Home featured Way to early: Big East MBB in-depth

Way to early: Big East MBB in-depth

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Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

By Nick Kuster

The 2019-20 college basketball season may have come to an end early, and we now have seven to eight months until the next college basketball season tips off. All that means is it is time to look way ahead to the 2020-21 campaign.

This past season in the Big East Conference, there were some teams that surprised the country, Creighton and Butler, and some who were right where they were supposed to be, Villanova.

But none of that matters now and we are at the point in time where current players can decide to stay, go pro or transfer. Big East schools are also adding players from the transfer portal as well as recruits out of high school.

So how does each Big East team look heading into the 2020-21 season? I will break down where I think each team is projected to finish in the conference as well as the impact additions and losses for each team. I will also put who I believe will be each teams starting five come November.

1. Villanova Wildcats

Is anyone surprised to see the Villanova Wildcats at the top? The 2016 and 2018 National Champs may just be the favorite to win the 2021 National Championship.

The Wildcats return EVERYONE. But that doesn’t mean everyone may stay. First team All-Conference forward Saddiq Bey had a breakout season averaging just over 16 PPG and he will most likely test the NBA waters.

Second team All-Conference point guard Collin Gillespie returns after a solid season where he averaged just over 15 PPG, 4.5 APG and led the team in steals with just over one per game. Also returning are All-Freshman team members Jeremiah Robinson-Earl and Justin Moore. Robinson-Earl led the Wildcats in rebounding with almost 10 per game.

Projected Starting 5:

  • PG: Collin Gillespie
  • SG: Justin Moore
  • SF: Saddiq Bey*
  • PF: Jermaine Samuels
  • C: Jeremiah Robinson-Earl

The starting five for the Wildcats is the best in the nation heading into next season if all goes as planned. If/when Saddiq Bey declares for the NBA Draft, I think there is a good chance that he stays in it and leaves Villanova for good. Even if he does leave, this Wildcats team is one you do not want to see during the season.

2. Creighton Blue Jays

The Creighton Blue Jays were tough to beat last season and with the whole team possibly returning for the 2020-21 season, the Blue Jays could see themselves as a top 5 team in the first AP Poll come November.

The Blue Jays had one of the best backcourt duos in all of college basketball. First team All-Conference selection Ty-Shon Alexander and second team All-Conference selection Marcus Zegarowski combined to average just over 33 PPG. Add on to that another guard in Mitch Ballock who averaged just under 44 percent from 3-point range. The Blue Jays were one of the best 3-point shooting teams in the nation last season as they had four guys average over 35 percent from behind the arc.

The Blue Jays have one recruit headed to Omaha. 4-star big man Ryan Kalkbrenner is 6-11, 210 pounds and will add much needed depth to the frontcourt. Kalkbrenner is ranked 80 in the nation according to 247.

Projected Starting 5:

  • PG: Marcus Zegarowski
  • SG: Ty-Shon Alexander*
  • SF: Mitch Ballock
  • PF: Damien Jefferson
  • C: Christian Bishop

I expect the Blue Jays to have the same starting 5 as last year, but they could go really small and start four guards. Guard Denzel Mahoney was the ultimate six man as he averaged only 22 minutes per game and averaged the third most points on the team with 12 per game.

One worry for the Blue Jays… Ty-Shon Alexander. Alexander will most likely declare for the NBA Draft and then I would think there is a good chance he stays in the draft.

3. Providence Friars

The Providence Friars come in at three in the way too early in-depth look because I don’t know who else to put at three. There is a significant drop off after Villanova and Creighton.

The Friars had a weird season in 2019. They started off slow, losing games they shouldn’t lose and they followed that up with unbelievable play during the conference portion of their schedule. They would’ve been a NCAA Tournament team for sure even with all the losses they had in the non-conference.

They lose second team All-Conference selection in Alpha Diallo as well as guard Luwane Pipkins, who was a key piece to the Friars success last year. Diallo and Pipkins were two of three Friars to average in double figures last season.

Guards AJ Reeves and David Duke return and will be expected to take a significant jump for the Friars. Duke averaged 12 PPG and led the team in assists for the season. Saint Joseph transfer Jared Bynum will look to make an impact after sitting out last year.

Projected Starting 5:

  • PG: David Duke
  • SG: AJ Reeves
  • SF: Greg Gantt
  • PF: Kalif Young
  • C: Nate Watson

Some changes to the starting 5, but the Friars should see themselves in the top half of the conference come March.

4. Xavier Musketeers

The Xavier Musketeers started last season ranked inside the top 25 and finished the season on the bubble for the NCAA Tournament. The Musketeers also lost their last three games of the season and are going into the Spring with question marks surrounding their roster.

