Once the nation’s best conferences year in and year out — the Big East remains that league in name alone. Gone are many of the team’s that made it famous throughout it’s heyday from the mid-80s and into the early 2010s. Still, this 10-team league, which features the seven Catholic universities from the Big East of yesteryear, and three of the 21st centuries most pesky mid-major programs — Butler, Creighton and Xavier. The Big East is more than capable of producing its fair share of dangerous squads come tournament time. Let’s preview the 2014-15 season for The Big East.
10. DePaul Blue Demons
Last Year’s Record: 12-21 (3-15)
This Year’s Projected Big East Record: 2-16
Head Coach: Oilver Purnell
Key Players: Billy Garrett Jr., Tommy Hamilton IV, Durrel McDonald
Analysis: In a season that will assuredly be a make or break for Oliver Purnell at DePaul…it’s going to be a break. The Blue Demons once more finished last in the Big East last season, and that was with Cleveland Melvin (although he was suspended half way through) and Brandon Young.
Purnell has been talking up his team in the offseason as being much better, but it’s hard to agree with him. Billy Garrett Jr. is a lone bright spot and one of the best young guards in the league, while Tommy Hamilton IV came on strong last season and earned All-Rookie Big East honors. However, aside from that Purnell has little to rely on.
Returners Durrell McDonald, and Forrest Robinson simply must perform better this year, and newcomers Myke Henry, Darrick Wood, and Aaron Simpson are unproven as well, but will look to come in and make an impact.
DePaul at least has some depth this season, but aside from Garrett Jr. it’s hard to be optimistic about any player on this roster.
9. Marquette Golden Eagles
Last Year’s Record: 17-15 (9-9)
This Year’s Projected Big East Record: 4-14
Head Coach: Steve Wojciechowski
Key Players: Matt Carlino, Deonte Burton, Derrick Wilson
The Buzz Williams-era at Marquette is over and now new Marquette Head Coach Steve Wojciechowski is looking to match the success of his predecessor.
In 2015-16, Marquette will most likely do that and more. Wojciechowski has a potential top-10 recruiting class coming in next season, already proving his ability to get big names to come to Milwaukee.
For now however, it will be at least one season of rebuilding before those big name recruits can come into the fray.
BYU transfer Matt Carlino will help Marquette remain competitive as the forward is a do-it-all two guard with the ability to pass, defend, and score. Joining him in the backcourt is Derrick Wilson a senior point guard that is a good distributor and doesn’t turn it over, while JaJuan Johnson and John Dawson are two more returners with some playing experience.
In the paint, sophomore center Luke Fischer will continue to develop his game and swingman Deonte Burton should be able to take a step up.
Overall, Marquette won’t be terrible and I may be undervaluing them a little at 4-14. However, The Big East is much better from top to bottom this season than it was a year ago, and Marquette may feel the repercussions of that.
8. Butler Bulldogs
Last Year’s Record: 14-17 (4-14)
This Year’s Projected Big East Record: 6-12
Head Coach: Chris Holtmann (interim)
Key Players: Roosevelt Jones, Kellen Dunham, Kameron Woods
On the surface, there is a lot to like about Butler being a sleeper team in the Big East this season. They bring back Kellen Dunham who was one of the best scorers in the league a season ago, Kameron Woods who is a strong big man who led the Big East in rebounding, and two other starters, Alexander Barlow and Andrew Charbascz.
In addition to that, the Bulldogs bring back Roosevelt Jones, who sat out last season due to an injury. Jones will resume his role at Butler’s overall best players and he has the ability to make a huge impact on Butler’s win total.
There is a problem however. Head coach Brandon Miller was forced to take a medical leave of absence in early October, just over a month before the season was set to begin. There’s no telling when he will be back, and now it’s left to Chris Holtmann to try and lead this team to a postseason appearance.
Miller’s absence can either motivate Butler to play for their coach (though the details of his leave are a mystery to the public) or the sudden distraction and lack of a true head coach could turn what could have been a promising season for Butler, into a forgettable one.
