32 Conferences, 32 Days: Big East

By Kevin Sweeney

Villanova has dominated the Big East in recent years, claiming 4 consecutive regular season titles. The good thing is that steady control at the top hasn’t stopped the Big East from being one of the most entertaining conferences in college basketball, and this year should be no different. I could see the league getting as many as 8 NCAA Tournament bids come March, and a strong case could be made that 4 of the top 20 teams in the nation hail from the Big East.

Standings Projection:

  1. Villanova- Clear favorites in my book, the Wildcats are loaded in the backcourt once again. The addition of 5-star big man Omari Spellman will give them an elite offensive weapon up front that makes Jay Wright’s club even more dangerous.
  2. Xavier- It took me awhile to come around to the Musketeers as my #2 in the Big East, but the more I look at the roster, the more there is to like. If they get steady point guard play from Quentin Goodin, the sky is the limit for this Xavier club.
  3. Providence- One of the most veteran-laden teams at the high-major level, the Friars will likely trot out 4 senior starters in PG Kyron Cartwright, SF Jalen Lindsey, PF Rodney Bullock, and C Emmitt Holt. From there, look for a strong freshman class featuring top-50 guard Makai Ashton-Langford to push the Friars to the next level.
  4. Seton Hall- Sure, Angel Delgado is amazing. Khadeen Carrington & Desi Rodriguez are outstanding too. However, unless the Pirates’ point guard play improves, the upside of this team remains capped. Freshman Jordan Walker is a guy capable of claiming that role, and if he does so effectively, this team is very dangerous.
  5. Butler- While I don’t think many realize just how important Andrew Chrabascz was to this Butler club last season, the Bulldogs should still be fine with Kelan Martin and Kamar Baldwin leading the way. Coaching turnover always scares me, but I think the Bulldogs are in good hands with LaVall Jordan at the helm,
  6. Creighton- The Bluejays are an intriguing club to me. They have a star in Marcus Foster who can really fill it up (albeit at high volume) and one of the most underrated monsters in the country in Khyri Thomas. What comes after that duo determines how good Creighton can be this season.
  7. Marquette- In short, the Eagles can shoot the cover off the ball. Remarkably, they return 3 players who shot better than 44% from 3 on more than 2 makes per game in Markus Howard, Andrew Rowsey, and Sam Hauser. Frontcourt play is a concern, but Steve Wojciechowksi club will be fun to watch on the offensive end.
  8. St. John’s- The backcourt pairing of Shamorie Ponds and Marcus LoVett should be outstanding once again, and excitement is high about transfers Justin Simon (Arizona) and Marvin Clark (Michigan State) who are fresh off a redshirt. If things break right, the Johnnies will be intently watching CBS come Selection Sunday.
  9. DePaul- Wait, DePaul’s allowed to not come in last? Color me surprised too. In all seriousness though, I actually like this roster. The backcourt is has some excellent pieces, with Eli Cain and Brandon Cyrus returning along with incoming former 5-star Austin Grandstaff and D2 transfer Max Strus, who has earned rave reviews. Dave Leitao will likely have to go small a lot, but this team is actually intriguing.
  10. Georgetown- I really don’t know how this Georgetown team will look this season in year 1 of the Patrick Ewing era. Landing 4-star forward Jamorko Pickett in the late period helps, but Ewing will need a huge year from big man Jessie Govan to be competitive in the Big East this season.

Champions: Villanova

Some people I’ve spoken to this season think that the gap has narrowed between Villanova and the rest of the conference this season. I disagree. The Wildcats are every bit a top-7 team in the country going into the year and a national title contender. Steady floor general Jalen Brunson is one of the smartest college players I’ve ever watched and is certainly in the discussion to be an All-American this season. Complimenting him is a deep unit of wings who can really score the ball, from Donte DiVincenzo to Phil Booth to Mikal Bridges (who is one of the best defenders in the country as well). Spellman gives them a potentially dominant frontcourt force, and Eric Paschall’s versatility at the forward spot allows the Wildcats to do so many different things defensively to create favorable matchups. I’m bullish on the Wildcats this season.

Dark Horse: Butler

The main reason I have for highlighting this Butler team is Kamar Baldwin. The talented sophomore guard is coming off a freshman campaign where he averaged over 10 points per game on efficient shooting while also being an elite perimeter defender. Most would consider him a breakout player this year, but in my mind he has already broken out. That said, word out of Butler is that Baldwin could see time at the point guard position, something that intrigues me a ton. If he adapts well to that role, this team has a ton of upside, already featuring a star in Kelan Martin and a slew of solid role players along with a solid incoming class of talent.

All Conference First Team:

  • G: Jalen Brunson (Villanova)
  • G: Marcus Foster (Creighton)
  • G/F: Kelan Martin (Butler)
  • G/F: Trevon Bluiett (Xavier)
  • F: Angel Delgado (Seton Hall)

Player of the Year: Jalen Brunson- In Big East play a season ago, Brunson averaged a remarkable statline of 16.1 ppg, 4.6 apg, and a 67!!% true shooting percentage (measurement of shooting efficiency on 2’s, 3’s, and free throws). He’s the unquestioned leader of a Villanova club that I expect to be in the national title conversation until the very end this season, and always seems to make the right play in the biggest moments. A lot of star power returns in the Big East, but Brunson is as good as it gets in the college game today.

20170213_villanova-depaul_jalen_brunson_bringing_the_ball_upcourt

Brunson is one of the best point guards in college basketball. Photo Credit: By TonyTheTiger (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Breakout Player of the Year: Sam Hauser (Marquette)- Hauser was one of the more underrated freshmen in college basketball a season ago, averaging more than 8 points and 5 rebounds on 45% 3-point shooting on an NCAA Tournament team. With his strong 6-8, 225 pound frame, Hauser represents a really versatile option for Marquette, strong enough to play as a stretch 4 in Steve Wojciechowski’s free-flowing offensive system but athletic enough to play on the wing as well. A big year is ahead for the Stevens Point, WI native.

Newcomer of the Year: Omari Spellman (Villanova)- I’ve alluded to Spellman a few times throughout this preview, but there’s a reason for it. The 5-star freshman who had to sit out last season due to academic ineligibility is a special talent. A built 6-9 forward, Spellman can throw his body around and score at will in the paint. However, he’s also sneaky-quick laterally, which will allow him to slot right in to Jay Wright’s defensive sets. In prep school, Spellman flashed a developing face-up game as well, extending his range to the 3-point arc. If he can consistently hit long jumpers along with that devastating low-post game, he’s going to be a star.

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