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Big East Season Preview: Power Rankings, Preseason Awards and the year of the gunner

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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.

(Dylan Buell/Getty Images)

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?

(Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)

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.

(AP Photo/John Minchillo, File)

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.

I’M MOST EXCITED ABOUT …

Seeing Markus Howard shoot every shot. Then seeing Myles Powell try to match it. http://gty.im/1180316962

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
CINCINNATI, OH – FEBRUARY 13: Ty-Shon Alexander #5 of the Creighton Bluejays brings the ball up court during the game against the Xavier Musketeers at Cintas Center on February 13, 2019 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

PREDICTED FINISH

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?

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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.

Joey and Sam Hauser (Dylan Buell/Getty Images)

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.

Naji Marshall (Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)

WHO’S GONE

  • 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.

WHO’S BACK

  • 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.

WHO’S COMING

  • 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

Markus Howard and Myles Powell (Dylan Buell/Getty Images)

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.

Bubble Banter: Seton Hall’s huge win, devastating losses for N.C. State, Florida, Ohio State

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The latest NBC Sports bracket projection can be found here

WINNERS

SETON HALL (NET: 63, SOS: 38): The Pirates landed their fifth Q1 win of the season on Wednesday night, scoring the final 18 points as they found a way to beat Marquette (26) 73-64 at home. The win snaps a three-game losing streak for Seton Hall and puts them in a position where they can probably feel pretty good about their tournament chances regardless of what happens on Saturday against Villanova (25). Those losses to DePaul (105) and Saint Louis (110) at home are not pretty, but with a neutral court win over Kentucky (5) and a win at Maryland (28) to go along with the Marquette win, Kevin Willard probably needs to win just one more game to lock up a second straight tournament bid. How many teams with top five wins and double-digit victories against the top two quadrants are going to be left out of the field?

CREIGHTON (NET: 48, SOS: 15): The Big East’s bubble teams are just disgusting this season, and the Bluejays are hardly impressive. That said, they don’t have a bad loss this season, they are 3-10 against Q1 opponents — including a win at Marquette (26) — and their SOS is 13th while their non-conference SOS ranks 28th. Throw in a top 50 rating in the NET, and I think they are probably closer to the bubble than the likes of Providence, Georgetown, Butler and Xavier ever were.

CLEMSON (NET: 40, SOS: 33): Clemson survived at Notre Dame (104) on Wednesday, which keeps them in the NCAA tournament picture but will not be a difference-making win. The Tigers really needed to beat UNC (7) on Saturday. Or win one of the other half-dozen games that they have lost by one possession. As it stands, they have just a single Q1 win, which is not going to work with a 17-12 record overall. Beating Syracuse (42) this Saturday won’t do much to help. The Tigers are going to need to pick off one of the big boys in the ACC tournament to have a real chance to dance.

LOSERS

FLORIDA (NET: 34, SOS: 47): The Gators missed a golden opportunity to land a second win over LSU (13) this season, falling by one in overtime. Florida is now 17-14 on the season with a pair of Q3 losses — South Carolina (81) and Georgia (102) at home — and they still have to play at Kentucky (5) on Saturday. That is a massive, massive opportunity, one that could change where they play their postseason basketball, but how often is Florida going into Rupp Arena and winning?

OHIO STATE (NET: 43, SOS: 47): The Buckeyes are starting to crumble. They lost their second straight game on Wednesday night — this one at Northwestern (95) by 18 points — which is their fifth loss in the last seven games. The Buckeyes are now sitting at 18-12 on the season and 8-11 in the Big Ten with Wisconsin (15) coming to town on Sunday. In the two games since Kaleb Wesson was suspended, OSU has lost by a total of 53 points. With just four Q1 wins — the best being at Cincinnati (22) — and an 8-11 mark against the top two quadrants, OSU is getting themselves into a bad situation. I think they’re probably still on the right side of the bubble, but they need to turn this thing around.

N.C. STATE (NET: 31, SOS: 140): The Wolfpack took just a dreadful loss at home on Wednesday night, falling to Georgia Tech (130) at home. It’s the second Q3 loss for this team, which is the same number as their Q1 wins. The biggest issue here is that Kevin Keatts put together the second-worst non-conference schedule in the country. They played five home games against teams that rank outside the top 335 in the NET. They played nine home games against sub-200 competition. The committee has never looked kindly upon teams that are afraid to schedule, and without the quality wins, N.C. State is going to have some real work to do in the ACC tournament to make up the ground they need to dance.

