Howard is averaging 26 points per game after scoring 40 against Davidson in the opener of the Orlando Invitational last week and following it up with a 51-point performance against USC. In the final game of the event, though, Howard was just 1 of 12 from the floor and 0-6 from 3-point range as the Golden Eagles took a 21-point loss to then-No. 5 Maryland.
There was no immediate timetable for Howard’s condition provided by Marquette. Expect coach Steve Wojciechowski to address the situation later Wednesday.
Marquette plays at Kansas State on Saturday ahead of three-straight home games against mid-major competition before Big East play begins New Year’s Day at Creighton.
Wednesday’s Things to Know: Buckeye guards star; Marquette rallies; LSU loses to VCU
There were top-25 teams in action, the Gavitt Games rolled on and there was something of an awkward homecoming in Richmond.
Here are the most important things you need to know from the action around the country Wednesday.
Ohio State’s guards can elevate the Buckeyes
When we talk about Ohio State, we inevitably start with the Buckeyes’ frontcourt. And with good reason. Kaleb Wesson is a hulking 6-foot-9, 270-pound throwback double-double machine. He’s the type of player we just don’t see as often anymore up front, and as such, few teams have a true counter for him.
What we saw Wednesday in the Buckeyes’ 76-51 dismantling of Villanova, though, was that Chris Holtmann’s guards might hold the key to success in Columbus this season. If nothing else, they certainly opened a lot of eyes against the Wildcats.
Duane Washington Jr (14), Luther Muhammad (11), D.J. Carter (11) and CJ Walker (10) all scored in double-figures while Walker had seven assists, Washington had five rebounds and Carton had five rebounds and five assists. That’s on top of Wesson doing Wesson things like recording 10 points, 11 rebounds, four blocks and three assists.
If the Buckeyes’ guards can give them this kind of production, it’s really not much of a leap to consider this team a serious threat to Michigan State in the Big Ten, and maybe even a bigger contender nationally than we’ve given them credit for this preseason. The team that took apart Villanova on Wednesday night looked like a team that could make it to Atlanta in April. It was that complete a performance.
It’s easy to draw a line from this Ohio State performance against Villanova to Michigan’s last year against Jay Wright’s team, which took a 27-point L to John Beilein last November. The ‘Cats ultimately bounced back and found their stride, but that lopsided result probably said more about how good that Wolverines team was as they eventually went on to secure a 2-seed in the NCAA tournament.
Can the Buckeyes replicate that path? That question is probably best answered with another – can their guards replicate the night they had against Villanova?
Marquette erases 18-point deficit to beat Purdue
Marquette is one of the country’s biggest question marks. There were a few fleeting moments last spring when they looked like a national title contender when Markus Howard decided to return to school, but the Golden Eagles were flung into the “mystery” category after the Hauser brothers decided to bolt, leaving Marquette with an interesting albeit uncertain roster.
Steve Wojciechowski’s team looked like it answered some questions Wednesday, coming from 18 behind to defeat Purdue, 65-55, in Milwaukee.
Howard was his dynamic self with 18 points, four rebounds and three assists on 6 of 12 shooting, but it was the play of Kobe McEwen that is perhaps the most promising. The Utah State transfer went for 23 points, five rebounds, four assists and a steal to help Marquette claw back and win the game.
Marquette needs McEwen to be that productive this season as an offensive second option as defenses do everything they can to try to bottle up Howard. If McEwen can not only be a viable No. 2 but make teams truly pay for throwing the kitchen sink at Howard defensively, Marquette can be closer to that upper-echelon Big East team we thought they might be last spring rather than the enigma they became this summer.
Purdue, meanwhile, saw its offense implode, shooting 33.9 percent from the floor and 25 percent from 3-point range. Given the departures from last year’s team, offense is understandably a work in progress, though that progression looked stalled in a second half in which Matt Painter’s team scored just 17 points – while buckling defensively, giving up 40 to Marquette.
Will Wade loses to his former school
As a program that sends many of its coaches on to bigger stages and brighter lights, VCU has figured out quite a few ways to make their status as a stepping stone to their advantage. First off, it’s an attractive job for talented coaches because of the track record. A smaller, but interesting, way the Rams have maneuvered is to work into the coaches’ contract that if they leave for another gig, they have to bring that team back to Richmond.
That’s why LSU and Will Wade were in town Wednesday, taking a 84-82 loss. If they hadn’t, Wade would have owed VCU $250,000.