The first major question mark is first team All-Conference selection Naji Marshall. Marshall averaged almost 17 PPG and led the team in both assists and steals. He will most likely declare for the NBA Draft while keeping his eligibility.

All-Conference second team selection Tyrique Jones graduates after averaging 14 points and 11 rebounds per game.

Head Coach Travis Steele has the 17th ranked recruiting class in the nation headlined by 4-star point guard Dwon Odom. Odom will look to have a large role as point guard Quentin Goodin is graduating. Odom is joined by 4-star shooting guard CJ Wilcher, 3-star shooting guard Colby Jones as well as Gardner-Webb transfer Nate Johnson.

Projected Starting 5:

  • PG: Kyky Tandy
  • SG: Paul Scruggs
  • SF: Naji Marshall*
  • PF: Jason Carter
  • C: Zach Freemantle

Paul Scruggs will look to carry the Musketeers next year. The Indianapolis native averaged just under 13 PPG while playing over 33 minutes per game last season. All-Freshman team selection Kyky Tandy will get the point guard duties for good for the Musketeers.

5. Uconn Huskies

Welcome back to the Big East, Uconn. This is a good year to return to the conference as it is not as strong as it has been in years past. Uconn is coming over from the American Athletic Conference where they finished fifth. The Huskies were 19-12 (10-8) last year.

The only reason I have the Huskies at five in the projections is because there is no one else to put there. The Big East will be down next season and Uconn has a chance to put the conference on notice.

The Huskies lose first team All-AAC selection Christian Vital. Vital led the team in scoring, rebounding and steals per game. They also lost Alterique Gilbert, who transferred to Wichita State just the other day. Gilbert was a key piece to the rotation.

The Huskies still have some solid pieces coming back. Third team All-Conference and All-Freshman team selection James Bouknight returns. He averaged 13 PPG, second best on the team last year. They also add top-100, 4-star recruit Andre Jackson.

Projected Starting 5:

  • PG: Jalen Gaffney
  • SG: James Bouknight
  • SF: Tyler Polley
  • PF: Akok Akok
  • C: Josh Carlton

Akok Akok will be a question mark to start the season as he recovering from a torn achilles suffered in February. He is a long and young shot blocker for the Huskies.

We will see how Uconn does next season as they are joining a more competitive Big East conference from top to bottom compared to the AAC.

6. Marquette

How will the Golden Eagles look now that All-American Markus Howard is gone? No one knows. Losing 28 PPG is tough, add on to that… Sacar Anim is also graduating. He averaged just over 12 PPG. Now Marquette has to find players to step up because they will not be as high powered of an offense as they were the past couple of seasons.

On the bright side Koby McEwen, Brendan Bailey and Theo John are all back. Border line 5-star power forward Dawson Garcia will come in and most likely start right away, but it is unrealistic that a freshman will put up jaw dropping numbers unless he is a top 5 to 10 player in the class.

The incoming recruiting class has more than Dawson Garcia and is in fact ranked as the top recruiting class in the Big East and 14 nationally. Garcia is joined by top-100 player Justin Lewis and 4-star Osasere Ighodaro. All three recruits are listed as power forwards so it will be interesting to see who gets playing time and who doesn’t.

Projected Starting 5:

  • PG: Koby McEwen
  • SG: Greg Elliott
  • SF: Brendan Bailey
  • PF: Dawson Garcia
  • C: Theo John

Marquette could crack the top five in the conference, but it won’t be easy, especially if they can’t find enough scoring.

7. Georgetown Hoyas

Georgetown is in a very interesting situation going forward. They had two of their better players transfer during this past season and then Mac McClung declared for the NBA Draft just a couple days ago.

The Hoyas were on the bubble late in conference play, but a couple of losses saw their bubble burst. But there are bright spots with this Hoyas team moving forward.

Assuming Mac McClung does come back, the Hoyas would return three of there four players who averaged in double figures last season. The Hoyas only lose big man Omer Yurtseven, which is a big lose. Yurtseven averaged a double-double and almost two block per game.

The Hoyas have the number 35 recruiting class in the nation and that comes in as the fourth best in the Big East.

Projected Starting 5:

  • PG: Mac McClung*
  • SG: Jahvon Blair
  • SF: Jamorko Pickett
  • PF: Jamari Sibley
  • C: Qudus Wahab

McClung and Blair will have to lead the Hoyas if they want to find themselves in the NCAA Tournament in 2021.

8. Butler Bulldogs

Last season was a success for the Butler Bulldogs and head coach Lavall Jordan. After missing the NCAA Tournament in 2019, the Bulldogs were bound for the Big Dance in 2020. The Bulldogs were as high as 5 in the AP Poll and were surprising the entire nation one game at a time.

