Big East Preview 2016-17

Big East Preview

  1. Villanova
  2. Xavier
  3. Butler
  4. Georgetown
  5. Creighton
  6. Seton Hall
  7. Marquette
  8. St. John‘s
  9. Providence
  10. DePaul

All Conference Awards 
POY: Josh Hart, Villanova
Coach of the Year: Chris Holtmann, Butler
Newcomer of the Year: Marcus Foster, R Jr., Creighton

1. Villanova

Key Returners: Josh Hart, Kris Jenkins, Jalen Brunson, Phil Booth, Mikal Bridges
Key Losses: Ryan Arcidiacono, Daniel Ochefu
Key Newcomers: Omari Spellman, Eric Paschall, Dylan Painter


***EDITOR'S NOTE: Omari Spellman has been ruled academically ineligible for the 2016-17 season. This is a big blow to Nova's frontcourt and puts reserve Darryl Reynolds into the spotlight. Reynolds was a strong rebounder, plus shot blocker, and good finisher in the paint last season. He likely will be thrust into the starting lineup in place of the ineligible Spellman.

Postseason Projection: 1 Seed
Villanova’s systematic destruction of Division 1 college basketball was a beautiful thing to watch last season. The Cats’ insane efficiency on both sides of the ball propelled them to their first National Championship title since 1985 and finally ended Jay Wright’s legacy as a great regular season coach who struggles in the Big Dance. No team in the country got more collectively from every spot in the lineup. All eight players in Wright’s rotation posted O-ratings of over 100.0, and all except Josh Hart (who finished 5th in KenPom’s Player of the Year standings), Jalen Brunson, and Phil Booth finished in the top 200 overall O-ratings in the nation. On defense Villanova was just as dominant, forcing turnovers and owning the paint. Wright loses only two players from that historic Wildcat squad, Ryan Arcidiacono, one of the best point guards in Villanova history, and Daniel Ochefu, the Cats’ best rim protector and rebounder. Even with the high-level departures, Villanova features a team once again ripe with talent capable of capturing a second-straight National title.

The Cats return their top two scorers in Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins. Hart was so good at basically everything on the floor but he ended up (in my opinion) being severely underrated on the national scale. Hart truly impacted the game in every facet – both offensively (shooting slash of .595/.357/.752) and defensively (1.2spg). He was the undisputed best player on the best team in the country, and yet he was somehow left off an All-American team in favor of players who averaged more points per game. Rest assured, Hart will not go unnoticed this season. After wisely passing on the NBA, Hart returns as the best player in the Big East conference and, if his summer Spain games are any indication, could compete for National Player of the Year. Jenkins, the hero of the National Championship game, also returns after passing (again, wisely) on the NBA Draft. The 6’6’’ forward was one of the best shooters in the nation from anywhere on the floor, converting 38.3% of his 259 shots from downtown, and shooting 60.3% from inside the arc and 84.5% from the free throw line.

Despite the graduation of Archie, Villanova’s backcourt might collectively be better than it was last season with the maturation of Jalen Brunson (So.), Phil Booth (Jr.), and Mikal Bridges (So.). Brunson had a phenomenal freshman year (occasional turnovers aside), shooting 38.3% from deep while working as a secondary ball handler with Archie. His role will expand immensely without Archie competing for touches. Likewise, Booth figures to play an important role in the lineup, presumably stepping into Archie’s starting spot (unless Wright decides to go with Bridges). Booth struggled a bit finding his stroke during the regular season (except from the line, where he shot 87.7%), but stepped up big time in the National Championship, scoring 20 points on 6/7 shooting, leading many a spectator (and UNC bettors) to shout, “WHO THE FUCK IS PHIL BOOTH?!” The world knows who Phil Booth is now. Bridges could be due for the biggest jump in production this season. Tagged as a scorer coming out of high school, the former 4-star recruit turned into Nova’s best perimeter defender ranking in the top 330 in both steal percentage and block percentage. Bridges did not look for his shot at all last year, scoring most of his points off breakaways and half-court drives (hence his national 3rd best 71.6% FG%). Expect Bridges to have a scoring Renaissance this season.

Really there’s only one question mark surrounding Wright’s team this year: who replaces the rebounding and interior defensive production of Ochefu? The answer could lie in 5-star freshman Omari Spellman, the 18th overall prospect in the ESPN 100. Spellman is a lumbering 6’9’’ big man who can bully his way through the lane, but also possesses surprising athleticism and a deft shooting touch. Currently, there is question over his eligibility for the coming season, but if he’s cleared expect the frosh to be inserted into the starting five on day one. Redshirt frosh Tim Delaney and 4-star Dylan Painter will provide extra depth to the big man position.

In addition to Spellman, the Cats add Fordham transfer Eric Paschall, a dynamite scorer (15.9ppg in 2014-15) capable of playing either forward spot. As a freshman at Fordham, Paschall was named the A-10 Rookie of the Year while dominating the ball for a poor Rams team (attempted 30.4% of the shots on the floor while he played – 76th highest rate in the country). Paschall’s efficiency wasn’t great at Fordham, but that’s more likely a product of him forcing shots because he had to versus him just being a brick on offense – the forward converted 80.4% of his 102 free throw attempts as a freshman. Paschall will compete for a starting spot, but more likely will be a part of a bench unit loaded with talent.

Villanova controls its own destiny this season with one of the most talented rosters in the country. They’ll be a top five team from the get-go; a third straight 30-win season is all but assured.

2. Xavier

Key Returners: Trevon Blueitt, Edmond Sumner, J.P. Macura, Myles Davis
Key Losses: James Farr, Jalen Reynolds, Remy Abell  
Key Newcomers: RaShid Gaston, Quentin Goodin, Tyrique Jones, Eddie Ekiyor


Postseason Projection: 1 – 3 Seed
We really can’t speak enough to the job Chris Mack has done at Xavier. While the Musketeers have been one of the best low to mid-majors in the country since the mid-80s under the tutelage of Pete Gillen, Mack has built on the foundation coaches like Thad Matta and Sean Miller started and has solidified Xavier’s place as a true national power in one of the best conferences in the nation. Each year it seems the Musketeers are bringing in better talent than the year prior, and though last season ended abruptly in a second round upset to Wisconsin, Mack has created a blueprint for success for years to come.