That bit of info turned out to be at least a little funny, given that a few VCU students dressed up as FBI agents as an allusion to reports that Wade was caught on a wiretap discussing a “strong-ass offer” to a recruit as part of the federal government’s investigation into corruption into college basketball.
VCU fans aren't holding back on Will Wade and LSU. 😂
Dressed as FBI agents, they're right at the end of the bench harping on Wade's part in the FBI scandal. pic.twitter.com/FlPX5YjERU
Here’s guessing Wade and LSU get plenty of this treatment throughout the season, though it’s probably worth noting the Tigers made it to the Sweet 16 last year amid the controversy and Wade hasn’t missed a beat on the recruiting trail – they inked five-star Trendon Watford last May – so whatever lingering controversy there may be probably isn’t going to be too bothersome to them.
Big East Season Preview: Power Rankings, Preseason Awards and the year of the gunner
Beginning in September and running up until November 6th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2019-20 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.
Today, we are previewing the Big East Conference.
This will be the last season of the Big East in its reconstituted form since its basketball-focused members broke away in 2013 with Connecticut set to (re-)enter the conference next season. That should make the league stronger and deeper while adding to the east-coast membership that made the league great to begin with.
That’s all for next year, though.
This season, Villanova looks formidable once again, but not the heavy favorite it has been previously with Seton Hall and Xavier looking like real competitors while Marquette, Georgetown, Providence and Creighton all lurking threats.
FIVE THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW
1. Villanova isn’t going anywhere
The losses of Phil Booth and Eric Paschall are significant, but, when looking at recent Villanova history, it isn’t exactly the most daunting reloading task Jay Wright has faced and conquered, right? The Wildcats have the benefit of a solid core returning with point guard Collin Gillispie flanked by Saddiq Bey, Jermaine Samuels, Cole Swider and Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree all back after helping Wright to another Big East title.
That group will be joined by a top-five recruiting class that may help create the separation Villanova will be looking for with a league trying once again to knock them off. Jeremiah Robinson-Earl is a top-15 prospect in 2019, and the 6-foot-8 forward is already creating buzz around Philadelphia. Bryan Antoine is another five-star prospect, but the timing of his availability is in question. Justin Moore and Eric Dixon, a pair of four-stars, round out the class. Don’t forget about Brandon Slater, either. He’s a former top-50 prospect who didn’t see much time last year, but could see a bigger role this season.
The Wildcats may be more reliant on youth than Wright would like, but a legitimate experienced foundation should help augment that green talent.
2. Marquette went from national title contender to something else
Marquette is probably going to be fine this year. The Golden Eagles might even be pretty good. They won’t be, however, the top-five, national-title contending squad we all thought they’d be for the better part of a whole weekend back in April after Markus Howard announced he’d return to Milwaukee on a Friday and before Sam and Joey Hauser announced they were hightailing it out of there on Monday.
So Marquette isn’t going to be as good as we thought they might have a chance at being. Coach Steve Wojciechowski, though, does have a damn interesting group. Markus Howard already took a bazillion shots – making a nice percentage of them – so what happens without the Hausers? Utah State transfer Koby McEwen is a nice addition who should help offensively while Theo John and Sacar Anim are proven Big East contributors. Symir Torrence was a top-50 recruit in 2020 before reclassifying to join Marquette for this season.
Any team with Howard is going to be interesting – he’s incredibly fun to watch – and competitive, and Marquette certainly has more than just the 5-foot-11 dynamo. Wojo’s team doesn’t have the ceiling they had for those fleeting April hours, but they’re going to be a great overcoming adversity story.
Or a disappointing what-if.
3. Seton Hall brings everybody back
So there are two ways to look at Seton Hall.
The optimistic version goes like this: Coach Kevin Willard returns essentially his entire roster, including All-American candidate Myles Powell, from a 20-game winner that was a 10-seed in the NCAA tournament, and with the talent and cohesiveness that continuity brings, the Pirates should make a considerable jump, maybe to even something like a top-10 team.
The pessimistic version: Willard returns essentially his entire roster, including All-American candidate Myles Powell, from a 20-game winner that was a 10-seed in the NCAA tournament, and given most of those players are now upperclassmen, they’re already pretty close to their ceiling. They’ll be improved, sure, but expectations that they’ll take a giant leap are overly rosey.
The verdict: Powell is awesome, Willard can coach and the supporting cast is strong. Seton Hall will be legit.