GEORGETOWN (NET: 72, SOS: 239): The Hoyas had worked their way onto the bubble and then turned around and lost at DePaul (105) by 40. The Hoyas did beat Villanova (25) at home, and that is a good win, but it’s their only top 50 win to go along with a pair of Q3 losses and a non-conference SOS that ranks in the 230s.

PROVIDENCE (NET: 77, SOS: 50): The Friars are probably dead at this point. They are 4-8 against Q1 opponents with just one top 50 win — at Texas (35) — and a 16-14 record that includes a home loss to UMass (224). If we’re to the point where Providence is dancing, then it’s time to start letting the likes of Belmont in.

Bracketology: Race is on for No. 1 Seeds

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We’re just under two weeks away from this year’s NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament Selection Show, and the race is on for the coveted spots along the No. 1 seed line.

Gonzaga seems like a lock to lead the West Region.  At this point, a loss in the West Coast Conference tournament will do little to change the Zags’ overall profile.  What it would do, however, is send ripples along the bubble, because as we stand now, the WCC appears to be a one-bid league.

Tennessee earns the final No. 1 seed today.  Kentucky and North Carolina are equally strong contenders.  And let’s not sleep on Michigan if the Wolverines win their rematch against Michigan State and surge to a Big 10 tournament title.  We also have another matchup between Duke and UNC as we await news about the availability of Zion Williamson.

NBC Sports Top 25 | Bubble Watch

On a housekeeping note … with conference tournaments beginning this week, we’ve eliminated the CAPS referring to automatic bids; those will be reserved now as teams officially punch their tickets (exceptions made for teams traditionally known by their acronym – such as VCU).

UPDATED: March 4, 2019

FIRST FOUR – DAYTON
EAST REGION Temple vs. Seton Hall
WEST REGION Minnesota vs. Arizona State
EAST REGION Iona vs. Norfolk State
WEST REGION Prairie View vs. St. Francis (PA)

EAST Washington, DC   WEST – Anaheim        
Columbia Salt Lake City
1) Virginia 1) Gonzaga
16) Iona / Norfolk St 16) Prairie View / St. Francis
8) Auburn 8) Syracuse
9) St. John’s 9) VCU
San Jose Hartford
5) Mississippi State 5) Kansas State
12) Temple / Seton Hall 12) Minnesota / Arizona St
4) Kansas 4) Florida State
13) UC-Irvine 13) Vermont
Jacksonville Tulsa
6) Villanova 6) Nevada
11) Texas 11) Florida
3) LSU 3) Texas Tech
14) Yale 14) Texas State
Des Moines Des Moines
7) Buffalo 7) Louisville
10) Utah State 10) TCU
2) Michigan State 2) Michigan
15) Loyola-Chicago 15) Montana
MIDWEST – Kansas City SOUTH – Louisville
Columbus Columbia
1) Tennessee 1) Duke
16) Campbell 16) Sam Houston St
8) Washington 8) Baylor
9) Oklahoma 9) Ole Miss
San Jose Hartford
5) Virginia Tech 5) Maryland
12) Lipscomb 12) Belmont
4) Wisconsin 4) Marquette
13) New Mexico St 13) Old Dominion
Salt Lake City Tulsa
6) Iowa State 6) Cincinnati
11) Alabama 11) NC State
3) Houston 3) Purdue
14) South Dakota St 14) Hofstra
Jacksonville Columbus
7) Wofford 7) Iowa
10) Ohio State 10) UCF
2) North Carolina 2) Kentucky
15) Colgate 15) Wright State

BUBBLE NOTES
Last 4 Byes Last 4 IN      First 4 OUT Next 4 OUT
Florida Minnesota Georgetown Providence
Texas Arizona State Clemson Memphis
NC State Temple Furman UNC-Greensboro
Alabama Seton Hall Xavier Creighton

TOP SEED LINE: Virginia is the No. 1 overall seed, followed by Gonzaga, Duke, and Tennessee

Breakdown by Conference …

ACC (8): VIRGINIA, Duke, North Carolina, Florida State, Virginia Tech, Louisville, Syracuse, NC State

