Marquette Golden Eagles
Head Coach: Buzz Williams
The backbone: Davante Gardner. In order for Marquette to reach its full potential, Davante Gardner is going to have to willingly become the focus of the Eagles’ offense. The big-bodied, 300 pound forward has always been an efficient scorer with a knack for getting to the line, but this year Gardner will have to be the leader on the defensive end as well.
The X-Factor: The Freshmen. Unlike in previous years when Marquette was forced to rely on experienced talent, Head Coach Buzz Williams might have to actually lean on some of his star recruits this year. Headlined by Jajuan Johnson, Buzz Williams finally has a group of freshman capable of contributing at a high level.
Question Mark: The backcourt. With the loss of star Vander Blue, an already turnover-prone Marquette backcourt becomes very questionable.
The Bottom Line: Marquette has the potential to be a Final Four team, but it is not without flaws. Chris Otule will need to be the elite rim protector and defender that his talent suggests. Above all, Buzz Williams will have to once again make a product on the court that is greater than the sum of its parts.
Creighton Blue Jays
Head Coach: Greg McDermott
The Backbone: Doug McDermott. The head coach’s son surprised some when he elected to stay at Creighton for his senior season, but he returns as a legitimate contender for national player of the year, and the odds-on favorite for Big East Player of the Year. Creighton will need to be more than just four guys and Doug McDermott if the Blue Jays want to make a serious NCAA Tournament run.
The X Factor: Grant Gibbs. The 6th year senior Gibbs is quite far from McDermott’s level when it comes to overall basketball ability, but in many ways, he’s just as crucial for Creighton. As the team’s leader in assists, it seems like Gibbs’ performance will be essential in maintaining a steady and functioning offense.
Question Mark: Defense. Creighton will struggle to be nearly as good defensively with the loss of Gregory Echenique, their best rim-protector and rebounder from last year. Odds are, Creighton will be able to score almost at will, but that likely will not be enough in a conference that traditionally is defense-focused.
The Bottom Line: Creighton might be the most intriguing team in the conference. It has the conference’s best player, who is also a credible National Player of the Year candidate and has largely gone unnoticed during its tenure in the Missouri Valley Conference. Above all, this is a dangerous team but success depends on two factors: Creighton will not be able to make a serious title run unless someone steps up with Doug McDermott, or until Creighton develops a defensive identity.
Head Coach: Jay Wright
The Backbone: JayVaughn Pinkston. Last year, Pinkston was a destroyer in the paint, getting to the line more than almost any else in the country. As Villanova’s leading scorer and a talented rebounder, Pinkston should be the number one option on a Villanova team that will likely confound experts all year.
The X Factor: Which Villanova are we getting? Last year, there might not have been a more confusing team in the Big East. Was Villanova a bad offensive team last year because it was in a conference with defensive juggernauts, or does it simply lack firepower? It’s hard to assess because nobody can really know which of those teams will show up this year.
Question Mark: Lack of a star, consistency. These two problems are probably fairly closely related. When offense isn’t working for Villanova, how will they score? We know that Villanova is a good defensive team, but it’s hard to figure out how they will be able to consistently score without a real standout emerging.
Bottom Line: No team in the Big East could experience outcomes as different as Villanova. The Wildcats could be a middling squad or a total disaster. It’s more likely the former than the latter.
St. John’s Red Storm
Head Coach: Steve Lavin.The Backbone: Chris Obekpa. Although Obekpa has not received much in the way of national accolades, he is one of the best rim-protectors in the Big East. After averaging 4 blocks per game last season, Obekpa heads into his sophomore season with a chance to make a name for himself. For all of his defensive abilities, he only has one problem: He’s terrible on the other side of the ball. He needs to at least become a competent offensive player for St. John’s to improve. The X Factor: D’Angelo Harrison. If someone took the most cursory look at guard D’Angelo Harrison, the guard may seem like one of the best players in the Big East. But despite scoring almost 18 points per game and rebounding well for his position, Harrison hogged the ball, resulting in only 2.3 assists per game and a truly abysmal shooting percentage (39.4 percent). Harrison simply needs to be a more selfless player. Question Mark: Despite proving its ability to defend at a fairly high level, St. John’s always struggle to score. While the Red Storm has the talent to be a good team, Lavin has yet to convince the squad to play within a coherent offensive system. Bottom Line: St. John’s will be fun to watch, if not because of talent, …then because it’s always entertaining to see which Johnnie will waste an offensive possession with an ill-advised shot. If St. John’s can sharpen up its attack, then this team might make a difference in the Big East.
