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2020-21 NCAA Basketball Conference Preview: Big East

The college basketball season is just a few weeks away, and the schedule is starting to come together. Although there are still many questions to be answered about this season, we are starting to get an idea of what this unique year might look like. As always, intraconference battles will be a key part of this season, especially in the power-five conferences plus the Big East. So over the next few weeks I am giving my predictions for how these conferences will shake out. This week we look at the Big East, the conference known as the sixth power five in college hoops.

Individual Conference Awards

Player of the Year: Marcus Zegarowski (Creighton)

Defensive Player of the Year: Akok Akok (UCONN)

Newcomer of the Year: Andre Jackson (UCONN)

Coach of the Year: Greg McDermott (Creighton)

First Team All-Conference:

Collin Gillespie (Villanova)

Marcus Zegarowski

David Duke (Providence)

Sandro Mamukelashvili (Seton Hall)

Jeremiah Robinson-Earl (Villanova)

Second Team: 

Charlie Moore (Depaul)

Quincy McKnight (Seton Hall)

James Bouknight (UCONN)

Justin Moore (Villanova)

Nate Watson (Providence)

Conference Standings Prediction

  1. Villanova (Second in 2019-20) 

After being tied at the top of the Conference with Creighton last year, Villanova comes into 2020 as the clear favorite to win the Big East. There are few teams in the country that look as deep on paper as the Wildcats. Collin Gillespie, now a senior and coming off of an all-conference season, is one of the most experienced players in the country, and the type of leader that every great Villanova team has. The program is bringing back several highly touted recruits who are expected to take a leap this year with an expanded role. Bryan Antoine, Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, and Justin Moore were all top-100 recruits last year. The prospect of these sophomores improving is what makes this team so dangerous.

The one player the team does not bring back is Saddiq Bey, who was just drafted in the first round of the NBA Draft. But given that Jermaine Samuels is there to fill his spot on the wing means that they shouldn’t see too much of a drop off there. They don’t have any highly touted incoming freshmen, but that isn’t really a problem for this deep of a team.

  1. Creighton (First in 2019-20)

For Creighton to lose an all-conference performer like Ty-Shon Alexander, it is easy to assume that they would suffer a setback from being first in the Big East last year. Luckily for them, Alexander was not the only dynamic, star-caliber guard they had. Marcus Zegarowski broke out in a major way last year, averaging 16.1 and 5.0 assists per game. He, along with much of Creighton’s rotation returns, making them likely to be top-25 in the country once again. They have one of the deepest backcourts in college basketball on paper, strengthened by the addition of Kentucky transfer Alex O’Connell. Unlike Villanova, they bring in two four-star freshmen who should also provide some production right away.  Expect this team to play a lot of small ball, and score in bunches, much like they did last year.

  1. Providence (Fourth in 2019-20)

A team that really came together in the latter half of the season, Providence should carry their momentum right into this upcoming season. They did graduate two key contributors in Alpha Diallo and Luwane Pipkins, but there is still a lot of experience and talent for the Friars to look at this year. David Duke, entering his junior season, should have no problem slipping into the role of an upperclassmen leader on and off the court. Nate Watson, in a conference not known for great big men, should be a very solid inside presence at center. Most importantly though, the Friars’ two top transfers from the previous season are now eligible. Jared Bynum is a redshirt sophomore point guard from Saint Joseph’s, and Noah Horchler is a skilled redshirt senior power forward from North Florida. This team may be a step down from where Villanova and Creighton are at, but they will certainly be a factor in this conference.

  1. Seton Hall (Third in 2019-20)

Few players accounted for as much of their team’s offense as Myles Powell did for Seton Hall last year. The senior averaged 21.0 points and 2.9 assists per game last year, taking and making improbable shots again and again. He has now graduated, leaving the team looking elsewhere for a large chunk of their scoring. Sandro Mamukelashvili and Quincy McKnight stepped up last year as clear second and third options on the team, and should create a very formidable high-low duo on both ends. Their big addition came in the form of a transfer. They were able to get senior guard Bryce Aiken from Harvard, one of the top immediately eligible transfers in the pool. He will be expected to help make up for the loss of Powell. This team isn’t as talented as it was last year, but given that the conference isn’t expected to be nearly as hard this season, Seton Hall should find themselves firmly in the mix.

