By Jesse Kramer
The Big East survived realignment, but it now has a very different look. Longtime Big East members Georgetown, Villanova. St. John’s, Providence, and Seton Hall, as well as Marquette and DePaul, remain. But, there are three new faces in Creighton, Butler, and Xavier.
It is tough to predict what will happen in this new league, as the top six to seven teams are all very talented. Ultimately, Marquette is the favorite, although Creighton, Georgetown, and Villanova are not significantly behind.
The Big East should send at least five and as many as seven teams to the 2014 NCAA Tournament, and it possesses many individual talents worth watching.
Although Marquette lost three starters, it will still be in the running for a Big East title. This team still has plenty of talent, and head coach Buzz Williams has won at least 11 Big East games in four of five years with the program.
Despite the departure of Vander Blue along with the graduations of Junior Cadougan and Trent Lockett, the Golden Eagles are still the team to beat this season. To fulfill their potential, the Golden Eagles will need greater production from Davante Gardner and Jamil Wilson, and both are certainly ready to deliver.
Gardner, a senior who avergaed 11.5 points and 4.8 rebounds, is an All-Big East type of player who is extremely efficient in the post. In a season-high 33 minutes against Syracuse, he posted 26 points and eight rebounds. Expect him to put up numbers like this multiple times this year. Joining him in the frontcourt Chris Otule, another veteran, whom the NCAA granted a sixth year of eligibility. Otule is a very solid defender, and although he scored only 5.1 points per contest, he shot a team-best 63.4% from the field.
Wilson will be a key piece for Marquette on the wing. The 6’7″ redshirt senior averaged 9.7 points and was the team’s best three-point shooter at 36%. Over the final nine games of last season, he posted 13 points, 5.4 rebounds and 2.1 assists per contest. He is a sleeper for the Big East All-Conference team.
Although Blue was the Golden Eagles’ leading scorer, the biggest hole was left by Cadougan, who started at point guard and led the team with 133 dimes. The frontrunners to fill his spot are junior Derrick Wilson and freshman Duane Wilson, a four-star recruit. Both guys will play pivotal roles running Marquette’s offense.
After two years of mid-major dominance, Creighton is now playing with the big boys. The Bluejays were already expected to be competitive in their new league, but they got a huge boost when point guard Grant Gibbs was granted a sixth year of eligibility.
Although All-American Doug McDermott receives most of Creighton’s praise, Gibbs was equally as important to the school’s success, averaging 8.5 points, 4.1 rebounds and 5.8 assists per game. Along with junior Austin Chatman, who averaged 4.2 dimes of his own last season, the Bluejays have as good a backcourt as you’ll find in the Big East. Transfer Devin Brooks, who posted 15.9 points, 6.6 boards and 5.6 assists per contest at Iowa Western Community College, and senior guard Jahens Manigat will play key roles off the bench.
McDermott, son of head coach Greg McDermott, is the face of the Creighton program, and deservedly so. The 6’8″ forward, who will technically be a walk-on this season with his father paying tuition out of his salary, was the nation’s No. 2 scorer last season with 23.2 points per game. He was also extremely efficient at 54.8% from the field, 49.0% from three, and 87.5% from the charity stripe. He will the favorite for Big East Player of the Year.
Ethan Wragge, a deadly stretch four who made 78 three-pointers in 2012-13, rounds out the Bluejays’ core group. Creighton’s one big loss from last season is that of center Gregory Echenique. Although McDermott has the ability to score in the low post, Echenique anchored the Bluejays inside game. A potential replacement is 6’11” Will Artino, who averaged 3.9 points and 2.5 rebounds last season. Although he played only 7.9 minutes per contest, he appeared in all but three of the Bluejays games and could be ready to take the next step.
Fresh off a share of the Big East title, Georgetown returns four starters. The Hoyas lost Otto Porter Jr. to the NBA (where he was the third overall pick in the draft), but Markel Starks, a potential Big East first teamer, returns to lead this bunch in his senior season. Starks is a proven scorer and point guard, and he became deadly from long distance last season at 41.7%.