Xavier was a great team last year ranking in the top 20 in both offensive and defensive efficiency. Part of their immense success was due to excellent rebounding on both sides of the ball. The two main drivers of that rebounding prowess, James Farr and Jalen Reynolds, are now gone, but that doesn’t mean we should expect a sharp decline in XU’s rebounding rate. Not only does Mack return All-Conference stud Trevon Blueitt, a plus rebounder, but he also brings in former Norfolk State big man RaShid Gaston. Gaston was one of the best rebounders in the country his junior year at Norfolk ranking 29th in OR% and 58th in DR%. His 9.6 rebounds per contest were good for 24th best in the nation. On top of that, Gaston can score the rock – he converted a blistering 63.1% of his shots in 2014-15 (24th nationally). Gaston should be one of the most influential newcomers in the conference this season, adding firepower to an already loaded roster.

Another driver of Xavier’s success last season was their excellent defense, particularly on the perimeter. The Musketeers played a lot of 1-3-1 zone last season, with Sixth Man of the Year J.P. Macura spending a lot of time at the top. XU’s zone forced opposing teams to shoot a lot of three-pointers, but those shots were often very contested looks – XU allowed opponents to convert three attempts at a 31.1% clip (21st best mark in the country). Remy Abell, a senior on last year’s squad, was a solid defender for Mack and his absence will be missed, but the return of Macura, Myles Davis, and the ball-hawking Edmond Sumner should have XU’s defense near the level it was last year.

Xavier’s lineup is once again stacked this season. The starting five should consist of Gaston, Blueitt, Macura, Davis, and Sumner. Blueitt is the team’s best scorer, posting a shooting slash of .449/.398/.770 last season while turning in an O-rating of 114.2 on a 21.9% usage rate (these are all very good numbers). Davis makes my “How the Hell Are They Still in College” team and doubles as the team’s primary ball handler and best free shooter (85.4%). Sumner may secretly (or not so secretly) be the best all-around player on the team. As a freshman, the 6’6’’ guard finished second on the team in scoring, second in assists, and first in steals. He represents XU’s best penetration threat, drawing more fouls than anyone on the XU roster. Macura is a player I wasn’t too sure about coming into last season – then he won me over by drunkenly pulling his pants down at a bar. Let’s calm down about this one media; he’s a college kid and the stunt was in all likelihood objectively hilarious. Oh, Macura also posted the highest O-rating on the squad in 2015-16 (122.9).

Top to bottom, XU has the conference’s best starting five (in my humble opinion). But the talent on this roster doesn’t stop there. Mack is going to be able to use a solid 8-man rotation consisting of a mix of two returning big men and an incoming stud frosh. The two incumbent posts off the bench are Sean O’Mara (6’10’’) and Kaiser Gates (6’8”). Both big men were used sparingly, buried behind Farr and Reynolds, but both are competent reserves for Gaston and Blueitt. O’Mara shot 60.9% from the field last season and pulled down the 3rd highest rate of O-boards on the team. Gates could be due for a breakout second year; he is a capable rebounder and can stretch the floor on offense where he converted 33.3% of his threes last season. Tyrique Jones (an absolute force on the block) and Eddie Ekiyor (a Canadian import) are two incoming frosh that likely step into the O’Mara/Gates role of 2015-16. That isn’t to say they don’t have potential (particularly Jones), but the frontcourt is crowded.

Quentin Goodin figures to make an immediate impact in Mack’s lineup. The 6’3’’ guard is as explosive as they come; he has a smooth shooting stroke and can play either guard position. Goodin is really the only guard outside the Macura/Davis/Sumner trio on the roster, so he should receive a healthy amount of minutes in his rookie season. Expect Goodin, an ESPN Top 100 recruit, to be one of the best freshmen in the Big East this season.

There’s a lot to love about the Musketeers this season. The Big East is a clear two-team race between Xavier and Villanova and, just like last season, the Musketeers figure to be in the conversation for a 1-seed in the NCAA Tournament all year.

3. Butler

Key Returners: Tyler Lewis, Kelan Martin, Andrew Chrabascz, Tyler Wideman
Key Losses: Kellen Dunham, Roosevelt Jones
Key Newcomers: Kethan Savage, Avery Woodson, Joey Brunk, Kamar Baldwin, Henry Baddley


Postseason Projection: 5 – 8 Seed
The Butler Bulldogs were one of the country’s best offensive units a season ago, ranking 14th in offensive efficiency per KenPom. This was a 180-degree turn from Coach Chris Holtmann’s first-year team in 2014-15 that finished ranked 82nd in offense. The sudden burst of offensive firepower was a rare sight to see in Indy, as Butler has been (at least recently) known as more of a defensive program. Since 2006, the Dogs have not finished worse than 66th nationally in defensive efficiency and have averaged a 35th place ranking over that time span – that is until they finished 110th in 2015-16.

The defensive woes could be poised for a turnaround. Butler’s D struggled primarily due to allowing way too many transition opportunities and foul shots. Both aspects are fixable. On the other end of the floor, the loss of leading scorer Kellen Dunham and third-leading scorer / do-everything guy Roosevelt Jones will certainly make it tough for the Dogs to repeat last year’s offensive efficiency.

The good news for Butler is they return two very effective offensive weapons and add one more via transfer. Wing Kelan Martin and wide-body Andrew Chrabascz will form a formidable inside-out duo. Martin saw an enormous jump in production from his freshman year to his sophomore campaign. He increased his scoring average from 7.1ppg to 15.7ppg and his rebounding average from 2.1rpg to 6.8rpg. Receiving a 200% increase in playing time will do wonders for a player’s numbers. With Dunham gone, Martin will be the Dogs’ #1 three point option. 96% of Martin’s three pointers last season came off an assist, meaning he’s primarily a spot-up shooter; but Kelan can also attack the middle of the paint – he attempted 40% of his shots last season from the mid-range area, most of which came off the dribble. Chrabascz shoots from everywhere on the court. He’s deadly on spot-up threes and can also beat his man in the post, but Chrabascz is also surprisingly mobile for a 235 lb. forward, and is able to score off the dribble attacking the rim.

