1. Villanova Wildcats
2017-2018 Record: 30-4 (14-4)
Going with anyone at the top but Villanova would be a crime heading into 2019. Even if head coach Jay Wright’s team is going to look much different from last season, the 2017-2018 National Champions deserve the top spot going in.
Last season was not just one of Villanova’s best teams in program history, it was one of the most dominant postseason runs in NCAA history. The Wildcats took home their third national title with a 79-62 victory over the Michigan Wolverines in the final game in San Antonio. In their run, Villanova won each game by at least 12 points, the first time that has ever been done. On top of that, Nova won the Big East Tournament, led the nation in scoring (86.6 ppg), were 23rd in assists (16.4 apg), fifth in field goal percentage (50.4) and made the second most 3-pointers in the country.
With that being said, it will be a very different looking season for Nova. Program staples have departed. 2018 Big East Player of the Year Jalen Brunson, the 2018 Big East Tournament MVP Mikal Bridges, Final Four MOP Donte DiVincenzo and slashing big man Omari Spellman were all selected in the first 33 picks of the NBA Draft. That’s a whopping 60.9 ppg from last season that will need to be made up.
Luckily for Nova, they have returning help and new faces to pick up the load. Seniors Eric Paschall and Phil Booth are veterans, especially Booth who has won two national titles in his time. Paschall had a fantastic March and April in 2018, including 24 points and four 3-pointers in the semi-final Final Four game against Kansas. Their combined 20.6 ppg will need to, and certainly will, rise and both should be significant favorites for Big East Player of the Year.
Wright has a very good recruiting class coming in (when you win as much as he has, it tends to happen). Five-star recruit Javon Quinerly will have an immediate impact and could start at the point. He’s no Brunson and certainly won’t be in year one, but he brings a more slasher and nasty offensive game (think some Kyle Lowry). Joining Quinerly as freshmen are Cole Swider and Brandon Slater, both top 100 recruits who will see action. Also look for second-year guard Collin Gillespie to get much more minutes and possibly start.
In the end, it’s tough to pick against Villanova when they have consistently been there at the end and gotten the job done, winning the Big East regular season title four of the last five seasons. Wright is the clear best coach in the conference, maybe the country and Villanova can accomplish anything with him. Nova will probably take a slight step back with such high turnover, but conference front runners and national title contenders is still very much a thing.
2. Marquette Golden Eagles
2017-2018 Record: 19-13 (9-9)
Key Departures: Andrew Rowsey
Last season for head coach Steve Wojciechowski was his fourth at the helm for the Golden Eagles and left many Marquette fans disappointed. The team missed out on the NCAA Tournament and faltered down the stretch, tied for sixth in the conference and, really, escaping with a .500 record in conference.
They had one of the top offenses in the country and the top offense in the conference. They led the way with 81.3 ppg and were tops in the Big East in free throw percentage and 3-point percentage.
On the flip side, what killed them was their defense. Dead last in the Big East in scoring defense (78.5 ppg) was their Achilles heel. They were soft and downright bad in rebounding and steals.
In what may be coach Woj’s last season to get Marquette in the driver’s seat of the conference, he will have his best shot this season.
Trusting this team in 2018-2019 comes down to one name that should give Marquette fans hope: Markus Howard. Howard, a junior, is an NBA talented, offensive juggernaut and shooting sensation who can light it up at any time. He was fourth in the Big East last season with 20.4 ppg and shot an impressive 46.4 percent from the field. His 111 made 3-pointers were good for 11th in the country. He scored 50 points in a game at Providence last season! Howard knows how to put the ball in the basket.
Also returning for the Golden Eagles is hybrid big man Sam Hauser. Hauser was a very efficient scorer from anywhere on the floor and really stretched the defense. He averaged 14.1 ppg and 5.7 rpg, but never took more than 17 shots in a game. Both his points and shots per game should drastically go up.
No team returns their whole program back in one piece and that goes for Marquette too. Graduating from the team was point guard Andrew Rowsey which will seriously hurt. He was the top 3-point shooter in the conference a year ago and sixth in the nation in total threes made. To help remedy his loss, coach Woj brought in Sam’s little brother in Joey Hauser and transfer Joseph Chartouny.
At the end of the day, we all know the offense will be there for Marquette. It’s an offense that can light up any team and change the complexion of a game. It will come down to defense. Even if Marquette can improve their defense from worst in the conference to middle of the pack, it should be well enough to get them in the top four of the standings.
Big expectations in Milwaukee this season and favorites to get back to the Big Dance. Even expectations for this Marquette team to be the best since the Jimmy Butler era. It’s make or break.
3. St. John’s Red Storm
2017-2018 Record: 16-17 (4-14)
It’s year four for head coach Chris Mullin and it’s a big one for the St. John’s alum. After big expectations last season, the Red Storm incurred injuries and started off 0-11 in conference to finish a disappointing season at 4-14 in the Big East.
