Big East Preview: The Voice’s Outlook for the Nation’s Toughest Conference

November 6, 2015

Carolyn Zaccaro

1. Villanova Wildcats

Head Coach: Jay Wright (15th Year, 359-152, 10 NCAA Appearances, 1 Final Four)

Player to Watch: Senior guard Ryan Arcidiacono
The local senior from Langhorne, Pa. will likely dominate in his final year as a Wildcat, after sharing Big East Player of the Year honors with Providence’s Kris Dunn last year. He will also pose a major threat in the Big East Tournament. Many fans remember last year when he sank two crucial free throws with 3.1 seconds left in the Big East Semis to break the tie against Providence and lead the team to the Big East Final.

Why We’re Optimistic: The Wildcats are always contenders in Big East play and have led the pack in recent years. They’ve also been consistent national contenders the past few seasons; the team was a 1 seed in the East region for the 2015 NCAA Tournament and a 2 seed in 2014. There’s no reason to doubt that they’ll be back at it this year, with returning players like Arcidiacono and the 6’ 11” senior Daniel Ochefu, who was named the Philadelphia Big Five Most Improved Player of the 2014-15 season. There’s also a lot of excitement around the new Wildcat recruits, specifically Jalen Brunson, who some are already comparing to all-time great Scottie Reynolds.

Why We’re Pessimistic: They’re a Philadelphia team. There’s something painfully familiar to the City of Brotherly Love about teams that are expected to dominate the upcoming season, only to fall miserably short and leave the city with a bitter taste of wasted talent (read: the Philadelphia Eagles and the disappointment of Chip Kelly’s unprecedented offseason). The Wildcats certainly fall into that category. The 2014-15 regular season was shaky for Villanova at times, with two crucial losses to Georgetown and Seton Hall in Big East play. An early NCAA Tournament exit for the second year in a row last year also doesn’t bode well for the team, so breaking the trend of choking in Philadelphia is a must for Villanova.

2. Georgetown Hoyas

Head Coach: John Thompson III (12th Year, 249-115, 8 NCAA Appearances, 1 Final Four)

Player to Watch: Senior guard D’Vauntes Smith Rivera
Smith-Rivera decided to return to the Hilltop after initially declaring for the NBA Draft last spring.  The senior guard is by far the most experienced player on this year’s squad, averaging 16.3 points in 34.4 minutes per game last season. The value of his leadership ability cannot be understated.  With a talented group of young players around him, DSR will be the one to guide the team throughout the season.

Why We’re Optimistic: The development of an elite sophomore class headlined by Tre Campbell, LJ Peak, Isaac Copeland, and Paul White will act as a catalyst for the Hoyas this season.  Following a long summer with Team USA Basketball, Peak is much improved.  His 6’5” frame presents numerous matchup problems for opponents, as it allows him to play both the guard and forward position.  Isaac Copeland, who started the final ten games of the season last year, is also primed for a breakout year.  Copeland’s combination of size, shooting touch, defensive ability, and slashing prowess make him a dangerous threat for opposing teams.  The return of senior guard D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera will also be a key component to the success of the Blue and Gray.  

Why We’re Pessimistic: The Hoyas have already lost sophomore transfer big man Akoy Agau for the season due to a torn ACL.  Agau was touted to be a defensive stopper coming off the bench for the team when he became eligible in the second semester.  Georgetown has depth at the position, but the loss of Agau certainly changed Head Coach John Thompson III’s game plan.  The lack of experience on the team is also a bit daunting.  The Hoyas have the talent, but their youth could stunt their overall success.

3. Butler Bulldogs

Head Coach: Chris Holtmann (2nd Year, 23-11, 1 NCAA Appearance)

Player to Watch: Senior forward Roosevelt Jones
The junior forward is one of the most versatile players in the conference, and he is crucial to the success of Butler this year. Jones was named to the Preseason All-Big East First Team, and he is consistently praised for his attitude and knowledge of the game. He takes his defensive play very seriously and is a strong offensive threat, even though he has never taken a three point shot in his college career.