Kethan Savage, who comes by way of George Washington, is the transfer alluded to above. Savage is a scoring 2-guard whose largest value lies in his ability to get to the free throw line – he had the 6th highest free throw rate in the A-10 conference his junior season. The addition of Savage should help somewhat make up for the Dunham/Jones loss. Now, obviously Savage won’t be able to pick up all the Dunham/Jones slack by himself, and luckily he won’t have to with the addition of Memphis guard Avery Woodson and returning point guard Tyler Lewis. Woodson shot 43% from downtown last year (75th nationally) as a junior for the Memphis Tigers. The three-ball is his bread and butter (and knife, and whatever else you need for bread and butter); the guard shot 74% of his total shots from beyond the arc last season. Tyler Lewis is about as intimidating as a Travelocity garden gnome (and is about the size of one too at 5’11’’ 170 lbs.), but the former McDonald’s All-American is a skilled distributor. As a sophomore at NC State, he led the ACC conference in assist rate, and posted a 24.8 assist rate last season with Butler (221st nationally) while turning the rock over only 13.7% of the time. He’ll have to improve his dreadful 29.2% three-point clip, but given he shot 85.2% from the foul line last year, I’m betting he really can shoot.

Butler is often mentioned as having one of the smallest frontcourts in the country last season (having only one guy over 6’8” that played significant minutes will give you that reputation), but given everybody outside of Tyler Lewis was about 6’6’’ and Roosevelt Jones plays like he’s 6’10’’, height wasn’t THAT big of an issue. Regardless, it’s clear the Dogs needed some help for their center Tyler Wideman (the 6’8” guy mentioned a sentence ago). Enter Joey Brunk, a 6’10’’ frosh out of Butler-town (Indianapolis). Brunk is a 4-star center capable of making an impact right away. Brunk isn’t much of an athlete, but he’s a true center who will give the Dogs a post presence outside of Wideman (60.9% FG% last season). Wideman was Butler’s best offensive rebounder last year and only (read: ONLY) semblance of a rim protector, so the incoming Brunk should be a welcome addition.

Other newcomers include Kamar Baldwin, a sweet-stroking (is that a thing people say?) lefty who will serve as another three-point option off the pine, and Henry Baddley, a St. Vincent’s St. Mary’s product, who’s probably a year or two away from making a real impact.

I’m high on Butler this season. The loss of Dunham and Jones will hurt, but Kelan Martin could be a real star in the Big East. The experience is there with Wideman, Chrabascz, and Lewis, plus the newcomers Woodson and Savage should make a big scoring impact. It’s too early to tell what kind of coaching chops Holtmann really has, but his first two years at Butler should be considered a success. The Dogs figure to be competitive at the top of the conference all season.

4. Georgetown

Key Returners: L.J. Peak, Isaac Copeland
Key Losses: D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera
Key Newcomers: Rodney Pryor, Jagan Mosley, Jonathan Mulmore


Postseason Projection: 6 – 9 Seed
Last year was an odd year for John Thompson III and the Hoyas. It was only the 4th season in JT3’s 12 season tenure in which Georgetown failed to make the NCAA Tournament. The Hoyas finished 15-18 last season (7-11 in conference), but the record undersells how solid a team G’Town actually was. Looking closer at Georgetown’s season, we can see the Hoyas weren’t that far off from a typical Tourney-bound performance. Town lost to Duke by 2, Maryland by 4, Villanova by 5, Providence by 4 and 3, Butler by 3 in OT, and Marquette by 1. That’s seven games decided by less than 5 points. Aside from a head-scratching loss to Radford to start the year and a not-so-great loss to UNC Asheville at home, the Hoyas played pretty good basketball. Georgetown ranked as the 8th unluckiest team in the country according to KenPom, finishing the season ranked 60th after beginning the year ranked 29th. Despite losing team leader D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera to graduation, the Hoyas should flip the script on a disappointing 2015-16 campaign and regain their place this season as one of the elite teams in the Big East.

The loss of DSR will leave big shoes to fill on the offensive side of the ball, where the point guard led the Hoyas in both scoring and assists. But on defense, an area where DSR struggled mightily, the departure may not be such a bad thing. Jonathan Mulmore, a JUCO transfer from New Orleans, appears to be a perfect replacement for the departed DSR. Mulmore led the junior college circuit in scoring last season at 26 points per game and is capable of playing either guard spot. While his defense at the D1 level is a bit of an unknown commodity, his size (taller and longer than Smith-Rivera) should provide an immediate upgrade on that end for JT3. Mulmore should get the starting nod over returning backup point guard Tre Campbell, but the 6’2’’ junior, who averaged 20 minutes per contest last season, should still get plenty of run.

L.J. Peak and Isaac Copeland represent the two biggest returners to the Hoyas lineup; the juniors were the 2nd and 3rd leading scorers on the squad last season behind DSR. Peak has tremendous breakout potential this season. He should be the go-to guy in a perimeter-oriented offense. Peak led the Hoyas in three-point percentage last season at 40.9% and doubled as Town’s best wing slasher. In addition, Peak is Georgetown’s best perimeter defender (by a good amount) – he’s able to guard multiple positions on the floor and is effective on both ends of the 2-3 zone. Copeland, a lengthy 6’9’’ wing, will look to regain his outside shooting touch after he saw his freshman year 38.9% three-point percentage plummet to 27.2% as a sophomore. Copeland is one of the rare players that still possesses a mid-range game (a skill we all should aspire to hone); his athleticism and versatility will once again play an important role for the Hoyas this season.

Up front will feature a familiar 7-footer in Bradley Hayes and two rising sophomores in Marcus Derrickson and Jessie Govan. Hayes played well in first season earning major minutes for the Hoyas; he was the team’s best rebounder at both ends of the floor (25.4% DR% - 43rd in the nation) and finished 54% of his shot attempts inside the arc. Derrickson, like Peak, is a major candidate to have a breakout in 2016-17. As a freshman, the 6’7’’ forward turned in a shooting slash of .455/.376/.869 while proving to be a plus defender and tough on the offensive glass. Govan will split time at the center spot with Hayes as he did in the prior year. The 6’10’’ big is the team’s best rim protector and potentially one if its best shooters (.475/.500/.831). With Hayes not in shape enough to play more than about 20 minutes per contest, expect Govan to see a bump in playing time this year.

