2013-2014 Big East Preview: Marquette’s favored, but the Big East could send seven to tourney

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All month long, CBT will be rolling out our 2013-2014 season preview. Check back throughout the day, as we’ll be posting three or four preview items every day.

To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. To see the rest of the Conference Previews we’ve published, click here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

Technically, the Big East conference that you will watch this season is a brand new league. When the Catholic 7 split away from the football schools, they brought the name and the rights to Madison Square Garden for the league tournament with them, but technically speaking, this is the new conference, not the American. And while it’s disappointing to know that Syracuse will never play Georgetown for the Big East title again and that UConn and Pitt will never have another overtime thriller in the Garden, there is still a lot to like about this league and its future. For once, we have a conference — and a very good one at that — whose main focus is hoops.

REALIGNMENT MOVES

In: Creighton, Xavier, Butler
Out: Louisville, UConn, South Florida, Pitt, Syracuse, Notre Dame, Cincinnati, Rutgers

FIVE THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW:

1. This is the most difficult conference to predict this season: Heading into the start of the 2013-2014 season, Marquette has been the pick to win the Big East by just about everyone, including myself. But you shouldn’t take that to me that the Golden Eagles will have a cakewalk to the regular season title. There’s an argument to be made that as many as eight of the ten teams could earn a bid to the NCAA tournament. The consensus is that Butler, Seton Hall and DePaul make up the bottom three, but there’s really no way to differentiate between team No. 2 and team No. 7. Expect a wild race for the league title.

2. St. John’s will be better than you think: There really hasn’t been all that much hype about the Johnnies this offseason, but when you look up and down there lineup, there is quite a bit of talent. D’angelo Harrison is back from his suspension and God’sgift Achiuwa is back from his redshirt year. Freshman Rysheed Jordan only bolsters a back court that already includes Phil Greene and Jamal Branch, and with JaKarr Sampson, Sir’Dominic Pointer and Chris Obekpa up front, Lavin has the athleticism and versatility to matchup with any front line. If the pieces all come together, look out.

3. And so will Providence: This may be the year for Providence to break through. Former top 20 recruit Kris Dunn is finally healthy and will join a dynamic back court that includes the league’s reigning leading scorer, Bryce Cotton, and thrilling, 6-foot-7 lead guard Brandon Austin. Up front, transfers Tyler Harris and Carson Derosiers are eligible and will join Kadeem Batts and LeDontae Henton. The Friars will put up a lot of points.

4. Georgetown is dangerous with Josh Smith eligible: The Hoyas got a gift in October when massive center Josh Smith was granted immediate eligibility by the NCAA. Smith is an all-american caliber talent — and a perfect fit as a five in Georgetown’s system — when he’s in shape. But will he be able to play 25 minutes a night? Will he avoid foul trouble? It’s up to Smith how good he wants to be, but if he finally flips the switch, Georgetown has the pieces around him — notably Markel Starks — to be a title contender.

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5. Keep an eye on Ryan Arcidiacono: As a freshman at Villanova, Arch was coming off of a back surgery that kept him off the court in his final season of high school hoops. He was never quite in rhythm or in shape last season, but after an offseason of work, particularly on his strength, don’t be surprised to see him become one of the better point guards in the country.

PRESEASON BIG EAST PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Doug McDermott (Creighton)

McDermott will be a three-time all-american by the time his senior season is over, a fact that is unheard of in this day and age of early entry. McDermott is one of the purest scorers in the country, a 6-foot-7 forward with an array of post moves and a lethal three-point stroke. It will be interesting to see how he handles playing in a conference that features big men with much more size and athleticism that he saw in the Missouri Valley, but when a guy has a chance to score 3,000 points in his career, you stop worrying about whether or not certain matchups will slow him down.

THE REST OF THE ALL-BIG EAST FIRST TEAM:

  • Semaj Christon, Xavier: Christon is a big point guard that averaged 15.2 points and 4.6 assists as a freshman. The biggest reason Xavier has a chance to contend in this league.
  • Bryce Cotton, Providence: Coming off of a season where he averaged 19.4 points, expect Cotton to be a major factor is the Friar’s resurgence.
  • Davante Gardner, Marquette: Gardner is similar to Josh Smith in that he’s an immense low-post talent that’s battled some weight issues through his career.
  • Fuquan Edwin, Seton Hall: It’s a shame that Edwin has been hidden at Seton Hall throughout his career. A terrific defender that averaged 16.5 points and shot 41.2% from three.