Why We’re Optimistic: The Bulldogs proved themselves last year when they took Notre Dame to overtime in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, and have only gotten stronger since then. The Bulldogs return their top three scorers from 2014: Roosevelt Jones, Kellen Dunham, and Andrew Chrabascz. The three form one of the best offensive groups in the Big East. They’ve added guard Tyler Lewis, a transfer from NC State, and freshman center Nate Fowler, which will strengthen the team even more. Butler only plays one challenging non-conference game, on the road at Cincinnati on Dec. 2, so they should be able to use the first part of their season to work out whatever kinks they may find.

Why We’re Pessimistic: The Bulldogs lose two of last year’s starters: Alex Barlow and Kameron Woods. Each started in 34 games and averaged over 30 minutes per game last year. While their offensive statistics were not stellar, they provided a seniority and knowledge of the game that will be missed, and their defensive skills were crucial on a Butler team that consistently values defensive ability. Chrabascz, a sophomore forward, while averaging dominant offensive numbers last year, was also inconsistent. With even more pressure on him, there is a chance that he won’t be able to maintain his level of play, which would seriously hurt the Bulldogs.

4. Providence Friars

Head Coach: Ed Cooley (5th Year, 79-56, 2 NCAA Appearances)

Player to Watch: Junior guard Kris Dunn
Little is left to be said about Dunn, who averaged 15.6 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 7.5 assists last year. He was named Big East Preseason Player of the Year this year and was last year’s Big East co-Player of the Year. Dunn skipped the 2015 NBA Draft, where he would have been a probable lottery pick, to rejoin the Friars this year, and certainly has a lot to prove. He may be the best all around player in the country, and may win  National Player of the Year honors.

Why We’re Optimistic: Providence is coming off of two straight NCAA tournament appearances and is looking to continue this success. A strong freshman class including guards Ryan Fazekas and Ricky Council, who have been described as strong outside shooters that can help to take some pressure off Dunn, the strongest player on the team. Sophomore guard Jalen Lindsey, whose 2014-15 season was hampered by a constant finger injury is now healthy, and he should be able to make a big impact as a shooter. In order to be a good team, Providence will undoubtedly rely on Dunn, who could easily be the strongest player in the conference. They seem to have built a relatively strong core around him that will let him shine.

Why We’re Pessimistic: The Friars are a very young team with no seniors and only three juniors. The lack of experience means that there is uncertainty with almost every player, even those who will need to make an impact for the Friars to be successful. Banking on freshmen and players who didn’t get much playing time last season could hurt Ed Cooley’s squad.

5. Xavier Musketeers

Head Coach: Chris Mack (7th Year, 134-71, 5 NCAA Appearances, 3 Sweet 16s)

Player To Watch: Junior forward Jalen Reynolds
Clutch late season play became a staple for Reynolds last year. As a sophomore, he recorded 17 double digit scoring games, and averaged just under 10 points per game, but Reynolds’ best play came in the postseason. He improved his average points per game to 12, and picked up a career-high 21 points on 8-of-9 shooting with six rebounds in the Musketeers’ win over Georgia State in the third round of the NCAA Tournament last year. The 6’ 10” junior looks like he’s developing into a serious threat for Xavier, and the Musketeers are likely going to be counting on him to come up big in Big East play.

Why We’re Optimistic: Xavier is a strong team when it counts, especially in conference games. Perhaps the biggest sign for optimism this year was how Xavier shined in tournament play, in both the Big East Tournament and the NCAA Tournament. In the Big East Tournament, the Musketeers took down No. 22 Butler in overtime and squeaked out a win against No. 23  Georgetown to face off against No. 4 Villanova in the Big East Final. Villanova handled Xavier easily with a 69-52 victory, but the Musketeers cemented themselves as national contenders with their play in the Big East. In the NCAA Tournament, Xavier advanced all the way to the Sweet Sixteen where they fell to No. 5 Arizona 68-60. Losing to a team like Arizona certainly is not a knock on the strength of Xavier, and if the team can replicate its late season play of last year, the Musketeers might be making another NCAA Tournament run in 2016.

