Big East Basketball Season Preview

Who is going to challenge the Villanova Wildcats? That seems to be the biggest question surrounding the Big East entering the 2021-22 college basketball season. The 2021 college basketball postseason was a disappointment with only four teams playing in the big dance. While the Wildcats seem to have a huge advantage over everyone else, keep in mind that there are many teams who are back stronger than ever, hungry to make noise in this competitive conference.

#1 Villanova

This is a Villanova team who was able to reach the Elite 8 last year without star point guard Collin Gillespie. Yes, they will be without Jeremiah Robinson-Earle, but this may be the most depth a Jay Wright team has ever had. They could easily go as deep as 11 players. Alongside Gillespie, Villanova has an elite frontcourt with Justin Moore and Caleb Daniels back in the starting lineup. The only question for the Wildcats is their interior play. Eric Dixon will be the starting big man for this team with the 2021 Delaware Gatorade player of the year Nnanna Njoku coming off the bench. There’s no doubt that Villanova will have great perimeter play, but with their past championship teams have had an elite big man to lead the way (Daniel Ochefu in 2016 and Omari Spellman in 2018).

#2 UConn

Ranked at No. 24 in the AP Top 25 College Basketball Poll, the Huskies return their top 6 leading scorers except for 1st round NBA draft pick James Bouknight. Last year the program earned their first March Madness berth in the Dan Hurley era. UConn’s defense without a question will be one of the best in the nation this year, their biggest concern is filling the offensive void with the departure of Bouknight. RJ Cole and Tyrese Martin are two returning starters who both averaged double figures last season that will lead this team offensively. Austin Jackson has a chance for a breakout sophomore season. Many people forget that UConn has a healthy Akok Akok back in the rotation who is a former five-star recruit. This team has the depth they need to win and it will be a matter of time before they find their offensive groove.

#3 Xavier

The Musketeers will be without Zach Freemantle for the start of the season due to foot injury. Despite his injury, they have a plethora of bucket getters who can step up while he rests. Paul Scruggs is the leader of this team who is an efficient player that held a pivotal role in this offense. The biggest off-season move by Travis Steele was landing transfer Jack Nunge from Iowa. He came off the bench for Luka Garza averaging 7.5 points and 5.3 rebounds in 15.9 minutes per game. Nunge is an underrated big man who will cause problems for teams in the Big East. Xavier was also able to bring in Jerome Hunter from Indiana, another talented Big Ten player who will get big minutes early on this season. Considering Xavier’s talent and experience, they could walk away with the 2021-22 Big East title.

#4 Saint John’s

Julian Champagnie (pictured). You all know his name from last season. He has pure, raw talent, averaging 19.8 points per game standing at 6’8. Posh Alexander is back at point guard, who was one of the top freshmen in the conference last year. He led the Big East in steals, creating offense from his elite defensive presence. The rest of the starting lineup is composed of, guess what? Transfers. Let’s start with Montez Mathis from Rutgers. He averaged 8.3 points per game with ten games being in double figures. Tareq Coburn from Hofstra averaged 15.1 points per game being a prolific passer and scorer for an average team in the CAA. Finally, probably the most important is center Joel Soriano from Fordham. Staying in New York and joining a better team is a huge win-win both for Saint John’s and Soriano. The starting five above can be dangerous but will take some time to develop that chemistry.

#5 Seton Hall

The Pirates missed out on March Madness last year for the first time since 2015 after losing five of their last six games. They might be one of the most complete teams in the Big East considering their depth. Jarden Rhoden will emerge as the leading scoring averaging 14.6 points per game last season. Kevin Willard didn’t hesitate in the off-season pursuit, bringing in transfers Kardary Richmond (Syracuse) and Alexis Yenta (South Florida). The starting five is going to be big with their smallest guard being Richmond at 6’5 and starting center, Ike Obiagu standing at 7’2. The start of the season will be tough playing against Yale, Michigan, Ohio State, Texas, Rutgers and Iona all before Big East play.

#6 Providence

Ed Cooley’s team finished the season with a bland 13-13 overall record. Even though they lost David Duke to the NBA, they return a lot of the supporting cast. Nate Watson will be the best center in the league earning a spot on the Big East preseason first team. They have AJ Reeves back, a guy that was knockdown from beyond the arc at 42%. Providence as a team needs to improve their three-point shooting as a unit finishing 9th in the 3-point percentage in the Big East. Both Reeves and Noah Horchler are two great shooters who will get more looks this year. Providence has great interior play and if they can knock down more three’s, watch out. They are a sleeper team in the Big East.

