Basketball Preview

2016-2017 Men’s Basketball Big East Preview

November 11, 2016


Photo Credit: Georgetown Sports Information
  1. Villanova:  Jay Wright (16th year, 354-157 record, 11 NCAA appearances, 2 Final Four, 1 Title)
  • Player to Watch: Senior Shooting Guard Josh Hart
    • The D.C. native has been the unanimous preseason choice for Big East Player of the Year, and it’s no surprise why. He posses a dangerous jumper to go along with an athletic, 6-foot-6 frame that makes him a lockdown defender. Pair these gifts with a tremendous understanding of the game, and you have a player that can lead ‘Nova to another title run. If they need another shot to raise a banner, don’t expect Kris Jenkins to take it again.
  • Optimistic:
    • They’re defending national champions who returned their two best players and have a former McDonald’s All American filling the hole their third best player left.  Josh Hart is ready to take over as this team’s leader.  Not since the ‘06 Florida Gators and Joakim Noah and Al Horford have the two best players on a championship team returned to defend their title; they took a second one home that next March.   Nova can play just about any style, although they prefer to spread the floor 4-out 1-in and pick apart defenses with their lightning-quick ball movement.  Look for new starter Jalen Brunson to step up in a big way this year with the departure of star guard Ryan Arcidiacono.  This team has the first legitimate chance to go back to back in years, and you better believe they’ll take advantage of it.
  • Pessimistic:
    • Like I said, it’s been a decade since the last NCAA repeat.  It’s just too hard to repeat as champions.  This team’s competition is not the rest of the Big East, it’s the Dukes, Carolinas and Michigan States of the world, and with 5 star center Omari Spellman declared ineligible, it might make them susceptible to getting bullied inside.   
  1. Xavier: Chris Mack (8th year, 162-77 record, 6 NCAA appearances)
  • Player to Watch : Sophomore Point Guard Edmond Sumner
    • The 6-foot-6 point guard is, simply put, a beast in transition.  Whether it be pushing the pace to set up his teammates, locking down the opposing team’s best player, or throwing down thunderous dunks on the break, there’s a reason he’s the highest Big East player on most draft boards.  He’s gonna be on Sportscenter’s top 10 a lot this year.  
  • Optimistic:
    • They’re a top 10 team for a reason.  Xavier’s offense topped the Big East last year with 80.5 points a night and they shouldn’t miss a beat, returning their entire starting backcourt including the highest scoring three musketeers from last year and Big East sixth man of the year J.P Macura.  The addition of Norfolk state’s RaShid Gaston should help them inside after losing key members of the conference’s best rebounding unit last year.  Look for Xavier to get up and down and play small, which should lead to some exciting basketball
  • Pessimistic:
    • They might’ve lost too many guys inside.  The reason they outrebounded opponents by 7.5 a game last year came from the ability of big guys like James Farr and Jalen Reynolds, both of whom will not be returning.  You can’t play run-and gun while getting bullied on the boards, so Xavier needs to figure out where all those extra rebounds are going to come from this year.
  1. Creighton: Greg McDermott (7th year, 213-141 record, 3 NCAA appearances)
  • Player to Watch: Senior Small Forward Cole Huff
    • Entering his second season since transferring from Nevada, Huff will likely see much more court time after averaging 20.4 points per 40 minutes. He projects to be one of the top shooting forwards in the conference despite his “awkward” shooting form. Don’t let the jumper fool you though, a hot Cole Huff could be a problem for any team in the Big East.
  • Optimistic:
    • The Blue Jay’s backcourt for the upcoming season should strike fear into the hearts of the rest of the conference. Maurice Watson Jr. was electric last season, averaging 14.1 points and a Big East leading 6.5 assists per game. He has proven to be a worthy floor general since transferring from Boston University.  Pairing Watson with Kansas State transfer Marcus Foster, who is surely hungry to get back on the court after showing great promise his freshman and sophomore campaigns, makes for a backcourt rivalling any other in the nation. Isaiah Zierden and Khyri Thomas provide sharpshooting off the bench, as they did all last season. This team has great players and a deep roster, so do not be surprised if they make a run for the Big East Championship.
  • Pessimistic:
    • Two centers are listed on the Creighton roster, and the only one with experience is 6’9’’ Zach Hanson. Though this is the age of small ball in basketball, they clearly lack height and a strong inside force to protect the paint. Bigger teams could easily take advantage of this, as well as any team adept at attacking the rim, so Creighton may get themselves into heavy defensive woes if teams focus on that fatal flaw. Maurice Watson Jr. is also only 5’10’’, making him a mismatch target for any scoring guard in the Big East.
  1. Georgetown: John Thompson III (13th year, 264-133 record, 8 NCAA appearances, 1 Final Four)
  • Player to Watch: Sophomore Center Jessie Govan