Why We’re Pessimistic: The loss of Matt Stainbrook is huge for Xavier. The redshirt senior led the team in points per game, 12.3, and rebounds, 6.9, in the 2014-15 season, and is a big reason that the Musketeers were so successful in the postseason. Stainbrook was a major threat on both sides of the court; he was a go-to defensive rebounder for Xavier, and he was dominant in the paint on offense. While there is certainly promise in young, up-and-coming players like Jalen Reynolds, without the leadership and experience of a player like Stainbrook, Xavier may find itself in a rebuilding year for the 2015-16 season.

6. Marquette Golden Eagles

Head Coach: Steve Wojciechowski (2nd Year, 13-19, 0 NCAA Appearances)

Player to Watch: Junior center Luke Fischer
While his hairdo sometimes resembles that of a boyband wannabe, the 6’11” junior center represents an old style Big East big whose play in the paint and on the post can be nothing short of dominant. He transferred to Marquette from Indiana and averaged 11 points and 4.8 rebounds per game last year with the Golden Eagles.

Why We’re Optimistic: Marquette will field an interesting mixture of strong returning talent and an excellent recruiting class. The returners include guard Duane Wilson and center Luke Fischer. These two play two very important roles on the team, and their seniority will be invaluable. The incoming class is led by 6’ 10” forward Henry Ellenson. Ellenson was a top 10 prospect in his class and was excellent in the team’s recent preseason trip to Italy. Marquette fans should certainly be excited about him as a player.

Why We’re Pessimistic: Although the Golden Eagles have a very strong freshman class, the lack of experience could prove dangerous to Steve Wojciechowski’s team. The seven freshmen on the team will need to mature quickly for Marquette to pose a threat. Along with this, the team has a very challenging non-conference schedule including a game in Madison against what will probably be their toughest competition, last year’s national runner-up Wisconsin. They also play against San Jose State and Iowa early in their schedule, and it will certainly pose a challenge for the Golden Eagles to step up early against such stiff opponents.

7. Seton Hall Pirates

Head Coach: Kevin Willard (6th Year, 82-80, 0 NCAA Appearances)

Player to Watch: Sophomore forward Angel Delgado
Delgado may not be the McDonald’s All-American that Whitehead is, but he is undoubtedly the best player on the team in terms of his efficiency.  He averaged 9.3 points and 9.8 rebounds per game last year on 55 percent shooting.  If Delgado gets more touches this season, which he should, his numbers could explode.  

Why We’re Optimistic: The Pirates are loaded with raw talent.  Sophomore guard Isaiah Whitehead has the skills to be a great NBA prospect.  Following a freshman season in which he averaged 12.0 points per game on 37% shooting, Whitehead will be the primary ball handler for Seton Hall.  His play will be a good measure of the Pirates success this year.  Whitehead’s running mate, sophomore guard Khadeen Carrington, is a volume shooter whose scoring will be needed if Seton Hall has any chance of making the NCAA tournament this year. The development of this backcourt duo will be absolutely crucial for the Pirates.

Why We’re Pessimistic: Basketball is a team game.  For Seton Hall, it doesn’t seem to be.  Chemistry issues have plagued the team in the past, and whether or not Head Coach Kevin Willard has been able to form a cohesive unit remains to be seen.  At one point last season, the Pirates were a top-25 team following a major upset over Villanova. But after minor setbacks, the team absolutely fell apart, and finished 4-13 in their final 17 games.  Immaturity and selfish tendencies could once again kill the Pirates’ postseason dreams.

8. DePaul Blue Demons

Head Coach: Dave Leitao (1st Year)

Player to Watch: Junior guard Billy Garrett Jr.

The 2013-14 Big East Rookie of the Year continued to improve last season, leading the Blue Demons in both scoring and assists. If DePaul wants to be a contender in the Big East this year, the 6’ 6” junior guard is going to have to put the team on his back.

Why We’re Optimistic: This is a tough sell. The freshman recruits provide the Blue Demons with some height in the paint but overall DePaul is a fundamentally unsound basketball team. The team has two returning players who started in all 32 games (Billy Garrett Jr. and senior Myke Henry), so DePaul is going to have to rely heavily on leadership and experience from those two to compete with some of the powerhouse teams in the Big East.

