Big East Conference Catchup: Who contends with Villanova in 2014-15?

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This season marked the dawning of the new Big East. The Catholic 7 from the original conference merged with Butler, Creighton and Xavier to form the 10-team league. Four of those programs reached the NCAA tournament in 2014, although, all of which failed to reach the Sweet 16.

The disappointment from the conference’s showing the NCAA tournament will switch to uncertainty in Year 2 with plenty of questions needing be answered.

Villanova, the Big East regular season champion, will undoubtedly be the favorite heading into next season. One of the most efficient offensive and defensive teams in the conference last season will offset the graduation of James Bell with returnees Darrun Hillard, JayVaughn Pinkston and Ryan Arcidiacono among several other key contributors. A pair of four-star recruits — Phil Booth and Mikal Bridges — join the Wildcats as well.

RELATEDRead through all of our Conference Catchups here

Who challenges Villanova?

Creighton has to replace National Player of the Year Doug McDermott. Bryce Cotton won’t be racking up the minutes at Providence this winter. Xavier’s Semaj Christon and St. John’s Jakarr Sampson are other notable players to leave this spring.

Can Xavier and Providence find a way to get back into the NCAA tournament? Will strong recruiting classes for teams like Georgetown and Seton Hall propel them near the top of the conference? Does a darkhorse team emerge as a threat to the Wildcats?

THREE UP

Georgetown: The Hoyas stumbled to a sixth-place finish in 2013-2014, but returns D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera and his 17.0 points per game. Matched with four freshmen listed in the Rivals 150, and Georgetown has the tools for a bounce-back campaign.

Seton Hall: The Pirates are 9-27 in conference play over the past two years. That could change with Isaiah Whitehead, and a talented recruiting class, joining Sterling Gibbs, the team’s top returning scorer, next season. With the conference as wide-open as it is, it wouldn’t be surprising if Seton Hall cracked the top half of the conference, and earned its way into the bubble conversation.

Kris Dunn, Providence: Shoulder injuries have plagued the first half of his career with the Friars, limiting him to only four games in 2013-2014. He committed to Providence as the top-ranked point guard, according to Rivals, and if healthy, can help the back court dealing with the loss of Cotton.

THREE DOWN

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Creighton: McDermott’s heralded career came to the end in the Round of 32. You can’t stress how important his departure is for the Bluejays, but three other senior starters graduate, too. Creighton made a smooth transition from the Missouri Valley to the Big East, but it’s time to rebuild. Ronnie Harrell and Leon Gilmore, two Rivals 150 recruits, give Greg McDermott some nice pieces for the future while transfers Mo Watson and Cole Huff will make an impact when they resume their careers in the 2015-2016 season.

Butler: In its third different conference in as many seasons, Butler suffered its first losing season since 2005. The Bulldogs add Roosevelt Jones back to the lineup in addition to Kellen Dunham, Kameron Woods, Alex Barlow and Andrew Chrabascz. The second year of the Brandon Miller era should see some improvement, but Butler might very well be in the bottom half of the league once again.

Conference hype: Villanova and Creighton both ended the season in the top 20, though, to start the 2014-2015 season the Big East will have only one representative in the top 25. The conference’s first season with Fox Sports 1 produced less than stellar numbers. Without Doug McDermott, the conference lacks a headlining star. While there certainly is talent around the league, the pro potential, according to early mock drafts, is scarce.

FIVE NEW FACES

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Steve Wojciechowski, Marquette: For almost the entirety of the last two decades, Wojciechowski has been part of the Duke program. In April, he became the newest branch in the Coach K coaching tree, replacing Buzz Williams at Marquette. He’ll have some talent on this roster, though, only one of Williams’ recruit — Sandy Cohen — remains committed. BYU guard Matt Carlino, who has immediate eligibility, should help perimeter shooting.

Isaiah Whitehead, Seton Hall: The five-star recruit, ranked No. 16 overall, according to Rivals, headlines an impressive incoming class, which includes Angel Delgado and Khadeen Carrington. The 6-foot-4 Whitehead is a difficult matchup with the ball in his hands, and can put up points in a hurry when he gets hot. Whitehead can help the Pirates make some noise in Kevin Willard’s fifth season.

Isaac Copeland, Georgetown: The Hoyas recruiting class stars Copeland, the five-star forward, along with combo forward Paul White and wing L.J. Peak. Copeland benefited greatly from his one season at Brewster Academy (New Hampshire) this past year, displaying an array of skills. The incoming class puts John Thompson III’s program in a good spot for the future, though, Copeland can make an immediate impact, and help Georgetown improve on an 18-15 (8-10 Big East) season.

Matt Carlino, Marquette: The graduate transfer guard will finish his career with the Golden Eagles after stops at UCLA (never played a game) and BYU. Carlino will provide some experience to the Marquette back court, but more importantly add a 3-point threat, connecting on 34 percent of his threes with BYU last season.

Roosevelt Jones, Butler: The 6-foot-4 guard has been with the Butler program since 2011, but an injury to his left wrist delayed his Big East debut to November 2014. Jones averaged 10.1 points, 5.6 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game in 2011-2012, and his return will boost a back court led by top scorer Kellen Dunham, though, the perimeter lost depth when Rene Castro and Elijah Brown both decided to transfer.

Way-Too-Early Power Rankings

1. Villanova

2. Georgetown

3. Xavier

4. Providence

5. Seton Hall

6. Marquette

7. St. John’s

8. Butler

9. Creighton

10. DePaul

Gonzaga lands their first post-Final Four commitment

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Gonzaga capitalized on their run to the national title game by landing a commitment from French point guard Joel Ayayi, who announced the news on twitter.

