Who’s the favorite in each major college basketball conference? And which teams are trending in the right (and wrong) directions? Over the next two weeks, we’ll take a look across the nation to see how college hoops’ most notable conferences are shaping up for next season. Today, it’s the Big East.
The Big East appeared to return to its beastly ways last season. The league earned six NCAA tournament bids in just the second year of its 10-team format and, man, were they shown respect by the selection committee.
St. John’s was a 9-seed, but the rest were seeded sixth or better, including Villanova, which claimed a No. 1 seed. Unfortunately for the league, none of that translated into postseason success.
The Red Storm and Providence didn’t make it past the first game. Villanova, Georgetown and Butler fizzled out in the round of 32. Nova proved to be the most disappointing in its upset loss to 8-seed NC State.
Xavier was the only team to advance out of the first weekend but was promptly sent packing by Arizona in the Sweet 16.
When the 2015-16 season rolls around, it’s fair to say that every Big East program will have an emphasis on producing results in March. Even the teams that didn’t make it last season.
DePaul hasn’t appeared in the NCAA tournament since joining the Big East for the 2005-06 season. The last time the Blue Demons did make it, coach Dave Leitao was the one guiding them in 2004 as a member of Conference USA. Perhaps that is why the school brought him back. Leitao posted winning records in each of his three seasons at DePaul. There’s been only one since he left.
St. John’s made the NCAA tournament but still jettisoned coach Steve Lavin in favor of reaching back to its 1980s glory days. Former star guard Chris Mullin takes the reins with no head-coaching experience, but he is a direct link to the time when St. John’s was among the elite programs. Since 2000, the Red Storm have played in the NCAA tournament only three times.
There’s no overwhelming favorite, but Villanova, Georgetown, Xavier and Butler can all make a reasonable case as the top team in the league.
The Hoyas may have the best player in the league in guard D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera, who led the team in scoring with 16.3 points per game last season. Smith-Rivera should have more help this season thanks to a top-25 recruiting class led by center Jessie Govan.
The Musketeers returned six of their top eight players from last season, including Trevon Bluiett, the leading returning scorer. They'll also get a boost from the healthy return of guard Edmond Sumner, who sat out after just six games last season with knee problems.
The Bulldogs’ senior trio of Roosevelt Jones, Kellen Dunham and Andrew Chrabascz should help them improve offensively, although Butler may not measure up to the team that ranked seventh nationally in adjusted defense, according to Ken Pomeroy.
Marquette tied DePaul for ninth place in the league last season, so of course the only way to go is up. The Golden Eagles probably won’t contend for the Big East crown this season, but coach Steve Wojciechowski has laid the foundation for what should be a much-improved team.
They can expect a big boost from Henry Ellenson, a 6-foot-10 power forward from Rice Lake, Wisconsin, who is the No. 5-ranked player in the ESPN 100. Ellenson chose Marquette despite getting offers from Kentucky and Michigan State.
St. John’s was likely facing a rebuilding year even if Lavin wasn’t replaced by Mullin as head coach. The change at the top ensured a total reset for the Red Storm. Six players who made up the core of their rotation from last season exhausted their eligibility.
A couple of late decisions last month drastically altered the roster. Junior Rysheed Jordan, the team’s second-leading scorer, opted to turn pro. Would-be senior center Chris Obekpa, the team’s leading shot-blocker and second-leading rebounder, announced he would transfer.
NC State transfer Tyler Lewis will have a chance to make an immediate impact for Butler at point guard. Lewis has played in so many marquee games that nothing seems to rattle him.
Haanif Cheatham and Ellenson are the highest-ranked players in Marquette’s recruiting class. A 6-foot-5 shooting guard, Cheatham is No. 85 in the ESPN 100 and is versatile enough to play anywhere from point guard to small forward.
Georgetown nabbed a stretch-4 in 6-foot-7 Marcus Derrickson. He’s wide-bodied enough to cause trouble on the blocks posting up, but he’s skilled enough to step outside on the perimeter and make shots. He will often have a matchup that favors the Hoyas.
Looking ahead at Big East contenders