Providence Friars

VIDEO: No. 23 Providence beats Rhode Island on Bentil tip-in

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Saturday night in-state rivals No. 23 Providence and Rhode Island met in Kingston, and as many expected the game did not disappoint. The Friars got off to a quick start only to see the Rams respond with a 20-4 run, and from that point onward the two Ocean State teams traded punches throughout in a game that was decided as time expired by Providence forward Ben Bentil.

Following a Jared Terrell jumper with 6.2 seconds remaining Providence point guard raced up the court, releasing a shot attempt with enough time to allow Bentil to tip in the miss just before time expired. The game-winner capped a 23-point, eight-rebound night for Bentil, who to this point in the season has not only been one of the Big East’s most improved players but one of the most improved players in the country as a whole.

Terrell led four Rams in double figures with 19 points.

Video credit: ESPN

As good as they’ve been, No. 3 Michigan State has yet to play their best

Bryn Forbes, Ryan Fazekas
Associated Press
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Sunday night’s Wooden Legacy title game matchup between No. 3 Michigan State and Providence was billed as a matchup of the nation’s two best players, and rightfully so. Michigan State senior Denzel Valentine (17 points, six rebounds, five assists), who already has two triple-doubles to his credit this season, and Providence redshirt junior Kris Dunn (21 points, five rebounds, seven assists) have more than lived up to the preseason expectations and more of the same was expected in Anaheim.

And while both had their moments, it was Michigan State’s supporting cast that made the difference in their 77-64 victory. The scary thing for future opponents on Michigan State’s schedule is that Tom Izzo’s team is nowhere near being a finished product.

With Valentine dealing with first-half foul trouble Bryn Forbes stepped up, scoring 13 of his 18 points to help the Spartans take a two-point lead into the half. As for the 11-0 run that Michigan State produced to take control of the game late, a host of players stepped forward in regards to scoring, rebounding and defending.

Freshmen Deyonta Davis and Matt McQuaid combined to score nine points over the final 5:32, with transfer guard Eron Harris adding six of his 12 points during that stretch. The Spartans outscored the Friars, who aren’t as deep, 22-7 during that stretch to close out the game, hunting for quality shots and hitting the offensive glass while making things difficult for Providence on the other end of the floor.

The end result was a final margin that does not indicate just how close the game was. While Providence seemed to run out of steam Michigan State received contributions from multiple players, which is undoubtedly a good sign for this group moving forward.

The Spartans will return the currently injured Gavin Schilling later this season, giving them another big man alongside Davis, Matt Costello and Colby Wollenman. He was a player they missed Sunday night, as he can defend opposing big men both in the post and on the perimeter. His absence was a main reason Michigan State didn’t have an answer for Providence’s Ben Bentil (20 points, seven rebounds) defensively.

The key for this group is going to end up being role definition, which is especially true in the case of Harris. A transfer from West Virginia, Harris came to East Lansing with the reputation of being a big time scorer. He’s struggled through the first two weeks of the season, but he got on a roll on Sunday night, finishing with 12 points, three boards and three assists. He showed he’s capable of doing a variety of things on the perimeter, and fitting into a “Swiss army knife” kind of role would make Michigan State that much more dangerous.

There’s no denying that Michigan State has been one of the nation’s best teams thus far.

But there’s also no denying that the Spartans have yet to hit their ceiling, which is definitely a positive moving forward.

Wednesday’s Snacks: Providence holds off Illinois, No. 1 UNC wins

Ed Cooley
Associated Press
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GAME OF THE NIGHT: Providence 60, Illinois 59

The Gavitt Tipoff Games matchup wasn’t a high-scoring affair, but there was plenty of action in a game that had 11 lead changes with neither team leading by more than seven points. Providence point guard Kris Dunn had a quiet night when compared to his season-opening performance against Harvard, finishing with ten points, eight rebounds and three assists. Illinois was able to use multiple defenses, including a 1-3-1 zone and devoting multiple players to the ball-handler when defending pick and rolls in man-to-man, to keep Dunn in check.