4. Xavier looking to build on strong finish
Travis Steele’s tenure as Xavier’s coach began with a 3-8 Big East record. That first season finished with six wins in the last seven regular season games plus one win in each the Big East tourney and the NIT. The momentum continued into the offseason when Naji Marshall, Quentin Goodin, Tyrique Jones and Paul Scruggs all went through the predraft process only to ultimately decide to return to the Queen City and Steele’s program.
That gives Xavier the look of a true threat to the rest of the Big East. Adding Ohio transfer Jason Carter also allows for Marshall, who averaged 15 & 7 last year, to slide from power forward to the three, which is more his natural position. The Musketeers also added Western Michigan’s Bryce Moore for some backcourt depth.
5. The bottom could lag far behind the rest
Mustapha Heron and LJ. Figueroa are nice pieces for Mike Anderson as he takes over St. John’s after Chris Mullin’s misfire tenure in Queens, but they’re surrounded by mostly newcomers on the rest of the roster. DePaul lost its three leading scorers, but Charlie Moore is immediately eligible after stops at Cal and Kansas and Dave Leitao is bringing in a solid recruiting class. Still, it doesn’t look like a roster capable of inflicting a lot of fear in the conference. The Red Storm and Blue Demons looks destined for the last two spots in the standings by a significant margin.
The question will be does Butler join them or elevate into the world of NCAA tourney-hopefuls? Kamar Baldwin’s continued presence in Indianapolis weighs heavy in the Bulldogs’ favor, but how good is the supporting cast? There are some interesting options in Jordan Tucker, Aaron Thompson, Derrik Smits, Sean McDermott and Bryce Nze, but when you look around the rest of the league, does that measure up?
PRESEASON BIG EAST PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Markus Howard, Marquette
This was an agonizing decision between two dynamic guards in Howard and Seton Hall’s Myles Powell. Both are, obviously, great college players who can absolutely fill it up. I was tempted to go with co-players of the year, but ties are boring and we all gotta pick a side, right? Howard gets the nod here with the slightest of edges. Both are extremely high-usage (Howard moreso) and pure shooters (Howard is great from 3; Powell nearer the basket), but Howard is a significantly more proficient distributor, with an assist rate of 27.2 last year compared to 18.4 for Powell.
Howard has an interesting season ahead of him with, crazy as it may be for a guy who took 38 percent of his team’s shots while he was on the floor in Big East play, perhaps an even bigger offensive burden with the transfer of the Hausers. How he navigates that will be the biggest determinant of where Marquette’s season goes.
THE REST OF THE BIG EAST FIRST TEAM
MYLES POWELL, Seton Hall: The best player on what may prove to be the Big East’s best team and maybe the best player in the league.
ALPHA DIALLO, Providence: A potential All-American candidate, Diallo is a major matchup problem.
NAJI MARSHALL, Xavier: The 6-foot-7 junior averaged 15 points and seven rebounds last year.
TY-SHON ALEXANDER, Creighton`: After averaging 15 points as a sophomore, Alexander is in line for a huge junior campaign.
FIVE MORE NAMES TO KNOW
KAMAR BALDWIN, Butler
OMER YURTSEVEN, Georgetown
JAMES AKINJO, Georgetown
MUSTAPHA HERON, St. John’s
JEREMIAH ROBINSON-EARL, Villanova
BREAKOUT STAR: Saddiq Bey, Villanova
Jay Wright a top-10 recruiting class in 2018 with a five-star prospect, two four-stars and a three-star. That lowest-rated recruit, Saddiq Bey, turned in a wildly productive and important freshman season for the Wildcats as a 29-game starter. With Booth and Paschall vacating the lineup, Bey looks to step into a much larger role as a sophomore.
COACH UNDER PRESSURE: Is there one?
You would think DePaul would be seriously reconsidering its reunion with Dave Leitao, who has gone 48-72 overall and 16-56 in the Big East in his second stint in Chicago, but the Blue Demons are reportedly spending this fall in negotiations to extend him a few more years. So, apparently, DePaul is cool how Leitao is guiding the program, which has gone to two NCAA tourneys in the last 27 years. Get excited, Chicago.
The more interesting name to consider is Marquette’s Steve Wojciechowski, who has gone to two NCAA tournaments in five seasons, but has yet to win a game there and saw last year’s team implode down the stretch before watching Sam and Joey Hauser, his second- and third-best players, walk in April. Marquette, though, seemingly decided to halt this discussion before it started with an extension through 2024 that looks to send a signal that they’re content with the trajectory on which Wojo has has the Golden Eagles pointed.
