Fresh off of its second national title in three years, No. 9 Villanova looks to continue its Big East and NCAA dominance. The Wildcats return senior forward Eric Paschall and senior guard Phil Booth, both starters on last year’s national championship team. ’Nova also returns sophomore guard Collin Gillespie and sophomore forwards Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree and Jermaine Samuels, each of whom will look to fill larger roles in their second seasons. Head coach Jay Wright has brought in another stellar recruiting class, featuring five-star recruit Jahvon Quinerly and transfer senior guard Joe Cremo. The Wildcats are expected to win both the Big East regular season title and the Big East tournament.
The Golden Eagles boasted one of the most high-powered offenses in the nation last season, finishing 12th in offensive efficiency and third in 3-point percentage. Junior guard Markus Howard, who earned All-Big East Second Team honors with an average of 20.4 points per game last year, and junior forward Sam Hauser, who finished third in the country in 3-point shooting at 48.7 percent, led the offense. However, Marquette allowed opponents to shoot close to 54 percent on 2-pointers. The Golden Eagles must improve defensively if they want to challenge Villanova’s throne and make a deep postseason run.
- St. John’s
The Red Storm has the talent to be a top team in the Big East and the nation, despite a 16-17 record last year. They return prolific junior guard and preseason All-American candidate Shamorie Ponds, who led the Big East with 21.6 points per game last season, as well as senior forward Marvin Clark II, who finished second on the team in scoring last season, and junior guard Justin Simon. Transfer junior guard Mustapha Heron (Auburn) will also be eligible to play this season. With the backcourt duo of Heron and Ponds and a solid supporting cast of returning players, the Johnnies will look to make a big splash in Big East play and a March Madness appearance.
This Xavier team will look quite different than the Muskies of recent years, with nine-year coach Chris Mack leaving for Louisville and the departure of star senior trio Trevon Bluiett, J.P. Macura, and Kerem Kanter. Still, the Musketeers should be able to improve upon their average of 74.7 points per game allowed, given their top-to-bottom length and athleticism. Xavier’s returning backcourt options all check in at 6-foot-3 or taller, while sophomore forward Naji Marshall looks to be a potential breakout candidate for All-Big East honors after landing on the Big East All-Freshman squad last season. The Musketeers lack the proven scoring depth to warrant a top-three spot in head coach Travis Steele’s first season, but should remain formidable.
In his first year at the helm last season, head coach LaVall Jordan led an inexperienced Butler team to a surprising 21-14 season and a 10-seed in the NCAA tournament. This season, junior guard Kamar Baldwin will be expected to shoulder the offensive load after a breakout sophomore campaign. He will be complemented by redshirt senior guard Paul Jorgensen and transfer sophomore forward Jordan Tucker (Duke). The Bulldogs will not contend for the Big East title until they can find capable secondary scorers and frontcourt options, but with six experienced returners, there is enough continuity in Indianapolis that Butler could certainly return to the Big Dance.
Providence has been a perennial March Madness contender under coach Ed Cooley, making five consecutive appearances in the NCAA tournament since 2014. Considering last season’s 10-8 conference record and the loss of all but two starters, Providence does not appear poised to take the Big East by storm. However, they are getting redshirt senior forward Emmitt Holt back from an abdominal injury that prevented him from playing last season, and the two starters they are returning, junior guard Alpha Diallo and sophomore guard Makai Ashton-Langford, are both solid contributors. Cooley is expected to do what he always does and lead a decent, competitive team to a NCAA tournament bid with good coaching and grit.
Despite losing many close games and experiencing serious turnover troubles, Georgetown’s performance in Patrick Ewing’s first year on the Hilltop as head coach was a step in the right direction. Senior center Jessie Govan, who averaged a double-double last season, returns as a unanimous preseason First Team All-Big East selection, along with sophomore guard Jamorko Pickett and senior guard/forward Kaleb Johnson, both starters on last year’s squad. Georgetown could surprise with eight returners and an exciting freshman class led by four-star point guard James Akinjo. However, it goes without saying nothing is guaranteed for the Hoyas until the scoreboard reads all zeros.
- Seton Hall
While the Pirates have made three consecutive NCAA tournament appearances in the last three years, they lost four seniors at the core of their team. Head coach Kevin Willard will rely more heavily on junior guard Myles Powell, who earned Big East Most Improved Player honors last season while averaging 15.5 points per game, to provide offensive production. Powell will not be able to do it alone; the Pirates will hope for immediate results from transfer junior guard Quincy McKnight (Sacred Heart) and transfer sophomore forward Taurean Thompson (Syracuse). Regardless, Seton Hall will undoubtedly finish as one of the conference’s cellar dwellers this season, and Willard has his work cut out for him with such an inexperienced roster.
With the departure of four of the Bluejays’ top six scorers, there’s not too much to get excited about in Omaha. It will likely be difficult to replace the scoring and playmaking abilities of the All-Big East backcourt duo Marcus Foster and Khyri Thomas. Head coach Greg McDermott will have to hope junior guard Davion Mintz and sophomore guards Mitch Ballock and Ty-Shon Alexander rise to the challenge in their stead, while junior center Martin Krampelj returns down low from a torn ACL injury. Their conference opponents do not expect Creighton, picked ninth in the Big East preseason coaches’ poll, to pose much of a threat, but their home court advantage and seasoned head coach could keep the team competitive.
DePaul fans will get to enjoy one more season of the duo of senior guards Eli Cain and Max Strus, who combined for 27.2 points per game last year. The two played no small part in head coach Dave Leitao’s best season since rejoining the Blue Demons, but were still unable to pull DePaul out of the Big East basement. Beyond Cain and Strus, everyone else who averaged more than 12 minutes a night throughout the season has left the program. 6-foot-9 senior forward Femi Olujobi and sharpshooting junior guard Jalen Coleman-Lands join the fold via transfer (North Carolina A&T, Illinois), but this will likely be a trying season for a program that has seen its fair share of lean years in the last decade.