Big East Preview: Rebirth for Red Storm?
While a part of me will always miss the old Big East. This should be a fun conference with the postseason tournament still located in Madison Square Garden. Villanova looks to defend their impressive run in year one of the ‘new’ Big East. It’s still unclear where this conference fits in the national landscape. It has both a high mid-major and major conference feel to it. If only we could bring UConn and Cincinnati over from the American! It will be a telling year in the Big East as the teams behind Villanova look to establish themselves and the conference.
Buzz Williams shocked a large part of the college basketball landscape by fleeing Marquette for Virginia Tech after a rumored falling out with Marquette’s AD. However, Marquette responded well bringing in top Duke Assistant Steve Wojciechowski to Milwaukee.
Georgetown and Seton Hall brought in two of the best classes in the country. Georgetown’s highlighted by three top 40 recruits in PFs Isaac Copeland, Paul White, and wing L.J. Peak. All three should have an immediate impact on the conference. Kevin Williard brings in the best freshman in the conference in Isaiah Whitehead who is joined by top rebounder Angel Delgado. Whitehead’s HS teammate Desi Rodriguez could see big minutes as well. Another recruit of note, is Trevon Bluiett at Xavier. He has a realistic chance to lead the Musketeers in scoring as does top 100 wing Ronnie Harrell at Creighton.
Hot in here or just me?
Steve Lavin has recruited a lot of talent to St. John’s in his fifth season, but health issues and early departures have limited him to just one NCAA tournament game in his four seasons. Lavin needs to put together a strong season to feel secure in his position with the Johnnies.
Oliver Purnell may need a small miracle to keep his job with the Blue Demons having failed to put even a competitive team on the floor in his first four years and failing to establish a consistent recruiting pipeline in the Chicago area. It might be best for both sides to move on if a turnaround doesn’t occur in 2014-15.
Villanova enters the season as a clear front-runner in the Big East, but not an invulnerable one. St. John’s, Xavier, Georgetown, and Providence all have the talent to challenge the Wildcats. Year two in the Big East should help establish the new conference pecking order, and where the Big East fits into the national picture. I think this conference is better than having only one team, ‘Nova, ranked in the preseason top 25, but this conference can’t afford to be under the radar as it establishes its new identity.
Villanova – Villanova dominated the new-look Big East in year one in every game they weren’t playing against Doug McDermott, and while they lose leading scorer James Bell, they return a majority of their 2013-14 rotation. JayVaughn Pinkston returns for his senior year along with sharpshooting guard Darrun Hilliard. They are two of the best players in the conference and are joined by guards Josh Hart and Ryan Arcidiacono as well as center Daniel Ochefu. This will continue to be a perimeter oriented team with Hilliard, Pinkston, Arcidiacono, and Hart. Junior guard Dylan Ennis, brother of Tyler Ennis, looks to carve out a bigger role in Bell’s absence. The Wildcats will be difficult to unseat atop the Big East for the second consecutive season.
St. John’s – Call this a gut feeling, but this might be the year St. John’s lives up to its potential under Steve Lavin. They won quite a few games last year on the back of their defense which should be even better this year with Chris Obekpa starting in the frontcourt. On offense, D’Angelo Harrison is one of the most inconsistent scoring guards in the nation. If he can find his rhythm consistently, watch out. What could help is highly touted sophomore point guard Rysheed Jordan emerging alongside Harrison in the backcourt. The loss of JaKarr Sampson as an early entry to the NBA draft (he wasn’t drafted) will certainly hurt, but F Sir Dominic Pointer and guards Phil Greene and Jamal Branch should help pick up some of the scoring load. Make no mistake games against St. John’s aren’t likely to be pretty or high scoring, but this is an athletic team that is talented enough to make some noise in the Big East.
Georgetown – The Hoyas folded in Big East play that saw a season highlighted by wins against VCU and Michigan State end with an NIT berth and a sub-.500 Big East record. The team loses senior PG Markel Starks, but does return one of the best guards in the conference in D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera. Apparently, Josh Smith, the former overweight and highly touted UCLA recruit, is in shape this year after showing flashes in his first year with the Hoyas prior to being suspended, but we’ve heard this once or twice before. Regardless of Smith’s potential emergence as a force down low, if any team in the conference has the talent to unseat ‘Nova atop the conference it’s the Hoyas. Senior guard Jabril Trawick, sophomore wing Reggie Cameron, and junior forward Mikael Hopkins all return for 2014-15 alongside Smith-Rivera. However, the difference will be made by the freshmen class. Three top 40 recruits look to join the Hoya rotation lead by PF Isaac Copeland, G L.J. Peak, and PF Paul White. In fact, Copeland and Peak could start for the Hoyas from day one. Don’t be surprised if the Hoyas return to the tournament this season.