    • The best version of this year’s Georgetown team is one where Jesse Govan is their best player.  His ability to stretch the floor from the center position and protect the rim down low gives Georgetown more offensive flexibility than they’ve had in a long time.  Govan’s post-up game has improved over the summer, and he should be a terror down low for opposing centers.  His play this year is the key to making sure Georgetown doesn’t drop the ball yet again.
  • Optimistic:
    • It’s not just because I go here, but Georgetown has arguably the best collection of pure talent top to bottom in the conference.  The question is: will they live up to it?  The leadership of fifth-year seniors Bradley Hayes and Rodney Pryor should provide a calming presence in a locker room that’s going ons probably have more bearing on the season that all but a few teams in the nation.  Coach Thompson has said again and again that they plan to pick up the pace this year, and they have a lot of versatility to go big or small when the situation calls for it.  This should be fun.
  • Pessimistic:
    • I probably would’ve told you similar things last year, and look how that turned out.  Most of Georgetown’s problems are mental at this point.  The only departure in the rotation, D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera, was their go-to-guy at the end of games last year. If the Hoyas are going to play in as many close games as they did last year, they’ll need to find a clutch scorer, and fast.
  1. Seton Hall: Kevin Willard (7th year, 107-90 record, 1 NCAA appearance)
  • Player to Watch: Sophomore Small Forward Desi Rodriguez
    • A shift to small forward led to more scoring opportunities for the undersized forward as he averaged 12.4 points per game on an impressive 50.3% shooting. His ability to finish fast breaks with highlight-reel worthy dunks garnered attention last season, and what he lacks in three-point shooting he makes up for with his physicality and rebounding. Without Isaiah Whitehead, much of Seton Hall’s scoring load will shift onto Rodriguez’s shoulders.
  • Optimistic:
    • Although ‘Nova is the defending national champ, Seton Hall enters this season with the Big East title belt for the first time in 24 years.  They have a chip on their shoulder after getting beat by Gonzaga in the first round last year, which should serve as a motivator as the team returns four of the starters from that game.  Four-star recruit and knockdown shooter Myles Powell should help fill the void left by Isaiah Whitehead, and I’m optimistic this team will be able to put points on the board without him.  I think it speaks to the strength of the conference that the fifth-best team in the conference could make a sweet sixteen run this year if things go right.
  • Pessimistic:
    • The Big East is lucky Whitehead decided to declare for the draft this year.  Powell really is good enough to be their go-to scorer, but as a 6’2 freshman, he won’t be the finisher, defender, or, most importantly, leader Whitehead was last year.  Defensively, they were inconsistent last season, over-fouling a lot late in games, and that lack of discipline could trickle into this year as well.
  1. Butler: Chris Holtmann (3rd year, 45-22 record, 2 NCAA appearances)
  • Player to Watch: Junior Small Forward Kelan Martin
    • A knock-down shooter that can spot up or create space off the dribble, Martin would be the best player in the Big East if this were 2K.  Sadly, it isn’t and Martin’s Butler team will largely rely on his ability to create offense for himself and others this year, something his .65 assist to turnover ratio suggests won’t happen.  Expect to see quite a few games this year with Martin scoring in the high 20’s and Butler losing by 10-15.
  • Optimistic:
    • Three-point shooting.  Though not as good at it as Villanova – no team in the nation is – Butler can really spread the floor, especially with the additions of Memphis transfer Avery Woodson and redshirt freshman Sean McDermott (no relation to the Creighton royal family).  They also have plenty of depth off the bench at both the guard and forward spots; look for a lot of bench scoring from this team.
  • Pessimistic:
    • It’s always tough losing two players as important to the program as Kellen Dunham and Roosevelt Jones, who averaged a combined 30 points per game last year.  For a team that scored 80 points per game last year, that’s a lot of scoring to replace.  Their other major weakness will be their defense.  The addition of Joey Brunk, a 4-star freshman center, helps them there but other than him they’ll rely on the 6’8 Tyler Wideman, who, although he averaged 1.5 blocks per game last year, gets shot over by larger defenders.  Starting point guard Tyler Lewis also has issues consistently staying in front of defenders.
  1. Marquette: Steve Wojciechowski (3rd Year, 33-32 record, 0 NCAA appearances)
  • Player to Watch: Senior Center Luke Fischer
    • The Golden Eagles are not very deep at center this season to say the least, making Fischer a pivotal piece to their puzzle. At 6’11’’, he thrives around the basket, frequently looking to post up and utilize his jump hook, but will not be seen taking many outside shots. His health will probably summarize the Marquette season, as an injury to Fischer could derail Marquette’s campaign.
  • Optimistic:
