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Any discussion of what conference is the best in the nation better include the Big East this season. The conference that gave us the 2015-16 national champions may have more returning depth and star power than it has since a time before it split away from its football-playing brethren. Leading the way once again should be the Villanova Wildcats. Jay Wright seems to easily replace every piece he loses and should do so once again this year, especially now that standout recruit Omari Spellman is eligible to play. Seton Hall, Xavier and Providence all return a ton of big pieces and should be sniffing right at the Wildcats’ heels all season long.
The Big East is deeper this year than just those four, however. Creighton and Butler both have a lot of question marks but enough talent to be in the NCAA Tournament. Marquette and St. John’s could be in the picture as well. That’s 80% of the league. While we are not predicting 8 bids at this point, anything less than six would be a major disappointment. And DePaul at least will have a new home court arena that doesn’t take a week to travel to from their campus. In fact, but for Georgetown’s woes (and we are predicting a ton of them for this Hoyas team), every team should be competitive and fun to watch all season long.
Predicted Order of Finish
- Villanova – Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins are gone . . . so what? Jay Wright’s team may be just as good, if not better, than last season’s 32-4 record with the likes of Jalen Brunson, Mikal Bridges and Donte DiVincenzo in the backcourt and on the wings, and prized recruit Omari Spellman finally eligible down low. The scariest part for the rest of the Big East, and maybe the entire nation, is that there are no seniors on the roster.
- Seton Hall – The Pirates have a real chance to finish on top of the league standings as they return four starters and most of the key reserves from a team that won 21 games last season. Khadeen Carrington and Myles Powell both have the ability to light up the scoreboard, and Angel Delgado is the type of monster presence down low that very few teams have the ability to matchup with. Oh yeah, Desi Rodriguez is also still here.
- Xavier – Villanova may be the best team in the Big East, but like Seton Hall, Xavier should be right on their heels with the guard tandem of Trevon Bluiett and J.P. Macura leading the way. The player to really keep an eye on is 6-10 graduate transfer (from Green Bay) Kerem Kanter. He has the chance to be a major force down low and should be able to make up for the offseason loss of RaShid Gaston.
- Providence – The Friars won 20 games and finished tied for third in the Big East last season. They return their top eight players (led by Rodney Bullock) from last year and add in a few very good new pieces, including freshman Makai Ashton-Langford. In any other conference, that is a formula to be picked at least in the top two, but with the talent on the teams above them, fourth place may be the ceiling. That being said, this team could be good enough to be playing on the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament. Of course, the recent announcement that senior forward Emmitt Holt is out with an injury does not help, but hopefully he will be back on the court soon.
- Creighton – Despite losing Mo Watson, the Bluejays should be solid in the backcourt again with Marcus Foster, Khyri Thomas and Syracuse transfer Kaleb Joseph. The same cannot be said for the frontcourt, where a handful of newcomers, including 6-11 freshman Jacob Epperson and 6-10 D2 transfer Manny Suarez will have to find a way to make up for the loss of NBA first round pick Justin Patton.
- Butler – The Bulldogs are young and have their fourth new head coach in the past five seasons; however, they still appear to have the talent to make it to the Big Dance. Sophomore Kamar Baldwin will be joined in the backcourt by a bunch of guys even younger than he is, so it will fall to senior forward Kelan Martin to provide the team with leadership. If he does, and if the players gel under new head coach LaVall Jordan, this team should expect to hear their name called on Selection Sunday.
- St. John’s – Chris Mullin is proving all of his naysayers wrong as he rebuilds the Red Storm program back to respectability. He brings back a backcourt pairing of Shamorie Ponds and Marcus LoVett, together with swingman Bashir Ahmed, that should keep the Johnnies in the game most nights and provide a ton of excitement for fans. There are still a lot of questions down low, but if Michigan State transfer Marvin Clark and players like Tariq Owens step up their games, this team has a chance to have its dance ticket punched.
- Marquette – Size will be an issue for the Golden Eagles with their top two returning scorers (Markus Howard and Andrew Rowsey) being under 6 feet tall and their best interior player (SMU transfer Harry Froling) not eligible until December. That being said, if they can hit the 3-pointers the way they did last season, there is a chance to pull off just enough wins to be in the bubble talk come March.
- DePaul – The Blue Demons are high on D2 transfer Max Strus, who will join Eli Cain (15.6 points per game last season) in the backcourt. They also add some help down low with Northern Illinois transfer Marin Maric. Most importantly, however, the Blue Demons open the new 10,000 seat Wintrust Arena, no longer having to commute across Chicago just to play games. The new building should bring out more fans; however, a finish at or near the bottom of the conference is once again likely.
- Georgetown – The Hoyas went 5-13 in the Big East last season. Their top two scorers from that team are gone. Their head coach was fired, and his replacement (Patrick Ewing) has never been a head coach before. If not for DePaul, the Hoyas would have been in last place last season. Despite DePaul, they will be there this time around.