Big East Men’s preview

November 5, 2021

Player of the Year: G Collin Gillespie, Villanova

Freshman of the Year: G Aminu Mohammed, Georgetown

1. Villanova

2021: 18-7 (11-4 Big East)

Villanova coach Jay Wright’s Wildcats have won at least a share of the Big East title in seven of the past eight years. In the year they didn’t, 2018, the team took the national championship, one of the ’Cats’s two during the eight-year span. The return of “super seniors” guard Collin  Gillespie (14.0 PPG) and forward Jermaine Samuels (12.0 PPG, 6.4 RPG) along with junior guards Justin Moore and Bryan Antoine should help to offset the loss of Big East Player of the Year Jeremiah Robinson-Earl (now on the Oklahoma City Thunder of the NBA). Despite some worry about small size, not only should Villanova be a runaway Big East favorite, but the ’Cats are also a legitimate national title contender.

2. Xavier

2021: 13-8 (6-7 Big East)

Since taking over for Chris Mack in 2018, Travis Steele has failed to take Xavier back to the NCAA Tournament. Their absence is likely to change in 2021 as practically everyone returns from last year’s inconsistent squad that finished in the middle of the Big East. Eight Xavier players that averaged 10 or more minutes per game last season are joined by two Big Ten transfers, junior forwards Jerome Hunter (Indiana) and Jack Nunge (Iowa), to add some size. Senior guard Paul Scruggs (14.0 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 5.7 APG) remains the player to watch, but this is the deepest bench in the conference, so expect a different guy to take charge every night.

3. UConn

2021: 15-8 (11-6 Big East)

UConn’s headline entering the season is the loss of star James Bouknight to the NBA, but what was head coach Dan Hurley’s best team yet retains many of its key pieces. Graduate forward Isaiah Whaley is one of the best defenders in the country, and graduate guard R.J. Cole (12.2 PPG) is primed to step into the No. 1 scorer role in place of Bouknight. Consistency, however, is a worry, as is a lack of potent scorers behind Cole. The raw talent of this team on top of Hurley’s coaching places the Huskies comfortably towards the top of the conference, but UConn will need a breakthrough incoming freshman to threaten ’Nova.

4. St. John’s

2021: 16-11 (10-9)

No Big East team has seen a wider gap in pundit preseason expectations than the Red Storm, which returns junior guard Julian Champagnie (19.8 PPG, 7.4 RPG) and sophomore guard Posh Alexander (10.9 PPG with sterling defense) from a team that just missed the NCAA Tournament last year. The Johnnies add three freshmen and six transfers, highlighted by graduate guard Stef Smith, who averaged 13.6 PPG with Vermont last year. This should be Mike Anderson’s best team since taking over the job, and a tournament appearance is likely.

5. Seton Hall

2021 Record: 14-13 (10-9 Big East)

Over the past six seasons, Kevin Willard’s team has consistently remained one of the strongest squads in the Big East. Seton Hall had a bumpy 2020-21 year but looked like a bubble team before dropping their final four games of the regular season. With star player Sandro Mamukelashvili off to the NBA and graduate guard Bryce Aiken constantly dealing with injuries, this team enters the season with question marks throughout the roster. The wing play should be solid, but Mamukelashvili’s departure leaves a noticeable gap on the inside. The Pirates can anticipate a middling bubble season once again unless a second big man to play alongside 7-foot-2 graduate center Ike Obiagu steps into the fold.

6. Providence

2021 Record: 13-13 (9-10 Big East)

Providence is a long shot to return to conference contention, with star David Duke gone from a team that was already just “okay” last season. That being said guard AJ Reeves (9.6 PPG), and bruising 6-foot-10 center Nate Watson (16.9 PPG, 6.7 RPG) return from last season’s .500 team, and an Ed Cooley coached team will always play to the best of their abilities. The addition of double-digit scorer Al Durham, a graduate guard transferring in from Indiana, also helps, leaving the Friars as a dark horse pick for the NCAA Tournament.

7. Butler

2021 Record: 10-15 (8-12 Big East)

Fun fact: Butler was one of only two teams to play every scheduled Big East game last season, and, while it was a rough year for head coach LaVall Jordan, the Bulldogs are bringing back everybody that matters from last year’s squad. The starting lineup will feature four seniors, and all five starters averaged more than 10 points per game last year. Eastern Michigan transfer Ty Groce (15.2 PPG, 6.9 RPG) should add some size on the inside. Though defense will remain a bit of an issue—the Bulldogs ranked 295th in opponent effective FG% last year—this should be a much-improved squad.

8. Creighton

2021 Record: 22-9 (14-6 Big East)

While Butler returns everyone from a team that was bad last year, Big East runner-up Creighton loses everyone from a team that was quite good. The Bluejays earned a five seed in the NCAA Tournament and made a run to the Sweet 16. Not a single starter, however, returns from that team. The one name to watch is redshirt freshman guard Rati Andronikashvili, a Georgian-born player that missed last season with a knee injury. Despite Andronikashvili’s potential, the roster remains heavy with transfers and freshmen, and the Bluejays should expect to have a losing record in conference play for the first time since 2015.

9. Georgetown

2021 Record: 13-13 (7-9 Big East)

The Hoyas’ miracle run to the Big East Tournament Championship was one of the best moments of last season nationwide. However, a repeat performance may be difficult as sophomore guard Dante Harris (8.0 PPG) is the only returning starter, meaning freshmen guard Aminu Mohammed and center Ryan Mutombo will be thrown right into the fire of Big East play. Expect graduate wing Kaiden Rice (17.6 PPG at The Citadel last year) to be a key piece should the Hoyas overperform expectations. The influx of new talent makes the Hoyas difficult to predict, but the team should expect another sub-.500 Big East finish for head coach Patrick Ewing in year five.

10. Marquette

2021 Record: 13-14 (8-11 Big East)

Marquette coach Shaka Smart takes over for Steve Wojciechowski after a 19-8 season with the Texas Longhorns and could get this Eagles team back to the top of the Big East sooner rather than later. The outflux of players following the coaching change (just three players return from last season’s team), however, means finding success this season will be difficult. Maryland transfer Darryl Morsell (9.0 PPG with stellar defense with the Terps) is the name to watch. Morsell will be joined by three additional transfers and two freshmen in the eight-man rotation, creating rough year one conditions for Shaka as he lays the groundwork for future success.

11. DePaul

2021 Record: 5-14 (2-13 Big East) 

The “Dave Leitao II: Electric Boogaloo” era for DePaul ended with zero NCAA Tournament appearances in seven years and a high finish of 94th in the country in KenPom. Now, it is time for Oregon assistant Tony Stubblefield to try and take over what is one of the hardest jobs in any power conference. Senior guard Javon Freeman-Liberty (14.4 PPG) is the only big returner, and Stubblefield, known as a master recruiter, will rely on incoming transfers along with freshman guard Ahamad Bynum in what looks to be a rocky year one in Chicago. 

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