2014-15 Big East Preview: Villanova leads the pack, Georgetown returns to relevance

Photo: ESPN

Villanova is favored to repeat as Big East champions, but an improved Georgetown team will be on the Wildcats’ heels.

1. Villanova

Key losses: James Bell

Key returners: Darrun Hilliard II, JayVaughn Pinkston, Ryan Arcidiacono, Josh Hart, Daniel Ochefu, Dylan Ennis

Key additions: Phil Booth, Mikal Bridges

Villanova surprised us last year, winning the Big East title in impressive fashion and putting itself in the upper echelon of the league with only Creighton. Now Creighton is in rebuilding mode, leaving the Villanova as this year’s favorite to repeat as champions.

The Wildcats lost leading scorer and third-leading rebounder James Bell, a significant loss, but they return all the other important pieces from last season.

Senior Darrun Hilliard II (14.3 ppg, 41.4 3P%) and junior Ryan Arcidiacono (9.9 ppg, 3.5 apg) make up arguably the conference’s best backcourt, with senior JayVaughn Pinkston (14.1 ppg, 6.1 rpg) and junior Daniel Ochefu forming a talented front line. Ochefu is coming off a breakout sophomore season where he averaged 5.7 points, 6.1 rebounds and 1.5 blocks while shooting 59.4% from the field.

Sophomore Josh Hart is another impressive piece back on the roster. Hart had a major impact as a freshman, averaging 7.8 points and 4.4 rebounds. He also made 77.1% of his shots at the rim, per Hoop-Math. With Bell’s graduation, Hart could find himself in the starting lineup this season.

One caveat regarding the Wildcats: according to Kenpom, they were one of the “luckier” teams in college basketball last season. Will they continue to outperform themselves in 2014-15, or will they fall back to earth a little?

 

2. Georgetown

Key losses: Markel Starks, Nate Lubick

Key returners: D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera, Jabril Trawick, Joshua Smith, Mikael Hopkins

Key additions: Isaac Copeland, Paul White, L.J. Peak, Tre Campbell, Trey Mourning

Photo: ESPN
Photo: ESPN

After struggling last year, Georgetown should be heading back to the NCAA Tournament in 2015. The Hoyas lost starting point guard Markel Starks and glue guy Nate Lubick, but overall they will be a much stronger club heading into the new season.

The Hoyas have arguably the best scorer in the Big East in junior guard D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera. Smith-Rivera averaged 17.6 points per game last year, shooting 44.5% from the field and 39.3% from beyond the arc.

Smith-Rivera is joined by senior Jabril Trawick (9.1 ppg, 51.9 FG%) to form another one of the best backcourts in this conference. Trawick made great improvements from his sophomore to junior seasons, and with some more polishing could become a very good complement to Smith-Rivera.

For Georgetown to reach its potential this season, Smith-Rivera and Trawick need to improve as distributors. Starks and Lubick were responsible for 44.1% of the Hoyas’ assists last year.

The Hoyas have good size returning on their front line, and they add a trio of freshman forwards to create some depth. Joshua Smith and Mikael Hopkins are both back for their senior seasons. Smith posted 11.5 points per contest through 13 games last season before being ruled academically ineligible for the rest of the year. He has defensive limitations but is very skilled offensively. Hopkins is the opposite: a limited offensive player but a strong defensive presence down low.

Freshmen Isaac Copeland, Paul White and L.J. Peak have the talent to earn playing time immediately as those guys’ backups.

 

3. Providence

Key losses: Bryce Cotton, Kadeem Batts, Josh Fortune

Key returners: LaDontae Henton, Tyler Harris, Kris Dunn, Carson Desrosiers

Key additions: Jalen Lindsey, Paschal Chukwu, Ben Bentil, Rodney Bullock

Providence’s stunning Big East Tournament run brought the program back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2004. Despite losing three starters, the Friars could very well return to the Big Dance again this spring.

The loss of point guard Bryce Cotton is huge, but sophomore Kris Dunn will thrive at that position. Dunn averaged 3.2 assists as a freshman and was averaging 5.0 assists through four games last year. He then had season-ending surgery. Dunn’s scoring ability is nowhere near what Cotton’s was last season, but he is a pass-first point guard.

Although Kadeem Batts graduated, the Friars front court will be fine with LaDontae Henton (14.0 ppg, 7.9 rpg), Tyler Harris (11.6 ppg, 5.1 rpg) and Carson Desrosiers (3.6 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 2.4 bpg) back. Henton will be in contention for a spot on the All-Conference First Team this season.

Providence gains some additional depth up front with a pair of ESPN100 forwards joining the program in Jalen Lindsey and Paschal Chukwu. At 7’2″, Chukwu could be a very useful weapon. Rodney Bullock was supposed to give the Friars’ front court a boost, but a knee injury could keep him out for some time.

 

4. Xavier

Key losses: Semaj Christon, Justin Martin, Isaiah Philmore

Key returners: Matt Stainbrook, Dee Davis, Myles Davis, James Farr, Jaylen Reynolds

Key additions: Remy Abell, Trevon Bluiett, Sean O’Mara

Xavier lost a ton of last season’s production. Star point guard Semaj Christon declared for the pros, and forward Justin Martin transferred to SMU. Isaiah Philmore, another forward who could run the floor well, graduated.