7. Seton Hall Pirates
Last Year’s Record: 17-17 (6-12)
This Year’s Projected Big East Record: 7-11
Head Coach: Kevin Willard
Key Players: Isaiah Whitehead, Sterling Gibbs, Brandon Mobley
In his fourth season of recruiting for Seton Hall, Kevin Willard finally managed to get a big fish. That fish is Isaiah Whitehead, a five-star recruit that will begin his career at Seton Hall this season. With Whitehead’s arrival, expectations are larger than usual for the Seton Hall program.
Whitehead and Sterling Gibbs should make for a very formidable one-two punch in the Big East this season. Whitehead can score off the dribble and his lightning quick, while Gibbs is an excellent point that can facilitate the ball to Whitehead but also score for himself. Backup point Jaren Sina is a good option for Willard as well as he is a steady hand who can shoot from three.
Seton Hall loses much of its frontcourt depth, but the Pirates are hoping for major contributions from a few returners as well as a newcomer. Brandon Mobley is the second returning starter along with Gibbs and he can score in the post, while senior Stephane Manga is a strong player on defense.
Freshman Chier Ajou, a Northwestern transfer is a 7-2 giant who could make a big impact defensively, and Willard has a slew of other freshman forwards ready to come in and play.
Seton Hall still lacks overall depth which is why they won’t finish in the top half of the league, but if Whitehead is as good as advertised, he can lead the Pirates to some sort of postseason play this year.
6. Creighton Blue Jays
Last Year’s Record: 27-8 (14-4)
This Year’s Projected Big East Record: 8-10
Head Coach: Greg McDermott
Key Players: Austin Chatman, Ricky Kerlow, Devin Brooks
I don’t have to explain how much Doug McDermott meant to the Creighton program. He was able to lead the Blue Jays to new heights and did so while being the number one scorer in the nation.
Now, Creighton has to begin the post-McDermott era (well, Doug anyways) and on top of it they also lose three other starters. The good news is Doug’s dad Greg is still around to coach, and he might have a few tricks up his sleeve to keep Creighton competitive.
Of Creighton’s best players, four of them are seniors, which should help ease the transition, for now. Those seniors include Austin Chatman, the lone returning starter who has a shot at 500 assists for his career this season. They also include Will Artino a 6-11 center who will finally get his chance to start, Avery Dingman who is a capable deep shooter, and Devin Brooks who led the team in offensive rebounding last year as a 6-2 shooting guard.
Creighton will aid those four seniors with other key contributors on the younger side such as redshirt freshman James Milliken and sophomore Isaiah Zierden. Creighton will need guys who aren’t used to leading to do that this season, and they probably lack the talent to make a return trip to the NCAA Tournament, but the Blue Jays will in no way be bad.
5. Providence Friars
Last Year’s Record: 23-12 (10-8)
This Year’s Projected Big East Record: 9-9
Head Coach: Ed Cooley
Key Players: LeDontae Henton, Tyler Harris, Kris Dunn
It was a magical late run for Providence a season ago. The Friars went from being on the outside looking in, to winning the Big East’s automatic bid at Madison Square Garden within a week. Although they bowed out to UNC in the NCAA Tournament, Providence still can hang a Big East championship banner in their gymnasium.
Ed Cooley is hoping that PC will have similar success this season, but it will be extremely tricky due to the departure of Bryce Cotton who was perhaps the Big East’s best player last season not named Doug McDermott.
Providence is now hoping that a group of younger players will be able to lead them back to the promised land. Kris Dunn is an intriguing player this season. He missed much of last year due to injury, but when he did play he was a very solid point guard averaging five assists per-game. He is slotted in as the starter and if he can come back (he still is not 100 percent) and make strides in his game, Providence’s offense becomes much more dangerous. The season could come down to him for Providence this year.
Cooley is expecting big things out of freshman Jalen Lindsey and Kyron Cartwright, and with little veteran’s to turn to, he will need them to excel right away.
In the frontcourt, the Friars should be much more balanced. They bring back Tyler Harris, a sleek 6-9 power forward who can score in the post. Small forward LaDontae Henton is the team’s leading returning scorer at 14.0 points per-game and also at rebounding a seven per-contest. Henton will be the team’s go-to scoring option from the wing with Cotton gone, and he has the potential to be an All-Big East player.
Center Carson Desrosiers is another returner who started much of last season and contributed in other ways besides the stat sheet. Freshman Ben Bentil will be an explosive freshman that could see minutes especially after Rodney Bullock’s knee injury.