Big 10 (8): PURDUE, Michigan, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Maryland, Iowa, Ohio State, Minnesota

BIG 12 (8): TEXAS TECH, Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa State, Baylor, Oklahoma, TCU, Texas

SEC (8): TENNESSEE, Kentucky, LSU, Mississippi State, Auburn, Ole Miss, Florida, Alabama

Big East (4): MARQUETTE, Villanova, St. John’s, Seton Hall

American (4): HOUSTON, Cincinnati, UCF, Temple

Pac 12 (2): WASHINGTON, Arizona State

Mountain West (2): NEVADA, Utah State

Southern (1): WOFFORD

Atlantic 10 (1): VCU

Mid American (1): BUFFALO

West Coast (1): GONZAGA

ONE BID LEAGUES: Loyola-Chicago (MVC), Iona (MAAC), Old Dominion (C-USA), Texas State (SBELT), Yale (IVY), Montana (BSKY), Wright State (HORIZON), Sam Houston State (SLND), UC-Irvine (BWEST), Lipscomb (ASUN), Belmont (OVC), Hofstra (CAA), Campbell (BSO), Norfolk State (MEAC), South Dakota State (SUM), New Mexico State (WAC), Vermont (AEAST), Colgate (PAT), St. Francis (PA) (NEC), Prairie View (SWAC)

Bracketing principles: read them for yourself at http://www.ncaa.com.

Bracketology: Virginia back to the top as March returns

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A year ago, the Virginia Cavaliers were holding the same position – sitting atop the college basketball world as king’s of Bracketology.  Today, as March awaits, UVA is back, leading the latest Field of 68.

Duke’s seed status will be heavily debated in the Selection Committee room if questions about Zion Williamson’s availability remain unanswered over the next two weeks.  When Selection Sunday arrives, the Committee will have to evaluate the Blue Devils based upon the team anticipated to take the floor in the NCAA tournament.  Given that Williamson’s injury status is day-to-day, we’re working under the assumption that he will, in fact, return at some point.  Time will tell.

The race for No. 1 seeds is far from over.  Kentucky and Tennessee play again this weekend.  Michigan State and Michigan meet again.  Duke has another matchup with North Carolina.

And just for fun, March begins tomorrow.

UPDATED: February 28, 2019

FIRST FOUR – DAYTON
EAST REGION Texas vs. UCF
MIDWEST REGION Utah State vs. Temple
EAST REGION ST. FRANCIS (PA) vs. NORFOLK ST
WEST REGION PRAIRIE VIEW vs. RIDER

EAST Washington, DC   WEST – Anaheim                           
Columbus Salt Lake City
1) VIRGINIA 1) GONZAGA
16) ST. FRANCIS / NORFOLK ST 16) RIDER / PR VIEW
8) WOFFORD 8) Baylor
9) Auburn 9) NC State
Salt Lake City San Jose
5) Maryland 5) Kansas State
12) Seton Hall 12) LIPSCOMB
4) TEXAS TECH 4) Virginia Tech
13) VERMONT 13) NEW MEXICO ST
Jacksonville Tulsa
6) Iowa 6) NEVADA
11) Texas / UCF 11) Alabama
3) LSU 3) HOUSTON
14) YALE 14) SOUTH DAKOTA ST
Des Moines Des Moines
7) Louisville 7) WASHINGTON
10) Oklahoma 10) Florida
2) Michigan 2) MICHIGAN STATE
15) LOYOLA-CHICAGO 15) MONTANA
MIDWEST – Kansas City SOUTH – Louisville
Columbus Columbia
1) KENTUCKY 1) Duke
16) SAM HOUSTON ST 16) COLGATE
8) St. John’s 8) Ole Miss
9) Syracuse 9) Ohio State
San Jose Hartford
5) Iowa State 5) Florida State
12) Utah State / Temple 12) BELMONT
4) Wisconsin 4) Kansas
13) UC-IRVINE 13) OLD DOMINION
Tulsa Hartford
6) Mississippi State 6) Villanova
11) Minnesota 11) Arizona State
3) MARQUETTE 3) Purdue
14) TEXAS STATE 14) HOFSTRA
Columbia Jacksonville
7) Cincinnati 7) BUFFALO
10) TCU 10) VCU
2) North Carolina 2) Tennessee
15) RADFORD 15) WRIGHT STATE