Also returning in the backcourt are D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera and Jabril Trawick. Smith-Rivera, a sophomore, struggled a bit early in the season, but by mid-January he was a key piece for the Hoyas. Over the final 17 games of the season, he averaged 11.4 points per game.
Nate Lubick and Mikael Hopkins return to form a very solid frontcourt, although the loss of Greg Whittington, who could miss the entire 2013-14 season due to a torn ACL, will hurt. After the first semester, UCLA transfer Josh Smith will become eligible, and he has the potential to make a huge impact if he gets in shape.
Reggie Cameron, a freshman who was a four-star recruit on ESPN and Rivals, will provide a three-point threat off the bench.
Villanova got hot towards the end of the 2012-13 season earned a NCAA tournament berth. Now, the Wildcats return four starters while adding Rice transfer Dylan Ennis. Ennis, who sat out last season, averaged 8.5 points per game with the Owls as a freshman.
The most notable names of this year’s Villanova roster are Ryan Arcidiacono and JayVaughn Pinkston. Arcidiacono led the Wildcats in assists and made three-pointers last season, and he was second in scoring behind Pinkston. The sophomore, if he becomes more consistent, will make the all-conference first team. Pinkston finished last season on a tear, averaging 17.2 points and six rebounds in five March games.
Also returning for the Wildcats are Darrun Hilliard and James Bell, a pair of wings.
5. St. John’s
St. John’s returns essentially everyone from last year’s squad.
The only notable loss is that of Amir Garrett, who transferred to Cal State Northridge, but his absence will be filled by the additions of forward Orlando Sanchez and freshman guard Rysheed Jordan. Sanchez, a junior college all-star, averaged 10.2 points, eight rebounds and 1.9 blocks at Monroe College but was ruled ineligible for the Johnnies last year. Jordan, a top 20, five-star recruit on both ESPN and Rivals, will have an immediate impact.
Although St. John’s returning cast has not compiled many wins, it possesses lots of talent. Junior guard D’Angelo Harrison, who is reinstated after a season-ending suspension in February, is a pure scorer who averaged 17.8 points last year. Point guards Phil Greene IV and Jamal Branch did a solid job running the offense, combining for 131 assists and only 75 turnovers.
In the frontcourt, Jakarr Sampson burst onto the scene with 14.9 points and 6.6 boards per game, and Sir’Dominic Pointer served as a point-forward type, averaging 6.9 points, 5.5 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 1.4 steals.
Sophomore Chris Obekpa is the nation’s top returning shot blocker after swatting 4.1 shots per contest last season.
Providence is going to be a big sleeper in the Big East. The Friars earned a NIT bid last season and will return four starters. The loss of Vincent Council’s 10.5 points and 6.8 assists per game is big, but sophomore Kris Dunn will be able to fill that void. Dunn, who missed the first nine games of the year with an injury, took a little while to find his footing, but by the end of the season he was one of the better freshmen in the Big East. In the final 10 games, averaged 5.5 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 4.5 dimes.
Senior Kadeem Batts and junior LaDontae Henton will make up a fantastic starting frontcourt. Last season, they combined for 27.8 points and 15.5 rebounds per game. Off the bench, these two will be bolstered by top 100 recruit Brandon Austin, North Carolian State transfer Tyler Harris, and Wake Forest transfer Carson Desrosiers.
This Providence team is good enough to finish in the top four of the Big East and make the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2004.
Despite losing four starters, Xavier still went 17-14, finished above .500 in the competitive Atlantic 10, and ranked in the top 80 on Kenpom. So with the Musketeers now returning three starters and adding Western Michigan transfer Matt Stainbrook, Jalen Reynolds, Myles Davis and Brandon Randolph, they will be a very pesky team in the Big East.
Sophomore Semaj Christon, who averaged team-bests 15.2 points and 4.6 assists per game, will be one of the conference’s stars. Christon scored in double figures in all but three games, and in 12 games he had six or more assists. His assist rate ranked No. 71. Junior guard Dee Davis also returns to reunite last season’s successful duo. Davis averaged 8.2 points and 3.4 assists and is the Musketeers’ best returning shooter at 36.8% from long range. Myles Davis, one of New Jersey’s top guards in the Class of 2012, will also provide a boost in the backcourt with his electric jump shot.