However Friars Ben Bentil (18 points, 12 rebounds, three assists), Rodney Bullock (13 points, six rebounds) and Kyron Cartwright (eight points, six assists) stepped forward, keeping Providence in position to win the game. Illinois had three chances to take the lead in the final seconds but all three missed the mark, including a Michael Finke follow dunk attempt of a Malcolm Hill missed layup. Jalen Coleman-Lands led Illinois offensively with 17 points, with Hill (15 points, 11 rebounds) and Finke (12 points, seven rebounds) also scoring in double figures.

SCORES YOU NEED TO KNOW

Richmond 91, Wake Forest 82: Chris Mooney’s Spiders won the turnover battle decisively, committing just six on the night with Wake Forest finishing with 20. Richmond converted those 20 turnovers into 27 points, and that combined with a balanced scoring effort led by T.J. Cline (19 points, seven rebounds) proved to be the difference. Freshman Bryant Crawford tallied 21 points, five rebounds and six assists for Wake Forest, but he also accounted for seven of the Demon Deacons’ 20 turnovers.

No. 1 North Carolina 78, Wofford 58: The top-ranked Tar Heels moved to 3-0 on the season with a 20-point win over the Terriers, taking control of the game in the second half after leading by just five at the intermission. Joel Berry II continued his solid play with 16 points, four assists and four steals, and Brice Johnson added 16 and 14 rebounds. Johnson and Kennedy Meeks combined to score 30 points (14-for-26 FG) and grab 22 rebounds against the smaller Terriers, who were led offensively by Jaylen Allen’s 15 points.

No. 21 Purdue 96, Incarnate Word 61: A.J. Hammons made his return to the court for Purdue, who didn’t skip a beat in their sound beating of UIW. Hammons played 17 minutes off the bench, racking up eight points, six rebounds and three blocked shots. Isaac Haas led five Purdue players in double figures with 17 points while also grabbing 12 rebounds and blocking four shots, and as a team the Boilermakers shot 59.6 percent from the field.

No. 10 Gonzaga 91, Northern Arizona 52: Mark Few’s Bulldogs rolled to a win in their season opener, with forwards Domantas Sabonis and Kyle Wiltjer leading the way. Sabonis scored 26 points, shooting 12-for-13 from the field, and grabbed seven rebounds with Wiltjer adding 23 points and seven rebounds. If there’s a concern to be taken out of this blowout victory it’s that as a team Gonzaga shot 6-for-23 from beyond the arc. Remove Bryan Alberts’ 3-for-4 night and the percentage is even lower. Given their front court options opponents will look to sag down on Gonzaga and force the guards to beat them, so knocking down shots will be a key for the perimeter rotation moving forward.

STARRED

Isaiah Miles, Saint Joseph’s: with DeAndre Bembry being the focus of opposing defenses other Hawks will need to step forward. That’s happened thus far this season, with Miles going for 24 points and 14 rebounds in an 89-67 win over Buffalo.

Kahlil Felder, Oakland: One of the best guards you seldom hear about nationally, Felder racked up 27 points, four rebounds and 12 assists in the Golden Grizzlies’ 91-81 win over Eastern Michigan.

Isaac Haas, Purdue: 17 points, 12 rebounds and four blocks in a blowout win over Incarnate Word.

Pascal Siakam, New Mexico State: Siakam accounted for 30 points, 11 rebounds and four assists in the Aggies’ 76-63 win over Tennessee Tech.

STRUGGLED

Darell Combs, IUPUI: Combs did dish out five assists, but he scored just five points on 1-for-11 shooting from the field in the Jaguars’ loss at NC State.

Mike Thorne Jr., Illinois: Thorne struggled with foul trouble Wednesday night and played just 13 minutes as a result, going scoreless before fouling out in the one-point loss at Providence.