While obviously under no pressure for their job security, Butler’s LaVall Jordan and Xavier’s Travis Steele share a certain kind of pressure as the perception of both of their tenures will be heavily weighted by this season. Both took over for hugely successful coaches in programs both used to winning and producing some of the coaching profession’s elite practitioners, and neither did much to reinforce the legacy last year. Jordan and Steele are both well-regarded by their peers and have the pieces to have interesting teams this season.
ON SELECTION SUNDAY WE’LL BE SAYING …
At least half of the conference makes the NCAA tournament cut, with maybe even a sixth and aspirationally a seventh also in the fold.
FIVE NON-CONFERENCE GAMES TO CIRCLE ON YOUR CALENDAR
Dec. 21, Villanova vs. Kansas
Nov. 14, Seton Hall vs. Michigan State
Dec. 14, Georgetown vs. Syracuse
Dec. 17, Providence vs. Florida
Dec. 7, Xavier vs. Cincinnati
1. VILLANOVA: The Wildcats have clear question marks, but it seems silly, especially after last season (or maybe the two national titles), to think Jay Wright can’t answer them well enough to get the most of his talent and the best of the league. Villanova will face real threats to the crown, but it’s experience, influx of talent and the man on the bench should be enough to finish on top.
2. SETON HALL: Myles Powell is going to start the season on some All-American lists, and the talent around him make the Pirates a preseason top-15 squad. They’ll likely have to at least live up to that billing if they’re going to have a shot at dethroning Villanova.
3. MARQUETTE: This might be too high for the Golden Eagles given the turmoil of the offseason, but there’s a lot more here than just Markus Howard after the Hauser brothers’ departures. Assuming Howard is as unassailable a scorer as he was last year – and maybe more so – Wojo might just have enough additional firepower to keep Marquette near the top of the league, if not the national polls.
4. CREIGHTON: Ty-Shon Alexander had a quietly fantastic sophomore season, and could be in line for a major breakout as a junior in Greg McDermott’s offense, which has been consistently really good even after his National Player of the Year son Doug’s departure from Omaha. If the defense can keep pace, the Bluejays could be in for quite a year.
5. XAVIER: The Musketeers looked primed to continue the trend line they started with strong finish to last season. Naji Marshall leads the group, and there’s more than enough around him to think that Xavier is back in the Big Dance after a one-year hiatus for a program not accustomed to spending March without an invite.
6. GEORGETOWN: Patrick Ewing appears to have his alma mater on the cusp of returning to, if not its former glory, the NCAA tournament. James Akinjo and Mac McClung were one of the more fun backcourts in the conference last year, and now their challenge is to go from entertaining to productive at a high level. The loss of Jessie Govan stings, but N.C. State transfer Omer Yurtseven could be an overall upgrade at center. The Hoyas also get Josh LeBlanc back after a solid freshman season.
Ewing has upgraded the roster in a hurry, and he’s finally upgraded the schedule as well, with a non-conference slate that will not only test his still-young Hoyas, but, if they can pull out a few of them, provide a serious tournament resume boost that could get them over the hump.
7. PROVIDENCE: We all know how good Alpha Diallo is and will be this year, but the Friars’ fortunes could hinge on Luwane Pipkins’ transition into the program after transferring from UMass. The 5-foot-11 grad transfer was high-scoring with a high assist rate for the Minutemen, which makes him a potentially huge asset for a team that struggled to score and take care of the ball last season. Providence might go only as far as Pipkins can take them – or at least as far as he can make everyone better.
8. BUTLER: Kamar Butler is one of the league’s best players, but against a deep and experienced league, that’s probably not going to be enough to get the Bulldogs far out of the cellar of the league. They’ll need someone to step into the void to make a serious play up the standings and into the NCAA tournament.
9. ST. JOHN’S: Mike Anderson is a fine coach. He had measurable success at Arkansas, but still got shown the door from a gig that should have been the perfect fit. So to expect instant – or medium- or long-term? – success with a fit that’s awkward or unorthodox seems ill-advised. Maybe he’ll get things moving there in a way that Chris Mullin couldn’t, but it’ll take some time. Inheriting Mustapha Heron and LJ Figueroa should at least help with the transition and keep the Red Storm out of the 10th spot.
10. DEPAUL: The Blue Demons have only avoided a last-place Big East finish once in Dave Leitao’s second go-round in Chicago, his first season of 2015-16, and are now under three years of NCAA probation (with Leitao getting a three-game suspension) for recruiting violations. So it’s not exactly going great for DePaul, though the Blue Demons have upgraded the talent level. We’ll see if it’s enough to lift them out of the cellar.
