Big East preview: Villanova appears poised to repeat
- The Wildcats have their sights set not only on another Big East crown, but also on a repeat national championship. Can Xavier or Creighton slow them down in league play?
Sports Illustrated’s 2016–17 preview is guided by data from our College Basketball Projection System, a collaboration between economist Dan Hanner and SI’s Luke Winn and Jeremy Fuchs. We project teams on a player-by-player, lineup-based level and then simulate the season 10,000 times to generate our 1–351 national rankings and conference forecasts.
These are the model’s projections for the Big East, including individual awards, the teams’ order of finish and (advanced and raw) stats for the top seven players in each school’s rotation.
The Big Picture
In the three seasons since its formation amid a wave of football-driven realignment moves, the Big East has cemented itself as one of the nation’s top conferences. In 2015–16 alone, it sent half of its teams to the NCAA tournament, its regular-season champion cut down the nets in Houston and it produced a point guard whom both NBA rookies and general managers voted as their favorite for the league’s Rookie of The Year award. This season the Big East should maintain the quality it has exhibited throughout its existence. The reigning champion Wildcats are in position to repeat, while teams such as Xavier and Creighton look capable of making deep NCAA tournament runs. Plus, the conference’s solid depth makes another five bids a distinct possibility. This isn’t the old Big East, but it’s pretty good.
Player of the year: Josh Hart, Villanova
After leading Villanova to a national championship last season, Hart declared for the draft, only later to withdraw and return for another season headlining the Big East’s best team. Not only does Hart project as the top player in this conference, we consider him the strongest competitor to Duke’s Grayson Allen for national player of the year. It’s unlikely Hart will post a gaudy points-per-game figure because the Wildcats should get ample scoring from a variety of sources, but his combination of offensive efficiency and shot volume, defensive versatility and rebounding ability makes the senior an indispensable two-way cog.
Newcomer of the Year: Marcus Foster, Creighton
Foster left Kansas State for Creighton after Wildcats coach Bruce Weber dismissed Foster two seasons into his college career, a decision that followed a previous suspension for an unspecified violation of team rules. Though Foster’s points-per-game average dipped to 12.5 as a sophomore after he recorded 15.5 ppg as a freshman, we project him to be one of the nation’s highest-scoring transfers this season. Foster will team with another former transfer (Boston University), diminutive point guard Maurice Watson Jr., in one of the nation’s top backcourts to lead the best Bluejays team since Doug McDermott left college.
All-Conference Team & Sixth Man
PG: Maurice Watson Jr., Creighton
SF: Josh Hart, Villanova
SF: Trevon Bluiett, Xavier
PF: Kelan Martin, Butler
PF: Angel Delgado, Seton Hall
6th man: SF/PF: Kris Jenkins, Villanova
Projected Order of Finish
(Projected conference record in parentheses. The tiebreaker for teams with identical records is their standing in SI’s 1-351 national rankings, which will be revealed in early November.)
|Conference Rank||Team||Proj. Conf. Record||’15-16 Conf. Record|
The Skinny on Each Team
1. Villanova (14–4)
The Wildcats lose two key pieces from last year’s championship team in Final Four Most Outstanding Player Ryan Arcidiacono and center Daniel Ochefu, but they’re capable of reloading around Hart and title game hero Kris Jenkins to claim the league crown for the fourth consecutive year and win it all again. Sophomore guard (and former five-star recruit) Jalen Brunson should see an uptick in minutes as Villanova’s primary option at the 1, and senior Darryl Reynolds will help anchor the frontcourt. Given the Wildcats’ lack of depth at power forward and center (top-20 RSCI recruit Omari Spellman was ruled ineligible), expect them to roll out plenty of small-ball lineups, with Hart and promising sophomore Mikal Bridges playing multiple positions.
2. Xavier (12–6)
Last season was the best of coach Chris Mack’s tenure in Cincinnati, and the Musketeers have the potential to be just as good in 2016–17. We expect junior wing Trevon Bluiett to increase his offensive efficiency, and veteran guards J.P. Macura and Myles Davis (if his suspension is lifted) can serve as effective auxiliary scoring options on the perimeter around talented sophomore point guard and projected first-round draft pick Edmond Sumner.
3. Creighton (10–8)
Opponents will have a really hard time dealing with Maurice Watson’s playmaking and Marcus Foster’s scoring on the perimeter, but they’ll also have to account for stretchy power forward Cole Huff as well as the guard we project to lead Creighton in offensive efficiency, senior Isaiah Zierden, who connected on 38.5% of his three-point attempts in 2015–16. This is a talented team with a host of proven scoring options.
|Maurice Watson Jr.||Sr||PG||15.6||3.2||6.5||112.6||27%||85%|
4. Butler (10–8)
Sharp-shooting wing Kellen Dunham and old-man’s-game purveyor Roosevelt Jones left this off-season, but coach Chris Holtmann’s team is a good bet to reach the NCAAs for a third straight year. We project junior Kelan Martin to improve his points-per-game average by more than 2 points, and both George Washington transfer Kethan Savage and senior forward Andrew Chrabascz should help him fill the scoring void left by Dunham and Jones.
5. Seton Hall (10–8)
After riding first-team All-Big East guard Isaiah Whitehead to a conference tournament title and the program’s first appearance in the NCAAs in a decade, Seton Hall looks likely to take a step back in 2016–17. Junior guard Khadeen Carrington should assume part of the massive shot-creation load Whitehead shouldered in 2015–16, and projected all-league big man Angel Delgado can be a force on the glass, but the Pirates’ lack of efficient scoring options will drag down their offense.
6. Georgetown (10–8)
Like Seton Hall, Georgetown also will need to replace a high-scoring lead guard (D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera). Also like the Pirates, they could have some difficulty finding efficient ways to put the ball in the basket. But face-up forward Isaac Copeland could help the Hoyas’ spacing if he can nudge his three-point percentage closer to the 38.9 he posted as a freshman, and we see wing L.J. Peak emerging as Georgetown’s leading scorer and shot-taker.
7. Marquette (9–9)
Coach Steve Wojciechowski has made significant progress since taking over in Milwaukee before the 2014–15 season, but the Golden Eagles aren’t ready to compete at the top of the league yet. Senior center Luke Fischer is a proficient rebounder and interior finisher, and we project UNC Asheville import Andrew Rowsey to rank in the top 15 in scoring among transfers this season.
8. Providence (7–11)
The loss of both star point guard Kris Dunn and leading scorer Ben Bentil to the NBA ensured this would be a transition year for coach Ed Cooley. We project power forward Rodney Bullock to increase his scoring average by more than three points per game and junior point guard Kyron Cartwright should help keep the offense afloat with his playmaking ability. Still, the Friar’s defense should slip without Dunn hounding opposing ballhandlers.
9. St. John’s (5–13)
The Red Storm should improve on both ends of the court this season, but it’s going to take a while before coach Chris Mullin’s rebuild bears fruit in the form of a tourney berth. That said, highly coveted junior college transfer Bashir Ahmed should make a big impact as a scorer and rebounder, and point guard Marcus LoVett, who was ruled a partial academic qualifier last season, projects as one of our top 12 freshmen scorers.
10. DePaul (3–15)
If coach Dave Leitao is going to turn DePaul into a Big East contender, it won’t happen this season. We see the Blue Demons winning the same number of conference games they did in 2015–16. One source of hope: The departure of forward Myke Henry will leave the bulk of DePaul’s scoring load to point guard Billy Garrett, whom we project to increase his offensive efficiency.
|Billy Garrett Jr.||Sr||PG||14.5||3.7||4.0||108.2||27%||76%|