NOTABLES

  • Leading by just four at the half, Cincinnati dialed up the pressure on both end of the floor in the second half as they blew out Bowling Green 83-50 on the road. Mick Cronin’s Bearcats outscored the Falcons 48-19 in the second half.
  • Aaron Bacote led five Monarchs in double figures as Old Dominion moved to 3-0 with a 79-48 win over Morgan State.
  • Cat Barber scored 19 points and Caleb Martin and Maverick Rowan posted matching lines of 15 points and seven rebounds as NC State beat IUPUI 79-56.
  • Evan Bradds scored 16 points while also accounting for nine rebounds and four assists in Belmont’s 90-85 win over Western Kentucky.
  • Keith Dambrot’s Akron Zips, who have won 20 games or more in each of the last ten seasons, moved to 3-0 with a win at Arkansas. Wednesday was a rough one for the Razorbacks, who missed out on elite in-state product Malik Monk earlier in the day. He’s signed with Kentucky.
  • Arizona State moved to 2-1 on the season with a 91-53 win over Kennesaw State, outscoring the Owls 56-29 in the second half. Obinna Oleka led four Sun Devils in double figures with 19 points.
  • New Mexico continued its solid start to the season with a 75-51 win over Loyola-Chicago. After Elijah Brown scored 31 Sunday night Tim Wiliams was the star Wednesday, posting a line of 22 points, seven rebounds and four assists.
  • Patrick McCaw scored 24 points and Derrick Jones added 19 as UNLV pulled away down the stretch to beat Southern Utah 84-64 in Las Vegas. Four Runnin’ Rebels managed to score in double figures on the night.

Pregame Shootaround: No. 1 North Carolina back in action

Kennedy Meeks, Joel Berry II
Associated Press
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GAME OF THE DAY: Richmond at Wake Forest, 7:00 p.m. (ESPN3)

Wake Forest picked up a result over the weekend that is better than some may realize, coming back to win at Bucknell after going through a 2014-15 season in which they went 2-10 on the road. Now Danny Manning’s Demon Deacons host a Richmond team that should be a factor in the Atlantic 10 race, one that’s led by forwards Terry Allen and T.J. Cline and guard ShawnDre’ Jones. Wake, which is still without the injured Codi Miller-McIntyre, will counter with talented forwards Devin Thomas and Konstantinos Mitoglou and a freshman guard in Bryant Crawford who’s gotten off to a good start to his college career.

THIS ONE’S GOOD TOO: Illinois at Providence, 7:00 p.m. (FS1)

Look, you don’t pass up any opportunity to watch Providence’s Kris Dunn do his thing at the point; he’s appointment television. Tonight’s matchup with the Fighting Illini should be interesting, as John Groce’s team has faced two solid opponents in North Florida (loss) and North Dakota State (win). Mike Thorne Jr. has played well thus far, and Illinois has junior wing Malcolm Hill as well. They aren’t at full strength, but Illinois has the pieces to challenge the Friars if not leave Providence with the win.

SIX THINGS TO WATCH FOR:

1. Top-ranked North Carolina is back in action, as they’ll host Wofford in Chapel Hill (7:00 p.m., ESPN3). Guards Joel Berry II, Nate Britt and wing Theo Pinson have gotten off to good starts, but it would be nice to see UNC get Justin Jackson going after two quiet outings to begin his sophomore campaign.

2. After having their season-opening game in Okinawa cancelled after one half of basketball, No. 10 Gonzaga opens its season at home against Northern Arizona (10:00 p.m.). How the Bulldog guards deal with NAU’s Kris Yanku will be interesting to watch, not to mention how Mark Few uses the triumvirate of Kyle Wiltjer, Przemek Karnowski and Domas Sabonis on the court at the same time.

3. No. 21 Purdue will look to win its third straight game, as they host Incarnate Word (7:00 p.m., ESPN3). Will senior center A.J. Hammons, who’s been held out of Purdue’s exhibition and first two regular season games for unspecified reasons, be available to play? If so, this is a good opportunity to see how head coach Matt Painter will juggle the rotation of Hammons, Isaac Haas and Caleb Swanigan.

4. What has been a tough day for Arkansas on the recruiting front could be even tougher tonight, as the Razorback host 2-0 Akron in Fayetteville (8:00 p.m., SEC+). Moses Kingsley accounted for 22 points, 12 rebounds and five blocks in the Hogs’ season-opening win, and he’ll have to be a force throughout the season given Arkansas’ limited front court options.

5. Cincinnati, which has won its first two games in blowout fashion, hits the road to take on Bowling Green (7:00 p.m., ESPN3). Mick Cronin’s Bearcats are a team to keep an eye on this season, not only in the American Athletic Conference but nationally as well.

6. Just a couple days removed from picking up a win at rival New Mexico State, New Mexico hosts Loyola-Chicago (9:00 p.m.) in what should be an entertaining matchup. While UNM’s Cullen Neal and Loyola’s Milton Doyle are two players to watch so is UNM guard Elijah Brown, who won Mountain West Player of the Week honors after scoring 31 points Sunday night.

