Big East basketball preview: Jay Wright's Wildcats looking for the title

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John Thompson III: Hoyas Anxious to Put Last Year Behind Them



By MATT BARBATO
College Contributor Network

The Big East was relatively successful in its first season as the "new" Big East conference. The conference had four teams qualify for the NCAA Tournament in Villanova, Creighton, Providence and Xavier and also hosted the National Player of the Year, Doug McDermott.

The conference should be more competitive this season, but Villanova is the clear favorite to take home the title. Below is a capsule on each team, in order of my predicted finish in the standings.

1. Villanova Wildcats (29-5, 16-2)

Villanova was outstanding last season and is returning four starters from a team that earned a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Jay Wright's club will be without its leading scorer, James Bell, but still has forward JayVaughn Pinkston and stud shooter Darrun Hillard.

Point guard Ryan Arcidiacono can not be forgotten either. The junior is incredibly quick and can get to the rim with ease. The Wildcats also present a proven rim protector in Daniel Ochefu, who averaged 1.5 blocks per game last season. Sophomore Josh Hart should provide an important scoring punch.

The Wildcats are not incredibly deep, but they have enough talent to take the conference. With three players named to either the first or second All-Big East team, the Wildcats are the overwhelming favorites to capture the Big East crown.

2. Georgetown Hoyas (18-15, 8-10)

Underwhelming would be an understatement for the Hoyas last season. Despite earning signature wins against Virginia Commonwealth and Michigan State, Georgetown struggled to find a groove in conference play and settled for a second round loss in the NIT.

The Hoyas lost Markel Starks, but returned preseason Conference Player of the Year D'vauntes Smith-Rivera. The junior point guard averaged 17.6 points, five rebounds and two assists last season and is poised for a big year.

Joshua Smith will be the key component for John Thompson III's squad. The center missed 20 games due to academics and could be the difference in whether Georgetown contends for a conference title and beyond. Georgetown welcomes a talented freshman class, led by five-star power forward Issac Copeland. The Hoyas should be back in contention for the Big East.

3. Xavier Musketeers (21-13, 10-8)

The Musketeers will certainly miss Semaj Christon, but Matt Stainbrook is arguably the best big man in the conference. The 6-foot-10, 263 pound center is a load in the frontcourt and averaged 10.6 points and 7.4 rebounds last season.

Chris Mack brought in six freshmen in his 2014 class, along with Indiana transfer Remy Abell, who could provide immediate help at guard. Senior Dee Davis will need to step up and sophomores Jalen Reynolds and Myles Davis could develop into key players.

Xavier will miss its star power, but it possesses one of the deepest rosters and best coaches in the conference.

4. St. John's Red Storm (20-13, 10-8)

The Red Storm has another talented roster, but talent hasn't translated into success lately. Steve Lavin's club is led by D'Angelo Harrison, who was named to the Preseason All-Big East First Team. Harrison is a dynamic scorer, but shot only 38 percent from the floor.

The senior-laden squad returns three of its five best scorers from last season. Sophomore Rysheed Jordan made the Preseason All-Big East Second Team and could be poised for a breakout campaign. Junior Chris Obepka is one of the best defensive big men in the conference and swatted an average of 2.9 shots last season. The 6-foot-10 center from Nigeria was an honorable mention for the preseason All-Conference team.

If talent can come to fruition for the Johnnies, it could be a big year in New York.

5. Providence Friars (23-12 10-8)

The Friars proved they were no longer the doormat of the conference any longer as they went on a magical run to the Big East Tournament title and a berth in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 10 years.

Unfortunately, Providence will be losing the man who carried them back to the tournament. Bryce Cotton would have been the most valuable player in the conference if not for McDermott, and his presence will be badly missed. Providence will also miss Kadeem Batts, who played valuable minutes for the Friars at power forward.

The Friars are also a young team with nine underclassmen. The onus will be on senior LaDontae Henton, who was a member of the preseason All-Big East Second Team. The Friars could have a talented frontcourt if junior Tyler Harris and senior Carson Desrosiers can take big steps this year.

Without much star power, it could be difficult for Ed Cooley and the Friars to repeat last season's success.

