(Ed. Note: Welcome to the first of the CoBL/Big Apple Buckets conference previews. For the Big East, BAB staff writer Matt Giles collaborated with Garrett and Lee to come up with their preseason awards and order. For the rest of our 2013-14 season preview content, click here.)
Player of the Year: Doug McDermott (Creighton)
First Team All Big East: Doug McDermott (Creighton), Bryce Cotton (Providence), Fuquan Edwin (Seton Hall), D’Angelo Harrison (St John’s), Davante Gardner (Marquette)
Others to keep an eye on: Markel Starks (Georgetown), JayVaughn Pinkston (Villanova), Semaj Christon (Xavier)
1. Marquette Golden Eagles (26-9, 14-4 Big East)
Coach: Buzz Williams –6th season 122–54 (.693) @ Marquette, 136–71 (.657) Overall
Postseason: NCAA Tournament Elite 8 (Defeated Davidson, defeated Butler, defeated Miami (Fla), lost to Syracuse)
Key Loss(es): Vander Blue (14.8 ppg), Junior Cadougan (8.5 ppg, 3.8 apg), Trent Lockett (7.0 ppg 5.1 rpg)
Starters Returning: 2
Name to know: Davante Gardner. It may not always be pretty, but Gardner always fills up the stat sheet. Last season Gardner averaged 11.5 points per game along with 4.8 rebounds per contest. This season Gardner will not come off the bench (where he won Big east 6th man of the Year last season) but start. He will have to get off to a good start as a new, young group of guards settles in.
The Skinny: Louisville won the national title last year, but many forget Marquette (and Georgetown) finished tied with the Cardinals a top the Big East standings (14-4). If the Golden Eagles want to repeat that success they will need their young guards to step up by the time conference play roles around. Derrick Wilson only committed 19 turnovers but was used in less than 12 percent of Marquette’s possessions last year.
Freshman Duane Wilson highlights a talented freshman class and could become a star. While this may be the deepest and most athletic squad that Buzz Williams has ever had at Marquette, it may be one of his youngest. How quickly that youth gets their feet under them could decide if Marquette continues to dominate the (new look) Big east or slips back a step.
2. Creighton Bluejays (28-8, 13-5 Missouri Valley)
Coach: Greg McDermott–3rd season at Creighton, 351–228 (.606)
Postseason: NCAA Round of 32 (Lost to Duke)
Key Loss(es): Gregory Echenique (9.7 ppg, 6.6 rpg), Josh Jones (7.0 ppg)
Starters Returning: 4
Name to know: Doug McDermott. The reigning two-time All-American forward decided to forgo the 2013 NBA Draft and return to the Bluejays for his senior season. He’s coming off a season in which he averaged a career best 23.2 ppg and led Creighton to another NCAA tournament berth. McDermott’s skill set is fascinating because of the touch he has from the outside (.490 3FG%) and the FT line (.875 FT%), as well as the ability to use his 6-foot-8 frame in the post.
The Skinny: Creighton is poised to make a serious run at the Big East crown in 2013-14 with returning starters Doug McDermott and Grant Gibbs leading the way. The aforementioned McDermott is the focal point of the Bluejays offense, but Gibbs, who was granted a fifth year of eligibility by the NCAA, led the MVC in assists last season and is a key part in Creighton’s game. Replacing Gregory Echenique inside is going to be Creighton’s biggest hurdle heading into the season, but 6-foot-11 forward Will Artino has the size to take on taller forwards and is coming off a season where he shot .646 from the floor.
3. Georgetown Hoyas (25-7, 14-4 Big East)
Coach: John Thompson III–10th season at Georgetown, 209–88 (.704)
Postseason: NCAA Round of 64 (Lost to Florida Gulf Coast)
Key Loss(es): Otto Porter (16.3 ppg, 7.5 rpg)
Starters Returning: 4
Name to know: Markel Starks. Starks made a big leap in production from his sophomore to junior season, as he increased his scoring, assists, and steals significantly in 2013. Now preparing to enter his senior season, Starks could become a go-to scoring option for John Thompson III and company. He significantly improved his 3-point shot last year, shooting .417 from behind the arc and has the potential to be an All-Conference player as a senior.