OTHER NOTABLE GAMES

  • UC Irvine at UCF, 7:00 p.m.
  • IUPUI at NC State, 7:00 p.m.
  • Buffalo at Saint Joseph’s, 7:00 p.m.
  • Southern Utah at UNLV, 10:30 p.m.

NBCSports.com’s Preseason All-Defensive Teams

Chasson Randle, Gary Payton II
Associated Press
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“Offense sells tickets, but defense wins championships.”

Whether or not you agree with the statement made by the late Paul “Bear” Bryant, there’s no denying the importance of defense when it comes to winning games. Teams can score as much as they want, but if they can’t get stops on the other end they’ll be in trouble. Ahead of the start of the 2015-16 season, we’ve put together our picks for the best defensive players in the country. Some will be shot blockers and others masters of the steal, and there will be a couple strong positional defenders as well.

Who’d we miss? Who should they replace? Feel free to leave your answers below.

FIRST TEAM ALL-DEFENSE

G Kris Dunn, Providence
As a redshirt sophomore the 6-foot-4 Dunn averaged 2.7 steals per game, with his length and athleticism allowing the national Player of the Year candidate to make life difficult for opposing point guards. He can be a bit of a gambler at times, but overall he’s a very difficult matchup at a position where many point guards hover around the 6-foot mark.

G Ron Baker, Wichita State
If you don’t know Baker’s résumé by now, that’s on you. Baker is one of the nation’s top on-ball defenders, keeping his man out of the paint while also challenging scoring opportunities on the perimeter. As a junior Baker led the Shockers in both defensive rebounds (157) and blocked shots (27).

G Gary Payton II, Oregon State
Payton’s selection as Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year was a controversial one, with many believing that Arizona’s Rondae Hollis-Jefferson should have been the choice. But neither that nor the fact that Oregon State relied on a matchup zone to mask its lack of depth should not overshadow the impact “The Mitten” had defensively as he led the Beavers in steals (95) and was second in blocks (39).

F Hassan Martin, Rhode Island
The 6-foot-7 Martin became just the second player in URI history to record 100 blocks or more in a season, tallying 103 (3.1 bpg). The Staten Island native is also a good rebounder (7.7 rpg), and his length and athleticism allow Martin to play “bigger” than his height in the paint.

C Amida Brimah, Connecticut
The 7-footer from Ghana led the nation in blocked shots a season ago, recording 121 which was good for an average of 3.46 rejections per game (second nationally). Having a rim protector the caliber of Brimah helps teams be more active on the perimeter, as they have a big man capable of cleaning up mistakes.

Kentucky's Tyler Ulis (Michael Chang/Getty Images)
Kentucky’s Tyler Ulis (Michael Chang/Getty Images)

SECOND TEAM ALL-DEFENSE

G Tyler Ulis, Kentucky
The 5-foot-9 Ulis is an absolute pest defensively, thanks to a combination of effort and quickness. Ulis played in a reserve role last season, which somewhat explains the average of just one steal per game. But defending isn’t all about impressive stats, and with Kentucky’s shot blockers Ulis can afford to be aggressive in defending the ball. We’re betting that his reputation grows in this area in 2015-16.

G Malcolm Brogdon, Virginia
Virginia’s pack line defense doesn’t lend itself to eye-popping individual stats. But that shouldn’t be used as a reason to overlook what the fifth-year senior does on the defensive end of the floor. One of the top players in the country, the 6-foot-5 Brogdon was also named to the ACC’s All-Defensive Team in 2014-15.

G Rapheal Davis, Purdue
Last season the Boilermakers’ team leader was named Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, winning the honor despite finishing the year with eight blocks and 28 steals. He isn’t going to dominate those statistical areas, but that doesn’t mask his ability to make life difficult for whoever head coach Matt Painter asks him to guard (usually the opponent’s best perimeter player).

F Skylar Spencer, San Diego State
Spencer is the rim protector on one of the nation’s best defenses, averaging 2.5 blocks per game as a junior. The 6-foot-10 Spencer finished the year with an individual block percentage of 12.7 per Ken Pomeroy’s numbers, a figure that ranked seventh nationally. Teams don’t get many chances to penetrate the SDSU defense, and once in the paint Spencer serves as quite the deterrent.