FIVE MORE NAMES TO KNOW:

  • Ryan Arcidiacono, Villanova
  • Markel Starks, Georgetown
  • D’angelo Harrison, St. John’s
  • JaKarr Sampson, St. John’s
  • Kris Dunn, Providence

BREAKOUT STAR: Kris Dunn (Providence)

Dunn was one of the most highly-sought after players in the country in the Class of 2012, but he spent much of last season battling a shoulder injury. Now that he’s healthy, and with an offseason of improvement under his belt, don’t be surprised to see Dunn take over Vincent Council’s role as the Friar point guard and post big numbers while helping the Providence turnaround.

COACH UNDER PRESSURE: Brandon Miller (Butler)

It would be easy to say Kevin Willard in this situation, because most people will have Willard listed on the hot seat entering the season. But I’m going with Miller. This single most difficult thing to do in coaching is to be the guy after The Guy, and Miller is replacing Brad Stevens, The Guy that led Butler to back-to-back national title games and orchestrated a jump from the Horizon to the Big East in the span of 15 months. That ain’t easy.

ON SELECTION SUNDAY WE’LL BE SAYING … : The Big East got more bids than the American.

I’M MOST EXCITED ABOUT: Watching Davante Gardner battle for position against Josh Smith.

FIVE NON-CONFERENCE GAMES TO CIRCLE ON YOUR CALENDAR:

  • Nov. 16, Ohio State at Marquette
  • Dec. 7, Marquette at Wisconsin
  • Dec. 15, Syracuse at St. John’s (at MSG)
  • Nov. 8, Georgetown vs. Oregon (In South Korea)
  • Dec. 21, Georgetown at Kansas

PREDICTED FINISH

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1. Marquette: The Golden Eagles will have a different look than we’re used too as their strength will be the front court, but there are few coaches better at maximizing talent, regardless of roster makeup, than Buzz Williams.
2. Georgetown: It’s difficult to overstate just how important it is for the Hoyas to get Josh Smith eligible at the start of the season. With the underrated Markel Starks and D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera holding down the back court, the Hoyas could win the league if everything breaks right.
3. Creighton: The Bluejays caught a couple of breaks this offseason, as Doug McDermott returned to school and Grant Gibbs got a sixth year of eligibility. Losing big man Gregory Echenique is really going to hurt, especially against teams with big low-post scorers.
4. St. John’s: The Johnnies have loads of talent and athleticism on their roster this season, and the presence of shot-blocker Chris Obekpa around the rim should allow Steve Lavin’s to apply a lot of pressure defensively. Can Lavin find a way to turn the talent into wins?
5. Providence: Much of this depends on the health of Kris Dunn’s shoulder, but if he’s at 100%, the Friars have quite a bit of talent on their roster, especially on the perimeter. Expect a lot of points when Providence plays.
6. Villanova: Ryan Arcidiacono should be in line for a big sophomore season, and the Wildcats return six of their top seven scorers, including Jayvaughn Pinkston and Darrun Hilliard. The key will be the play of Daniel Ochefu inside, as Mouphtaou Yarou has graduated.
7. Xavier: Semaj Christon has the potential to turn into an all-american this season, and with Dee Davis and Justin Martin back, Chris Mack’s club should hold their own on the perimeter. Three-point shooting and the effectiveness of Matt Stainbrook and Isaiah Philmore inside will be key.
8. Seton Hall: I love Fuquan Edwin, and the addition of Sterling Gibbs and Jaren Sina will help solidify the perimeter attack, but there are just so many unknowns with this group.
9. Butler: A new head coach leading a team that loses Rotnei Clarke, Andrew Smith (graduation) and Roosevelt Jones (wrist) into a new, tougher conference is not the ideal recipe success.
10. DePaul: The Blue Demons should be more competitive than what we’ve become accustomed to, but until this group proves they can get themselves out of the cellar, that’s where we’ll assume they end up.

College Basketball Power Rankings: Kentucky drops out of the Top 25

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I’m not sure that this Kentucky season can be considered a worst-case scenario.

Kentucky fans have seen a worst-case scenario.

That came during the 2012-13 season, when a Wildcat team that was trending towards the back end of the top 25 lost their star center Nerlens Noel to a torn ACL in February, dooming them to the NIT, where they lost in the first round to Robert Morris.

That is a worst-case scenario, and barring something totally unforeseen, this Kentucky team is not going to turn into that Kentucky team.