Big East Offseason Reset: Will Villanova’s supremacy be challenged again?
The grad transfer market is still in full swing, but for the most part, we know what the meaningful parts for the majority of the teams around the country will be.
That means that it is time to start talking about what is coming instead of what was.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at key personnel changes, the impact of the coaching carousel and the most important storylines heading into the 2019-20 season for each of college basketball’s top seven conferences.
Today, we are talking Big East.
KEY OFFSEASON STORYLINES
HOW REAL IS THE COMPETITION AT THE TOP?: Villanova has won all but one regular season championship since the Big East went to 10 teams and the Wildcats will be favored again this year, but there does appear to be some serious challengers to their crown. The Wildcats have established themselves as one of the country’s premier programs with national titles in 2016 and 2018, and they’ve shown themselves more than capable of reloading when key players from hugely successful teams move on. Last year wasn’t a NCAA championship season, but it was still a winner and Jay Wright has to replace Phil Booth and Eric Paschall. He seems well positioned to do that with a number of returners and a top-tier recruiting class.
Still, Wright and the Wildcats aren’t going to waltz to a Big East title. Seton Hall looks to be extremely formidable with a strong group of returners, headlined by Myles Powell, with talent and experience. Xavier should be improved in Year 2 under Travis Steele while Creighton is an intriguing team. Villanova is the favorite, but its lead on the rest of the pack isn’t extensive.
HOW WILL MARQUETTE ABSORB THE LOSS OF THE HAUSER BROTHERS?: We had the Golden Eagles ranked fourth in our preseason rankings after Markus Howard returned to school, but when the shocking decision came from Sam and Joey Hauser to transfer out of Milwaukee, Steve Wojciechowski’s program slid all the way out of our top-25. In one fell swoop, Marquette went from legitimate title contender to perhaps a bubble team. It was, simply, a crushing blow.
The good news for the Golden Eagles is that Markus Howard eschewed the opportunity to go pro in order to return for his senior season, and he’ll be all over preseason All-American lists as one of the country’s best scorers. His presence alone makes Marquette both entertaining and interesting heading into next season, but will there be enough around him avoid a missed NCAA tournament for the fourth time in six years under Wojo?
WHAT WILL THE EVENTUAL ADDITION OF UCONN MEAN?: In a league where there’s been plenty of jockeying for position behind Villanova, the addition of Connecticut to the league – whenever it comes – is going to throw a lot of that into flux. The Huskies have taken a major hit since that 2014 title – their first year in the AAC – and a return to a more natural fit of a conference which emphasizes basketball under the leadership of Dan Hurley might be the catalyst needed to return the program to the heights it enjoyed over the previous two decades when national championships were the goal.
If that’s the case, the pecking order of the league is going to be an even tougher competition than it already is. If UConn is a winner in this move – and it’s hard to see how the Huskies aren’t – it wouldn’t be surprising to see there be a loser in the Big East. Does UConn coming back stifle Georgetown’s rebuild? Do things get tougher for Seton Hall or Providence? Honestly, Villanova might be the only program who isn’t, to some degree, threatened by the Huskies’ move back. Of course, UConn’s return to glory isn’t guaranteed by their return to the Big East, but how things all unwind will be fascinating to watch.
DOES PATRICK EWING’S GEORGETOWN RENAISSANCE CONTINUE?: The Hoyas got over the .500 hump in Patrick Ewing’s second season back at his alma mater in D.C., and they were sneakily one of the more entertaining teams (Non-Contender Category). James Akinjo and Mac McClung are a ton of fun as a freshman backcourt with energy and highlight-reel plays to spare. Still, the Hoyas took a step in the right direction with senior center Jessie Govan in the middle, and his departure will be a bigger burden on that young backcourt. There are reinforcements coming, however, with 7-footer Omer Yurtseven eligible after sitting out last season following his transfer from NC State. There are some intriguing pieces here, and the Hoyas’ trajectory will be something to keep an eye on in Year 3 on the Ewing Era.
WHICH WAS DOES DEPAUL GO?: The first three years of Dave Leitao’s second stint with the Blue Demons were pretty devoid of success, with the program going 29-65 overall and 9-45 in the Big East, but there was progress last year as DePaul posted a 19-17 record with a mark of 7-11 in the conference. The question is, with a senior-heavy roster, was that the turning point or the pinnacle? If the Blue Demons can’t sustain that moderate level of success, Leitao may be leaving Chicago for the second time but without the promotion on this go-round.
