.
6. Butler – It’s hard to imagine putting Butler this low simply because all Butler does is win. I know Chris Holtmann left for Ohio State, but LaVall Jordan was an assistant at Butler for four years and knows ‘The Butler Way.’ Also doesn’t hurt to have the trio of Kelan Martin/Kamar Baldwin/Tyler Wideman to build around either. Look for Baldwin to become more consistent and not as careless with the ball as Martin will be one of the five best scorers in the league.
7. Marquette – There’s not going to be a more fun team to watch than Marquette this year. It was tough to leave Markus Howard off of the All-Big East teams as he’s an incredible player. That said, Marquette is going to win games it shouldn’t and lose games it shouldn’t because of how much it relies on the 3-point line. There will be games they go 3-for-29 and lose to DePaul but then go 16-for-25 and beat Villanova. They addition of Harry Froling will be big for this team going forward.
8. St. John’s – They have the talent to be a top-5 team and one of the best backcourts in the country in Ponds/Lovett. Throw in Michigan State transfer Marvin Clark and Justin Simon from Arizona and this is a team that looks like a NCAA Tournament team. The one caveat here is Chris Mullin needs to show he can coach now. They need to figure out who they are defensively as they tried pressing more last year than ever before if they want to be good.
9. DePaul – Eli Cain is a nice player. They get Austin Grandstaff and Marin Maric in from transfers. There’s not a lot to say about DePaul. They are who they are.
10. Georgetown – Times are a tough in Georgetown. They made a complete joke of the program with the schedule this year and dropping out of the PK80. They ‘won’ the press conference with Patrick Ewing, but now it’s time for him to start recruiting (granted, he has gotten a couple commits) and show he can coach at the collegiate level. There’s a long way to go for Georgetown and they can’t lose any of these sub-300 games they have on the schedule this year.