But what Xavier has returning still forms a solid core. Despite losing Christon — and his 17.0 points and 4.2 assists per game — the Musketeers are still fine at the point guard position. Senior Dee Davis averaged 4.7 dimes and only 1.9 turnovers. He also scored 7.7 points per contest.

Indiana transfer Remy Abell will give Xavier a solid off-ball option in the backcourt. Abell played two seasons at Indiana, averaging 4.0 points and shooting 16-of-33 (48.5%) from long range as a sophomore. He sat out last season and is now eligible.

The Musketeers also bring back senior forward Matt Stainbrook, arguably the conference’s best big man. Stainbrook averaged 10.6 points and 7.4 rebounds while shooting 55.6% from the field.

With Martin and Philmore gone, junior James Farr and sophomore Jalen Reynolds could be in for breakout seasons. Farr, a 6’9″ forward, shot 38.0% from 3-point range last season while Reynolds posted 3.8 points and 3.8 boards per outing during his freshman campaign.

Head coach Chris Mack signed a top-50 recruit to help out up front. Indianapolis native Trevon Bluiett was pursued by several powerhouses, such as UCLA, Arizona and Michigan, but chose Xavier.

 

5. St. John’s

Key losses: JaKarr Sampson, God’sgift Achiuwa, Orlando Sanchez

Key returners: D’Angelo Harrison, Rysheed Jordan, Chris Obkepa, Phil Greene IV, Sir’Dominic Pointer, Jamal Branch

Key additions: Keith Thomas, Adonis Delarosa

There’s no easy way to tell how St. John’s will do this year. The Red Storm look like a surefire NCAA Tournament team on paper, but they have underperformed every year under Steve Lavin, aside from the head coach’s first year when they reached the Big Dance with Norm Roberts’ players.

The Red Storm have a dynamic scorer in senior D’Angelo Harrison, one of the nation’s best shot blocker in junior Chris Obekpa and a rising star in sophomore Rysheed Jordan. That trio could definitely carry the Johnnies to a top-three finish in the Big East and a NCAA Tournament berth.

In addition, St. John’s brings in junior college transfer Keith Thomas and freshman Adonis Delarosa, giving Obekpa and senior forward Sir’Dominic Pointer some more help on the front line. Thomas should bring a major impact. He averaged 15.3 points on 65.4% field-goal shooting and 15.7 rebounds per game at Westchester Community College last season.

A sixth-place finish is probably this team’s cellar this season, but the Johnnies also have the potential to bring some magic to Madison Square Garden this fall and winter.

 

6. Marquette

Key losses: Davante Gardner, Jamil Wilson, Todd Mayo, Jake Thomas, Chris Otule

Key returners: Deonte Burton, Derrick Wilson, Jajuan Johnson, Juan Anderson

Key additions: Matt Carlino, Duane Wilson, Sandy Cohen, Luke Fischer (midseason)

Marquette is amidst a transition with head coach Steve Wojciechowski entering his first season at the helm. The Golden Eagles also lost their top four scorers, as well as underrated inside presence Chris Otule.

But depending on how quickly Wojo adjusts to being a head coach, the Golden Eagles may not finish any lower than last year, when they placed sixth. They return a talented distributor in senior point guard Derrick Wilson (5.0 ppg, 4.2 apg, 1.5 topg) and a future stud in sophomore guard Deonte Burton. Burton averaged 6.9 points per game as a freshman and has the potential for a huge season with the expected boost in playing time.

The Golden Eagles also add two more important pieces to their backcourt in BYU transfer Matt Carlino and redshirt freshman Duane Wilson. Carlino averaged 13.7 points and 4.3 assists for the Cougars last season, and Wilson is a top-100 recruit from the Class of 2013 who redshirted last season due to a leg injury.

Marquette’s front line will be its weakness. The Golden Eagles only noteworthy returning forward is 6’7″ senior Juan Anderson, who averaged 3.2 points and 3.3 rebounds in 13.6 minutes last season. Indiana transfer Luke Fischer will be a big addition, both literally and figuratively. At 6’11”, Fischer, who averaged 2.8 points and 2.1 rebounds for the Hoosiers, will give Marquette desperately needed size for the Big East season.

 

7. Seton Hall

Key losses: Fuquan Edwin, Eugene Teauge, Brian Oliver, Patrik Auda

Key returners: Sterling Gibbs, Brandon Mobley, Jaren Sina

Key additions: Isaiah Whitehead, Angel Delgado, Khadeen Carrington

Seton Hall is entering an exciting time with Kevin Willard bringing in a great recruiting. Depending on how quickly this group learns to compete at the Division I level, the Pirates could find themselves rising in the standings this year.

