1. Villanova Wildcats
2015-2016 Record: 35-5 (16-2 in Big East)
Coming off a magical tournament run this past March, the Wildcats will look to repeat as national champions. However, Villanova loses two key seniors in Ryan Arcidiacono and Daniel Ochefu. Luckily, guards Jalen Brunson and Phil Booth both have plenty of experience under their belts in big time games, performing under the brightest of lights last season. The loss of big-time recruit Omari Spellman is a tough blow considering the ‘Cats could have really used some help in the front court. That said, Darryl Reynolds will be a senior and is a big body Villanova will count on. The rising senior played well off the bench last year but will have a much larger role this season filling in for Daniel Ochefu.
And of course, the Wildcats have arguably the best player in the conference this season going into his senior year. Josh Hart will most likely lead the entire Big East in scoring, and will be looking greatly to improve his draft stock after testing waters this past summer. Kris Jenkins had his claim to fame last season after hitting the buzzer-beating shot to defeat the North Carolina Tarheels in the national championship game. The rising senior was on an absolute tear the entire tournament, hitting over 50% of his three point attempts. If Jenkins can continue to shoot the ball like that this season, it’s hard to see anyone stealing the Big East title from Villanova.
Although Hart, Jenkins, and the backcourt combo of Jalen Brunson and Phil Booth will drive this team, I expect Mikal Bridges and Fordham transfer Eric Paschall to play major roles off the bench. We saw what Bridges could do last year on the defensive end with his large wingspan. Paschall was forced to redshirt last season after transferring from Fordham, and it will be very interesting to see how Coach Wright fits him into the fold. As a freshman at Fordham, the 6’7 forward averaged just under 16 PPG. With no true big men other than Darryl Reynolds, expect Jay Wright to have his squad playing a lot of small ball with Bridges or Paschall in at power forward.
The Wildcats will most likely be one of the best defensive teams in the country, and are certainly the favorites to win the Big East this season.
2. Xavier Musketeers
2015-2016 Record: 28-6 (14-4 in Big East)
I would label Xavier as the dark horse contender team entering this season of college basketball. With Trevon Bluiett, Edmond Sumner, Myles Davis, and J.P. Macura all returning, it’s not hard to see why. Behind Josh Hart of Villanova, Bluiett is probably the best pure scorer in the conference. Shooting just under 40% from behind the arc last year, the rising junior will be the Musketeers’ main scoring weapon. That said, Xavier certainly has more offensive firepower.
6’6 Edmond Sumner had a pretty impressive freshman year last season running the point for the Musketeers averaging 11 PPG. However, if Sumner hopes to keep his draft stock where it is now(projected 1st round on nbadraft), he will certainly have to improve his shooting percentages this season after shooting below 40% from the field last year. Xavier has a ton of weapons, but Sumner will be faced with huge responsibility of orchestrating this offense and getting everyone the ball. Expect to see his assist numbers pumped up after averaging 3.6 per game this past season.
The availability of Myles Davis is going to be a huge question mark for the Musketeers. As a junior last season, Davis was arguably Xavier’s most complete player and would be a tremendous loss on both sides of the ball if unable to play due to charges involving his former girlfriend. If ruled unable to play, expect J.P. Macura to get more playing time and take on an even larger role. The rising junior proved himself as a valuable asset off the bench last season, and will certainly be looked to as a scoring option going forward.
Senior transfers RaShid Gaston and Malcolm Bernard could add a ton of value to this team. With the loss of both starting big men, Gaston will play a crucial role with Musketeers this season. The senior spent three years at Norfolk State before transferring, averaging over 15 PPG and 9.6his junior season.
Chris Mack and his squad will be looking to have one heck of a year, potentially having a chance at a top seed in the NCAA tournament.
3. Creighton Bluejays
2015-2016 Record: 20-15 (9-9 in Big East)
Key Departures: Geoffrey Groselle, James Milliken
Following the loss of his son Doug, Coach Greg McDermott and Creighton looked to have serious problems. In the 2014-2015 season, the Bluejays went 14-19, winning only 4 games in the Big East. However, the program was able to bounce back, posting a respectable 20-15 record this past season. Maurice Watson Jr. is one of the best point guards in the entire country, and finished in the top ten in assists per game last season. This year, the rising senior is going to have some help. Transfer Marcus Foster played two seasons at Kansas State before being dismissed, averaging over 15 PPG as a freshman. Pairing with Watson, these two can potentially be the very best backcourt in the entire country. With Watson’s playmaking ability and Foster adding perimeter shooting, it’s hard to imagine the Bluejays not being competitive this season.
4. Butler Bulldogs
2015-2016 Record: 22-11 (10-8 in Big East)
Butler had a great season last year, but the loss of both sharpshooter Kellen Dunham and Roosevelt Jones is a tough blow. However, the Bulldogs aren’t just going to fade away. Kelan Martin is one of the best players in the conference, and is coming off a monster year averaging 15.7 PPG. As a junior, I’d expect Martin to put up even bigger numbers and earn First-team All Big East. George Washington transfer Kethan Savage averaged double figure scoring for two seasons and must help fill the scoring void left behind by Dunham and Jones. Andrew Chrabascz will also add experience and scoring to the Bulldogs. My main question this year for Butler is if Tyler Lewis is finally going to perform at the level we expected him to coming out of high school. Coming out of high school, Lewis was a very highly touted recruit but really struggled to make much of an impact at NC State. Last season, Lewis did not post much of an improvement in numbers. I think if the Bulldogs want to make a run in the NCAA tournament, the senior point guard is going to have to have a much better year.