IS XAVIER POISED FOR A JUMP?: A six-game losing streak last winter put the Musketeers at 3-8 in the Big East, leaving first-year coach Travis Steele in a tough spot as he tried to continue the success of now-Louisville coach Chris Mack. Xavier and Steele righted the ship, winning six of seven to finish the regular season and then advancing to the second round of the NIT where they lost in overtime in Austin to Texas. Ryan Welage and Zach Hankins are now gone, but but the core of Quentin Goodin, Naji Marshall, Paul Scruggs and Tyrique Jones welcoming a top-25 recruiting class, Xavier looks to be on solid footing.
SAM and JOEY HAUSER, Marquette: It was one of the most surprising moves of the offseason, with the Wisconsin natives bolting to Virginia and Michigan State, respectively, and leaving the Golden Eagles behind. The Golden Eagles looked like title contenders with the brothers, but without them, the ceiling lowered considerably in Milwaukee.
ERIC PASCHALL, PHIL BOOTH and JAHVON QUINERLY, Villanova: The Wildcats lost a pair of mainstays in Paschall and Booth to graduation while the unremarkable Villanova career of Quinerly ended after one season with a transfer to Alabama.
MICHAEL NZEI, Seton Hall: The Pirates have a loaded squad this season, though it doesn’t include the forward who was a four-year stalwart.
RYAN WELAGE and ZACH HANKINS, Xavier: The Musketeers return quite a bit in 2019-20, but these two seniors will leave a void that will need to be filled.
SAM FROLING, MARTIN KRAMPELJ and KALEB JOSEPH, Creighton: A trio that didn’t provide a lot of punch in 2018-19 for the Blue Jays.
JESSIE GOVAN, Georgetown: Patrick Ewing has a promising young roster, but it was Govan that provided the most production last season that will have to be replaced with his eligibility exhausted.
SHAMORIE PONDS and CHRIS MULLIN, St. John’s: Ponds was one of the more electric players in the conference last year, and his absence will be felt considerably. The bigger departure, though, was Mullin’s abrupt resignation after St. John’s saying he would return for a fifth season at his alma mater after four years in which mediocrity was the highwater mark. Mike Anderson takes over in NYC to try to succeed where Mullin failed.
MAX STRUS, DePaul: The Blue Demons had their best season in Dave Leitao’s return to Chicago, but building on it will require keeping momentum without their best player, who was lost to graduation.
JOEY BRUNK, Butler: Brunk shot 62 percent from the floor as a sophomore, but the 6-foot-11 center decided to leave the Bulldogs program this offseason, making an intrastate move to Indiana and the Big Ten.
COLLIN GILLISPIE, SADDIQ BEY and JERMAINE SAMUELS, Villanova: A talented and experienced group, but one that will have to excel in expanded roles for the Wildcats.
MYLES POWELL, QUINCY MCKNIGHT, MYLES CALE, SANDRO MAMUKELASHVII and IKEY OBIAGU, Seton Hall: Kevin Willard’s program’s hopes of unseating Villanova will rest squarely on the shoulders of his returners.
QUENTIN GOODIN, PAUL SCRUGGS, NAJI MARSHALL and TYRIQUE JONES, Xavier: The Musketeers have a strong 2019 recruiting class that will help this season, but the strength of the team is here.
DAVION MINTZ, TY-SHON ALEXANDER, MITCHELL BALLOCK and JACOB EPPERSON, Creighton: Greg McDermott’s group might not have a ton of star power, but it is a talented and experienced group that should make some noise.
KAMAR BALDWIN, Buter: The Bulldog doesn’t get the same recognition as Howard or Powell, but he’s a dynamic scorer who will be one of the league’s best offensive players.
ALPHA DIALLO, Providence: The 6-foot-7 guard averaged 16 points and 8.1 rebounds per game last year, and he’ll be a conference player of the year contender this season.
JEREMIAH ROBINSON-EARL, JUSTIN MOORE, ERIC DIXON and BRYAN ANTOINE, Villanova: Jay Wright welcomes a top-five recruiting class to Philly, and the Wildcat machine looks to keep on moving despite another year of significant losses.
ROMEO WEEMS, DePaul: A 6-foot-7 top-65 recreuit, Weems picked DePaul over a number of heavy-hitters, giving some hope to a Chicago revival.
LUWANE PIPKINS and GREG GANTT, Providence: Pipkins led UMass in scoring last season before grad-transferring while Gantt is a four-star recruit.
