2015-16 Big East Preview: Villanova the hands-down favorite, Marquette a possible sleeper

(Photo: Bill Streicher, USA Today Sports)

Who says the Big East is dead? With a deep group of physical and athletic teams, the Big East is showing that any requiems or eulogies for the league might be premature. After putting six teams into the NCAA Tournament last year, but seeing as none of them made deep runs, the conference is hoping that one of the Big East’s big guns will make more noise in March this year.

Regardless, conference play should be a tough, grinding and entertaining marathon.

 

1. Villanova

Notable departures: Dylan Ennis, Darrun Hilliard, JayVaughn Pinkston

Projected starters: Ryan Arcidiacono, Jalen Brunson, Josh Hart, Kris Jenkins, Daniel Ochefu

(Photo: Bill Streicher, USA Today Sports)

Villanova forward Daniel Ochefu. (Photo: Bill Streicher, USA Today Sports)

 

Villanova has talent upon talent beyond talent in its backcourt. Just the way coach Jay Wright likes it. The big story there for Villanova, which has gone 32-4 overall in Big East play the last two seasons, is freshman Jalen Brunson.

The hype around Brunson is significant, and the McDonald’s All-American has a nasty game to match it. He joins a loaded backcourt that already boasted the 2015 Big East co-Player of the Year Ryan Arcidiacono and offensively potent junior Josh Hart. Arcidiacono is Villanova’s engine and the type of guy you want on your team in pickup.

Plus, Villanova has the Big East’s best center, 6-foot-11 center Daniel Ochefu.

Darrun HilliardJayVaughn Pinkston and Dylan Ennis are all significant losses, but Brunson looks like a star and sophomore Phil Booth is expected to take a step forward.

The Wildcats will be athletic. They will score. And they will roll through the Big East once again.

 

2. Butler

Notable Departures: Alex Barlow, Kameron Woods

Projected Starters: Tyler Lewis, Kellen Dunham, Roosevelt Jones, Tyler Wideman, Andrew Charbascz

Last year was pretty much a dream season for Butler. The Bulldogs placed seventh in the Big East preseason poll but went on to win 22 regular season games, earning a No. 6 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Why did the season go so well?

Largely due to the efforts of interim-turned-permanent coach Chris Holtman, do-everything (except shoot jump shots) forward Roosevelt Jones and sharpshooting stud Kellen Dunham.

Now, all three are back for Butler, and expectations are appropriately high.

The Bulldogs also bring back sophomores Andrew Charbaxcz and Kelan Martin, who were fantastic in the frontcourt as freshmen. With transfer guards Tyler Lewis and Jordan Gathers entering the mix, Butler looks strong and likely deeper than they were last year.

But, much like last year, they will be defensively stout and highly physical. Look for the Bulldogs to build on the success of last winter.

 

3. Providence

Notable Departures: Carson Derosiers, Tyler Harris, LaDonatae Henton

Projected starters: Kris Dunn, Kyron Cartwright, Jalen Lindsey, Ben Bentil, Rodney Bullock

Having the best player in the conference is a nice luxury. Providence’s Kris Dunn is just that.

The junior point guard is coming off a monster sophomore season in which he put gaudy numbers (15.6 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 7.5 apg). He spurned the NBA in the offseason, which is money for a Friars team that lost a lot, including scoring machine LaDontae Henton.

The Friars will be short on depth, with Dunn and sophomore forward Ben Bentil doing much of the heavy lifting. But that’s not really anything new in Providence, where coach Ed Cooley has been known to cut his rotation as short six the last couple of years.

Cooley is beloved in Providence, and the dude can flat out coach. With back-to-back NCAA Tournament visits and the 2014 Big East title in their backpocket, the Friars are on the rise. Still, they will only go so far this year as Dunn can take them.

 

4. Georgetown

Notable Departures: Michael Hopkins, Joshua Smith, Jabril Trawick

Projected Starters: D’Vanutes Smith-Rivera, L.J. Peak, Isaac Copeland, Marcus Derrickson, Jessie Govan

Thanks to the return of senior guard D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera and the arrival of freshmen Jessie Govan and Marcus Derrickson–a pair of highly touted bigs–it’s hard to question Georgetown’s star power. Quality play down low, along with another year huge season from D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera, could spell a great season in D.C.

There are lingering questions, though, about Georgetown’s perimeter defense that need to be answered.

Coach John Thompson III clearly is working with a pretty talented outfit this year, but there are lots of news faces. If the Hoyas can put it all together, they can contend for a Big East ‘ship.

 

5. Xavier

Notable Departures: Dee Davis, Matt Stainbrook

Projected Starters: Myles Davis, Remy Abell, Trevon Bluiett, Jalen Reynolds, James Farr

It’s safe to say the Musketeers have acquainted themselves well to their new Big East surroundings. Through two years, Xavier has posted a 10-8 in 2013-14 and a 9-9 conference record in 2014-15, visiting the NCAA Tournament each year.

Expect a similar result this year: a conference record around .500 and a spot at the Dance.

They’ll do it with size and quality offense.

Xavier shoots the lights out and moves the ball around. Do not be surprised if as many as four Musketeers average double-digit scoring, led by sophomore guard Trevon Bluiett and junior forward Jalen Reynolds.