BUBBLE NOTES
Last 4 Byes Last 4 IN      First 4 OUT Next 4 OUT
Alabama Texas Clemson Butler
Arizona State UCF Georgetown Memphis
Minnesota Utah State Furman Providence
Seton Hall Temple Dayton UNC-Greensboro

TOP SEED LINE: Virginia is the No. 1 overall seed, followed by Gonzaga, Duke, and Kentucky

Breakdown by Conference …

ACC (8): VIRGINIA, Duke, North Carolina, Virginia Tech, Florida State, Louisville, Syracuse, NC State

Big 10 (8): MICHIGAN STATE, Michigan, Purdue, Wisconsin, Maryland, Iowa, Ohio State, Minnesota

BIG 12 (8): TEXAS TECH, Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa State, Baylor, TCU, Oklahoma, Texas

SEC (8): KENTUCKY, Tennessee, LSU, Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Auburn, Florida, Alabama

Big East (4): MARQUETTE, Villanova, St. John’s, Seton Hall

American (4): HOUSTON, Cincinnati, UCF, Temple

Pac 12 (2): WASHINGTON, Arizona State

Mountain West (2): NEVADA, Utah State

Southern (1): WOFFORD

Atlantic 10 (1): VCU

Mid American (1): BUFFALO

West Coast (1): GONZAGA

ONE BID LEAGUES: Loyola-Chicago (MVC), Rider (MAAC), Old Dominion (C-USA), Texas State (SBELT), Yale (IVY), Montana (BSKY), Wright State (HORIZON), Sam Houston State (SLND), UC-Irvine (BWEST), Lipscomb (ASUN), Belmont (OVC), Hofstra (CAA), Radford (BSO), Norfolk State (MEAC), South Dakota State (SUM), New Mexico State (WAC), Vermont (AEAST), Colgate (PAT), St. Francis (PA) (NEC), Prairie View (SWAC)

Bracketing principles: read them for yourself at http://www.ncaa.com.

S. Hauser, Anim lead No. 11 Marquette past Providence 76-58

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Sam Hauser had 18 points and 13 rebounds, Sacar Anim scored 18 and No. 11 Marquette raced past Providence 76-58 on Saturday.

The Golden Eagles (23-4, 12-2 in the Big East) led by 11 points at halftime and showed no signs of letting up, shooting 53.6 percent in the second half to finish at 54.9 percent for the game. Anim went 8 for 12 and Hauser 7 for 10 for Marquette, which got 14 points on 2-of-12 shooting from leading scorer Markus Howard.

Alpha Diallo had 19 points and six rebounds for the Friars (15-13, 5-10 Big East). Providence went from shooting 27.6 percent in the first half to 50 percent in the second half, yet Marquette proved too tough a cover on a day that the Golden Eagles had five players in double figures.

Joey Hauser had 15 points and Markus Howard added 14 for Marquette.

Marquette put the game away after Providence moved to within 40-33 early in the second half. On three straight trips to the basket, the Golden Eagles connected from deep, with a 3-pointer from Howard allowing the visitors to take a 58-37 lead with 10:54 remaining.

The Golden Eagles shot 10 of 21 from 3-point range while the Friars went 6 of 20.

TOUGH OUT NO MATTER WHERE

Marquette is 16-1 at Fiserv Forum, matching the most home wins in a single season since the 2012-13 team finished 16-0. Saturday saw the Golden Eagles pick up their sixth road win in league play versus one defeat. The six road wins against conference foes represents the most in a single season since Marquette joined the Big East in 2005.

TAKE A BOW

During halftime, Providence honored a dozen former student-athletes who were inducted into the Athletic Hall of Fame. Included in the Class of 2019 was Jamel Thomas, who played a key role on the team that came close to reaching the Final Four in 1997. Thomas ranks sixth on Providence’s all-time scoring list (1,971 points).

STIFF COMPETITION

The Big East entered Saturday’s action as the only Division I conference in the nation with every team owning an overall winning record.

UP NEXT

Marquette travels to defending national champion Villanova on Wednesday. It will be a rematch of a game the Golden Eagles won 66-65 on Feb. 9 in Milwaukee.

Providence is at Butler on Tuesday. The Friars and Bulldogs have yet to play each other.