Head Coach: Ed Cooley. Backbone: Bryce Cotton. Despite the presence of Doug McDermott, Cotton will look to defend his title as the league’s leading scorer. While everyone knows that Cotton is high-volume scorer, he and his frontcourt will have to put in a concerted defensive effort to reach its goal of an NCAA Tournament appearance. The X Factor: Efficiency. Apart from Cotton, Kadeem Batts and LaDontae Henton make up a competent frontcourt, but everyone will need to make more out of their possessions. Providence has talent on the offensive end, but nobody will be afraid of this team unless they start hitting more shots. Question Mark: Point guard play. The departure of guard Vincent Council may spell trouble for Providence’s offense. Cotton and company relied heavily on Council to set them up last season, and, without him, they may struggle to be a cohesive offensive unit. Bottom Line: Even though they have been largely written off by the national media, Providence is a talented team. Expectations are low, the defense is mediocre, and there’s a lack of consistent backcourt talent, but the Friars’ respectable squad has the potential to be competitive.
Head Coach: Chris Mack. The Backbone: Semaj Christon. Christon is one of the few players in the Big East capable of being a lottery pick in the NBA. Essentially, this team was built completely around Christon and will only go as far as he will take them. A talented and athletic sophomore, this big-bodied combo guard could have a real future in the NBA. But considering that this team is so reliant on Christon, he will need to become an even stronger player.
The X Factor: The new guys. Xavier is bolstered by a heaping of new players—some transfers and others who were ineligible last year. Myles Davis, for instance, a four-star recruit who was ineligible last year, will finally get a chance to prove his abilities to the Musketeers.
Question Mark: Everyone on the team who isn’t Semaj Christon. While guys like Davis could spark the offense, it’s difficult to be too sanguine about the other players on the team. For all of Christon’s ability, he can’t do everything by himself, and will need substantial help from a relatively untested supporting cast.
The Bottom Line: Odds are, the only people who will follow Xavier with any interest, aside from alumni, are NBA Draft enthusiasts, looking to catch a glimpse of Christon. Much like Georgia’s Kentavious Caldwell-Pope last year, Christon will likely be forced to do everything for a team that is largely incompetent at the other four positions.
Head Coach: Brandon Miller
The Backbone: The system. Former head coach Brad Stevens, who left the program to coach the NBA’s Boston Celtics, seemed to be working voodoo magic to make two consecutive NCAA Title Games with a Butler team generally lacking in elite talent. This team should continue to be greater than the sum of its parts with new Head Coach Brandon Miller, a disciple of Stevens, now taking the reins.
X-Factor: Rene Castro. He’s a three-star recruit and will be utilized as a point guard, even though he’s really more of a combo guard. Butler lost most of its team from last year, and that team wasn’t even great, so their best hope lies in newcomer Castro.
Question Mark: Lack of continuity. Butler is now in its third conference in as many years. The team is still missing its star coach, along with most of its top performers from last year. To top it off, they have an unheralded freshman point guard, who’s being asked to run the show from a new position. And no one in the projected starting lineup averaged double digits last season, yielding more than one offensive problem that the Bulldogs will have to deal with.
The Bottom Line: This Butler team just does not have much talent. They’ve got plenty of competent role players, but nobody who will really lead the team. With the loss of Stevens to the NBA, it’s hard to imagine this team impressing. This is simply a team lacking the personnel necessary to contend this year. Call it a rebuilding year.
Seton Hall Pirates
Head Coach: Kevin Willard
Backbone: Senior Eugene Teague. It says something about Seton Hall that its best player is a guy who averaged only 11 points per game last season. Teague was a competent player on what was a terrible team last year. He managed to score efficiently, shooting 56 percent from the field. Any hope that Seton Hall displays even the slightest pulse this season will rest on his shoulders.
X-Factor: What happened? Seton Hall was once respectable, even as recently as two years ago. Unfortunately, despite being constituted largely by seniors who once played on that squad, the Pirates appear mired in rather hopelessness on both ends of the floor. Odds are, they will be bottom feeders once again.
Question Mark: Basically everything. Last season, Seton Hall lacked in almost every facet of the game, managing to be one of the very worst teams in the Big East on both offense and defense. They only won three games in the conference, a testament to the futility of this unit. This will be a long year for the Pirates.
The Bottom Line: Seton Hall has low expectations. Even in a depleted new Big East, Seton Hall looks like an unmitigated disaster on both ends. Next year’s recruiting class holds the only optimism anyone could have for this team is that.
DePaul Blue Demons
Head Coach: Oliver Purnell
Backbone: Brandon Young and Cleveland Melvin. Fortunately for DePaul, the only two proven scorers on the team will be back for their senior season. Both can score well, which is probably the only reason why DePaul may not be the worst offensive team in the Big East.
X Factor: Will this team be worse than Seton Hall? Probably. DePaul only won two conference games last year and lost most of their team. The Blue Demons might be winless in conference play.
Question Mark: It would be cruel to describe everything wrong with this team. Apart from Melvin, there were exactly zero players who rebound consistently, magnifying one of DePaul’s biggest problems from last year. They also feature the worst defense in the conference, which will result in nightly drubbings from even the conference’s more offensively challenged teams. Simply put, DePaul is a team lacking in difference-making talent from the top down, and no amount of coaching and hard work will fix that.
Bottom Line: DePaul will, once again, be bottom feeders. Despite their gimmicky fast-paced offense, it seems inconceivable they’ll do much besides trying to avoid last place in the conference.