JAYCE JOHNSON and SYMIR TORRENCE, Marquette: Johnson, a 7-footer, put up 7 points and 7 rebounds while shooting nearly 60 percent from the field for Utah last year. Torrence, a four-star recruit, picked the Golden Eagles over the likes of Butler and Cincinnati.
JASON CARTER, Xavier: The Ohio transfer has two years of eligibility after averaging 16.5 points and 6.7 rebounds for the Bobcats.
OMER YURTSEVEN and TERRELL ALLEN, Georgetown: Yurtseven is one of the country’s most high-profile transfers while Allen is a grad-transfer from UCF who averaged 6.7 points last year.
DERRIK SMITS, Butler: The son of former NBA star Rik, Smits comes to Butler from Valpo after picking the Bulldogs over NC State and Arizona State.
WAY-TOO-EARLY ALL-BIG EAST TEAM
MARKUS HOWARD, Marquette (Preseason Player of the Year)
MYLES POWELL, Seton Hall
KAMAR BALDWIN, Butler
ALPHA DIALLO, Providence
NAJI MARSHALL, Xavier
WAY-TOO-EARLY POWER RANKINGS
1. Villanova: It would be silly to bet against Jay Wright’s program at this point, but the Wildcats have more than a name and pedigree this season. They’re loaded with talent and experience with a great recruiting class. They’re not in the top-tier of national title contenders this preseason, but they’re not far behind, either.
2. Seton Hall: The distance between Villanova and the Pirates is relatively narrow, with Seton Hall returning a ton of talent from last year’s NCAA tournament 10-seed. Myles Powell is a difference-maker on both ends, and it’s far from a one-man squad. This group will have to improve, but it’s got the profile of a team that’s capable of making a significant leap.
3. Xavier: The Musketeers aren’t all that different than Seton Hall, with talented returners from a good team needing who fit the bill of a team on the rise. It’s easier said than done, and they’ll have to deal with increased expectations, but this team has the chops to be the best in the conference if things break their way.
4. Creighton: This is a team that will be knocking on the door of preseason top-25s on the strength of a solid-though-not-remarkable returning core. Ty-Shon Alexander is a serious breakout candidate, if such a distinction fits for a player who averaged nearly 16 points per game last season.
5. Providence: Alpha Diallo is one of the conference’s best and most productive players, but the Friars have to improve offensively if they’re going to get back to the NCAA tournament after a five-year streak was snapped last season.
6. Marquette: The Golden Eagles may have been the favorites to win the conference had the Hauser brothers not elected to transfer, but their departures throws this season into question for Marquette. The cupboard is obviously not bare even beyond Markus Howard, who might just power the program to near the top of the league on his own, but it’s certainly a harder team to peg.
7. Georgetown: The Hoyas were really fun to watch last season, but the trick for them is going to be making the transition from entertaining young squad to a still-green-but-successful team. The easiest path to that would be improved shooting as the youthful Hoyas struggled to connect from distance consistently.
8. Butler: The Bulldogs are probably the best candidate to outperform these rankings, on the strength of Kamar Baldwin’s talent alone, but they just haven’t proven enough beyond Baldwin to slide them further up the list.
9. DePaul: The Blue Demons got over .500 last season, but it came on a diet of non-conference cupcakes and then four wins in the CBI. Without Max Strus, here’s betting DePaul takes a step back this season.
10. St. John’s: Mike Anderson has his work cut out for him after Chris Mullin was only able to get a First Four appearance in four years with the Red Storm. St. John’s has only been in the NCAA tournament proper twice since 2005.
Report: Marquette lands grad transfer center Jayce Johnson
One of the Pac-12’s most productive big men last season, the 7-footer came on strong in the final weeks of the season as Johnson became a regular double-double threat. Averaging 7.1 points, 7.7 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per game in only 21.9 minutes per contest, Johnson has a chance to become a key piece in Marquette’s rotation.
While Marquette is still trying to figure out the loss of the Hauser brothers to transfer, the Golden Eagles have solidified their frontcourt with the pickup of Johnson. Although foul trouble has been an issue with Johnson during his college career, he’s an elite rebounder (Johnson ranked top 30 in offensive and defensive rebounding rate on KenPom last season) and capable rim protector who should fit in nicely with veteran big man Theo John.
When you also add Ed Morrow into that mix and it’s not a bad group for Marquette. Although none of those guys are consistent floor-spacers like the Hausers were, this group should provide plenty of toughness and experience in what should be a tough Big East next season.