Defensively, the Red Storm were one of the top teams in the conference. Their rebounding was lacking, they got scorched from the 3-point arch by opponents and their offense was wildly inconsistent.
However, things are looking too good for St. John’s and Mullin this season and it should really all come together now for multiple reasons. One biggie is the return of junior Shamorie Ponds, the only returning player from last season’s First Team All-Big East. Ponds led the Big East with 21.6 ppg, hitting from anywhere on the floor and getting to the line at a high rate. He fits the Mullin defensive scheme and established himself as a lockdown defender on the perimeter.
I mentioned their defense was stout and it should be just as good this season. They were first in the conference last year in blocks, steals and turnover margin and third in scoring defense. Even though they only had four conference wins, they were close and right in the thick of it at the end of those losses. If their offense was a little better than 73.1 ppg, it could have been a different story.
Other star backcourt mate Marcus LoVett decided to leave the program in the offseason and will hurt. They also lost Tariq Owens, a top defender and shot blocker over the years. They still return stout defender and athletic forward Justin Simon.
Probably the biggest non-recruit acquisition of Mullin’s tenure came this offseason in snagging transfer Mustapha Heron. Heron averaged 16.4 ppg with the Auburn Tigers last season and led them to an NCAA Tournament berth. His scoring ability should breathe new life alongside Ponds and Simon.
The talent is there for St. John’s and it has been for most of Mullin’s tenure. He just needs to put it all together with a veteran team that has experience. They started to show signs of what they could be late last season with back-to-back wins over dominant Duke and Villanova programs.
If it does in fact all come together, especially in a down year for the Big East all around, expect St. John’s to be NCAA Tournament contenders and a solid team to mess with in conference.
4. Providence Friars
2017-2018 Record: 21-13 (10-8)
The Friars and head coach Ed Cooley have been to five straight NCAA Tournaments and are enjoying one of the best stretches in program history. A bubble team in 2018, Cooley and his squad pushed to the Big East Championship game against Villanova to earn their way in, resulting in a first round loss to Texas A&M.
One of the big reasons that helped get the Friars to deep March basketball was their three senior leaders of Rodney Bullock, Kyron Cartwright and Jalen Lindsey. Them and the rest of the team led a Big East top-five defense across the board and one of the most disciplined teams in the conference. Cooley’s strong suit has always been defense, but the offense was lacking last season and didn’t help them down the stretch to go far.
Bullock, Cartwright and Lindsey were pillars in the program and an immense amount of talent to replace. They have the pieces to do so. It will start with guard Alpha Diallo, a junior who raised his points per game average from five his freshman year to 13 last season and will be expected to make an even bigger jump this season. He is regarded as one of the top guards in the conferences and plays bigger than most others (6.6 rpg). He uses his 6’7” frame to dominate.
It’s also the second year for guard Makai Ashton-Langford, a big recruit Cooley brought in last season. As a freshman, Ashton-Langford struggled to find his shot or any consistent rhythm, but he will see more minutes and a great opportunity to blossom.
Emmitt Holt, an athletic and talented forward, returns from an injury that sidelined him all last season. If he can return to his double-digit scoring of 2016-2017, it will be a great addition to the Friars. Holt and Nate Watson will be expected to hold down the frontcourt, along with incoming players David Duke and A.J. Reeves.
The Ceiling is not too high for Providence and they are largely untested. Patience may be needed for this new group of players to mesh. If that happens, this is surely a strong, well coached team in the Big East.
5. Georgetown Hoyas
2017-2018 Record: 15-15 (5-13)
Key Departures: Marcus Derrickson
I believe the Georgetown Hoyas will take the biggest leap this season and jump to the top five in the standings. It’s year two for head coach and one of the greatest Hoyas of all-time Patrick Ewing. Finishing at the bottom of the conference last season, all the trudging and tough sledding they did were teaching moments for Ewing and his players. It was valuable teaching moments and experience gained.
Georgetown got off to a great start, going 10-1 in their first 11 out of conference. Once conference play hit, they struggled hard and Ewing’s lack of coaching experience showed. Now, he and his players will be better prepared.
The biggest problem for the Hoyas last season was their defense. They were second to last in scoring defense at 76.5 ppg. They also didn’t take care of the ball well, committing a whopping 458 turnovers (roughly 15 a game) and were dead last in the conference in turnover margin.
The best thing the Hoyas have going this season is the return of senior center Jessie Govan. Govan took a backseat last season to Seton Hall center Angel Delgado as the best center in the conference, but Govan is ready to take that role this season.