Before we get to the new recruits, Seton Hall also has some strong returning pieces. The Pirates return their backcourt of junior Sterling Gibbs and sophomore Jaren Sina. Gibbs, a former Texas Longhorn, averaged 13.2 points and 4.2 assists last season, his first at Seton Hall. Sina had a strong freshman year, posting 6.0 points and 2.4 assists per contest while shooting 38.2% from deep. As these two continue to mature and play together, they will become one of the Big East’s backcourts.

The Pirates also return senior forward Brandon Mobley (7.6 ppg, 4.2 rpg), the only noteworthy senior on the roster.

Leading the class of newcomers is McDonald’s All-American and Jordan Brand Classic participant Isaiah Whitehead, the top high school player in New York last season. Fellow New Yorkers Angel Delgado and Khadeen Carrington will also be contributing immediately.

A top-five finish for Seton Hall would not be very surprising if these freshmen can put it together.

 

8. Butler

Key losses: Khyle Marshall, Erik Fromm, Elijah Brown

Key returners: Kellen Dunham, Kameron Woods, Alex Barlow, Andrew Chrabascz

Key additions: Roosevelt Jones, Austin Etherington

Butler’s transition to the Big East remains rough. The Bulldogs finished in ninth place last season, and this year won’t be much better. While they return leading scorer Kellen Dunham (16.4 ppg, 35.5 3p%) and top rebounder Kameron Woods (7.5 ppg, 9.0 rpg), they have weak point guard play and very little size.

Senior Alex Barlow returns to man the point. Although Barlow is a smart player, he does not have the physical tools to be effective at this level of competition.

Along with Woods, the only returning player who stands taller than 6’7″, junior Roosevelt Jones is back in the Bulldogs’ front court. Jones missed all of last season with a wrist injury, but he averaged 10.1 points and 5.6 rebounds as a sophomore. We’ll see how the 6’4″ forward produces in the Big East after recovering from his injury.

The Bulldogs also return 6’7″ sophomore Andrew Chrabascz (6.3 ppg, 3.0 rpg). The lack of size on the front line will put pressure on 6’8″ freshmen Tyler Wideman and Jackson Davis to produce quality minutes.

The Bulldogs were expected to get another forward in 6’6″ Indiana transfer Austin Etherington, but he had surgery on his right foot over the summer. Etherington could be back for the start of the season.

 

9. Creighton

Key losses: Doug McDermott, Grant Gibbs, Ethan Wragge, Jahens Manigat

Key returners: Austin Chatman, Devin Brooks, Will Artino

Key additions: James Milliken, Ricky Kreklow

Welcome to a new era of Creighton hoops. One without Doug McDermott. Trust me, it will be very different than the one with McDermott. Not only did the Bluejays lose the nation’s leading scorer McDermott, but they also lost point guard Grant Gibbs, shooting guard Jahens Manigat, and stretch-four Ethan Wragge.

The backcourt remains respectable with seniors Austin Chatman (8.1 ppg, 4.4 apg) and Devin Brooks (6.5 ppg, 2.8 apg), and they alone should keep the Bluejays from falling all the way to last place this season.

Creighton also receives a pair of upgrades in the backcourt. California transfer Ricky Kreklow (5.5 ppg) joined the program in May and is eligible immediately. Former junior college guard James Milliken is also eligible. Milliken averaged 18.5 points and shot 42.2% from 3-point land at Crowley County Community College last season.

Creighton returns another senior in 6’11” center Will Artino. Artino was effective in limited playing time, posting 5.5 points in 13.1 minutes per game. He also shot 66.9% from the field. But Artino will have to produce in larger quantities this year.

 

10. DePaul

Key losses: Brandon Young, Cleveland Melvin, Sandi Marcius, Charles McKinney

Key returners: Billy Garrett Jr., Tommy Hamilton IV, Durrell McDonald, Forrest Robinson

Key additions: Aaron Simpson, Darrick Wood, Rashaun Stimage, Myke Henry

DePaul appears headed for another last-place finish in the Big East. The Blue Demons lost their top two scorers in Brandon Young and Cleveland Melvin, as well as forward Sandi Marcius.

The Blue Demons backcourt will be competent with sophomore Billy Garrett Jr. and junior Durrell McDonald (5.4 ppg, 41.5 3P%). Garrett, highly touted coming in as a freshman, had some rookie struggles but was ultimately effective as a freshman. He averaged 12.4 points and 3.0 assists, but he shot just 36.6% from the field.

DePaul also adds a pair of junior college transfers to the backcourt in Aaron Simpson and Darrick Wood.

DePaul has one good big man returning in sophomore Tommy Hamilton IV (7.7 ppg, 4.8 rpg). At 6’10” and 284 pounds, Hamilton has the ability hit shots from the perimeter, but he needs to improve at the rim to give the Blue Demons an inside presence. He shot less than 50% at the rim last season.

The additions of Illinois transfer Myke Henry and junior college transfer Rashaun Stmiage will bring some more bodies to the front line.

 

Big East All-Conference Team

D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera, Georgetown

Darrun Hilliard II, Villanova

LaDontae Henton, Providence

Matt Stainbrook, Xavier

JayVaughn Pinkston, Villanova

 

Big East Preseason Player of the Year

D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera, Georgetown

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