Town is once again going to be a deep team, able to play 9 plus guys (if JT3 desired to do so). Reserves Reggie Cameron (.512/.356/.778) and Kaleb Johnson (.595/.538/.520) return to provide depth at the wing, but the real threat off the pine (or even eventually in the starting five) will be Robert Morris transfer Rodney Pryor. Pryor was Robert Morris’s everything last season, leading the Colonials in scoring (18.0ppg) and rebounding (8.0rpg). He used the 50th highest percentage of his team’s possessions out of any player in the country and (besides his 29% 3p%), was rather efficient (53.5% 2p%; 86% FT%). Many tab Pryor to be an immediate team leader for the Hoyas. He’ll be able to provide scoring from the wing position (also 8 boards per game is super impressive for a guard even in the Northeast Conference) and should boost the team’s collective defensive effort as well.

The Big East is tough this year man. Georgetown could finish anywhere from 3 to 7, but I’m banking on JT3 having the boys ready and making another Tourney run. If Mulmore and Pryor prove to be as good as advertised, the Hoyas will be a tough team to reckon with.

5. Creighton

Key Returners: Maurice Watson, Isaiah Zierden, Cole Huff  
Key Losses: Geoffrey Groselle
Key Newcomers: Marcus Foster, Davion Mintz, Kobe Paras


Postseason Projection: 9 – 12 Seed
Expectations are high in Omaha as the Jays look to end their two-year NCAA Tournament drought. This year’s version of the Jays will be the most athletic McDermott has ever had in his tenure (that Big East recruiting boost sure helps) and could also be his deepest. Creighton brings back nearly everyone of importance from a 20-15 squad last season (ranked 37th per KenPom) and adds electric K State guard Marcus Foster to the fold. Both frontcourt and backcourt are loaded with talented bodies, so much so that McDermott has the flexibility to go 10 or 11 deep. The depth will be a nice luxury for the Jays as they play offense at one of the quickest rates in the country while also forcing their opponents to slow down their attack on the other end.

Here’s how loaded Creighton’s backcourt is this season – Isaiah Zierden, a 5th year senior who started every game last year and averaged 10 points, 3 boards, and 2 assists, is likely to come off the pine. The two guard spots will be occupied by returning All-Big East 2nd Teamer Mo Watson and K State import Foster (a former Big 12 All-Conference selection). Watson ran the Jay offense last season, posting the 12th best assist rate in the country (38.8). The guard was fantastic finishing at the cup last season and getting to the charity stripe where he converted at a 71.4% clip. Foster is a straight-up gunner; during his freshman year at K State, he shot the highest percentage of his team’s total shots, and as a sophomore he ranked 3rd. Though he had a semi-down year (for him) as a sophomore, his shooting clips his two years in Manhattan suggest good things to come for Creighton (.450/.395/.734) (FR) (.442/.347/.703) (SO). Watson and Foster will be two of the premier players in the Big East this season and are reportedly best friends, which will make it fun to watch how their off the court chemistry plays into their interactions in games in the backcourt.

McDermott likely goes with wing Khyri “Tazz” Thomas as the 3rd backcourt starter this year over Zierden due to Thomas’s comparative strength (200 lbs.) and far superior defensive prowess. Zierden should still see plenty of minutes (he averaged 31 minutes per contest as a junior and shot 38.5% from deep), but Thomas gets the nod in the early rotations. Tazz had sort of a midseason slump last year where he struggled with confidence and failed to produce numbers he was capable of – averaged 2.8ppg in 13.7mpg from December 31st to March 10th (18 games) versus 9.8ppg in 22.2mpg prior to December 31st (13 games) and 12.3ppg in 32.7mpg post March 10th (3 games). Word is Thomas is progressing wonderfully this year; his defense should only improve with guarding Foster constantly in practice and his odd 52.1% FT% should prove to be an anomaly as he strokes it well from everywhere else on the floor (49.6% from 2; 41.8% from 3).

The frontcourt houses four capable big men in Toby Hegner (6’10’’), Cole Huff (6’8’’), Zach Hanson (6’9’’), and Justin Patton (6’11’’). Hegner and Huff likely get the first crack at the starting rotation, but all four promise to see significant minutes. Huff was Creighton’s second leading scorer and rebounder a season ago; he crushed the D boards (21.7% DR%), but is not a factor rebounding misses on the other end as he tends to play more of a stretch four role (171 three-point attempts last season). The Jays as a team did a poor job rebounding on offense last season ranking 251st in the country in OR%. Hegner, like Huff, prefers to shoot his shots from the outside. The big man attempted 122 threes last season and both he and Huff attempted only 11% of their total shots last season at the rim. This is where Hanson comes in. Hanson was all post a season ago and had the second best OR% on the team behind departed center Geoffrey Groselle. Hanson shot a team high 76% on shots near the rim, and also converted on 44% of his two-point jumpers. Patton sat out this past season as a redshirt, but will look to make a giant impact on the lineup in 2016-17. The big man is a very good athlete and has range out to the three-point line. His biggest impact will be on defense where he will give the Jays a legitimate rim protector – something they haven’t had since Gregory Echenique in 2013.

The Jays add only two new freshmen to their squad for 2016-17, point guard Davion Mintz and high-flying wing Kobe Paras. Mintz is a pure scorer from the point guard spot but may find it difficult to crack the rotation early with Watson and Zierden owning majority of the point duties. Paras, a Filipino pseudo-celebrity, comes in with a reputation for being a dunking machine. He is a two-time FIBA 3-on-3 U18 World Championship dunk contest winner and, after decommitting to UCLA, should be able to find some meaningful minutes spelling Thomas at the 3-spot in Omaha.

Creighton’s ceiling is third in the Big East with the top two spots virtually spoken for. Their seed in the Tourney may end up depending on the strength of their conference, but expect to see the Jays out in the Field of 68 in March.  

