College basketball: Can Villanova win another title in a transitional Big East? Here's 10 conference storylines
The Big East has had a national champ in two of the past three seasons (Villanova) and two No. 1 seeds last March (Nova and Xavier).
The league has been as balanced as any in the country. There is no Power Five in college basketball. The Big East (and the AAC) have blown that up. But now comes the natural transition a from senior-dominated league to one that will be going through a bit of a transition from top to bottom. New faces are going to emerge. But the brand is still as strong as ever with interest on each campus exceedingly high.
Onto the off-season storylines:
1. How will Phil Booth and Eric Paschall handle being the focal point? Booth and Paschall are more than ready for the challenge of being Villanova’s new set of leaders. They have experienced championships and are all in on what it means to be a Villanova player. But they weren’t the primary focus for opposing scouts. They were freed up because of the attention on others. Now the focus could turn to them, which they should be able to deal with without much of an issue. But it will still be interesting to watch if there is a natural hiccup. If not, then it is even more clear how much the Nova coaching staff has the next group ready to assert themselves. Nova is the team to beat in the Big East again because you would be foolish to pick anyone else based on recent history. But if there was ever a time to knock the Wildcats off their perch then this could be the season.
2. What are the chances Markus Howard is the Big East player of the year and leads the Golden Eagles to the NCAA tournament? High. Howard will have challengers, but his ability to put up monster numbers and lead an experienced Marquette team in a brand-new, state-of-the-art arena are all indicators that you should buy stock in Marquette basketball. This team was close last season to earning a bid to the NCAA tournament. The schedule is loaded with plenty of power-rating points and impression makers for the selection committee. If the Golden Eagles can defend and board, then this team will be not just be in the tournament but could be a decent seed with a chance for the second weekend. Oh, and don’t sleep on Marquette winning either the regular season or the Big East tournament in New York.
3. What will be the impact of Emmitt Holt on the Friars? Providence should be back in the mix for an NCAA tournament berth and a top three finish in the Big East. Alpha Diallo is an all-league candidate. But the question isn’t on Diallo. It’s about Holt, who had to sit out last season due to an abdominal injury. If Holt can return to his 2016-17 production of a dozen points and over five boards a game, the Friars will be much more complete. The Friars will also once again be a gritty team in the backcourt, one that can defend and make shots. Getting someone who can be an anchor upfront and a rim protector at times would be a must for Providence to compete for a Big East title, and the Friars hope Holt can fill that role for them this year.
4. What will be Mustapha Heron’s impact be at Saint John’s? Heron declared for the NBA draft, withdrew and then promptly transferred from Auburn to St. John’s. Technically, Heron would have to sit for one academic year before he could play. But that’s not the plan. The waiver is in and the hope is that Heron will be able to play immediately. If he does get eligibility then the Red Storm would have an experienced compliment to Shamorie Ponds. The Red Storm need to find consistency. Getting more experience on the wing is a must to do so. Ponds has the potential to be Big East player of the year. But he won’t be if he doesn’t get help. The addition of Heron would be a huge boost to the Red Storm’s chances of getting the first bid under Chris Mullin.
5. When will Jessie Govan get respect nationally? Hopefully this season. Govan should be considered one of the best bigs in the country. He has continued to get better each season going from six to 10 to 17.9 points a game and his board work has gone up from 4 to 5 to 10. The 6-10 Govan is being coached by one of the best big men of all time in Patrick Ewing. Govan will be in the mix for Big East player of the year. And, like Ponds, he has a legitimate chance to lead his team to the NCAA tournament. Games at Illinois and at Syracuse should give Govan a chance to shine on the national stage.
6. How soon before Myles Powell becomes a dominant player? Sooner than later. Powell was the Big East’s most improved player last season. He didn’t need to be Seton Hall’s go-to player. But the departures of Desi Rodriguez, Angel Delgado and Khadeen Carrington puts Powell front and center for the Pirates. Powell buried 94 3s last season and can certainly bail out Seton Hall from any offensive drought. Look, I may be a bit more bullish on the Pirates than most. But that’s because of the belief in Powell, the culture Kevin Willard has built and the likelihood this team will defend.
7. What’s the ceiling for Kamar Baldwin? “Everybody believes Kamar can be great,’’ said Butler coach LaVall Jordan. And why not? Sure, Baldwin had Kelan Martin to feed last season and the onus will be much more on him. But the 6-1 guard averaged 15.7 points and 3.2 assists a game. So the numbers were already on the up. Baldwin is all in, according to Jordan. He said his work ethic is never in question. Baldwin is part of a group of great guards in the Big East. And if the Bulldogs are in the NCAA tournament, or even on the bubble, then Baldwin will need to be elite.
8. How will Martin Krampelj handle the go-to role with Creighton? Krampelj was done with an ACL injury after 19 games last season. The Bluejays still made the NCAA tournament without their third-leading scorer. The top two — Marcus Foster and Khyri Thomas — are both gone, leaving Krampelj as the top returning player. On July 27, Krampelj posted a video of him dunking and three days later sent out a tweet and video of him lifting with the caption “ 6months.” He has worked his tail off to be back in time for the season. The Bluejays desperately need his production from day one.
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9. Why would I put Xavier near the bottom of the Big East? This was the hardest thing to do among these predictions. How can the Musketeers go from Big East regular-season champs and a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament to dropping off the grid. The Musketeers have a new coach in Travis Steele after Chris Mack went to Louisville. But there shouldn’t be a big drop-off. Sure, Trevon Bluiett and J.P. Macura are gone. But Steele coached under Mack. And the support at Xavier is as passionate as any program in the country. It’s hard to think this program would miss the postseason.
10. How close is DePaul to turning the corner? It’s still an unknown, but if there was ever a chance then it’s this season with so many inexperienced teams ahead of DePaul. Max Strus returned to the Blue Demons after declaring for the draft. He averaged nearly 17 points a game. He was a reason to go to Wintrust Arena, and could provide high entertainment value next season. DePaul lacked amenities. Now that’s not an issue. But did Dave Leitao surround Strus with enough talent to make a move in the conference? That’s still to be determined.
NCAA bound: Villanova, Marquette, Providence.
On the bubble: Saint John’s, Georgetown, Seton Hall, Butler
Here's our summer Big East power rankings:
- St. John’s
- Seton Hall
Our picks for the All-Big East first team
Shamorie Ponds, St. John’s
Markus Howard, Marquette
Kamar Baldwin, Butler
Jessie Govan, Georgetown
Alpha Diallo, Providence