C Vashil Fernandez, Valparaiso
Fernandez receiving his fourth year of eligibility was a big boost to a program expected to make a return trip to the NCAA tournament. Last season the 6-foot-10 center earned Horizon League Defensive Player of the Year honors, as he ranked 11th in the country with an average of 2.9 blocks per game and sixth in block percentage (13.0).

Also considered: Anthony Gill (Virginia), A.J. Hammons (Purdue), Buddy Hield (Oklahoma), Brice Johnson (North Carolina), Jameel McKay (Iowa State), A.J. West (Nevada)

Big East Preview: Is there a real challenger to Villanova?

AP
AP Photo
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Beginning in October and running up through November 13th, the first day of the regular season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2015-2016 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Today, we are previewing the Big East Conference.

The Big East Conference landed six teams in the NCAA tournament last season. The Big East might not replicate that number come Selection Sunday, but the 10-league members should make for another unpredictable season.

Villanova should be the unanimous preseason pick, given what the Wildcats have accomplished over the past two years (two regular season titles and the 2015 Big East Tournament championship) and the key pieces they bring back, inclduding Ryan Arcidiacono, Daniel Ochefu and Josh Hart. Georgetown, Butler and Xavier should all pose as Villanova’s biggest competition, though the order in which they finish is up for debate.

The same could be said for the rest of the conference. St. John’s is likely out of the mix following a massive roster overhaul, but Nos. 5-9 could end up in a variety of ways.

FIVE THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW:

1. Kris Dunn spurned NBA: Kris Dunn could have been a lottery pick in the 2015 NBA Draft, but choose to return to Providence for his junior season. This is a gamble on Dunn’s part, given the recurring shoulder injury that plagued his first two seasons. But with the return of Dunn, arguably the top player in college basketball, the Friars eye an NCAA tournament for the third time in as many seasons, instead of focusing on a rebuilding year.

MORE: How Kris Dunn attacked the weaknesses in his game

2. Villanova postseason cut short again: In 2014, Villanova, a No. 2 seed, was upset by eventual champion UConn in the Round 0f 32. This past March, the Wildcats validated critics who believed that they were unworthy of a No. 1 seed, exiting the tournament in the Round of 32 again, this time at the hands of No. 8 N.C. State. Jay Wright led the Wildcats to the Final Four in 2009. In five tournament appearances since, Villanova hasn’t gotten out of the first weekend. Villanova can prove its among the top programs in the country with non-conference matchups against Oklahoma and Virginia, but it won’t matter unless NCAA tournament success follows.

3. Chris Mullin returns: After five seasons, St. John’s and Steve Lavin decided to part ways. This paved the way for a Chris Mullin homecoming. The Brooklyn native led the Johnnies to the 1985 Final Four before enjoying a Hall of Fame career as a player. Since retiring, he’s worked as both a broadcaster and in NBA front office’s but he returns to his alma mater with zero coaching experience. He inherits a team that lost its entire rotation, but Mullin has made tremendous strides in his first few months as a head coach, surrounding himself with talented recruiters, who have overhauled the roster and helped land a pair of four-star recruits.

4. Impact freshmen: The two highest-rated recruits entering the league is Marquette’s Henry Ellenson and Villanova’s Jalen Brunson. Both five-star prospects are expected to make immediate impact. This summer offered a glimpse of what to expect this season, with Ellenson putting up big numbers on Marquette’s European tour and Brunson leading USA Basketball to a gold medal in the FIBA U19 World Championships in Greece. Brunson averaged 14.0 points and 5.6 assists per game, earning MVP honors.

5. NBA Draft: For the first time in Big East history (dating back to 1979, not 2013), no player was selected in the first round of the NBA Draft. In all likelihood, that will change this June, as Kris Dunn and Henry Ellenson are both projected as lottery picks.