6. Seton Hall

Key Returners: Khadeen Carrington, Desi Rodriguez, Ismael Sanogo, Angel Delgado
Key Losses: Isaiah Whitehead, Derrick Gordon
Key Newcomers: Jevon Thomas, Myles Powell, Eron Gordon, Madison Jones


Postseason Projection: 11 – 12 Seed / First Four Out
From 2012 – 2015, here’s how Seton Hall has fared in its first 14 regular season contests: 12-2, 12-2, 10-4, and 12-2. Here’s how they finished each of those seasons: 9-11, 3-16, 7-13, and 4-13. So when Kevin Willard’s Hall squad started the 2015-16 season at 12-2, I didn’t get my hopes up (again) that the Pirates had finally broken through their mediocre ways. And sure enough, Hall lost four of their next five games (granted they played Nova twice and Xavier). But Willard’s squad did something different after that January 23rd loss to Xavier – they stopped sucking in the second half of the season. After the loss to Xavier, Hall finished the regular season 9-2 then went ahead and won three straight Big East Tourney games to capture the postseason crown. A ginormous part of that run was Isaiah Whitehead, the freshly departed NBA draft pick. But Willard brings back a good crop of talent this year making the thought of back-to-back Tourney appearances in Newark a realistic one.

Four starters return for the Pirates (all of which are juniors) – second leading scorer Khadeen Carrington (14.1ppg), third leading scorer Desi Rodriguez (12.5ppg), defensive extraordinaire Ismael Sanogo (1.4spg; 1.1bpg), and glass eater Angel Delgado (9.3rpg). That’s a pretty strong nucleus featuring a fully loaded frontcourt and a returning leader at the prime ball handling spot. Willard could be worse off. Carrington will be the undisputed go-to-guy this season for Hall, and though his shooting percentages weren’t ideal last season (.480/.335/.752), they were an enormous leap from his bricktastic freshman campaign (.417/.283/.752). Rodriguez was the only Hall player to shoot over 37% from three last season and he brought tremendous value as a rim attacker, finishing 62% of his shots at the rim and getting to the line at the third highest rate on the team. Rodriguez was also one of Hall’s best defenders, leading the Pirates in steal percentage (3.5%). The Pirates were ranked 8th in defensive efficiency last year thanks in part to Rodriguez, but mostly thanks to Ismael Sanogo and to a slightly lesser extent, Angel Delgado. Sanogo was a space eater last season with his daddy-long-legs arms and was one of the very few players in the country to average over a steal and a block per game. Delgado, like Sanogo, was a strong rim protector as well, but his greatest contribution was his rebounding. Delgado was the team’s best rebounder on both sides of the ball; despite being undersized for a 5-man, he holds his own in the paint.

Aside from the four surefire starters, Willard will likely try out a myriad of combinations both in the fifth starting slot and in filling out the rotation. Carrington appears to be transitioning more towards consuming the point duties with Whitehead’s departure, but he’s still a natural shooting guard at heart. Jevon Thomas, a K State transfer, has the strongest case to start from day one – that is if he wasn’t suspended for the fall semester after CHOKING A GRADUATE ASSISTANT DURING AN INTRAMURAL GAME. Even if Thomas’s talent level is high enough to start for Hall, his maturity level certainly is not, leading me to wonder if he will even start after the fall semester. The other guard candidates to fill the vacant spot are freshmen Myles Powell and Eron Gordon, and Wake transfer Madison Jones. Out of the three, I lean Powell to get the first crack. He’s a strong guard weighing 200 lbs. and is a knock down shooter – he could complement Carrington very well in the backcourt. Gordon has the pedigree (he is Eric Gordon’s little brother) and also has a knock-down jumper; he’ll get his fair share of minutes starting or not. Jones, a senior, is the most experienced of the bunch, but his numbers in his three seasons at Wake were putrid. He posted O-ratings of 81.0, 77.0, and 87.4 during his time there, which are God awful. He achieved high assist rates, but turned the ball over at a 30% clip and hit only 2/15 from three during his entire tenure. Willard needs a stronger ball handler and shooter starting for his squad.

Hall’s frontcourt depth is strong this season with 6’7’’ Michael Nzei, 6’7’’ Veer Singh, and 6’9’’ Rashed Anthony coming off the pine. Nzei has great potential; he has a long wingspan like Sanogo and put up solid rebounding (12.0 OR%) and block (4.2% Blk %) rates during his limited playing time. He also shot 63.3% from the field (catch and dunk mostly). Singh could be a real X-factor this year for Hall. He’s described by teammates as being one of the best shooters on the squad (though he didn’t show it with his 17/55 three-point stats last season). If Singh can shoot like he’s capable of in games, he’ll be a valuable asset as a stretch four or big wing for a Hall squad looking for more frontcourt spacing. Anthony provides an extra layer of depth for Hall; his PT numbers likely stay stagnant with the consistency of personnel from prior year.

A lot of people are down on Hall this year without Whitehead in town, but this is an experienced group. They’ve been to a tournament and will once again be one of the toughest defensive teams in the conference.

7. Marquette

Key Returners: Luke Fischer, Haanif Cheatham, Duane Wilson, JaJuan Johnson
Key Losses: Henry Ellenson
Key Newcomers: Andrew Rowsey, Katin Reinhardt, Sam Hauser, Markus Howard


Postseason Projection: NIT
Marquette promises to be one of the most intriguing teams in the Big East this season. The Eagles’ backcourt depth extends for days, but the departure of superstar Henry Ellenson has left their frontcourt in shambles. Wojo’s 2015-16 squad was talented earning wins at Wisconsin, versus Butler, and sweeping a good Providence team. The Eagles played fairly solid perimeter defense with their stable of guards, but even with Ellenson, their rebounding was poor, and on offense Marquette’s young ball handling tandem of Traci Carter and Haanif Cheatham struggled mightily with turnovers. With the expected maturation of Carter and Cheatham, plus the influx of experienced guards Andrew Rowsey and Katin Reinhardt, the hope is Marquette’s turnover woes decline a bit. Rebounding, however still figures to be a glaring issue. Wojo will need to get creative with his lineups this season, which will certainly be fun to watch.