Providence will be hard pressed to repeat last year’s success, but with the Denton-Dunn-Harris trio, they should overwhelm the weaker teams in the Big East.
4. Xavier Musketeers
Last Year’s Record: 21-13 (10-8)
This Year’s Projected Big East Record: 10-8
Head Coach: Chris Mack
Key Players: Matt Stainbrook, Dee Davis, Myles Davis
Xavier is a team that’s tough to pinpoint this season. On one hand they lost three of their best players from last year’s team that won 21 games and went to the NCAA Tournament.
On the other hand, Xavier fell fast last season, and by the time March came around, they weren’t the same squad. They barely snuck into the tournament before getting blown out in the first four.
So perhaps this season the Musketeers will benefit from some addition by subtraction. At the very least, they shouldn’t fall too far.
Matt Stainbrook is the best player returning for Chris Mack’s squad. The 6-10 senior big man can score and rebound inside and plays with a high level of basketball I.Q. With the offense running through him this season, he is one of the best big men in the conference.
Jalen Reynolds and James Farr will see elevated minutes this year and the two 6-9 forwards will give Xavier athleticism and size on the interior.
Guard play will be intriguing as Xavier will have to adjust to life without Semaj Christon. Dee Davis will be asked to lead this team from the backcourt. Davis averaged nearly five assists per-game last year and he has the potential to be a 12-8 guys this year. Myles Davis is the likely other starter and the ultra-talented two guard will hopefully see the game a little better this year, and hit more shots.
Reserves in this area include Indiana transfer Trevon Blueitt who was a highly recruited high school player, and sophomore Brandon Randolph who should see more minutes now. Mack also has a group of talented freshman that he would prefer to develop slowly, but could come in if the other players struggle.
Xavier is deep, but outside of Stainbrook and Dee Davis, largely unproven. If their young players emerge, they could challenge for the Big East title. If they struggle, the Musketeers could fall back to the pack.
3. St. John’s Red Storm
Last Year’s Record: 20-13 (10-8)
This Year’s Projected Big East Record: 12-6
Head Coach: Steve Lavin
Key Players: D’Angelo Harrison, Rysheed Jordan, Phil Greene IV
Every year I feel like I pick St. John’s to break through, and every year they don’t.
Will Steve Lavin finally be able to take this program where he wants it this year? It might not be a satisfying answer, but the best I can muster up is…maybe.
St. John’s certainly has the talent. They have one of the best players in the Big East in D’Angelo Harrison that is on the shortlist for POTY, and can fill up a stat sheet. They have several returning veterans such as Phil Greene IV, Chris Obekpa, and Sir’Dominic Pointer, that have been around and can help the young players grow while they themselves increase their roles.
They also have a great set of young players. Freshman Adonis Delarosa comes in with very high expectations and the skill-set of a player that could dominate if he gets in to better condition. Amar Alibegovic is a newcomer that could contribute right away, and Christian Jones and especially Rysheed Jordan are talented sophomores who will play a big role (Jordan may very well be the team’s second best player).
Despite all of that the issues seem to remain the same and the cycle seems to always repeat itself. Lavin brings in big-time talent on the recruiting trail, but the group falters in conference play and never seems to gain enough steam to make a run at the tournament (although they did make it in 2011 only to lose early to Gonzaga). They are tremendously athletic but struggle to play together and never quite figure out Lavin’s system. They max out in the NIT.
Will this year be different? I’m leaning towards yes. The middle of the Big East is there to be had, and St. John’s has more talent then a lot of team’s they will be competing against. Harrison is the difference, and he should be able to lift the Red Storm when they are struggling. If St. John’s doesn’t go to the tournament this year it will be a tremendous disappointment, but I think they find a way to do it.
2. Georgetown Hoyas
Last Year’s Record: 18-15 (8-10)
This Year’s Projected Big East Record: 13-5
Head Coach: John Thompson III
Key Players: D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera, Josh Smith, Isaac Copeland
Without the services of Josh Smith and Jabril Trawick for much of last season, Georgetown was unable to find their rhythm in the Big East and limped to a troubling 8-10 finish in league play.
