Looking Forward: Here’s what the Big East has in store for the 2016-17 season

(AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
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The NBA Draft’s Early Entry Deadline has come and gone. Just about every elite recruit has decided where they will be playing their college ball next season. The coaching carousel, which ended up spinning a bit faster than initially expected, has come to a close for all of the major programs. 

In other words, by now, we have a pretty good feel for what college basketball is going to look like during the 2016-17 season. With that in mind, let’s take a look at what has happened — and what will happen — in the Big East over the next six months. 

KEY OFFSEASON STORYLINES

  1. Villanova’s roster: The defending champions are waiting on the NBA Draft decision of shooting guard Josh Hart. The do-it-all starter is one of the Big East’s best players and perhaps the country’s most underrated college basketball player, but he’s still going through the pro process. If Villanova gets Hart back, they’re in position to be the defending champion with the best chance of repeating since Florida won back-to-back titles a decade ago.  
  2. Decisions of Bentil, Blueitt and Whitehead: Three more Big East stars — Providence sophomore forward Ben Bentil, Xavier sophomore wing Trevon Blueitt and Seton Hall sophomore guard Isaiah Whitehead — are also going through the NBA Draft process and need to decide their futures in the next few weeks. With those players returning Providence and Seton Hall could be respectable while Xavier would be a top 15-caliber team. Without them, it will be interesting to see how each program adjusts to missing a go-to scorer.
  3. Does a third-place team emerge: Villanova and Xavier are two clear-cut top-25 teams this 2016-17 preseason, so the big question becomes who is third place in preseason in the Big East? The answer could be Creighton, which boasts one of the best backcourts in the country in Maurice Watson and Marcus Foster. Both guards are transfers, with Watson (Boston) performing well for the Bluejays in his debut junior season while Foster (Kansas State) will be a junior after sitting out. With wing Cole Huff sliding to a more natural role, Creighton could be a dangerous team.
  4. What is the new perception of this league: Before last season, the country was very down on the Big East since the “new” version hadn’t achieved much postseason success. Now with Villanova making a title run and Xavier cracking the top five last season, how will people look at the conference? The Big East has always had a national television deal and multi-million dollar coaching salaries, but will public perception and recruiting take an uptick now that the league has a champion?

NOTABLE NEWCOMERS

  • Marcus Foster, Creighton: Joining all-league point guard Mo Watson will be Kansas State transfer Marcus Foster, who will look to regain his freshman-year form after sitting out this past season. The 6-foot-3 Foster can be tough to stop and he has been a double-figure scorer both seasons.
  • Shamorie Ponds, St. John’s: The Red Storm have been waiting for a player like Ponds to stay home and this four-star recruit can flat-out get buckets. The 6-foot-0 Ponds should be exciting to watch, and paired with redshirt freshman Marcus LoVett, St. John’s has a legitimate backcourt next season.
  • Rodney Pryor, Georgetown: With the loss of D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera, the Hoyas needed some pop from the wing and they’ll get that from the 6-foot-5 Pryor, who averaged 18.0 points and 8.0 rebounds per game for Robert Morris last season.
  • Omari Spellman, Villanova: It will be tough for Villanova to replace senior center and starter Daniel Ochefu, but they’re bringing in a tough interior presence in five-star center Omari Spellman. The 6-foot-9, 280-pound Spellman is massive, but also skilled enough to hit some jumpers and handle some post touches.

SURPRISING DEPARTURES

  • Jalen Reynolds, Xavier: This isn’t all that surprising, considering Reynolds is already 23 years old, but he has already signed with an agent, making him a professional no matter what. Now Xavier has to retool its frontcourt with James Farr and Reynolds.

WAY-TOO-EARLY ALL-CONFERENCE PREDICTIONS

Josh Hart (Villanova): Player of the Year
Ben Bentil (Providence)
Edmond Sumner (Xavier)
Maurice Watson (Creighton)
Kris Jenkins (Villanova)

WAY-TOO-EARLY POWER RANKINGS, IN TWEETS

  1. Villanova: The defending champions will have Brunson, Booth, Bridges and Jenkins back at the very least along with 5-star center Omari Spellman.
  2. Xavier: A new frontcourt will be interesting to check out, but there is still plenty of talent here for a major push in the rankings.
  3. Creighton: Watson and Foster will be very dangerous and the Bluejays were no pushover last season.
  4. Georgetown: The Hoyas should be healthier this season and picked up Robert Morris grad transfer Rodney Pryor. Bradley Hayes and Paul White return.
  5. Butler: It’ll be weird to see Butler without Roosevelt Jones and Kellen Dunham, but Kelan Martin was solid this year and this roster is still pretty balanced.
  6. Seton Hall: Even if Whitehead jets for the NBA, Pirates have some talented pieces from that class along with some solid freshmen.
  7. Marquette: The Ellensons have moved on, but Marquette has some intriguing guard options and picked up Katin Reinhardt as a graduate transfer.
  8. Providence: The post-Kris Dunn (and possibly Ben Bentil?) era begins as Ed Cooley tries to find new go-to pieces.
  9. St. John’s: The backcourt of Ponds and LoVett will be fun to watch but it remains to be seen how rest of the roster looks.
  10. DePaul: Another rebuilding year as head coach Dave Leitao brings in a lot of new pieces. Eli Cain is intriguing, but team needs more help.