This group looks much more like the team we saw the following year, the one that featured Julius Randle, James Young, the Harrison twins and Willie Cauley-Stein and entered the NCAA tournament as a No. 8 seed with a 24-10 record before making a run to the national title game. That team had plenty of talent, but they never quite gelled until March.

This year’s team does not have that same level of talent, but they are running into some of the same problems.

The question is whether or not this group actually has the potential to come together and make a run like that 2014 team.

RELATED: Kentucky just is not that good

And frankly, I still think they do. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has emerged as a go-to guy while Kevin Knox had seemingly regained his confidence before a poor performance in the home loss to Florida. Quade Green has returned to the lineup, as has Jarred Vanderbilt, who might be the key to unlock the potential on this roster.

In an ideal world, Kentucky’s length and athleticism allows them to be one of the nation’s best defensive teams while the playmaking of Vanderbilt and Green makes their offense fluid enough that they overcome some of their shooting issues. I can still tell myself a story where Kentucky finds a way to put it all together for six straight games in March.

But that’s not who they are right now.

And with each passing game, I grow less and less confident that the elite will ever come out of this group.

Kentucky is not a top 25 basketball team right now. They are nowhere near one of the favorites to win a national title right now. And, at this point, Kentucky fans would do well to adjust their expectations, as a trip out of the Sweet 16 should be considered a success.

Here is the full top 25.

1. Villanova, 18-1 (Last Week: No. 1)
2. Purdue, 19-2 (2)
3. Virginia, 18-1 (5)
4. Kansas, 16-3 (13)
5. Michigan State, 17-3 (7)
6. Duke, 17-2 (10)
7. West Virginia, 16-3 (4)
8. Arizona, 16-4 (8)
9. Xavier, 18-3 (11)
10. Oklahoma, 14-4 (6)
11. North Carolina, 16-4 (17)
12. Texas Tech, 15-4 (3)
13. Cincinnati, 17-2 (19)
14. Ohio State, 17-4 (22)
15. Auburn, 17-2 (18)
16. Tennessee, 13-5 (23)
17. Wichita State, 15-4 (9)
18. Clemson, 16-3 (20)
19. Saint Mary’s, 19-2 (NR)
20. Gonzaga, 17-4 (16)
21. Nevada, 18-3 (NR)
22. Florida, 14-5 (NR)
23. Rhode Island, 15-3 (NR)
24. Arizona State, 15-4 (14)
25. TCU, 14-5 (25)

DROPPED OUT: No. 12 Seton Hall, No. 15 Kentucky, No. 21 Michigan, No. 24 Miami

NEW ADDITIONS: No. 19 Saint Mary’s, No. 21 Nevada, No. 22 Florida, No. 23 Rhode Island

VIDEO: Northern Colorado wins game with halfcourt buzzer beater

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Northern Colorado knocked off North Dakota on Saturday night thanks to a half court buzzer-beating three from Andre Spight.

Spight is averaging 20.3 points on the season and finished with 34 points and six assists in the 94-91 win.

Clemson’s Grantham tears ACL

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The news on Donte Grantham’s knee was not good.

No. 20 Clemson announced on Sunday morning that Grantham, the team’s second-leading scorer and rebounder, would miss the rest of the season after tearing his ACL in a win over Notre Dame on Saturday.

“I’m disappointed that Donte’s career at Clemson had to end this way,” head coach Brad Brownell said. “He was putting together a terrific season statistically, but he really helps this team is so many ways. He’s been a pleasure to coach and it has been fun to watch him mature and grow into the leader of our program.”

Grantham was averaging 14.2 points and 7.1 boards this year.

The Tigers are 16-3 on the season and in line to make a run at an NCAA tournament bid.

VIDEO: West Virginia honored Andrew Jones before game vs. Texas

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The West Virginia basketball team donned burnt orange ‘Big 12 Strong’ warmup shirts with the No. 1 on the back in honor of Texas point guard Andrew Jones.

Jones was diagnosed with leukemia earlier this month.

Texas Tech also honored Jones before a game this week, and Texas has raised more than $100,000 for his medical expenses.

Saturday College Basketball Recap: No. 7 Wichita State, No. 8 Texas Tech lose

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PLAYER OF THE DAY

It’s hard to argue with the performance that J.P. Macura had on Saturday. No. 11 Xavier went into Newark and knocked off No. 19 Seton Hall, 73-64, behind 27 points, five boards and three assists from Macura.