A lot will be lost going into next season though as first team All-Conference guard Kamar Baldwin graduates. Butler’s 3-point marksman Sean McDermott also leaves the team after four years. Add onto that, another 3-point shooter, Jordan Tucker, has declared for the NBA Draft and right now it is up in the air whether he comes back or not.

Baldwin, McDermott and Tucker were three of the four leading scorers for the Bulldogs this past season. Valparaiso transfer Derek Smit is also gone after having an injury plagued one year at Butler. Also, former 4-star freshman Khalif Battle announced he is transfering from the program.

Floor general Aaron Thompson is back and will have to take a major leap forward and become much more of an offensive threat then he has been in the past. Bryce Nze is also back and I expect him to average a double-double next season. Bryce Golden took a jump forward last season and will be asked to do it again next year.

The Bulldogs get Christian David back. David tore his ACL mid-way through the 2019 season. Butler has five commits in the 2020 class and it is ranked 30 in the nation and 3 in the Big East.

Projected Starting 5:

  • PG: Aaron Thompson
  • SG: Henry Baddley
  • SF: Jordan Tucker*
  • PF: Bryce Nze
  • C: Bryce Golden

I really do think Jordan Tucker may stay in the NBA Draft and if that is the case, Christian David would fill that SF spot in the starting lineup.

9. Seton Hall Pirates

A lot, and I mean a lot of talent is graduating from this Seton Hall Pirates team. All-American Myles Powell leaves after having a stellar career for the Pirates. 7-footer and shot blocker Romaro Gill is gone, and to add salt to the wound, point guard Quincy McKnight is also graduating.

The Pirates will for sure take a significant step back. But they have a chance to prove people wrong. Some key pieces are returning next season in Sandro Mamukelashvili, Jared Rhoden and Myles Cale.

Seton Hall has two 3-star recruits coming in next season and both of them will get a chance to fight for minutes right away.

Projected Starting 5:

  • PG: Shavar Reynolds Jr.
  • SG: Jared Rhoden
  • SF: Myles Cale
  • PF: Sandro Mamukelashvili
  • C: Tyrese Samuel

The Pirates are looking for players in the transfer portal right now, so it will be interesting to see if they can get someone who can rise them up in these rankings.

10. St. John’s Red Storm

The St. John’s Red Storm have a chance to show the Big East that they belong higher up in these rankings. It was also head coach Mike Anderson’s first season after coaching at Arkansas previously.

Second leading scorer Mustapha Heron is gone. But the Red Storm return leading scorer LJ Figueroa as well as All-Freshman team selection Julian Champagnie.

The Red Storm could surprise people next season and now that the players are getting used to Mike Anderson’s press defense system, the Red Storm could creep up on teams in the Big East.

Projected Starting 5:

  • PG: Rasheem Dunn
  • SG: Greg Williams Jr.
  • SF: LJ Figueroa
  • PF: Julian Champagnie
  • C: Josh Roberts

The Red Storm are my dark horse to make a move next season and prove me wrong about where they should be in these rankings.

11. DePaul Blue Demons

The Blue Demons had such a solid non-conference and faltered when they hit conference play. The bright side was they beat, at the time, fifth ranked Butler and then they beat Xavier in the Big East Tournament before it was cancelled.

Second team All-Conference selection Paul Reed was a stud for the Blue Demons and he officially declared for the NBA Draft. I expect he stays in it. Former Illinois transfer Jalen Coleman-Lands is graduating after averaging 11 PPG.

On the bright side, former Kansas transfer Charlie Moore is back after he led the Blue Demons in scoring last season. Double figure scorer Jaylen Butz is back and All-Freshman selection Romeo Weems returns.

Projected Starting 5:

  • PG: Charlie Moore
  • SG: Devin Gage
  • SF: Romeo Weems
  • PF: Darious Hall
  • C: Jaylen Butz

DePaul is known to recruit heavily through the transfer portal, so we will see if anyone new heads to Chicago for the 2020-21 season.

Recap

After one and two, the Big East Conference next season will be wide open to whoever plays the best and fights for it. These rankings could change depending on the transfer portal as there are a bunch of solid players who could improve rosters. Recruiting players is not easy for coaches right now as they can not speak with players in person or face-to-face due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Teams like Butler, Creighton, Villanova and Xavier have guys who will test the NBA waters and a lot depends on whether or not those players stay in the process or come back for another season of college basketball.

A lot is still up in the air, but one thing is for sure… The Big East Conference has two heavyweights and a lot of solid teams looking to prove they belong in that same discussion.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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