The Skinny: Replacing Otto Porter. That will be the theme of nearly every centered story as they head into the 2013-14 season. To nobody’s surprise, the reigning Big East player of the year decided to forgo his final two years of college eligibility and entered the NBA draft. Without the conference’s best player and junior Greg Whittington who could be out for the entire season with an ACL injury, Georgetown has major offensive holes to fill. The aforementioned Starks will have a major role in the offense once again, but players like D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera and Philadelphia native Jabril Trawick will need to step up and shoulder the scoring load in the backcourt. Thompson III has had little difficulty transitioning year-to-year despite losing the core of his roster, but this season will really challenge him. Still, look for Georgetown to be a top competitor in the Big East this season.
4. St. John’s Red Storm (17-16, 8-10 Big East)
Coach: Steve Lavin – 4th season, 51-47 (.520)
Postseason: NIT Second round (Defeated St. Joe’s, lost to Virginia)
Key loss(es): Amir Garrett (5.4 ppg, 4.3 rpg)
Starters returning: 4
Name to know: Orlando Sanchez. Other than JaKarr Sampson, who showed promise but was also prone to inconsistency during his freshman season, the Red Storm did not have any bigs who could generate frontcourt offense. Sanchez sat out last season and only has one year of eligibility remaining, but could be the Johnny needed operate in the middle of the court. Based on the team’s European trip, Sanchez will likely start, and while his offensive debut was not seamless – Big Apple Buckets’ John Templon calculated the 6’9” Sanchez’s offensive rating as below 100 – his ability to flash to the free throw line, put the ball on the ground and shift opposing defense will help create openings for SJU’s uber-athletic guards and boost what was a very anemic offense a year ago.
The Skinny: This is a crucial year for Steve Lavin. Lavin has succeeded in creating a nation-wide recruiting database for the Queens-based school, distancing the program from the notion SJU only succeeds by recruiting the Big Apple’s best by bringing in top talent from all over, but this team is built – and needs to – succeed this season. It’s unclear if Sampson, D’Angelo Harrison, or Chris Obekpa will be back in 2014-15, and there is arguably no other Big East program with as much returning talent as the Johnnies. The addition of Rysheed Jordan allows Harrison and Jamal Branch to play off the ball, and also presents Lavin with several different lineups options. Jordan has drawn raves for his athleticism and eerily prescient decision making for a freshman, and it will be interesting how he adjusts to the physicality of Big East basketball. Obekpa added an extra element to the team’s match-up zone – his 15.8% block percentage led the nation – but can Obeka decrease his fouls (four per 40 minutes) and also expand his severely limited offensive game? One wrinkle worth observing is what new assistant coach Jim Whitesell brings to the team. A frequent – and tired – knock on Lavin is that while he can recruit, he sorely lacks the Xs and Os acumen to succeed at a high major level, and some perceive Whitesell’s hiring as an attempt to restore balance to SJU’s gameplan (one that was missing when Mike Dunlap left Queens for Charlotte).
5. Villanova Wildcats (20-14, 10-8 Big East)
Coach: Jay Wright–13th season, 257-144 (.641)
Postseason: NCAA Round of 64 (Lost to North Carolina)
Key Loss(es): Mouphtaou Yarou (9.9 ppg, 7.8 rpg), Achraf Yacoubou (2.9 ppg, 2.6 rpg)
Starters Returning: 4
Name to know: Ryan Arcidiacono. As a freshman, the 6-foot-3 point guard averaged 11.9 points and 3.1 assists, acting like a veteran at the college level right from the get-go despite the fact he missed his entire senior season due to back surgery for a herniated disc. Now, for Villanova to compete for a title in the new Big East conference, he’s got to step his game up to an All-Conference level. The key will be improving his shooting percentage–he hit just 32.7 percent on 3-pointers last year, and 34.3 percent overall.