6. Marquette Golden Eagles (17-15, 9-9)

Marquette was favored to win the conference last season, but fell flat on its face. The team lost the bulk of their scoring from last season and is also implementing a new head coach, Steve Wojciechowski. The former Duke assistant has impressed on the recruiting trail, but now must prove himself on the court.

Marquette returns two starters from last season, but they were their least impactful players. Senior BYU transfer Matt Carlino and sophomore Indiana transfer will hold the keys to their season. The Golden Eagles will only dress nine players until Luke Fischer is eligible in December and will not suit up a player taller than 6-foot-9 Steve Taylor until then.

The Golden Eagles will try to counter their lack of size with a fast-paced offense complemented by a full-court press after made baskets. Marquette could have two potential studs in redshirt freshman Duane Wilson and sophomore Deonte Burton.

The future is bright for Marquette and "Wojo" may surprise some people in his first season, but it should be a rebuilding year for the Golden Eagles.

7. Butler Bulldogs (14-17, 4-14)

The Bulldogs struggled in their first season in the Big East, but return three starters. Butler will also benefit from the return of forward Roosevelt Jones, who missed the entire 2013-14 season with a wrist injury. Kellen Dunham is the top scoring option on this roster, but his shooting tends to be erratic. Kameron Woods averaged 7.5 points and nine boards last season and could be one of the better big men in the conference. Alex Barlow is a competent facilitator.

The Bulldogs don't feature a ton of depth and will need Indiana transfer Austin Etherington to produce right away. Andrew Chrabascz will also take on a big role as the first big man off the bench.

The biggest problem could be instability at the top of the program. Head coach Brandon Miller has been on a medical leave of absence since early October and Chris Holtmann is the interim head coach.

Butler has a talented starting lineup and a potential stud in Dunham, but the Bulldogs will have to overcome a lack of depth and the absence of its head coach to make an impact in the conference. This team may be a year away from being a serious contender.

8. Seton Hall Pirates (17-17, 6-12)

The Pirates may have lost four of their top five scorers, but they are getting a potential star in freshman, and preseason Big East Rookie of the Year, Isaiah Whitehead. Head coach Kevin Willard shocked many by landing the five-star recruit from Brooklyn along with four-star prospect Angel Delgado.

Senior Sterling Gibbs has an opportunity to be the star player for the Pirates and was an honorable mention for the all-conference team. Seton Hall is thin down low and will need senior Brandon Mobley to take on a big role. The Pirates are also undersized, as they have only one player listed above 6-foot-9.

If Whitehead and Delgado become stars immediately, the Pirates could be a sleeper for a top-four spot in the conference.

9. Creighton Bluejays (27-8, 14-4)

It isn't just replacing his son, Greg McDermott is tasked with replacing four starters from last year's squad. Those four players combined for 65 percent of Creighton's scoring last season and it will not be replaced overnight.

The Bluejays do get guard Austin Chapman back, but that's about it. Someone will need to step up for Creighton, particularly seniors Devin Brooks and Will Artino. The Jays will also rely on their two freshmen, Ronnie Harrell and Leon Gilmore to contribute right away.

Life without McDermott could be rough. But if there's a coach who can get more out of his roster than anyone expected, it's the elder McDermott.

10. DePaul Blue Demons (12-21, 3-15)

Oliver Purnell is on the hot seat after another dreadful season in Chicago. The men who can save Purnell's job are sophomores Billy Garrett Jr. and Tommy Hamilton IV. Both are loaded with potential, but Garrett Jr. has the opportunity to be a star. In his freshman season, he averaged 12.4 points, 2.4 rebounds and three assists.

DePaul also needs big seasons from junior Durrell McDonald and senior Jamee Crockett. Other than that, the Blue Demons do not have much and Purnell struck out once again in recruiting, despite being located in a high school basketball hotbeds.

DePaul has a decent young nucleus to build around, but it's tough to say Purnell is capable of doing anything with it. DePaul should be in the cellar once again.


Matt Barbato is a senior at Marquette University. His favorite sport is football and is an avid New York Jets fan, for better or worse. You can follow him on Twitter @RealMattBarbato
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