Isaiah Philmore, Justin Martin, and Stainbrook will fuel the frontcourt. Philmore’s production improved late last season with 10.6 points and 5.2 boards per contest in February and March. Martin was the opposite, averaging 12.4 points in the first eight games but tailing off during conference play. Stainbrook will be a key addition, as he averaged 11.4 points and 6.8 rebounds two seasons ago at Western Michigan, and he is now in much better physical shape.
A perennial last-place team in the Big East, DePaul could finally break out of the cellar in 2013-14, although that is far away from a guarantee. Although two players graduated and five others left the program, the Blue Demons return their three best starters and add a pair of role players in Charles McKinney and Durrell McDonald, Purdue transfer Sandi Marcius, and top 100 recruit Billy Garrett Jr. Simply, this is the best team that Oliver Purnell has had at DePaul.
Senior guard Brandon Young and and senior forward Cleveland Melvin, who combined for more than 33 points per game last season, will lead the charge. Young led the team with 16.7 points, 4.6 assists and 1.5 steals per game, and Melvin posted 16.6 points and 6.8 rebounds. When those two are on their game, the Blue Demons have the potential to beat any team in this league.
9. Seton Hall
Seton Hall has a very strong frontcourt, but its backcourt is quite unproven. Aaron Cosby, their best guard from last season, transferred to Illinois, leaving sophomore Tom Mayaan as the position’s best returnee. Mayaan led the team last season with 3.1 assists and was second with 1.4 steals per game, but he really struggled scoring, shooting 36.1% from the field for 1.8 points per game. He also committed 2.8 turnovers per contest, a number that must come down this season. Joining him in the backcourt are freshman Jaren Sina, Texas transfer Sterling Gibbs, and Connors State transfer Hakeem Harris.
The Pirates’ frontcourt, however, has the talent to do damage against Big East opponents. Small forward Fuquan Edwin in an all-league player who will be in the race for conference player of the year. Edwin’s stats across the board were impressive last season, with 16.5 points, 5.8 rebounds and 2.4 steals per game, as well as 41.2% three-point shooting.
Senior Gene Teague, who averaged 11.2 points and 7.2 rebounds as a junior, will anchor the post. A key piece for Seton Hall will be 6’9″ forward Brandon Mobley, who 11 games last year with a shoulder injury. The junior was the team’s fourth-best scorer and second-best rebounder, and he became more successful on the perimeter with 23 made three-pointers.
It feels weird picking Butler to finish last after their string of great success in the Horizon League and Atlantic 10, but that is where the Bulldogs belong this season. Brad Stevens, who coached them to a pair of Final Fours, left for the NBA’s Boston Celtics. His replacement, Brandon Miller, inherits a tough position, as Butler graduated a pair of starters in Rotnei Clarke and Andrew Smith, and star forward Roosevelt Jones will miss the entire 2013-14 season after tearing ligaments in his left wrist.
All of this leaves many questions, but Butler can still be competitive in its first Big East season. Khyle Marshall, Kameron Woods, and Erik Fromm head a solid frontcourt, and Nolan Berry, a freshman center who was one of this class’s top recruits from Missouri, could contribute immediately.
The backcourt is not as strong, but sophomore Kellen Dunham is a sharpshooter primed for a breakout season. Expect him to lead the Bulldogs in scoring, and possibly be one of the leaders in the conference. He will be supplemented Rene Castro, a freshman combo-guard, and Alex Barlow, who became famous for his game-winner against No. 1 Indiana last season.
Big East Player of the Year
Doug McDermott, Creighton
Big East Defensive Player of the Year
Chris Obekpa, St. John’s
Big East Freshman of the Year
Duane Wilson, Marquette
Big East All-Conference Team
Bryce Cotton, Providence
Ryan Arcidiacono, Villanova
Fuquan Edwin, Seton Hall
Doug McDermott, Creighton
Davante Gardner, Marquette