The Eagles played a rotation of seven guys last year, each one averaging over 23 minutes per contest. Five of those players, including Ellenson, averaged in double figure scoring. As alluded to earlier, the strength of the Eagles will lie in their ridiculously overloaded backcourt. Returning from the core rotation of 2015-16 is Carter, Cheatham, Duane Wilson, and JaJuan Johnson. Wilson (11.6ppg) and Johnson (10.2ppg) each averaged in double figures a season ago, but both likely do not start every game this season for Wojo’s squad. The two guards exceled creating havoc on the perimeter for opposing offenses, and both turned in respectable shooting slashes: Wilson (.510/.346/.654); Johnson (.557/.385/.797). Johnson, a senior, and Wilson, a junior, will play key roles this season as upperclassmen leaders for the Eagles. Carter and Cheatham (at least in my opinion) are the surest things to get the first crack at the starting rotation. Carter is the Eagles’ point guard and primary ball handler; he posted an impressive 32.8 assist rate last season (45th nationally; 3rd in conference). As mentioned earlier, however, Carter was shaky with the ball, turning it over 29.1% of the time. Eagle fans hope Carter’s ball yips were simply a result of him being a freshman, if they weren’t there’s plenty of guards eager to take his rotation spot. Cheatham has the potential to be Marquette’s best player this season and is poised for a breakout sophomore campaign following an overall successful rookie year. Turnover problems existed, but Cheatham was Marquette’s best scorer outside Ellenson, shooting 38.7% from deep, 52.8% from inside the arc, and 82% from the charity stripe. Cheatham played nearly 30 minutes per game last year (2nd on the team) – I think he breaks out in 2016-17.

As if the four returning guards weren’t enough, Wojo adds two high profile transfers to the mix this season in Rowsey and Reinhardt. Rowsey was fantastic during his first two seasons at UNC Asheville, averaging 20 points per game as a frosh and 19 points per game as a sophomore. Granted, he played in the Big South, but his long range shooting (the source of his point production) should translate (at least somewhat) to Big East play (187/478; 39.1% in two seasons). Rowsey could easily crack the starting rotation at some point (he played nearly every minute at Asheville), and he’ll definitely be a key cog in the lineup at the 1 or 2 spot. Fun fact: Rowsey shot 91.8% from the free throw line as a sophomore in 2014-15, the third best mark in the country. Reinhardt is a big guard at 6’6’’ and is battled tested after playing three seasons in the competitive Pac-12 conference. Like Rowsey, Reinhardt will provide valuable three-point range (37.3% last year), and experience for a relatively inexperienced backcourt. Rowsey and Reinhardt’s additions plus the Ellenson departure imply a possible shift in style of play. The Eagles didn’t shoot a lot of threes last season (and hit on only 33.9% of them), but with their lack of post options and endless guard resources, Marquette is poised to let ‘em fly this year.

Marquette’s frontcourt this season begins and ends with Luke Fischer. Fischer, at 6’11’’, is a true center and one of the Eagles’ best offensive weapons (60.8% FG%; second leading scorer in 2015-16). Fischer also doubles as Marquette’s best (really only) rebounding authority and triples as its only rim protector. His value is immeasurable to Marquette’s season, especially since after him, the Eagles have very few options in the post. Sandy Cohen III, a 6’6’’ junior, likely sees a lot of time at the power forward slot this year (though he’s really more of a 3-man). His size alone makes him likely to start for the Eagles, but I wouldn’t be shocked to see Wojo use four guard lineups constantly. Cohen has potential to be a nice player; he shoots respectable percentages, but he must improve his rebounding impact to help the lack of carom cowboys on the squad. Matt Heldt, a seldom-used 6’10’’ sophomore, is literally Marquette’s only other inside option, so he will be forced to play.

Freshmen Sam Hauser (6’6’’ wing) and Markus Howard (6’0’’ PG) both look to play fringe roles in the Eagle offense. Howard is talented, but he will have difficulty finding any breathing room in the crowded Eagle backcourt. Hauser’s size allows Wojo to try him at the four in some lineups. He’s a skilled shooter, but he’s a wing and shouldn’t be counted on for any post impact.

Marquette was hurt by three things last year: rebounding, turnovers, and outside shooting. It’s safe to say the outside shooting woes will be amended in the coming season and in fact could turn out to be the team’s strength. Turnovers should also decrease with the increased experienced, new blood, and plethora of options in the backcourt for Wojo to play with. Rebounding will be an extreme problem, as will stopping opposing big men. With their personnel, Wojo will be forced to play even more zone than he did last year. The Eagles have the guards to make a run in the Big East, whether it’s enough to make a Tourney run is yet to be seen.

8. St. John‘s

Key Returners: Federico Mussini, Kassoum Yakwe, Yankuba Sima
Key Losses: Durand Johnson, Ron Mvouika, Christian Jones
Key Newcomers: Shamorie Ponds, Bashir Ahmed, Marcus Lovett, Jr., Tariq Owens, Richard Freudenberg  


Postseason Projection: CBI/CIT or NIT
2015-16 was not a season to remember for the Johnnies. The optimism in the wake of hiring new coach (and Red Storm legend) Chris Mullin quickly faded as St. John’s limped to a 1-17 Big East finish (8-24 overall). St. John’s was by no means expected to be good last season; they were picked last prior to the start of the year by nearly every outlet – looking at their roster, it’s not hard to see why. St. John’s ranked dead last in the country in minute continuity last season (8.0%), meaning they faced more turnover than any other team last year (including freshman-happy Kentucky). The Red Storm were a tournament team in 2014-15, so the turnover, which included the departure of their top 6 contributors, was not a welcome phenomenon. This season, Mullin looks to steer the ship back on course in New York (there’s a joke in here somewhere about ships and a red storm), with the return of three major pieces from last year’s squad and the addition of some excellent newcomers.

