Identifying the Contenders in the Big East


The joy about the start of a season (in any sport) is that every team is 0-0.  New year.  Fresh start.  High expectations.  Lots of excitement.

Yeah, there is some roster turnover.  But the players returning are experienced, and the incoming recruits and transfers are ready to make an impact.

You’re nuts to write-off a team before the season even starts, right?  Especially in a sport as crazy as college basketball.

Well, that’s not normally the case.  We generally have a fairly good idea of which teams are going to be contenders in a conference and which teams won’t be.

And in the Big East this year, we have seven possible contenders.  Yes, 7 of the 10 teams in the conference are talented enough to claim the Big East.  Maybe this is just me being optimistic about certain squads here in October, but the spread of talent and coaching leads me to believe that this is actually the case.  And I highly doubt there is another conference in the country with this many contenders.

There likely isn’t a Big East team that will be identified as national championship worthy, but the potential parody in the first year of this league could be quite extraordinary.  And with that, it should translate to a plethora of exciting, big-time games.

Our contenders are (in alphabetical order):

Creighton

Having two-time All-American Doug McDermott back for his senior season is enough of an argument to make the Bluejays a legitimate contender in their first year in the Big East.  But getting Grant Gibbs, who led the team in assists last year, back for one more year after he was granted a sixth year of eligibility was also a huge score.  They need to find a replacement for big man Gregory Echenique, and coach Greg McDermott should have a few options at his disposal. Will Artino is a 6-foot-11 junior who has shown some promise, but incoming freshmen Toby Hegner and Zach Hanson should also work into the mix.

Georgetown

Like Creighton, the Hoyas also return the majority of their roster minus one key contributor.  Unfortunately for Georgetown, their loss is first-team All-American and Big East Player of the Year Otto Porter.  Nevertheless, the Hoyas are still very talented.  Markel Starks and Nate Lubick enter their senior seasons as two of the more experienced players in the league at their respective positions.  D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera could emerge as one of the most lethal shooters in the league.  Reggie Cameron arrives as a highly-touted recruit who could make an immediate splash at forward.  And their wild card, Josh Smith, transferring from UCLA could be the most important player in the league if he can finally put it all together.  If Greg Whittington hadn’t torn his ACL in the offseason, and thus ended his season, we could have been looking at a scary Georgetown team.

Marquette

This could potentially be Buzz Williams’ most talented Golden Eagles team since he took over as head coach in 2008.  They did lose three key players from last year’s team (Vander Blue, Trent Lockett and Junior Cadougan), but the returning players in conjunction with the loaded recruiting class has a lot of potential.  There won’t be many teams who will enjoy dealing with bigs Davante Gardner, Chris Otule, Jamil Wilson and Steve Taylor for 40 minutes.  And keep an eye on JUCO transfer Jameel McKay; the 6-foot-8 forward could be a star.

Providence

The Friars lost point guard extraordinaire Vincent Council, but they could still have the most talented back court in the Big East in Bryce Cotton and Kris Dunn.  Dunn is a prime candidate in all of college basketball to make a huge leap this year.  In the front court, Kadeem Batts and LaDontae Henton, are much better than they are recognized for.  In the last 12 games of the season last year Batts averaged 17 points and 8 rebounds.  The PC faithful are hoping he will carry that production over to this season.  And if the 7-foot transfer from Wake Forest, Carson Desrosiers, can fill the five spot, this is a very well-balanced and talented team.

St. John’s

Coach Steve Lavin has arguably the most talented team in the Big East.  But that hasn’t necessarily resulted in an abundance of wins in the last few seasons.  He gets Big East Rookie of the Year JaKarr Sampson back; who could be a lottery pick in the NBA Draft someday.  Chris Obekpa is a shot blocking machine and could be the best defensive player in the conference.  The talented, but often problematic, D’Angelo Harrison returns at the two guard and should be one of the best scorers in the conference if he can stay focused.  And Lavin welcomes the top-ranked incoming recruit in the Big East, Rysheed Jordan, to run the point.  Lots of talent, but will that finally translate into the win column?

Villanova

The Big East is loaded with a bunch of really talented point guards, and the Wildcats have one in Ryan Arcidiacono.  Arcidiacono and versatile forward JayVaughn Pinkston form potentially the best one-two punch in the conference that will give the opposition fits on a nightly basis.  Combine that duo with returning 6-foot-6 guards Darrun Hilliard and James Bell, and with two ESPN top-100 recruits Kris Jenkins and Josh Hart (both forwards), and you have a team that is a Big East contender.

Xavier

The statement above about the Big East having some really talented point guards; well, Xavier has the best of the group in Semaj Christon.  He led the Musketeers in points, assists and steals per game last season en route to becoming the A-10 Rookie of the Year.  Xavier had the 14th ranked recruiting class in 2012 per ESPN, but only two of the four recruits were eligible to play last year (Christon and James Farr played while Jalen Reynolds and Myles Davis could not).  Reynolds and Davis will be in uniform this year along with talented new-comers Brandon Randolph (ESPN top-100 recruit) and 6-foot-9 center Matt Stainbrook who is a transfer from Western Michigan.  Coach Chris Mack has himself a deep and talented team in his first year in the Big East.

So, there you have it.  Seven teams that have enough talent and coaching to claim the Big East crown.  But what do you think?  Does someone not belong?  Did I leave a team out that should be considered?  And who do you think will be the eventual regular season champion?  Leave your thoughts below as we get ready for the new season.

Tags: Basketball Big East Creighton Bluejays Georgetown Hoyas Marquette Golden Eagles Providence Friars St. John's Red Storm Villanova Wildcats Xavier Musketeers