The Skinny: The Wildcats look like they are back. After a few down years without trips to the NCAA tournament, they returned to the dance in 2013, and have the talent to get back this year. They may be a year or two away from contending for a Big East crown, but their defense and grit will have them in every game. Nova has a deep, athletic backcourt with Arcidiacono, Darrun Hilliard, Tony Chennault, freshman Josh Hart and Rice transfer Dylan Ennis. If another sophomore, Daniel Ochefu (3.5 ppg, 4.1 rpg), can make the transition to starter with few problems, these ‘Cats have some real teeth. Replacing the big men, specifically Yarou, will be the key.
6. Providence Friars (19-15, 9-9 Big East)
Coach: Ed Cooley –4th season 34-32 (.515) @ Providence, 126–101 (.555) overall
Postseason: NIT quarterfinals (Defeated Charlotte, Defeated Robert Morris, Lost to Baylor)
Key Loss(es): Vincent Council (10.5 ppg, 6.8 apg)
Starters Returning: 4
Name to know: Bryce Cotton. Last year Cotton led the Big East in scoring at 19.7 ppg. Scoring at least 15 points in all but four (18 total games) of his Big East contests landed the senior on the First team All-Big East team. He can attack the rim off the bounce but can also step outside and knock down the three ball (36.4% last season). With added depth in the backcourt, Cotton may not have to play 38 minutes per game like last season. A fresher Cotton come March would be a good thing. The Friars haven’t made the NCAA Tournament since 2004. Cotton would like to change that in this his final year at Providence.
The Skinny: Ed Cooley has built a great foundation, but it’s time to make things happen this season. The Friars have the talent to make the NCAA tournament in the new look Big East. The backcourt is loaded with Cotton, a healthy Kris Dunn¸ and Philadelphia’s own Brandon Austin (Imhotep Charter). Transfers Tyler Harris (NC State) and Carson Desrosiers (Wake Forest) will help Kadeem Batts (14.8 ppg, 7.2 rpg) up front. With so much talent graduating after the season the pressure is on. No excuses Friars, it’s time to get back to the dance.
6. Xavier Musketeers (17-14, 9-7 A-10)
Coach: Chris Mack–5th season, 50-17 (.746)
Key Loss(es): Travis Taylor (11.9 ppg, 9.0 rpg), Brad Redford (7.6 ppg, .446 3FG%)
Starters Returning: 4
Name to know: Semaj Christon. As a freshman, the 6-foot-3 point guard averaged 15.2 points and 4.6 assists, and showed the amount of potential he posses. However, Christon turned the ball over an astounding 3.6 times per game and will need to become more efficient to be a great player and lead the Musketeers. His explosive scoring ability makes him a candidate for the All-Conference team and Xavier will likely only go as far as Christon takes them.
The Skinny: Xavier is on the rise after a down year that ended in an exit to Saint Joseph’s in the first round of the Atlantic 10 tournament. Now eligible, Myles Davis, Jalen Reynolds, and Matt Stainbrook will provide the Musketeers with some depth, and both Reynolds and Stainbrook should help fill the void in the paint left by Taylor. Chris Mack’s team has the potential to finish in the top five in the conference, but will likely finish in the bottom third.
8. Butler Bulldogs (27-9, 11-5 A-10)
Coach: Brandon Miller–1st season at Butler
Postseason: NCAA Round of 32 (Lost to Marquette)
Key Loss(es): Brad Stevens, Rotnei Clarke (16.9 ppg, .886 FT%), Andrew Smith (11.3 ppg, 6.1 rpg)
Starters Returning: 2
Name to know: Kellen Dunham. After losing Clarke and Smith to the next level, Butler had plenty of potential openings to contribute. Now, with the news that Roosevelt Jones will be out for the entire season after undergoing surgery to repair torn wrist ligaments, there is more opportunity than ever to step up and succeed inside of Hinkle Fieldhouse. Dunham, a 6-foot-6 guard, posted noteworthy numbers as a freshman last season and will need to shoulder a lot of the load for the Bulldogs this season. He averaged over nine points per game despite shooting under 40 percent from the floor. Dunham should have the opportunity to make a significant leap in his sophomore season to improve on those numbers and have a big season for Butler.