The eye of the Red Storm (storm pun) will consist of three sophomores: Federico Mussini, Kassoum Yakwe, and Yankuba Sima. Mussini’s advanced stats last season don’t, in my opinion, do the guard justice. Anyone who watched St. John’s last season could clearly see that Mussini was a primetime player (PTPer – Dick Vitale). He was far and away the Johnnie’s best player last year but posted a head-scratching 89.4 O-rating (nobody on St. John’s posted above a 100.0 O-rating, which is an unbelievable statistic). Mussini’s poor offensive efficiency was driven largely by his shooting percentages: 37.9% from inside the arc; 29.1% outside the arc. There’s reason to believe these percentages will prove to be outliers in Mussini’s career – 1) St. John’s will have far more weapons this season giving Mussini the opportunity for cleaner looks, and 2) Mussini shot 85.7% from the free throw line, the 56th best mark in the nation, implying he knows how to shoot the basketball. Mussini will benefit from a stint with the U20 Italian team this summer; he will be the leader of a young Red Storm team next season.

St. John’s did exactly one thing better than most teams last season – they blocked shots. The Johnnies ranked 6th in the country last year in block percentage thanks to wingspan monsters Yakwe and Sima. The two big men were both in the top 20 in the nation in block percentage as freshmen a year ago (Yakwe 11th; Sima 19th) and both proved to be animals on the offensive glass (less so on the defensive glass due to shot-blocking attempts). Both big men need to improve their offensive games; Yakwe shot 45.5% from the field and 52% from the line, while Sima shot 48.3% from the field and 37.9% from the line. But then again, offense really isn’t what makes Sima and Yakwe such valuable pieces to Mullin’s team. When both bigs are on the court, teams are going to find it difficult to score inside. Foul trouble was an issue last season at times, so Mullin may stagger minutes between the two forwards, especially with the addition of Tennessee transfer Tariq Owens (6’10”) and German freshman Richard Freudenberg (6’8”).

While the trio of Mussini, Yakwe, and Sima make up the core leadership of the Storm, it’s the newcomers that will determine how much improved St. John’s is this season. 4-star freshman guard Shamorie Ponds, former 4-star redshirt freshman guard Marcus LoVett, Jr., and JUCO transfer Bashir Ahmed, all promise to have enormous impacts on the lineup this season. After being ruled ineligible last season (not without controversy), LoVett returns to give the Red Storm a talented backcourt tandem with veteran Mussini. LoVett was one of the most coveted point guard recruits in the country last season and is an extremely gifted scorer and playmaker. His addition will allow Mussini to play off the ball more, where the Italian will be able to take advantage of more catch-and-shoot opportunities. Ponds is the 36th overall prospect in the country according to ESPN. He’s a crafty lefty who can play either guard spot. His greatest strength is his outside shooting, but he will also be called upon to share ball handling duties with LoVett and Mussini. Ahmed may be the biggest impact newcomer in the conference this season. A 6’7’’ wing, Ahmed is rated as the #2 JUCO player in the country and was a JUCO All-American this past season. He averaged 20 points and 8 boards per game playing for one of the best programs in the country and appears to be ready to step into a big role in a major D1 setting.

St. John’s will unquestionably be leaps and bounds better than they were last season. Expectations should be tempered a bit given the team won only 1 conference game a year ago, but the addition of Ahmed, Ponds, and LoVett make the Red Storm a different, more dynamic team than the 2015-16 version. The Johnnies will have the interior defensive chops to match up with any big men in the conference, and their offense, an area where the Red Storm ranked 300th in the country last season, should be vastly improved with the injection of the new recruits. St. John’s could surprise people and challenge for a finish in the middle of the Big East.

9. Providence

Key Returners: Rodney Bullock, Kyron Cartwright, Jalen Lindsey  
Key Losses: Kris Dunn, Ben Bentil
Key Newcomers: Isaiah Jackson, Emmitt Holt, Maliek White, Alpha Diallo, Kalif Young


Postseason Projection: None
The Friars had a successful 2015-16 season exceeding expectations by finishing 5th in the tough Big East conference and earning a 9-seed in the NCAA Tournament. Of course, having a Lottery pick and All-American running the show and another NBA Draft Pick in the frontcourt tends to make things a little bit easier. Ed Cooley was fortunate to have the likes of Kris Dunn and Ben Bentil on his squad; the tandem was arguably the best one-two punch in the conference last season, and arguably a top 5 one-two in the country. This year, Providence won’t have the good fortune of being able to rely on Dunn and Bentil to win games, making their quest for a fourth straight tourney appearance a difficult one.

Providence is Rodney Bullock’s team this year. The 6’8’’ forward played the second-most minutes on the squad last season (even more than Dunn) and was by all accounts a fairly effective player (though wildly inconsistent at times) in those minutes. Bullock was a decent shooter (48.9% from two; 33.7% from three) and exceled at drawing fouls in traffic. His rebounding was invaluable to a team that struggled to rebound outside of Bentil and he led the team in block percentage. With Providence’s weak frontcourt this season, even more weight will be placed on Bullock’s shoulders as he will be looked upon to provide most of the scoring, rebounding, and rim protection inside.

Joining Bullock in the lineup are two returning guards in Jalen Lindsey and Kyron Cartwright, and two incoming transfers in Isaiah Jackson (George Mason) and Emmitt Holt (Indiana/JUCO). Lindsey’s game is mostly that of a spot-up shooter, but the guard shot an atrocious 26.9% from downtown last season on 145 attempts. Providence as a team shot the 128th most three-pointers in the country last year, but converted at only the 286th best clip (departed guard Kris Dunn was one of only two Friars to shoot over 35% from three last season). Cartwright, the team’s undisputed floor general this season, shot the ball well from behind the arc (36.4%) but only attempted 55 shots from range. His attempts should increase this year, but his true value lies in his distributing ability. Cartwright posted the 80th best assist rate (30.5) in the country last season (5th best in the Big East) and only turned the ball over at a reasonable 19.3% clip (down from 25.5% during his freshman season). Cartwright isn’t near the penetrator/finisher as Dunn was, but he could be just as good of a passer and shooter – even if he gives Coach Cooley half of what Dunn gave him, the Friars could be more competitive than expected. Jackson, a 6’6’’ guard from George Mason had an up and down freshman campaign two seasons ago in Fairfax, but he showed flashes of potential scoring in doubles figures in half of his games played. Jackson’s shooting numbers at George Mason were atrocious, but he improved as the season progressed especially from three-point range. His ability to attack the basket from the 2-guard sport will provide the biggest value to PC. Holt played well in very limited time as a freshman at Indiana in 2014-15 and averaged 11.6ppg and 6.8rpg for Indian Hills CC, one of the better JUCOs in the country, last season. Holt will be relied upon heavily for inside help and should begin the season starting alongside Bullock.