#7 Butler

Six fifth year players. Talk about a veteran team. Chuck Harris had a sensational freshman season averaging 12.9 points per game, which was the best on the team. Now, with Aaron Thompson and a crew of super seniors they are prepared to attack this competitive conference. All their starters can score each averaging double figures last season. This will cause matchup problems for every team since their leading scorer will most likely change every week. Expect Butler to start this season off hot looking to prove what they could have been last year.

#8 Georgetown

Even though they won the conference championship last year they are without their top 4 leading scorers from last season. They do get Big East tournament MVP Dante Harris back who had a great end to the season as a freshman. All Georgetown fans should be thrilled about Aminu Mohammed. A five-star recruit who is the early favorite to win the Big East freshmen of the year. He is a two guard who has an insane ability to finish around the rim under pressure. Remember his name because he is NBA ready with his frame and ability. Expect the Hoyas to be averaged but exciting in the Big East this year.

#9 Marquette

Talented Dawson Garcia (North Carolina) and D.J. Carton (pro) are gone, but that doesn’t mean Shaka Smart was sleeping during his first offseason with the Golden Eagles. They recruited Tyler Kolek from George Mason, a talented guard who has a had a lot of buzz around the team during the preseason. Marquette also acquired Darryl Morsey from Maryland and Kur Kuath from Oklahoma. With Carton and Garcia gone, Justin Lewis will need to step up his scoring this season. Freshman Stevie Mitchell will also be a sneaky asset on this team.

#10 Creighton

Despite reaching the Elite Eight for the first time in school history, the Blue Jays are in for a rebuild season without a single starter returning this year. They have some young raw talent with the nation’s 5th best recruiting class. {Player: Ryan Nembhard] and Arthur Kaluma are two freshman who will step it up early for the Blue Jays. It will be hard for Creighton to accomplish what they did last year losing all their major scorers.

#11 DePaul

DePaul has found themselves in another rebuild season. They lost talented Romeo Weems who went pro and their leading scorer Charlie Moore left to Miami. Losing 11 players from last year’s roster will be hard to replace, but thankfully for all DePaul fans they were able to bring in some solid transfers Jalen Terry (Oregon), Brandon Johnson (Minnesota) and Tyon Grant-Foster (Kansas). They also have four-star freshman Ahamad Bynum who will provide valuable minutes for the Blue Demons.

Top 5 Returning Prospects 

#1 Julian Champagnie (Saint John’s) 

The leading scorer in the Big East last year is back to increase his draft stock for the 2021-22 season. Saint John’s fans are hyped up for a team that could reach the NCAA tournament and be a sleeper team to win some games at the big dance. Champagnie is an elite three point shooter shooting 38% from the three last season. He is an athletic player who can get it done on both ends of the floor for the Red Storm. He could easily average 20 points per game this season. 

#2 Collin Gillespie (Villanova) 

After a season ending MCL injury last season, Gillespie is back for a redemption tour. Last year he averaged 14.0 points and 4.6 assists per game. Being selected as the Big East preseason player of the year, he will have a lot to prove in his final season as a Villanova Wildcat. We have seen many talented Villanova point guards have success in the NBA in recent years, which will make Gillespie a valuable prospect. 

#3 Zach Freemantle (Xavier) 

The Big East most improved player in the 2020-21 season averaged 16.1 points and 8.9 rebounds per game. His biggest stat from last year is his 2-point field goal percentage. 59% is extremely efficient and if he can increase his 3-point percentage alongside this, he will cause problems all season in the Big East. 

#4 Jared Rhoden (Seton Hall) 

Sandro Mamukelashvili is now in the NBA, which means Rhoden will step up and fill the role as “the guy” for Seton Hall. He had great end of the season last year averaging 20 points per game in the Big East playoffs. He was one of the best free throw shooters in the conference last year at 83%. Seton Hall is a sleeper team this year in the Big East and Rhoden will attract attention right from the beginning of the season. 

#5 Nate Watson (Providence) 

The Providence Male Athlete of the year decided to come back to support his team in one final run with coach Ed Cooley. Being the leading scorer on the team last year, Watson provides a unique physicality and ability that isn’t common in basketball. He is a traditional big who uses his size to his advantage being a great finisher around the rim. Watson will again be the best center in the Big East this year. 



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