Ayayi is an interesting long-term prospect, according to Draft Express. He has the size and the frame to eventually be a significant contributor in the college game, but he’s raw. His handle needs work, as does his ability to create off the dribble and find teammates off of the bounce.

That said, he’s 6-foot-4 with a 6-foot-7 wingspan and the ability to shoot it from the perimeter, and if Gonzaga can do anything, it’s develop players that enter their program.

VIDEO: Zion Williamson, top three prospect in 2018, breaks defender’s ankles

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Zion Williamson, one of the most sought-after recruits in college basketball, had himself a highlight-worthy moment at the Adidas Gauntlet event in Dallas over the weekend, breaking a defender’s ankles before hitting a three.

Illinois lands important commitment from four-star Class of 2017 guard Mark Smith

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Illinois landed a very important Class of 2017 commitment on Wednesday as guard Mark Smith pledged to the Illini.

The 6-foot-4 Smith was previously a Missouri commit for baseball, but some issues with his arm caused him to look back into basketball last summer. A native of Edwardsville, in the St. Louis metro area, Smith came out of nowhere to win the Illinois Mr. Basketball award as a senior this season as he averaged 21.9 points, 8.4 assists and 8.2 rebounds while becoming a consensus national top-100 prospect.

Rivals rates Smith as the No. 52 overall prospect in the Class of 2017 as he could come in and earn immediate minutes at Illinois next season at either guard spot.

This is a very important commitment for head coach Brad Underwood and the Illini as the new head coach was able to hold off some elite programs like Kentucky and Michigan State for Smith’s services.

Northwestern gets commitment from Boston College transfer A.J. Turner

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Northwestern landed a transfer on Wednesday as former Boston College wing A.J. Turner pledged to the Wildcats, a source confirmed to NBCSports.com.

The 6-foot-7 Turner just finished his sophomore season with the Golden Eagles as he averaged 8.4 points, 3.3 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game. A well-rounded wing who also shot 37 percent from three-point range, Turner will have to sit out one season due to NCAA transfer regulations before getting two more years of eligibility.

With Scottie Lindsay and Vic Law only having limited time left in Evanston, Turner provides a bit of insurance on the wing for the Wildcats for the future as he’s a proven rotation player coming from the ACC.

If you think 137 players declaring for the draft is stupid, you’re probably stupid

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The NBA Draft’s full early entry list came out on Tuesday afternoon, and there were 137 underclassmen listed on it.

137.

For 60 spots in the NBA Draft, only 30 of which guarantee you a contract in the NBA.

And that’s before you factor in the 45 international players that also declared for the NBA Draft, as well as the crop of seniors — Josh Hart, Monte’ Morris, Jaron Blossomgame, Alec Peters — that are going to end up hearing their names called. All told, there are going to be roughly 200 players competing to be one of the 60 people that end up getting drafted on June 22nd, and you don’t have to be any good at math to realize that 200 is a much, much bigger number than 60.

This unleashed a torrent of bad takes on the decision of these players.

And bad may not be doing those takes justice.

Because the bottom-line is this: You cannot paint the decision on whether or not to go pro with a broad brush.

For some players, making money of any kind is something they need to do to support their family, whether it’s what they’ll get with a first round guarantee, the $75-100,000 they’ll get for making a training camp roster to subsidize their time in the D-League while teams develop them or the money they can make in the D-League or overseas. You don’t know what their financial situation is. Maximizing their ability to capitalize on every available dollar they can make off of their athletic gifts may be more important than working towards a degree.

And it’s worth noting here that a guaranteed contract isn’t the only way to make a living in professional basketball. To say nothing of the money that can be made overseas or the number of second round picks and undrafted players that make guaranteed money — which is more than you probably realize — it needs to be noted that D-League salaries are getting a bump this year with the new CBA.

The NBA has also instituted something new called a “two-way contract”. Without getting into the legalese, it’s essentially a retainer worth well into the six figures that they will be able to give to two players that will allow them to retain that player under contract while sending them between the D-League and the NBA roster. In a sense, it creates an extra 60 NBA roster spots for players that have 0-3 years worth of professional basketball on their résumé.

Some players are simply declaring without signing with an agent because they want to get feedback directly from NBA personnel on what their professional prospects. Some will hear that they need to return to school to work on their body, or work on their jumper, or mature as a person to be able to handle everything that comes with being a professional. Others will be told they’re going to make a lot of money by staying in the draft, or that they need to go back to school because, frankly, they are not professional basketball players. Not getting invited to the NBA combine is a pretty good indication of where you stand in the eyes of NBA teams.

Still other players are putting their name into the draft to leave their options open should they be recruited over by the program they are a part of. Take Frank Jackson, for example. If he can return to school and thrive as Duke’s point guard, maybe he turns into a top 20 pick. But what happens if Trevon Duval, the best point guard in the Class of 2017 and a top five pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, picks Duke? Would it be in Jackson’s best interest to come back to Duke when he won’t be playing the position that he needs to learn to play to turn himself into a lasting NBA player?

Jackson, like the roughly 100 underclassmen that have declared without an agent, has until May 24th to make his decision on whether or not he will keep his name in the draft. Until then, he can return to school without damaging his eligibility.

The entire reason that the NCAA changed their rules to allow players to test the waters is so that they can make the most important decision of their lives with as much information as humanly possible. This thing exists for the sole purpose of allowing the kids to have as much knowledge about their options as possible.

And that is exactly what these kids are doing.

So the idea that this rule, or players taking advantage of that rule, however high that number may be, is a bad thing is stupid.