So, Big East, you remember those days back in like 2013 when you used to expect to get at least 8 teams to the dance? Well, guess what? That’s not you anymore. You’ve gone from the really cool, good looking dude in the college bar who scores with bro-ness, to the 28-year-old guy who’s losing his hair and has a boring job.
The Big East is no more. Long live the Big East.
The Big East is now a strange looking thing. Not only does it have Butler, Creighton, and Xavier, but it has Marquette but no Pitt. It has Georgetown but no Connecticut. Syracuse is gone. Louisville, the defending national champ, is gone.
But this doesn’t mean that the conference is going to fall off the map. There are still a lot of talented schools here. There’s still a ton of good basketball to look forward to.
So who is going to win this thing?
The first two conferences I’ve covered have clear cut favorites. This one doesn’t. There are several teams who I could easily make an argument to finish on top, and the pack in the middle is going to be brutally competitive. The difference will likely come down to which team stays the healthiest, and which one gets a little close game luck.
It’s tough to lose the No. 3 pick in the NBA Draft and proceed without taking a major step back, but the Georgetown roster is loaded. Markel Starks is a conference Player of the Year candidate (if not for a certain player from Creighton). And Greg Whittington would have been, had he not torn up his knee in the summer. It remains to be seen if he plays next year. If he doesn’t, then the rest of the roster needs to step it up a notch.
Luckily, the Hoyas have 8 players who were consensus top 100 recruits. Of all college basketball teams last year who played with that much talent, the worst conference record was 12-6 and the average was 14-4.
Related: American Athletic Conference Preview
D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera is poised for a breakout year as a sophomore, and while Stephen Domingo won’t make people forget about Otto Porter, he will be a scorer from day one. If the Hoyas get much down low from UCLA transfer Josh Smith then the Hoyas could be every bit as good as last year.
Creighton got a huge boost when Grant Gibbs received a waiver to play another season. He had the best assist rate in the Missouri Valley, and is the perfect set up man for All American Doug McDermott.
Offensively, this team is about four parts working in concert to support McDermott. He took 35% of their shots when he was on the floor (12th highest volume player in the nation) and can score from anywhere. He knocks down 3s at a 49% clip, and has the interior footwork needed to compensate for his lack of explosiveness. The Blue Jays had the 9th most efficient offense in the nation last year, and despite losing Gregory Echinique to graduation, they'll be just fine on that end.
It's the defensive end which will decide their fate. In three years under Greg McDermott, Creighton has ranked 175th, 178th, and 59th. Creighton does a great job controlling the glass, but they don't force turnovers so the possession battle is pretty much a wash. Last season teams only made 31.2% of their 3s vs Creighton, but 3-pt% is largely driven by luck. Regardless, Creighton needs to clean up things on the defensive end, and they'll have a 4-senior rotation with which to try and get it done.
In 2010 Jay Wright was one of the hottest coaches in the game. He'd earned a top-3 seed in three of five NCAA tournaments and took his team to the 2009 Final Four. But things at Villanova have gone south from there. In the past three years Nova has garnered two 9-seeds which bracket a 13-19 season. Now through, there is an intriguing mix of talent in Philadelphia, and Wright could re-establish his brand by winning the new Big East.
Villanova had a top-30 defense last year, and this year should see more of the same. 6-6 juniors JayVaughn Pinkston and Darrun Hillard provide the needed defensive flexibility which allows Nova to defend anyone.
Offensively, though, there's some serious work to do. They were 314th in the nation in TO%, and sophomore point guard Ryan Arcidiacono needs to do a much better job getting his team through sets. They were also a poor shooting team, and it didn't help that Arcidiacono (33% from the arc) took 217 3s, or that Hilliard (32%) took 124. Villanova was the best team in the country at getting to the line, and to increase their efficiency they need to come up with more creative ways to score on the interior. 6-11 sophomore Daniel Ochefu and 6-5 freshman Kris Jenkins should help.
2013-14 BIG EAST PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Doug McDermott, Sr., Creighton
2013-14 BIG EAST FRESHMAN OF THE YEAR
Billy Garrett Jr., DePaul
2013-14 BIG EAST ALL CONFERENCE TEAM
Bryce Cotton, Sr., Providence
Roosevelt Jones, Jr., Butler
Doug McDermott, Sr., Creighton
JayVaughn Pinkston, Jr., Villanova
Markel Starks, Sr., Georgetown
6. St. John's
9. Seton Hall