The good news for Head Coach Chris Holtlmann is that almost all of the players in his rotation are very experienced. The Bulldogs will most likely start four seniors along with their star junior Martin.
5. Marquette Golden Eagles
2015-2016 Record: 20-13 (8-10 in Big East)
Key Departures: Henry Ellenson
It’s actually remarkable what Coach Woj has been able to do in just two seasons at Marquette. Posting a 13-19 record his first year, he has able to lead an inexperienced Golden Eagles team to a 20-13 record last season, posting wins over LSU, Wisconsin, Providence, Butler, Creighton, and Georgetown. Losing star freshman Henry Ellenson to the draft will certainly hurt. However, I still expect this Marquette team to compete. Rising sophomore Haanif Cheatham had a very good year last season while flying under the radar. I’d expect Cheatham to be the best player on the team this year. Luke Fischer is going to have his hands full, being the only big man on the squad. Fischer is a great finisher around the rim, but I would suspect he will be having little rest this season due to Marquette’s lack of depth in the front court, which may take a toll on him.
Transfers Andrew Rowsey and Katin Reinhardt will have to help Cheatham and Fischer scoring the ball this year. Rowsey averaged over 20 PPG as a freshman at UNC Asheville, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he challenged Cheatham as the leading scorer on the team this season.
The Golden Eagles have some talented guards and I like Coach Woj, but not having any formidable big men aside from Fischer is going to be a serious problem for Marquette this season.
6. Seton Hall Pirates
2015-2016 Record: 25-9 (12-6 in Big East)
The Pirates are without a doubt going to take a step back this season. Isaiah Whitehead propelled them to a Big East Tournament trophy and a 5 seed in the NCAA Tournament last season. Having lost Whitehead to the NBA draft, Seton Hall will no longer have a star talent that could score with ease and make plays so effectively. Khadeen Carrington however is not too shabby, averaging over 14 PPG last season in the shadow of Whitehead. Carrington should be able to take over this offense rather effectively, but it will not be as dynamic as last year. Angel Delgado is a big body in the paint the Pirates can rely on on both sides of the ball, and will be one of the leading rebounders in the conference. Desi Rodriguez and freshman Myles Powell will be forced to help with the scoring load, and I’d expect Rodriguez to have a quietly impressive year. However, I don’t see the Pirates posing any real threat to the Big East powerhouses Villanova and Xavier this season.
7. Georgetown Hoyas
2015-2016 Record: 15-18 (7-11 in Big East)
Key Departures: D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera]
I can’t imagine this season will go any better for the Hoyas than last season did. Their best player, Smith-Rivera is gone and now LJ Peak and Robert Morris transfer Rodney Pryor will be tasked with carrying the team’s offense. Peak is certainly a good player, and Pryor put up big numbers at Robert Morris (18 PPG and 8 RPG), but it won’t be enough to make any big splash in the Big East.
8. Providence Friars
2015-2016 Record: 24-11 (10-8 in Big East)
No team in the Big East should have as big a drop-off as Providence does this season. Losing the best player in the conference, Kris Dunn, along with their leading scorer Ben Bentil is an irreplaceable hole. Players like Rodney Bullock and Jalen Lindsey will have much bigger roles this year and will be looked to down the stretch in close games (quite the downgrade from Dunn and Bentil). Kyron Cartwright is a solid playmaker that should ignite the offense, but once again, he is no Dunn. Expect the Friars to post a record around .500 this upcoming season.
9. St. John’s Red Storm
2015-2016 Record: 8-24 (1-17 in Big East)
It’s obvious to say Chris Mullin had a tough first year as the head coach of the Red Storm. And if I told you that St. John’s was losing three of their top 5 scorers from the previous year, you’d probably assume that’s not good news. However, I actually expect St. John’s to step it up from 8 wins this year. Marcus LoVett was highly touted coming out of high school and is incredibly quick and flashy, capable of being a dynamic playmaker for the Red Storm. Pair him with sophomore Federico Mussini, and you’ve got yourself a formidable back court with two guards who know how to pass the basketball. Bashir Ahmed is expected to lead the squad in scoring this season. Although I don’t see St. John’s winning many games, there is certainly reason to be optimistic for the future.
10. DePaul Blue Demons
2015-2016 Record: 9-22 (3-15)
Key Departures: Myke Henry, Tommy Hamilton IV, Darrick Wood
After losing top scorer Myke Henry, I don’t expect this season to be any improvement for the Blue Demons. Billy Garrett Jr. is a very capable scorer, and transfer Chris Harrison-Docks should make for a starting solid point guard, but DePaul simply does not have the personnel to compete with the other teams in this competitive conference. Blue Demon fans actually do have reason to be optimistic for the future though, picking up highly touted recruit Austin Grandstaff after short stints at Ohio State and Oklahoma his freshman year. Grandstaff is expected to develop into a sharpshooter, but will not be eligible this upcoming season due to NCAA transfer rules.