The 6’10”, 270-pound brute averaged 17.9 ppg and 10.0 rpg last season and all those numbers should increase. He will take the next step and be a driving force on offense and defense for Ewing, showing his potential at the end of last season by averaging 25.8 ppg in his last four games. He’s also good at staying on the floor; he was one of only seven centers last season with 950+ minutes and less than 90 fouls. His back to the basket and post up game are some of the best in the conference, but he is also very keen at passing well out of double-teams and understanding his surroundings.
Georgetown also returns starters Jahvon Blair and Jamorko Pickett, who had ups and downs as freshmen last season and will become more consistent with experience. The Hoyas also brought in the 31st ranked recruiting class, highlighted by four-star recruit James Akinjo, a point guard who should see time immediately. Greg Malinowski is a transfer from William and Mary who can shoot from the outside well.
Govan will and should be a stud, but can the defense improve overall? Can Akinjo facilitate the offense as a freshman? Can those turnovers come down and can Blair and Pickett take the next step? All big questions Ewing will have to wait to have answers on. If they can check most or all those boxes off, this Georgetown team will make huge strides and not be a pushover like last season.
6. Xavier Musketeers
2017-2018 Record: 28-5 (15-3)
Last season was a magical one for Xavier. They earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament and Big East Tournament, won the Big East regular season title and featured some star players. This season shouldn’t be the same.
Let’s start with the head coach. Longtime program leader Chris Mack, who accumulated 215 wins with the Musketeers, left to be the head coach for the Louisville Cardinals. Xavier assistant Travis Steele was promoted to the lead dog and will have huge shoes to fill. Mack was a great recruiter, developer and executioner for the Xavier program for years. Steele learned under Mack, so he should be the best option in time to replicate Mack’s success. Expect growing pains for Steele.
Also contributing to a projected down season for Xavier will be the loss of three studs and leader from last season: Trevon Bluiett, J.P. Macura and Karem Kanter. Those three graduated and combined for 43.1 ppg. Their veteran leadership hopefully rubbed off on some of the remaining vets.
It doesn’t help that they didn’t have a great recruiting class, primarily from the loss of Mack. They did bring in two nice grad transfers, Ryan Welage from San Jose State and Kyle Castlin from Columbia. They will be leaned on heavily, but it will be for just one season and under a new coach.
A bright spot to look onto is sophomore Naji Marshall. Marshall made huge strides next year and looks ready to take the next step as a No. 1 and become a leader. He will certainly average more than 21.2 minutes per game from a year ago. He has a legitimate chance to be First or Second Team All-Big East especially if he leads Xavier to success. He will be joined with last season’s veterans Quentin Goodin and Paul Scruggs.
It will be a tough, rebuilding year in Cincinnati for Xavier. Marshall certainly has the chance to take the reins and keep Xavier in the hunt at the top. Hiring Steele is the best chance to have a Mack 2.0, but it might take time.
7. Butler Bulldogs
2017-2018 Record: 20-13 (9-9)
Butler was one of the few Big East teams that overperformed expectations and enjoyed success throughout the season. They got into the NCAA Tournament and earned a first round win over Arkansas before losing to North Carolina in the second round. Now in his second year, LaVall Jordan was solid and a fast learner in his first year at the helm last year.
They were led by senior Kelan Martin, who was sensational throughout the season and dominated Big East play. Him and rangy talented big man Tyler Wideman have graduated, and it will be difficult to replace them.
It should be the Kamar Baldwin show this season at Butler. The junior averaged 15.7 ppg, 4.9 rpg and 3.2 apg last season. He has already shown flashes of being great, with five games of 25+ points. He’s a playmaker and facilitator of the offense, not to mention a veteran who has won 46 career games. It remains to be seen how he will do without Martin and Wideman being on his own, but all signs point to Baldwin as a role model and leader of the program in 2018-2019.
Big responsibility falls onto Nate Fowler and Sean McDermott to be role players to Baldwin. The only real talent that was added this offseason was Duke transfer Jordan Tucker.
Jordan got lucky and fortunate to have Martin and Wideman on his team in his first year as coach. Now comes the tough job of finding points and production without them. Too many other teams improved more this off season in the Big East and it should hurt Butler this season.
8. Seton Hall Pirates
2017-2018 Record: 21-11 (10-8)
Key Additions: Taurean Thompson, Quincy McKnight, [Player; Jared Rhoden]
Seton Hall rode their four seniors to success over the past couple seasons, especially last year. They finished third in the conference standings, earned a first round victory in the Big Dance and came up just short up upsetting No. 1 seed Kansas in the second round.
It was inevitable that this day would come when head coach Kevin Willard would need to survive with out the senior leadership, firepower and experience of Angel Delgado, Desi Rodriguez, Khadeen Carrington and Ish Sanogo. Now it’s on Willard to find a solution to stay relevant and avoid missing the NCAA Tournament for the first time in four years.