    • Marquette quietly had a scary good offseason, adding three 4-star recruits and two transfers to their roster. They also only lost one major contributor last season, though it was their best player, Henry Ellenson. They return four players who averaged over 10 points per game last season. A closer inspection reveals a deep backcourt, led by sophomore Haanif Cheatham, driving a team that will look to play fast and small, most likely 4-in-1-out, during the upcoming season. Great wing play could see the Golden Eagle’s overachieve and turn some heads.
  • Pessimistic:
    • Henry Ellenson is a huge loss for this team. His 17 points per game are not the primary reason for this either, as the Golden Eagles only have two centers on the roster this season. Besides Luke Fischer, they only have one player listed at 6’10’’ or higher, and besides them every player is 6’7’’ or shorter. Clearly size will be an issue for this team as they have scarcely any bigs to play even at the start of the season. That could spell trouble protecting the rim and finding easy buckets, placing a lot of weight on the shoulders of Luke Fischer.
  1. St. John’s: Chris Mullin (2nd Year, 8-24 record, 0 NCAA appearances)
  • Player to Watch: Sophomore Center Yankuba Sima
    • Starting last season for a very young Red Storm team, Sima showed great potential as a rim protector and rebounder. With a slender frame but intimidating length, the sophomore will need to improve on the offensive end, where he has yet to translate his physical gifts into points. Sima has the potential to land in the NBA, putting the spotlight on his sophomore season as pro teams hope to see the 20 year old add more to his game.
  • Optimistic:
    •  The direction can only be up for the Red Storm.  Marcus LoVett will finally appear for the team after sitting out last season, and he is a player who can make a huge impact. He proved to be a highlight player in high school, and with an extra year of maturity under his belt, LoVett can be a beast for St. John’s. Along with him comes a contender to win Big East Freshman of the Year, point guard Shamorie Ponds. Together, they can head a backcourt with the potential to jumpstart St. John’s back into Big East relevance.
  • Pessimistic:
    • Losing your three top scorers is never easy. Add onto it the fact that St. John’s only won eight games the whole of last season and an instant turnaround does not appear to likely. A solid crop of new faces have come in to take the reigns; however, expecting a young team to produce results in this conference is ludicrous.  The Red Storm is rolling with an inexperienced team and inexperienced coach once again, so more of the same seems eminent.
  1. Providence: Ed Cooley (6th Year, 103-67 record, 3 NCAA appearances)
  • Player to Watch: Freshman Shooting Guard Alpha Diallo
    • Ed Cooley nabbed this 4-star recruit from Colorado presumably to take on some of the heavy scoring burden left by the loss of Dunn and Bentil. At 6’7’’, Diallo averaged 16.5 points and 6.5 rebounds per game his senior season and showed an inept ability to put the ball on the floor and get to the rim. His usage this season remains to be seen, but don’t be shocked if Diallo provides an impact off the bench for a team looking to generate offense any way possible.
  • Optimistic:
    • No one expected Ben Bentil to have the breakout season he did last season under Coach Cooley, so perhaps he can create another prolific scorer out of Diallo or JUCO transfer Emmitt Holt, a former Indiana Hoosier. Pair another scoring option with Rodney Bullock, who will certainly see more touches after averaging 11.4 points per game last season, and junior guard Kyron Cartwright and the Friars may be able to surprise some teams.
  • Pessimistic:
    • Kris Dunn and Ben Bentil drove Providence to a 4th place finish in the conference last season, but, as they both depart, it is hard to find the replacement for all of the lost points on this roster. Junior forward Rodney Bullock is the only returning player to average over 10 points per game last season, and it is too unrealistic to expect Diallo and fellow freshman Maliek White, a 4-star point guard from Virginia, to boast major contributions right away. This team lost more talent than any other, and after seeing them struggle last season without Dunn or Bentil on the court, the new one does not look promising.
  1. DePaul: Dave Leitao (2nd Year, 9-22 record, 0 NCAA appearances)
  • Player to Watch: No One
  • Optimistic:
    • In all seriousness, DePaul has undergone a serious overhaul. Eight new players, four freshmen and four transfers, bring along the hope of a new year after winning only three games in the Big East. Billy Garrett Jr. and Eli Cain return after averaging 12.6 and 10.3 points per game respectively, so the team will have some direction coming in. There is always a chance Dave Leitao has a winning combo somewhere in that new pile of players.
  • Pessimistic:
    • Eight new players is a lot, half of their team in fact. Logically thinking, there is no way they can become assimilated to a new system and translate that into a level of play high enough to compete in this loaded of a conference. Roster turnover of this magnitude usually spells disaster for a team, so all signs point to a struggle for the Blue Demons.

 

Editor’s Note: This piece has been updated.


Parker Houston
Parker is the former podcast editor for the Voice. He also wonders how we can trust self-driving cars if Google captcha can't determine what a street sign is.


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