This win was particularly important for Xavier, who remain just a game out of first place in the Big East and in great position to make a run at getting a top three seed, which would mean they likely won’t have to play Villanova until the Big East title game. The loss is the second in a row for Seton Hall and the their third loss in four games.

THE REST OF SATURDAY’S STARS

  • CARSEN EDWARDS, Purdue: Edwards finished with 22 points, eight assists, two steals and no turnovers as the No. 3 Boilermakers blew out Iowa on the road.
  • MALIK NEWMAN, Kansas: Newman finished with 24 points and seven boards, including a personal 7-0 run with three minutes left to help No. 10 Kansas remain in sole possession of first place in the Big 12 with a 70-67 win over Baylor.
  • BRYCE BROWN, Auburn: Brown finished with 28 points as Auburn erased a 14-point halftime deficit to knock off Georgia 79-65 and remain within a game of first-place in the SEC.
  • DEAN WADE, Kansas State: In a win over No. 24 Kansas State, TCU’s second-straight win over a ranked team, Wade went for 20 pints, six boards, six assists, two blocks and two steals.

TEAM OF THE DAY

Houston landed themselves their first marquee win of the season as they pounded No. 7 Wichita State in Houston, 73-59. Rob Gray led the way with 24 points and four assists, putting the Cougars in a position where earning an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament is feasible. There is still plenty of work left to do, but this is the start they needed.

The bigger question mark, however, is Wichita State, who also lost at home to SMU this week. The Shockers are nowhere near as good as many expected them to be. Their offense isn’t good enough to make up for the fact that they aren’t guarding anyone.

GAME OF THE DAY

Trae Young went for 48 points, 34 of which came after halftime as the Sooners erased a 19-point deficit, but thanks to a Kendall Smith three at the end of regulation, this game went into overtime. Young had shots at the buzzer in regulation and in overtime to win the game and missed both, as the Pokes escaped with an 83-81 win.

Young needed 39 shots to get those 48 points. We went through whether or not that is too many shots for him here.

WTF???? OF THE DAY

Iowa State, who can’t guard anyone and is probably the worst team in the Big 12 this season, knocked off No. 8 Texas Tech, 70-52. The Red Raiders have now lost three of their last four games – all of which came on the road – after winning at Kansas. Texas Tech is also now just 1-3 in the four games since Zach Smith broke his foot, but they also beat Baylor by 24 points and won at Kansas when Smith played 10 total minutes.

So you explain Texas Tech to me. Because I don’t get it.

WHAT ELSE DO YOU NEED TO KNOW?

The Florida Gators moved into sole possession of first place in the SEC thanks to a 66-64 win at No. 18 Kentucky on Saturday. It was hardly a pretty game – Florida shot 33 percent from the floor and 6-for-30 from three – but the Gators were able to hang on thanks to a questionable no-call in the final seconds.

No. 20 Clemson held on to beat Notre Dame at home on Saturday, 67-58, but missing out on a commitment from Zion Williamson wasn’t the only bad news of the day. Star forward Donte Grantham went down with a knee injury midway through the second half. He averages 14.3 points and 7.1 boards. Losing him would be disastrous for the Tigers.

No. 14 Arizona had to rally down the stretch, but the Wildcats did. Trailing by as many as 11 points late in the second half at Stanford, the Wildcats survived as Dorian Pickens missed a three at the buzzer. The win puts Arizona all alone in first place in the Pac-12.

Jalen Brunson scored 23 points and Donte DiVincenzo added 17 points off the bench as No. 1 Villanova blew out UConn in Hartford, 81-61.

No. 13 Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s both won, meaning that the Gaels still hold a one game lead over the Zags in the WCC. Nevada knocked off Boise State, giving the Wolf Pack a two-game lead in the Mountain West.

At this point, Pitt barely counts as ACC competition. But they are and No. 5 Duke beat them 81-54 tonight.

Jevon Carter went for 22 points and eight assists as No. 6 West Virginia knocked off Texas, 86-51. The game was closer than the final score indicates, as the Mountaineers pulled away late.

The star of the day for No. 12 Cincinnati was Gary Clark, who finished with 14 points, 14 boards, two assists, two steals and two blocks, in an 86-60 win over East Carolina.

Luke Maye went for 17 points and 11 boards to lead four players in double figures as No. 15 North Carolina held on to beat Josh Pastner and Georgia Tech, 80-66.

It ended up not being much of a game when the Big Ten invaded Madison Square Garden as No. 22 Ohio State put a beating on Minnesota, 67-49. Minnesota lost Jordan Murphy to an ankle injury in the game as well.