  1. UCONN (Entering first year in Big East)

It has been a long half-decade for UCONN men’s basketball. They have struggled to compete in the AAC, and now are moving into what is perennially one of the toughest conferences in all of college hoops. However, things appear to be slowly moving back in the right direction. Last year they finished with their best conference record since 2014-15. This year they bring in two top-100 recruits, and bring back a strong sophomore class led by James Bouknight, a guard who was second in scoring for the Huskies last year. Joining him in the backcourt is one of the top transfers in the country, Tyrese Martin from URI, who was granted a waiver to be immediately eligible. 2019 transfer R.J. Cole is also eligible this season after sitting out last year. The Huskies may have graduated their best player in Christian Vital, but they are as talented as ever, and ready to prove it to their new conference.

  1. Marquette (Sixth in 2019-20)

It is generally not a good thing for your program when you lose the top scorer in the entire country. That is unfortunately the situation Marquette is in with the graduation of Markus Howard. The Golden Eagles will have to make up for 27.8 points that he poured in last year. The good news is that with the best incoming recruiting class in the Big East, they will have some new faces ready to take some of that scoring responsibility on. They were able to bring in four four-star recruits, headlined by top-50 freshman Dawson Garcia, a 6-foot-9 forward. They also bring back seniors Koby McEwen and Jamal Cain, two players who averaged over 18 minutes per game, to lead the young talent. The loss of Howard and other key seniors will make it hard for them to improve much, but this team will be far from a bottom-feeder.

  1. Butler (Fifth in 2019-20)

Probably the team most likely to move down in the Big East standings this year, Butler lost a huge chunk of their production on both ends of the floor to graduation. Senior guard Kamar Baldwin was a 16.2 point per game scorer and made first team all-conference. The team’s only other double digit scorer was sharpshooting forward Sean McDermott. Both graduated, along with three other consistent rotational players, which leaves the team starving for production. The hopes for this team lie with Bo Hodges, who isn’t even guaranteed to play this year. The senior from East Tennessee State has applied for a waiver to be immediately eligible, but hasn’t heard back from the NCAA. If he has to wait a year to play there is going to be a heavy burden on a thin group of upperclassmen.

  1. Xavier (Sixth in 2019-20)

Xavier is in a very similar situation to Butler. They lost their two best players, Naji Marshall and Tyrique Jones, who were both all-conference performers. Their clear best player is senior guard Paul Scruggs. They also bring in two four-star freshmen to help their cause. Unfortunately only one of their three transfers will be eligible this year. This is a big hit, and a big reason why they aren’t in front of the teams just above them. This is a team that lacks firepower, and will have to rely heavily on chemistry.

  1. Georgetown (Ninth in 2019-20)

Yet another example of a team that was not great last year but gets even worse on paper. Mac McClung, Georgetown’s leading scorer, transferred to Texas Tech. Their second leading scorer and leading rebounder, Omer Yurtseven declared for the NBA Draft. Their third leading scorer, James Akinjo, also transferred to Arizona. Not to mention they don’t have any high-profile incoming freshman. This team does not have much to be excited about. Upperclassmen who weren’t expecting to be leading this team are going to have to step up in a big way for the Hoyas to avoid the cellar of the Big East.

  1. St. Johns (Eighth in 2019-20)

Last year was quite the step back for the Red Storm in terms of their competitiveness. They slipped all the way to eighth in the conference with a 5-13 record in Big East play. With the transfer of their leading scorer L.J. Figueroa to Oregon don’t expect them to move up in the standings. They are going to need a big season out of senior guard Mustapha Heron. This is likely to be another long year for Mike Anderson and the Red Storm.

  1. Depaul (10th in 2019-20)

To put it bluntly, Depaul is a case of the poor getting poorer. Paul Reed was one of the best players the program has had in a very long time, and was drafted in the second round of this year’s NBA Draft. Yet Depaul still finished as the worst team in the conference. This year, without Reed, and with more major subtractions than additions, this team is not going to be competitive in a conference like the Big East. Guard Charlie Moore will have the green light on every possession, and is going to have to put up some crazy numbers for this team to top five conference wins.


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