Xavier probably won’t be as flashy as, say, Providence or Villanova, but they will be efficient and workmanlike. And they will win plenty.

 

6. Marquette

Notable Departures: Juan Anderson, Matt Carlino, Derrick Wilson, Steve Taylor Jr.

Projected Starters: Duane Wilson, Haanif Cheatham, Jajuan Johnson, Henry Ellenson, Luke Fischer

Big East, meet Henry Ellenson. The 6-10 freshman forward is headed to the NBA, but first he’s making a pit stop in Wisconsin, where he joins a stable of talented rooks that has brought plenty of excitement to Marquette’s upcoming season.

The Golden Eagles lost a lot after last year, including their leading scorer Matt Carlino, their point man Derrick Wilson and forward Juan Anderson. But the hope is coach Steve Wojciechowski‘s additions are better than the guys leaving.

Marquette only won 13 games last year, and four in Big East play, but the arrival of Ellenson, along with athletic guard Haanif Cheatham, should help improve those win totals. Sophomore Duane Wilson returns too, and he was sensational as a freshman. Center Luke Fischer will pair with Ellenson to make up a massive starting court frontcourt.

The big question: how quickly will the Golden Eagles gel?

 

7. Creighton

Notable Departures: Austin Chatman, Devin Brooks, Rick Kreklow, Will Artino

Projected starters: Mo Watson Jr., Isaiah Zierden, James Milliken, Cole Huff, Toby Hegner

Creighton face planted last year. After a quick 5-0 start that vaulted them into the Top 25, the Bluejays quickly discovered that life after Dougie (McBuckets) wasn’t as easy. Creighton sunk to the bottom of the Big East and endured close loss after close loss.

Now they’ll try to make like last year’s Butler team and bounce back.

There are some reasons for optimism going into the season: two of the Jay’s top three scorers are back from last year and coach Greg McDermott adds a potential star in freshman Justin Patton, as well as impact transfers Mo Watson Jr. (Boston University) and Cole Huff (Nevada).

That said, Creighton did experience significant attrition in the offseason, and there’s no reason to think Creighton’s going to suddenly discover how to play defense. Expect some improvement, but not a repeat of 2014.

 

8. Seton Hall

Notable Departures: Sterling Gibbgs, Brandon Mobley, Jaren Sina

Projected Starters: Derrick Gordon, Khadeen Carrington,  Isaiah Whitehead,, Desi Rodriguez, Angel Delgado

Like Creighton, the Pirates fell off a cliff last February after a strong start and enter this year having to fill the shoes of Sterling Gibbs and and Brandon Mobley.

The good news: sophomore studs Isaiah Whitehead, Khadeen Carrington and Angel Delgado are all back, and they’ll be joined by a couple of steady transfers–Derrick Gordon (Massachusetts) and Braeden Anderson (Fresno State).

There seemed to be a spark when Seton Hall notched consecutive upset wins over St. John’s and Villanova around New Year’s last year. The Pirates will try to rekindle that spark this year.

 

9. DePaul

Notable Departures: Jamee Crockett, Forrest Robinson

Projected Starters: Billy Garrett Jr., Aaron Simpson, Myke Henry, Rashaun Stimage, Tommy Hamilton IV

Photo: DePaul Athletics

DePaul guard Billy Garrett Jr. (Photo: DePaul Athletics)

 

So, the Oliver Purnell era didn’t work out too well for DePaul. The Blue Demons hired Dave Leitao who will take over after Purnell’s five-year tenure, during which DePaul never won more than 12 games.

The team Leitao inherits in year one is hardly contender material. But he does inherit some pieces: junior guard Billy Garrett Jr. has got game, junior forward Tommy Hamilton IV is a big body with a jump shot out to the 3-point line and senior forward Myke Henry came on strong in Big East play last season.

Maybe they’ll top that 12-win mark for the first time since 2006-07.

 

10. St. John’s

Notable departures: D’Angelo Harrison, Sir’Dominic Pointer, Rysheed Jordan, Phil Greene IV, Chris Obekpa, Jamal Branch

Projected starters: Marcus LoVett, Malik Ellison, Durand Johnson, Darien Williams, Yankuba Sima

Steve Lavin is out. Chris Mullin is in.

And that’s not the only change this year for the Big Apple’s Big East team. The Red Storm is rolling out an almost entirely new roster.

Few teams in the nation will be as reliant on newcomers as St. John’s, which means their chances of returning to the NCAA Tournament are, well, less than good. It’s a total rebuild in Queens, but give it time. With Mullin at the helm big things might be coming.

 

 

All-Big East Team

G Ryan Arcidiacono

A big shot maker and a PTPer, Arcidiacono is a game changer.

G Kris Dunn

The league’s best NBA prospect is back for his junior year.

G D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera

Skilled and steady, Smith-Rivera is league’s most dependable scorer.

F Roosevelt Jones

Jones is a bulldog.

C Daniel Ochefu

If he can stay out of foul trouble, he’ll average a double-double.


All-Big East Team Sixth Man

G Kellen Dunham

It felt wrong to leave the two-way stud off the team.

Big East Preseason Player of the Year

Kris Dunn, Providence

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