Xavier – Chris Mack enters the season after a disappointing finish to 2013-14 having to replace star guard Semaj Christon to the NBA, and forwards Justin Martin (SMU) and Isaiah Philmore. Those are three very good starters. However, there is talent in Cincinnati ready to replace them. Senior center Matt Stainbrook might be the best big man in the conference while top recruit Trevon Bluiett should step right into the starting lineup for Martin after spurning offers from Indiana and UCLA among many others. The backcourt has a few more questions than answers at this point as Chris Mack has senior PG Dee Davis returning along with not one, not two, but three top 100 prospects at PG behind Davis. It’s not hard to imagine sophomore Brandon Randolph or freshmen Edmond Sumner and Larry Austin playing alongside Davis at times. They will be joined in the backcourt by sophomore shooter Myles Davis and Indiana transfer Remy Abell. Both should add spacing for the Stainbrook in the frontcourt. Despite the attrition, it isn’t far-fetched to imagine Xavier improving in 2014-15.
Providence – Providence loses do-everything guard Bryce Cotton who willed the Friars into the tournament after a Big East championship run and nearly upset the Tar Heels in round one. Also gone are promising wings Josh Fortune and Brandon Austin to transfer as well as senior forward Kadeem Batts. This team will be led by the performances of two of the conference’s most talent players: PG Kris Dunn and senior F LaDontae Henton. Dunn is a former McDonald’s All-American looking to put injuries behind him and fill the void left by Cotton. Henton has anchored the Friars frontcourt for the last three years. Tyler Harris also returns as a stretch four for the Friars. Fortunately for Dunn and Henton, Ed Cooley has brought in yet another solid class. PG Kyron Cartwright could see big minutes alongside Dunn for the get go. Shot blocking seven-footer Paschal Chukwu could provide some defensive support for fellow seven-footer Carson Desrosiers. Additionally, top-100 prospect Jalen Lindsey could figure into the rotation at the wing. If Dunn could stay healthy and fill some of the void left by Cotton this team could slip into the tournament for the second consecutive year.
Marquette – A tumultuous offseason for the Golden Eagles saw Coach Buzz Williams depart for Virginia Tech and concluded with promising Duke Assistant Steve Wojciechowski take the job. As a first-year head coach in a major conference it will be interesting to see how Wojo adjusts especially considering Marquette lost five of their top six scorers from last season’s team. Sophomore Deonte Burton who showed flashes of scoring potential and BYU transfer Matt Carlino should anchor a solid backcourt alongside senior G Derrick Wilson and redshirt freshman Duane Wilson. However, the frontcourt is filled with questions that could hopefully be alleviated when center Luke Fischer becomes eligible in December after transferring from Indiana. Also, look for top recruit Sandy Cohen to contribute on the wing early. This Marquette team has the potential to be very good, but could struggle with an inexperienced coach and roster.
Seton Hall – Bad news? Seton Hall loses their best player Fuquan Edwin who single-handedly kept the Pirates competitive at times. Good news? Seton Hall brought in the second best class in the conference highlighted by McDonald’s All-American Isaiah Whitehead and top 100 PF Angel Delgado. Those two will start right off the bat and join returning guard Sterling Gibbs and F Brandon Mobley in the lineup. This team will go as far as its freshmen can take them, but the Pirates are certainly starting to trend upward under Coach Kevin Williard.
Butler– Butler finally crashed back to earth in year one of the Big East last year struggling mightily at times to score. Roosevelt Jones return from injury after missing last season should help and he joins Kellen Dunham and Alex Barlow in the backcourt. Indiana transfer Austin Etherington should help on the wing as he is eligible immediately. Kameron Woods anchors a thin frontcourt that may need contributions from freshmen Kelan Martin, Tyler Wideman, and Jackson Davis in order to provide rebounding and defense on an undersized and guard-oriented team. The Bulldogs should be better this year, but with Coach Brandon Miller starting the season with a leave of absence, it’s hard to see this team taking a huge step forward.
Creighton –How do you replace Doug McDermott? Well, you really can’t. This team won’t be the same and needs to play much improved defense to make up for what will be a substantially worse offense. Creighton also loses Ethan Wragge and PG Grant Gibbs so this will essentially be a brand new starting five for the Bluejays. Austin Chatman and Will Artino return, but Greg McDermott will need Cal transfer Ricky Kreklow and freshman wing Ronnie Harrell to pick up some of the offensive slack, actually a lot of offensive slack. This looks like it will be a tough season as Creighton adjusts to life without ‘McBuckets.’
Depaul– It’s fair to say that the Oliver Purnell hire has not worked out so far. In four years with the Blue Demons, they have yet to top twelve TOTAL wins. Former top 100 recruit Billy Garrett shows a lot of promise, but beyond that the Blue Demons look like a bad team that will not get much better. JC transfers Aaron Simpson, Darrick Wood, and Rashaun Stimage could help give this team a boost, but it looks like another long season in Chicago.
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