MORE: 2015-16 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

COACH’S TAKE:

  • Favorite: “I’d say Villanova. They’ve dominated our league. They’ve been the standard the last two years. They have a lot of guys back, a lot of experience, very, very good guard play. They can all shoot and drive. They’re all very good defensively, too.”
  • Sleeper: “I think Marquette has a chance to be a sleeper. I think Woj has done a really good job of upgrading the talent in the last year. They return just enough guys and I think he has some really good freshmen to help elevate them to the upper part of the league.”
  • Best player
    • “You obviously have to start with Kris Dunn … Ryan Arcidiacono as well. Those two guys headline our league. [Dunn] impacts the game on both ends of the floor. He’s a two-way player. He’s a phenomenal defender. At the other end, he’s just really hard to keep out of the lane. Arcidiacono stays more within himself. He can really shoot the ball, makes the right play, tough guy. He does a great job.”
    • “I think Arcidiacono is the best player … He’s truly a quarterback in that system. He makes average players very, very good and he pulls that team together. He’s an extension of Jay [Wright]. I’m probably a rare guy, but I think Arch is the best player.”
  • Most underrated player
    • “I think Daniel Ochefu is very undervalued. Obviously, he’s 6-foot-11, but he’s so mobile and he’s an extremely good defender around the rim and in ball-screen defense. Then he can score on the other end.”
    • “Roosevelt Jones. I think people talk about him, but I don’t think he gets the credit he deserves. For not being able to shoot the ball, he’s extremely talented. He understands his role. He’s one of those guys that makes a team click.”
Kris Dunn (AP Photo)
Kris Dunn (AP Photo)

PRESEASON BIG EAST PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Kris Dunn, Providence

Dunn is a candidate for Preseason National Player of the Year honors, so it’s no surprise that he should be the runaway selection to repeat as Big East Player of the Year after he shared the honors last season. The 6-foot-3 Dunn, in his first full season, posted posted 15.6 points, 7.5 assists, 5.5 rebounds and 2.7 steals per game as a redshirt sophomore. As opposing coaches mentioned above, he impacts the game on both ends of the floor, probably more so than anyone else in the country.

THE REST OF THE BIG EAST FIRST TEAM:

  • Ryan Arcidiacono, Villanova: The experienced lead guard who shared Big East co-Player of the Year honors with Dunn last season, anchors the conference’s top perimeter attack, which includes Josh Hart, Jalen Brunson and Phil Booth. Arcidiacono averaged 10.1 points and 3.5 assists per game and shot a career-best 37 percent from three.
  • Henry Ellenson, Marquette: The five-star recruit, rated No. 11 player in the class by Rivals, is the highest-rated prospect entering the Big East. The projected lottery pick will make up one of the top front courts playing alongside Luke Fischer.
  • Roosevelt Jones, Butler: His old-school game helped the Bulldogs turnaround the program’s first losing season in nine years. The 6-foot-4 redshirt junior, who missed the 2013-14 season due to a wrist injury, led the team in assists at 3.7 per game and added another scoring option, putting up points using his arsenal of unorthodox runners.
  • D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera, Georgetown: The key piece on a team loaded with talented underclassmen, the 6-foot-3 Smith-Rivera did it all for the Hoyas last season. The first-team all-conference selection averaged 16.3 points, 4.2 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 1.6 steals per game.

FIVE MORE NAMES TO KNOW:

  • Trevon Bluiett, Xavier
  • Kellen Dunham, Butler
  • Billy Garrett Jr., DePaul
  • Daniel Ochefu, Villanova
  • Isaiah Whitehead, Seton Hall

BREAKOUT STAR: Jalen Reynolds, Xavier

There are several players that could fit this category (Georgetown’s Isaac Copleand or Providence’s Ben Bentil ), but Jalen Reynolds has the ability to put up an all-Big East caliber season for the Musketeers. The 6-foot-10 forward, who plays with the attitude that he can dunk everything, may be the most athletically gifted player in the conference. He averaged 9.9 points and 6.1 boards per game as a sophomore and had two strong showings in Xavier’s Sweet 16 run.

COACH UNDER PRESSURE: Kevin Willard, Seton Hall

In five seasons, Willard is 30-60 in conference, taking the Pirates to only one postseason appearance (2012 NIT). Willard is also coming off a season of highs and lows. The highs being back-to-back wins over Villanova and St. John’s to propel the Pirates in to the top-25 rankings. The lows: a 1-9 finish and the departures of starters Sterling Gibbs and Jaren Sina.

ON SELECTION SUNDAY WE’LL BE SAYING … : Can someone make run in March?