Why We’re Pessimistic: If you read our preview of the Big East for last season, you know that we were not too optimistic about DePaul’s chances. Not much has changed over the past year. The team finished 12-20 on the season, went 6-12 in Big East play, and lost in the first round of the Big East Tournament to Creighton . But hey, like we said last year, Chicago is a really nice city this time of year.

9. St. Johns Red Storm

Head Coach: Chris Mullin (1st Year)

Player To Watch: Freshman guard Marcus Lovett.

If you haven’t seen LoVett’s highlight tape, I highly suggest searching YouTube for it.  His combination of incredible ball-handling skills and lefty shooting stroke made him nearly impossible to defend at the high school level.  While the transition to the college game is never easy, LoVett has a high ceiling and certainly has the potential to blow up once he finds his groove.  While growing pains are expected, LoVett is poised to be one of the Red Storm’s best players this year.    

Why We’re Optimistic:  The Red Storm hired NBA Hall of Famer and alumnus Chris Mullin this past summer.  With a wealth of basketball knowledge that includes 16 NBA seasons and 2 Olympic Gold Medals, Mullin’s IQ should help direct the young St. John’s team in the right direction.  Speaking of youth, the Red Storm welcome eight, yes eight, newcomers to the team this year.  Junior college transfer Darien Williams, freshman guard Marcus LoVett, and Italian import Frederico Mussini will have to live up to expectations to make this season a successful one for New York City’s favorite team.  

Why We’re Pessimistic: Make no mistake about it, St. John’s is in full-on rebuilding mode.  The team lost six players following the end of last season, including their best player in Sir’Dominic Pointer.  With a group of players who have no experience with one another and a new coach, there is an incredible amount of uncertainty surrounding this season for the Red Storm.  Teams with very little experience have had mixed results in the past,but to be fair this team isn’t exactly as talented as the Kentucky Wildcats.  Unfamiliarity is the biggest source of concern for St. John’s this year.

10. Creighton Bluejays

Head Coach: Greg McDermott (6th Year, 121-57, 3 NCAA Appearances)

Player to Watch: Senior guard James Milliken.

Milliken is one of two seniors on this young team.  Second on the team in scoring last season, averaging 9.6 points per game on 40% shooting, he is extremely efficient on the offensive end, and will have to carry more of the load this season with the aforementioned Chatman out of the picture.  While his offense may not be of any concern, his defensive ability is questionable, at best.  If Milliken can develop his game on the defensive end on the floor, he could very well be the star in Omaha.  

Why We’re Optimistic: The Blue Jays are entering their second season of the post-Doug McDermott era, and the prospects aren’t much better than the 14-19 record they posted last season.  If there is any source of hope for the team it is the eligibility of transfers Cole Huff and Maurice Watson Jr.  After sitting out their obligatory one season due to transfer regulations, Huff and Watson are additions the Blue Jays will welcome with open arms.  Two seasons ago, Watson was third in the NCAA in assists per game, averaging 7.1 per game.  If he can bring that same court vision to a Creighton team that loves to score, they may just put together a potent offensive attack.  

Why We’re Pessimistic: Still no Doug McDermott.  It took one of the most prolific scorers in recent college basketball history to put Creighton on the national stage, and without his presence it’s hard to see the team returning to that level of play.  The Blue Jays also lost their top scorer, Austin Chatman, from last season.  Creighton has also never been known for their defense, and barring some miracle, it doesn’t seem that their defensive ability will be improved at all over last season’s dismal effort.  Gone are the days when Creighton could rely on their offensive ability to overcome their defensive woes.

Chris Dunn
Chris graduated from the SFS in 2019. He is the Voice's former executive opinions editor, and is pretty sure the 2008 Phillies could beat any team in any sport ever.

Tyler Pearre
Maryland native and D.C. sports fan. Forever romanticizing the days of Antawn Jamison and Gilbert Arenas circa 2007.

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