Since 2013-14, Villanova has finished first in the conference every season but 2017-18, when they won both the Big East and NCAA Tournaments. The team lost its leading scorer in Phil Booth, as well as its leading rebounder, Eric Paschall, but the Wildcats nevertheless boast a deep squad and have proven themselves time and time again. Junior guard Collin Gillespie and sophomore forward Saddiq Bey will need to up their games to make up for lost scoring, but the addition of blue-chip freshman recruits forward Jeremiah Robinson-Earl and guard Bryan Antoine will certainly help. Expect this team to wind up near the top of the conference once again.
- Seton Hall
After a close loss to Villanova in last year’s Big East Tournament, the Pirates enter the season with reason to be optimistic. Much of their roster remains, having only graduated Michael Nzei, who averaged 9 points per game. Senior guard Myles Powell, who finished second in scoring in the Big East last season, returns along with junior guard Myles Cale and senior guard Quincy McKnight, leaving Seton Hall a strong backcourt. Combined with junior big man Sandro Mamukelashvili, who led the team with 7.8 rebounds per game, the Pirates are poised to be one of the strongest offenses in the conference. Bank on the Pirates improving on last season’s .500 record and possibly advancing past the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
Following a dismal first half of last season under new Head Coach Travis Steele, the Musketeers won six of their final seven conference matchups. The difference came from their defense, which slowed the pace of play in their favor. Despite the loss of center Zach Hankins, Xavier retains most of its core roster. The projected starting five (including transfer forward Jason Carter from Ohio University) all averaged double-digit points per game last season. If junior forward Naji Marshall can become accustomed to leading the offense, expect Xavier to make some noise this season.
The Golden Eagles are looking to rebound after last season’s disappointing NCAA Tournament first-round exit. Returning is Big East Player of the Year and Second Team All-American senior guard Markus Howard, who averaged a conference-high 25 points per game. However, the team suffered a big loss with the transfers of brothers Sam and Joey Hauser, who posted 14.9 and 9.7 points per game, respectively. To fill in the gaps, Marquette hopes for contributions from transfers junior guard Koby McEwen from Utah State and graduate center Jayce Johnson from the University of Utah.
Last year’s exciting freshman trio of reigning Big East Freshman of the Year James Akinjo, Josh LeBlanc, and Mac McClung return for Patrick Ewing’s third season as head coach. Center Jessie Govan, who led the offense with 17.5 points and 7.5 rebounds per game, will not be returning, but 7-foot senior center Omer Yurtseven is now eligible to play after sitting out a year upon transferring from N.C. State. If junior guard Jamorko Pickett can help fill the scoring gap, Georgetown will be able to trot out a formidable starting five. This Hoyas squad is well-positioned to make their first appearance in the NCAA Tournament since 2015.
Butler finished at the bottom of the Big East last season with a 7-11 record. Returning is senior guard Kamar Baldwin, who scored 17 points per game and earned Second Team All-Big East honors, and eligible this season is redshirt junior forward Bryce Nze, who transferred from UW-Milwaukee where he averaged 10.3 points and 8.5 rebounds per game. 7’1” graduate transfer center Derrik Smits will be immediately eligible as well and will bear the brunt of losing big men Joey Brunk and Nate Fowler. Add a full slate of freshman recruits, and despite losing second leading scorer Paul Jorgensen, this year’s Bulldogs are the wild card of the conference.
The Bluejays posted a 9-9 conference record last year and will return four of their five starters. Under Head Coach Greg McDermott, Creighton has consistently enjoyed a prolific offense, this year led by junior guard Ty-Shon Alexander and sophomore guard Marcus Zegarowski. They have lacked defensive presence, however, a shortcoming exacerbated by the loss of forward Martin Krampelj. Sophomore center Jacob Epperson and transfer senior center Kelvin Jones from Idaho State will look to step up as rim protectors, but both are unproven in their collegiate careers.
The Friars did not live up to expectations last season, finishing below .500 in conference play for the first time since 2011 and failing to continue their five-year NCAA tournament appearance streak. Even after graduating guard Isaiah Jackson, the team returns many of its top options, including senior guard Alpha Diallo. Providence relies heavily on its defense, which ranked 39th in the nation last year in steals, but will need more offensive firepower to take meaningful strides. Graduate transfer guard Luwane Pipkins from UMass-Amherst may help with scoring, but likely not enough for this team to impact the conference.
- St. John’s
Head Coach Chris Mullin resigned after St. John’s finished last season just above the bottom of the conference, clumsily handing the baton to new Head Coach Mike Anderson. Questions swirl around this roster with scoring and assists leader Shamorie Ponds off to the NBA, Rasheem Dunn denied eligibility by the NCAA after transfering from Cleveland State, and multiple rotation players transferring schools. Senior guard Mustapha Heron and junior guard LJ Figueroa will not be able to drive the offense on their own, so much of the load will shift to their shaky frontcourt. Expect the Red Storm to start the season under a cloud of uncertainty.
After posting a 7-11 record in conference play last year, the Blue Demons face a difficult road ahead. They said goodbye to Max Strus, Eli Cain, and Femi Olujobi, who combined for 45.5 of the team’s 78.4 points per game, and now have no players taller than 6’9”. Scoring responsibility will shift to junior guard Devin Gage and senior guard Jalen Coleman-Lands, who have little experience leading the team. On the upside, junior forward Paul Reed looks like an NBA prospect, and it will be exciting to see him ball with freshman forward Romeo Weems, ranked 46th on the ESPN Top 100. Their lack of experience will likely put DePaul in the bottom tier of the Big East once again.
Image Credits: John Picker/The Georgetown Voice