The saying goes, it’s guards that win games in the NCAA tournament, and the history is there to back it up. Whether it’s a point guard making his teammates better (Tyus Jones, Duke) or dominating play (Kemba Walker, UConn). There will be a whole host of guards, some we know and some we don’t, that’ll make a huge difference over the next month.
Here we’ll take a look at a group that maybe aren’t quite as well known as the country’s absolute top-tier. So you won’t find R.J. Barrett or Cassius Winston or Carsen Edwards or Ja Morant here. You will, however, find a group that can make or break a bracket.
Markus Howard, Marquette
It’s a bit surprising that Howard hasn’t broken through as a major star in college basketball given he’s a 5-foot-11, sweet-shooting guard who absolutely fills it up. He’s a high-volume guy with one of the highest usage rates in the country while still shooting 40.8 percent from 3-point range en route to averaging 25 points per game. Howard is certainly no secret to those who follow college basketball closely, but given how celebrated 3-point shooters are in this day and age, Howard, truly one of the country’s elite in that department, seems broadly under-appreciated. His shooting is potent enough to put the Golden Eagles on a run, even if they’re entering the tournament on a downward trajectory.
Josh Perkins, Gonzaga
There have been plenty of questions about Perkins on these pages but he’s largely answered the bell this season for the Zags. He’s averaged 11 points with an assist-to-turnover ratio great than 3:1. He’s shooting 36.8 percent from 3-point range. He’s run the point for one of the best and most successful teams in the country. But…there are still a couple of red flags. Perkins had four turnovers and was 4 of 14 (0-3 from 3) in the Zags’ loss in the WCC title game to St. Mary’s, and in Gonzaga’s last loss before that, all the way back in December, he had six turnovers against North Carolina. He had nine assists in a loss to Tennessee, but was also 0-6 from the field. There might be some that say Killian Tillie is Gonzaga’s x-factor, but with how good they are already in the frontcourt, I still think Perkins remains the guy that can swing the pendulum the most in either direction for the West’s No. 1 seed.
Sam Merrill, Utah State
Merrill has been the best player you haven’t heard of this season. He’s averaging 21.2 points, 4.2 assists and 4.0 boards for a Utah State team that won the Mountain West tournament. He’s averaging 27.2 points over the last five games, in which the Aggies beat Nevada to lock up an at-large bid and then rolled through the field to win their league’s automatic bid. He’s terrific.
Lindell Wigginton, Iowa State
An foot injury sidelined Wigginton for most of November and December, and the former five-star prospect has been coming off the bench for an up-and-down Iowa State team since returning. A year after being the Cyclones’ best and perhaps only scoring option, Wigginton now finds himself a part of a more balanced attack that actually features another player – Virginia transfer Marial Shayok – more than him. Still, he’s a 38 percent 3-point shooter with high-level athleticism, and his ability to score in bunches could be the catalyst that keeps the Cyclones hot after their Big 12 tournament championship.
Fletcher Magee, Wofford
The Terrier senior has a chance to become a Big Dance darling thanks to his 41.3 percent shooting from 3-point range and his prowess for big-scoring games ( he’s averaged 20-plus for two years). Wofford became something of a national novelty as they cracked the Top 25 for the first time in school history, but here’s guessing Magee shows why the Terriers weren’t just a collecting wins in the Southern Conference – they’re actually a serious threat over the next few weeks.
Shamorie Ponds, St. John’s
If St. John’s is going to storm out of the First Four and make a dent in coach Chris Mullin’s first NCAA tournament with his alma mater, Ponds is going to be what’s powering it. The 6-foot-1 Brooklyn native is averaging just under 20 ppg with 5.2 assists and 2.6 steals per game as well. Ponds is a threat to go for 30-plus every time he steps on the floor.
C.J. Massinburg, Buffalo
It’s hard to live up to the hype when you drop 43 in an overtime win at West Virginia in the season’s first week, but the Bulls’ senior has been really good all season. Massinburg is a statsheet stuffer with 18.3 points, 6.6 rebounds and 3 assists per game while shooting nearly 40 percent from 3 and 46.4 percent overall. It’s not going to be surprising at all to see Buffalo outperform its six seed with its senior guard leading the way.
BJ Taylor, UCF
The Orlando native has starred for the hometown Knights as they’ve secured their first NCAA tournament berth since 2005. The 6-foot-2 guard is averaging 16 points and 3.3 assists per game. He converts at a 36.8 percent clip from 3-point range.