Despite finishing the 2014-15 season with the third highest conference RPI, Big East conference teams begin this season with a familiar tag: underrated.
Some might even call it disrespected.
Of course, much of this has to do with the Big East’s lack of recent success in March. Villanova stormed through the regular season and were awarded a number one seed by the selection committee, only to be upset by NC State in the NCAA Tournament’s Round of 32. A disappointment like that can easily cause people to forget all of the big non-conference wins the league accumulated earlier during the season.
However, Nova coach Jay Wright has other theories, as well.
“There are a lot of forces out there in the media and in other conferences that are promoting that,” Wright said about the perception that the Big East is a diminished conference. “I think over time you’re going to see the consistency of a lot of teams in the tournament – some of us have to break through – but, great traditional programs doing what they do every year and I think we’ll just wear people out.”
Regardless, this season figures to be another successful one. Teams such as the aforementioned Villanova, as well as Georgetown, Butler and Xavier return a lot of talent and are sure to be formidable. In addition, Marquette and Seton Hall possess promising young players who look ready to explode on the scene, giving both programs a chance to reclaim past glory.
Oh, and I have yet to mention the league could very well have the best player in the country, Kris Dunn from Providence.
So, expect the Big East to show very well versus non-conference foes again this season and for pundits to express shock and awe. Things probably won’t be as smooth within the conference, as the 10-team round-robin promises to be a grind.
But, again, the league’s success and reputation will ultimately be judged on its success in March. Expect six teams to be chosen for that challenge.
ALL CONFERENCE TEAM:
G – Kris Dunn, Jr., Providence
G – D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera, Sr., Georgetown
G – Billy Garrett, Jr., DePaul
G – Kellen Dunham, Sr., Butler
G – Isaiah Whitehead, So., Seton Hall
PLAYER OF THE YEAR:
Kris Dunn, Jr., Providence
NEWCOMER OF THE YEAR:
Henry Ellenson, Fr., Marquette
COACH OF THE YEAR:
John Thompson III, Georgetown
PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH:
1. Villanova – They won’t be as dominant as they were last year, but the Wildcats are the clear favorite once again. They are typically guard-heavy again this year, but big man Daniel Ochefu will have to play a more prominent role.
Best Player: Ryan Arcidiacono
Key Player: Daniel Ochefu
2. Georgetown – The Hoyas have been overlooked by most preseason prognosticators, but it won’t take long for the country to take notice. With the return of DSR and some extremely talented sophomores, Hoya Saxa will challenge Nova for the Big East title.
Best Player: D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera
Key Player: Isaac Copeland
3. Butler – They surprised everyone last season by using grit and guile to tie for second place in the Big East. They will be no surprise this year with two of the league’s best players still on their roster. There is a clear three-team top tier this season and the Bulldogs are in it.
Best Player: Kellen Dunham
Key Player: Andrew Chrabascz
4. Xavier – The Musketeers actually played deeper into the NCAA Tournament than any other Big East team last season, reaching the Sweet 16. They lost a couple of key guys, but the cupboard is far from bare. Look for Xavier to be a credible threat to the league’s top three.
Best Player: Trevon Bluiett
Key Player: Myles Davis
5. Providence – The Friars lost a lot in production and experience from last season’s team. But, they still have some talent, including a candidate for National Player of the Year, in Kris Dunn. Coach Ed Cooley is a proven winner, so don’t expect Providence to dip.
Best Player: Kris Dunn
Key Player: Jalen Lindsey
6. Marquette – Despite a 13-19 record, Marquette was a hard-nosed, tough out last year in Coach Steve Wojciechowski’s first year. This season, Wojo comes equipped with a top ten recruiting class, including a top 10 prospect in 6’10, Henry Ellenson. Look for the Golden Eagles to be much-improved and sneak into the NCAA Tournament.
Best Player: Henry Ellenson
Key Player: Luke Fischer
7. Seton Hall – The Pirates are a bit of a wild card in the Big East this season. They have a very talented sophomore class, including guard Isaiah Whitehead, who looks primed to have a breakout season. However, the players and coach have yet to prove they are capable of putting together a successful season. If this prediction is correct, this could be coach Kevin Willard’s last season in South Orange.
Best Player: Isaiah Whitehead
Key Player: Derrick Gordon
8. DePaul – The Blue Demons have been the laughing stock of the league for longer than I care to remember. Former coach Dave Leitao has returned for a second go at it. He actually has some talent to work with, as three starters return. Look for DePaul to be more competitive, but in the tough Big East, it will be difficult to move up the standings.
Best Player: Billy Garrett Jr.
Key Player: Tommy Hamilton IV
9. Creighton – A year after Doug McDermott lit up the country, including the Big East, and carried the Blue Jays to a surprisingly successful first season in the conference, Creighton came way back down to earth last season. They played tough and lost many close games, but four Big East wins is four Big East wins. Their roster turns over a great deal again this year, so expect more hard times, while still being a tough beat.
Best Player: James Milliken
Key Player: Cole Huff
10. St. John’s – Johnnies’ legend Chris Mullin takes over at his alma mater with one heck of a rebuilding job, at least from a roster perspective. The Red Storm have three players returning from Steve Lavin’s 2014-15 NCAA Tournament team and none of them contributed significantly. Mullin has been quoted as saying he has experienced both winning and losing. He will likely lean on the latter this season.
Best Player: Durand Johnson
Key Player: ?