The Skinny: After an impressive debut in the Atlantic 10 that proved the Bulldogs were no fluke, new head coach Brandon Miller has his work cut out for him as Butler enters the Big East. Replacing former coach Brad Stevens, who signed a lucrative contract with the Boston Celtics to become their new head coach this summer, will be tough. However, overcoming the losses of star point guard Rotnei Clarke, center Andrew Smith, and forward Roosevelt Jones might be too much for coach Miller to achieve immediate success in the Big East.
9. Seton Hall Pirates (15-18, 3-15 Big East)
Coach: Kevin Willard – 3rd season, 49-49 (.500)
Key Loss(es): Aaron Cosby (12.6 ppg, 2.5 rpg), Kyle Smyth (5.1 ppg, 2.2 rpg)
Starters returning: 2
Name to know: Brandon Mobley. Despite his junior status, Mobley is a true unknown entering this season. Countless shoulder injuries derailed his 2013 season: Mobley first injured his shoulder in mid-January, and then dislocated the same shoulder a month later – while, of all things, stretching during practice. When he was healthy, Mobley was the Pirates’ second-most efficient player, notching an offensive rating just below 110, and the sole Pirate capable of scoring within the arc (54%) and from long-range (43%), and the 6-9 Mobley has spent the offseason fine-tuning his body and is reportedly healthy. Mobley’s game is built for Willard’s offensive strategy – a wing who creates mismatches both off the ball and stretches defenses with his perimeter shooting – and now healthy, should lessen much of the offensive pressure on Fuquan Edwin.
The Skinny: Before mid-August, it was widely assumed among those who cover college basketball that the 2013-14 season might be Willard’s last in South Orange. However, that was prior to the commitment that form the core of the Pirates’ stellar 2014 recruiting class – Angel Delgado, Khadeen Carrington, and Isaiah Whitehead – so it appears that Willard has a few more seasons in the Big East. Granted, the Hall should be a much better team this season simply because they are better conditioned. Mobley’s health is no longer a concern, Patrik Auda, who broke a bone in his foot at the very beginning of the season, has also recovered, and Eugene Teague lost nearly 30 pounds, a development that should help the big finish better around the rim (almost half of his offensive possessions comes from paint touches). The arrival of Jaren Sina and Sterling Gibbs are a benefit, and Edwin, a potential player of the year candidate, will still have maintain his offensive efficiency (while continually disrupting Big East opponents), but the improved overall health of the Pirates’ frontcourt is crucial to the squad’s success.
10. DePaul Blue Demons (11-21, 2-16 Big East)
Coach: Oliver Purnell –4th Season @DePaul 30–64 (.319) 424–345 (.551) overall
Key Loss(es): Worrel Clahar (7.3 ppg, 3.3 apg), Donnavan Kirk (6.2 ppg 3.9 rpg)
Starters Returning: 3
Name to know: Cleveland Melvin. As a junior, Melvin averaged 16.6 ppg 6.8 rpg and was one of only two consistent contributors for the Blue Demons. In his senior year, Melvin will once again have to carry the load if DePaul wants any chance to finish out of the basement. He will have some help with an influx of new transfers and recruits, but the former Big East Rookie of the year will be the focal point.
The Skinny: Things haven’t gone to plan in Chicago over the past few years. The Blue Demons haven’t gotten close the NCAA tournament since they participated all the way back in 04. They haven’t even made the NIT since 06-07. Melvin and fellow senior Brandon Young (16.7 ppg, 4.6 apg) will have to dominate games for them to have a chance each night. Purnell landed a Top 50 recruiting class, and getting those youngsters acclimated will be the goal. If DePaul can do that, maybe they can finally turn a corner in what seems like a never ending rebuild. As for 2013-2014, a 10th place finish in the new look Big East seems certain.