While many of the problems with last year’s team are still abundant, John Thompson III has the pedigree to turn things around. G’Town should be much better due to Smith and Trawick’s return, along with a slew of incoming talent.
D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera was one of the lone bright spots on this team a season ago as he broke out to become one of the elite guards in the Big East, if not the country. Smith-Rivera obviously can score (17.6 points per-game) but his play-making ability, as well as his solid rebounding are often overlooked. Smith-Rivera doesn’t get nearly enough attention, but that should change with more wins for Georgetown this year.
The play of Trawick (who missed much of last season with a broken jaw) will be a key for this team. The senior guard will get more opportunities with the departure of Markel Starks, and he needs to take advantage of them. He showed signs last season before the injury, of potentially being a double-digit a night scoring threat.
Freshman Tre Campbell and sophomore Reggie Cameron will complete the Hoyas guard rotation. In an area where Georgetown is thin, they should both see plenty of minutes.
The play of Josh Smith may very well determine whether or not Georgetown makes the NCAA Tournament this season. Smith’s troubles have been well documented, and last year the UCLA transfer struggled with his conditioning and eventually had to sit out due to academic ineligibility. It wouldn’t be wise for Thompson III to rely on Smith, but Georgetown might not have a choice. Smith, while not the most fleet of foot, can still dominate in the post when he’s on the floor. There is no one else on this roster who possess the skill-set that he does. Without Smith at 100 percent, Georgetown is an average team. But if he can finally live up to his potential, the Hoyas have the capability of making a deep NCAA run.
Smith won’t be alone in the frontcourt, as freshman Isaac Copeland headlines a fantastic recruiting class for Georgetown. Copeland is a dual-threat offensively and can score in many different ways. Fellow freshman L.J. Peak and Paul White have big-time potential, and seniors Mikael Hopkins and Aaron Bowen will get plenty of time as well.
Georgetown has too much talented to finish below .500 in the Big East again this season, but they will need Smith to stay on the court, Trawick to stay healthy, and the freshman to make a big impact for G’Town to fully return to national prominence.
1. Villanova Wildcats
Last Year’s Record: 29-5 (16-2)
This Year’s Projected Big East Record: 16-2
Head Coach: Jay Wright
Key Players: JayVaughn Pinkston, Darrun Hilliard, Ryan Arcidiacono
Villanova’s season came to an abrupt end in the NCAA third round with a loss to eventual champions Connecticut, but it was still a tremendous turnaround for the Wildcats.
Villanova didn’t win the Big East tournament, but they did win the regular season title cruising to a 16-2 record in conference. This season, they return all but one of their major contributors from last year’s team and should once again be in the mix for a top seed come March.
JayVaughn Pinkston will become a household name this season if he isn’t already. The 6-7 forward is the teams best overall scoring option and is extremely tough to deal with inside. Pinkston can score in many different ways around the basket, and he is also a tremendous rebounder, passer, and defender. Wright will rely on Pinkston to carry the load this year with James Bell no longer a Wildcat.
Starting center Daniel Ochefu is back to man the middle and the big man is a good rim protector who can rebound, but Villanova will need him to be more of a threat offensively. Kris Jenkins will be the first big off the bench and the combo-forward can stretch the four, but Wright will want him to bang a little more inside.
The Villanova backcourt is also very strong, and returns both starters from a season ago. Darrun Hilliard was overlooked at times last season but he is a deadly three-point shooter who can light it up. He scored at 14.3 points last year and his numbers should go up. Ryan Arcidiacono is a point guard any coach would love to have. He takes care of the ball, is a great set-up man, and plays with high energy and passion. If he can knock down a few more three’s this year Villanova’s already prolific offense will get even better.
Josh Hart was Nova’s excellent sixth man a season ago and he is back and brings a big scoring punch off the bench. Dylan Ennis and freshman Phil Booth will also get minutes, and they give Wright solid options to fill out his rotation.
The big three of Pinkston-Hillard-Arcidiacono will overmatch most Big East teams this season. Villanova’s chances of a Final Four are up in the air, but they are far and away the best team in this conference.
Ross Bentley (@ImRossBentley) is a contributor for The High Screen. He is a Graduate Sports Journalism student at Quinnipiac University and a graduate of SUNY Oswego.