It will start and end with junior Myles Powell. The guard averaged an impressive 15.5 ppg last season as, really, the fourth option on offense. He shot 43.3 percent from the floor and 37.9 from 3-point range, number that don’t scream superstar, but he will have all the chances in the world this season to raise them and become a better facilitator. He was the Big East’s Most Improved Player for a reason and is only getting better.
He will be aided by talented transfers. Big man Taurean Thompson will help alleviate the loss of Delgado and shooter Quincy McKnight will help on the perimeter.
It is more likely that the loss of the four senior pillars of seasons past will have a big impact on this season. Almost every category and position will take a step back and be too big to replace. There’s no denying the talent and potential of Powell, but it may be a one man show in 2018-2019.
9. Creighton Bluejays
2017-2018 Record: 21-11 (10-8)
The fact that Creighton really didn’t get anyone relevant enough this offseason to keep the program at previous competitive levels only adds to why they will finish at the bottom of the Big East this season.
To start, the Bluejays had one of the best backcourts in the conference last season with slashing, scoring and ballhawk guards of Marcus Foster and Khyri Thomas. They accounted for 34.9 ppg, 43.3 if you include senior Toby Hegner. All three of those pieces are gone, Foster and Hegner graduated and Thomas leaving early for the NBA. Those were serious production leaders of the last couple seasons and Creighton didn’t recruit well enough to bring in talent to help ease that burden, or those recruits will need time to develop into those scorers.
Head coach Greg McDermott is one of the most experienced and best coaches in the conference, but this hole Creighton is in might be too much to dig out of this season. McDermott has seen this story before. When McDermott’s son Doug, a perennial scorer and Big East Player of the Year, graduated and went pro, it took the elder Greg and the Bluejays two seasons of missing out on the postseason to get back on track. Looks like that’s happening again.
One name to watch for is forward Martin Krampelj. Krampelj tore his ACL last January and missed the remainder of the season, but he has worked very hard this offseason and should be good to go to start the season. Krampelj averaged 11.9 ppg and 8.1 rpg before the injury and will have a much more expanded role to lead the team and raise his level of play.
Also watch for Mitch Ballock, who as a freshman last season showed signs of being a nice shooting threat. He should get better and more consistent with experience.
Overall, Ballock and Krampelj made a nice backcourt and frontcourt combo. Losing such a talented guard combination of Foster and Thomas will have serious consequences on this season and it will be a long year in Omaha.
10. DePaul Demon Deacons
2017-2018 Record: 11-20 (4-14)
Key Departures: Marin Maric
Head coach Dave Leitao, now in his second stint at DePaul coach, just hasn’t gotten things rolling much in three years in Chicago. He did raise the win total last season two games from the previous year, but not good enough to get out of the basement of the Big East. That’s more than likely where the Demon Deacons will be heading this season.
The loss of Marin Maric, who averaged 13.6 ppg and a team-high 6.7 rpg, will hurt. They do return veteran starters Eli Cain and Max Strus, who combined for 30.5 ppg. They also added a nice transfer from Illinois in Jalen Coleman-Lands, who should be a good perimeter shot.
There was no real area that hurt DePaul the most last season because almost every area was bottom half of the conference. Their depth has been lacking for years now and will continue to falter in that category compared the elites of the conference.
Until the Demon Deacons show the conference they mean business and escape the 10 hole in the Big East, there’s no real reason to believe they won’t finish there again as unfortunate as it is.
Top 5 Big East Prospects
Howard shoots the lights out almost every night and can change the complexion of a game in an instant. He has serious NBA handles and scoring ability to dominate at the next level and his size can present mismatches on the perimeter.
He’s a scoring machine who has been a stud each season at St. John’s. He now has the supporting cast to help him get to the next level as a scorer and overall player. If he can raise his 3-point percentage and consistency up (25.3 percent last year), he can be a real prospect for the pros.
3. Jessie Govan
Here’s a big man who has only gotten better each and every season and now will be in his second year under one of the greatest centers to ever play the game in Patrick Ewing. He’s a wonder who makes plays like Andre Drummond. He dabbled in an outside shot last year (just 46 3-point attempts) so if those numbers can go up and get better it will raise his intrigue around the league even more.
Villanova is usually not a one-and-done school like Duke or Kentucky. However, last season Omari Spellman left the Wildcats after his redshirt freshman year. Quinerly is a top talent, a five-star recruit who can slash, shoot and facilitate from the point. He will have the making of an NBA talent for sure at some point, maybe even after this season, and it’s not out of the questions anymore that he could leave early to go pro.
5. Myles Powell
Powell’s playing style is something that NBA scouts drool over. Almost all of his shots last year either came at the rim or beyond the arc, which is what the future of the professional game is going in. His 21.8 percent usage rate last year will go up and he can be a legit scoring threat in the conference, maybe the best.