Ryan Fazekas is a player that could really blossom this season in his second year. Fazekas has the height at 6’8’’ to play a stretch four (though he’s probably more of a three-man) and his shooting ability makes him dangerous on offense. Cooley should give the sophomore a lot of run as he’ll do wonders to space the floor with Bullock driving the lane.

Cooley will be counting on three freshmen to provide an impact this season: Maliek White (6’1” PG), Alpha Diallo (6’7’’ G), and Kalif Young (6’9’’ F). Diallo has been tabbed as having the most potential to shine out of three. He’s a smooth player on film with a nice stroke, but he isn’t overly athletic like most 6’7’’ guards. He’s a bit raw, but he’s proven in summer tournaments he can score the basketball, so he’ll see his fair share of minutes in Cooley’s backcourt. White is a pass-first point guard with nice ball handling skills. His shot isn’t the purest, but he’ll provide value as a backup to Cartwright. Young, in my opinion, looks the best of all three on film. He is a big, long forward at 6’9’’ and has clear rim protection potential. He moves well, excels at “catch and dunk”, and has the athletic ability to step out on guards on the pick-and-roll. He could end up starting midway through the season.

The Friars will struggle to finish outside of the bottom three spots in the Big East this season. They have some nice pieces, but their lack of frontcourt depth is going to hurt them. If Bullock emerges as a bona fide star, they might be able to pull a few conference play upsets. With no seniors on the squad, this could be considered as a rebuilding year for PC, with next season being one in which Cooley’s squad could really break out.

10. DePaul

Key Returners: Billy Garrett, Jr., Eli Cain
Key Losses: Myke Henry, Tommy Hamilton   
Key Newcomers: Chris Harrison-Docks, Al Eichelberger, Brandon Cyrus, Tre’Darius McCallum, Levi Cook


Postseason Projection: None
DePaul basketball has been in the shitter for the last several years. The Blue Demons, a once proud program, have not finished over .500 since the 2007 season. To his credit, Coach Dave Leitao has already started to push the program back towards the light in his second stint with the team (Leitao previously coached the Demons from 2002 – 2005), but he still has a long way to go. Oliver Purnell, a notoriously mediocre basketball coach, did nothing to improve DePaul’s position in the always-competitive Big East, so Leitao is still trying to pick up the pieces from a failed tenure. On the positive side, DePaul features one of the conference’s best backcourt platoons in Billy Garrett, Eli Cain, and Chris Harrison-Docks. On the not-so-positive side, the departures of Myke Henry (graduation) and Tommy Hamilton (transfer) have left Leitao with virtually no options in the frontcourt.

It’s easy to feel for Billy Garrett. Over his three year career, he has been a bright spot in an otherwise murky DePaul environment. The point guard is one of the best free throw shooters in the nation (and gets to the line at a torrid pace) and was in the top 150 in assists last season. In addition, Garrett has never had a major issue with turnovers, averaging just over 2 per contest over his career (pretty good considering the amount of time the ball is in his hands). Cain has real potential this season to break out. He shot a scorching 42.5% from downtown last season, but struggled as most freshmen do in many other areas on the court. Cain is a big guard like Garrett (6’6’’) and is able to comfortably play both guard positions – every team in the nation would kill to have a dual point guard system where both point guards are 6’6’’. (As an aside – Cain is one of the most down to Earth major Division 1 basketball players I’ve had the opportunity to play against in a recreational setting. He’s grounded and has a very high basketball IQ, something that can’t always be said about big-time college players).

The addition of Chris Harrison-Docks will put an interesting dynamic on the DePaul lineup. Conceivably, Leitao could start Harrison-Docks alongside Cain and Garrett. Both Cain and Garrett have the size and athleticism to matchup with wings and Harrison-Docks is really a spot-up shooter on offense (not a point guard), so there wouldn’t be any issues in terms of ball sharing. Starting the three guards would give DePaul a very quick lineup in the backcourt, the only issue would be if the tandem would be able to hold their own on D, as none are really outstanding defenders.

The frontcourt really is a mystery. You know you’re in trouble when you’re likely starting center is a walk-on (Peter Ryckbosch). Ryckbosch isn’t a bad player by any means, but he isn’t a D1-caliber starting center by any stretch of the imagination. Levi Cook, a 6’10’’ 300 lb. behemoth, will likely overtake Ryckbosch’s spot in the starting five at some point in the season (if he doesn’t already start there to begin with). Cook is a 4-star recruit that originally committed to West Virginia back as a freshman in high school. As his height and weight suggests, he is a big boy and a true post player, one who could really do a lot to soothe the burn left by Hamilton. The only true power forward option the Demons have is 3-star freshman Al Eichelberger. Eichelberger is a below-the-rim post player, but he’s strong and will be forced to play big minutes for DePaul in his first year as he adjusts to college ball. Leitao likely goes small most of the time, slotting a wing like senior Darrick Wood or JUCO transfer Tre-Darius McCallum at the 4-spot. McCallum is getting a lot of buzz from Demon camp; he’s a great outside shooter and uber-athletic making him able to guard multiple positions on the floor.

Another player to watch out for is freshman Brandon Cyrus. At 6’4’’, Cyrus continues the tradition started by Garrett of big Demon point guards. He is the jewel of Leitao’s recruiting class, and would likely be starting for DePaul any other year. Look for him to get key minutes behind Garrett, Cain, and Harrison-Docks this season and emerge as a major contributor in 2017-18 alongside fellow transfers Austin Grandstaff and Max Strus.

There’s really no reason to be optimistic about DePaul’s upcoming men’s basketball season. The Demons simply do not have the size or frontcourt talent to compete in the Big East this year. However, they are worth a watch for their stellar backcourt. 2017-18 and 2019-20 should be much better seasons for the Demons as Leitao’s future recruits come in and the team moves to a much more suitable downtown Chicago venue.