Through the first two years of the Big East relaunch, only one team has made it past the first weekend of the NCAA tournament. That was Xavier this past March, reaching the Sweet 16 by defeating No. 11 Ole Miss and No. 14 Georgia State.

Questions of the league’s strength will continue as long as postseason struggles do.

I’M MOST EXCITED ABOUT : The Gavitt Tipoff Games

Named in honor of the Big East founder, Dave Gavitt, the Big East and Big Ten will play eight games throughout the first week of the season. Kicking off slate of non-conference matchups is Georgetown traveling College Park to take on Maryland. The two teams haven’t played locally since 1993. The Terrapins host the Hoyas on Nov. 17.

FIVE NON-CONFERENCE GAMES TO CIRCLE ON YOUR CALENDAR:

  • Nov. 17, Georgetown vs. Maryland
  • Nov. 20, Xavier vs. Michigan
  • Dec. 7, Oklahoma vs. Villanova (in Honolulu)
  • Dec. 5, Syracuse vs. Georgetown
  • Dec. 19, Villanova vs. Virginia

ONE TWITTER FEED TO FOLLOW: @BigEastMBB

PREDICTED FINISH

1. Villanova: The conference’s most efficient offense and defense, returns a core of last year’s team. With deep guard play and a big man in the middle, Jay Wright’s team should expect to be back to the top spot in the Big East standings.
2. Georgetown: John Thompson III will rely on up to seven freshmen and sophomores. Isaac Copeland, L.J. Peak, Paul White and Tre Campbell were all part of the rotation as freshmen. First-year big men Jessie Govan and Marcus Derrickson both had impressive outings in the Hoyas’ summer trip. The return of D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera will Georgetown as the underclassmen develop over the course of the season.
3. Butler: It seems odd: a former McDonald’s All-American needing to fill the shoes left behind by a walk-on. But that’s the position Tyler Lewis finds himself in, replacing beloved Alex Barlow. The N.C. State transfer joins the veteran perimeter of sharpshooter Kellen Dunham and wing Roosevelt Jones. Like Villanova, Butler lacks depth up front, but third-year starter Andrew Chrabascz is a solid piece to have on the interior.
4. Xavier: Trevon Blueitt and Jalen Reynolds are poised for breakout years, but the Musketeers must combat the loss of both point guards, Dee Davis and Matt Stainbrook (yes, 6-foot-10 Matt Stainbrook). That point guard duties will fall on the committee of Larry Austin Jr., Myles Davis and Edmond Sumner, a 6-foot-5 freshman who sat out last season. There is still enough talent on the roster for another NCAA tournament appearance for Chris Mack.
5. Providence: Kris Dunn’s return is what keeps the Friars in the top half of the league to begin the season, but players like Ben Bentil and Jalen Lindsey will need to take major steps forward in their sophomore seasons in order for PC to still be there in February/March.
6. Marquette: The trendy pick as the dark horse in the Big East, the Golden Eagles could be in for a big turnaround in the Wojo’s second year. Henry Ellenson and Luke Fischer make for a good tandem on the frontline, while Traci Carter and Haanif Cheatham are other freshman to watch, playing alongside Duane Wilson in the back court.
7. Seton Hall: The Pirates are a dangerous team despite a dismal end to last season. Isaiah Whitehead, Angel Delgado and Khadeen Carrington all gained valuable experience as freshmen. Seton Hall will need contributions from players like Desi Rodriguez, another sophomore, and graduate transfers Braeden Anderson and Derrick Gordon if it wants to do more than pull off a few upsets.
8. Creighton: Seven of Creighton’s 14 conference losses came by five points or less, helping contribute to a last-place finish a season ago. Transfers Maurice Watson Jr. and Cole Huff should make an immediate impact alongside cast of returnees that includes James Milliken, Toby Hegner and Geoffrey Groselle. The Bluejays certainly got better, but is it enough to climb into the middle of the pack?
9. DePaul: Although the Blue Demons are slotted second from the bottom, this could be the team to surprise many this season. They return Billy Garrett Jr., Myke Henry and Tommy Hamilton IV, three double-digit scorers from last season.
10. St. John’s: Chris Mullin has covered a lot of ground since March, but the loss of last year’s entire rotation puts the Red Storm in the cellar for Year 1.