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Must-see Big East games this season

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The Big East announced their conference schedule for the 2018-19 season on Thursday.

The conference is one of just two high-major leagues that still plays a proper round-robin schedule. Everyone plays everyone else in a home-and-home during the conference schedule, which is the absolute best way to figure out who is the best team in the league.

Villanova should once against be the best team in the league, and while they look to be the only real national title contender, the conference does have a handful of entertaining, talented teams with a chance to get to the second weekend of the tournament.

Here are the six games in Big East play that you absolutely have to see this season:

Villanova at Providence, Sat. January 5
Villanova at Creighton, Sun., January 13
Providence at Marquette, Sun. January 20
Villanova at Marquette, Sat. February 9
Marquette at Providence, Sat. February 23
Creighton at Marquette, Sun. March 3

Auburn transfer Mustapha Heron headed to St. John’s

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St. John’s added to its ever-growing list of transfers with perhaps its biggest name yet.

Former Auburn guard Mustapha Heron is joining coach Chris Mullin and the Red Storm, a source tells NBCSports.com.

The 6-foot-5 sophomore led the Tigers in scoring a year ago with 16.4 points per game while  shooting 43.9 percent from the floor and 33.1 percent from 3-point range. He declared for the NBA draft without an agent, and ultimately decided to return to the college ranks, but with a new destination.

Heron has two seasons of eligibility remaining and hopes to be able to play immediately as the Waterbury, Conn. native is moving closer to home to be near his ailing mother, according to the New York Post’s Zach Braziller.

If Heron is immediately eligible, he adds significant pop to a St. John’s roster that will be looking to make major improvements from last year’s 16-17 campaign. Star Shamorie Ponds is returning after flirting with a possible pro future, and a pairing with Heron would give the St. John’s a dynamic scoring backcourt.

It will be a critical season for Mullin, too, as the Red Storm have struggled to get off the ground during his tenure in Queens. He’s won just 12 Big East games in three years after much fanfare, hope and expectation in his return to his alma mater. Now, with Ponds in the fold and eight transfers populating the roster, it looks as though Mullin and Co. have their best shot yet at moving up in a wide open conference.

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Big East Conference Reset: Perennial powers must reload

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The NBA Draft’s Early Entry Deadline has come and gone, and there are a dozen or so truly impactful decisions that are left to be made.

Just about every elite recruit has decided where they will be playing their college ball next season.

The coaching carousel has come to a close.

The transfer market is slowly winding down.

In other words, by now, we have a pretty good feel for what college basketball is going to look like during the 2018-19 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

REMAINING DECISIONS: Most of the decisions have been made and have been for some time, but there are a number of outstanding calls to be made by some underclassmen mulling a pro future or a return to school. Some are big enough to factor in significantly on what 2018-19 looks like in the Big East.

With Donte Divincenzo likely gone, Omari Spellman’s stay-or-go quandry is probably the biggest among them, not just because the 6-foot-9 center averaged 10.9 points, 8 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game, but because the defending national champs are already getting hit hard by early entries. Spellman returning could be an important anchor as Villanova looks to bridge eras. He’s the connecting piece for this Villanova program.

Spellman isn’t the only one waiting out the NBA’s May 30 deadline, however, as St. John’s guard Shamorie Ponds, DePaul wing Max Strus and Georgetown center Jessie Govan remain testing the waters as major pieces to both their respective teams should they elect to return to campus.

HOW DOES VILLANOVA RELOAD?: Villanova is slated to lose at least two (potentially three) starters, one of whom was the national player of the year and another a likely lottery pick, plus the guy that scored 31 points off the bench in the national title game. That’s enough for most programs to hit the reset button without shame – two titles in three years is pretty good, after all. Villanova, though? Not Villanova.

If Spellman returns, he’ll be joined by two other national-title game starters in Phil Booth and Eric Paschall, back for the Wildcats along with a highly-regarded recruiting class highlighted by five-star guard Jahvon Quinerly and sniper Cole Swider. Villanova might not start the season as high as we initially tabbed them (No. 2) with DiVencenzo expected to stay in the draft, but they’re still going to have plenty of talent – and experience – on the roster.

HOMECOMINGS GONE AWRY: The homecoming for Chris Mullin to his alma mater St. John’s hasn’t gone exactly according to plan. The Red Storm have posted three-straight losing seasons and are 12-42 in Big East play. There have been signs of life, namely wins over Duke and Villanova last year, but the big picture results just haven’t been the improvement that was envisioned when Mullin returned to Queens in 2015. Given his legend status, Mullin has some leeway in which to operate, but the production is going to have to have to show some upward trajectory.

Dave Leitao’s second stint at DePaul has been an uninspiring one. Leitao, who left DePaul for Virginia before returning in 2015, has posted three-straight losing seasons in which getting to 11 wins last year actually signified an improvement. The team was young a year ago, but the talent level doesn’t suggest the Blue Demons are going to rocket up the Big East standings.

(Elsa/Getty Images)

WHO’S GONE?

  • JALEN BRUNSON, MIKAL BRIDGES and DONTE DIVENCENZO, Villanova: After winning its second national title in three years, Villanova was prepared to lose Brunson and Bridges, but DiVencenzo’s expected decision to stay in the draft wasn’t as predictable. Those are three huge pieces for the Wildcats, who are still awaiting the draft decision of Omari Spellman. Jay Wright may have things rolling in Philly, but that’s a massive trio – or potentially quartet – to lose and not miss too many steps.
  • MARCUS FOSTER and KHYRI THOMAS, Creighton: Marcus Foster was the better-known half of Creighton’s dynamic duo, but Thomas was just as important to the Bluejays success. The 6-foot-3 junior elected to forego his final season of eligibility after averaging 15.1 points, 4.4 rebounds and 2.8 assists while becoming a lock-down defender. His departure makes is a significant blow to the Bluejays.
  • SETON HALL’S SENIORS: Angel Delgado, Khadeen Carrington, Desi Rodriguez and Ishmael Sanogo were the core of a Seton Hall team that was the best we’ve seen from Kevin Willard to date.
  • ANDREW ROWSEY, Marquette: The 5-foot-9 dynamo was one of the most entertaining scorers in the conference last season.
  • KAISER GATES, Xavier: The Musketeers were hit hard this offseason. Trevon Bluiett, J.P. Macura and Chris Mack are all gone. But they also lose Gates, a junior who averaged 7.2 points and 4.6 rebounds per game who was expected to play a much bigger role this season.
  • MARCUS DERRICKSON, Georgetown: The Hoyas’ 6-foot-7 forward elected to go pro following a junior season in which he averaged 15.9 points and 8.1 rebounds per game.
  • KASSOUM YAKWE, St. John’s: After a promising freshman season, Yakwe’s production dipped in each of the last two years before he decided to transfer to UConn this offseason.
(Darryl Oumi/Getty Images)

WHO’S BACK?

  • MARKUS HOWARD, Marquette: A second-team all-Big East selection, Howard returns to Milwaukee for his junior season as a potential player of the year in the conference. He put up 20.4 points per game on 46.4 percent shooting from the floor and 40.4 percent from 3-point range
  • KAMAR BALDWIN, Butler: The Bulldogs guard will carry a heavy load this season, but after averaging 15.7 points per game as a sophomore, he’s proven he can fill it up with the best of them in the conference.
  • MITCHELL BALLOCK, Creighton: After having a reserve role as a freshman, Ballock figures to move into a much more significant spot for a new-look Bluejays team. He averaged just 7.3 points per game, but the 22 points he put on UCLA in November suggests he could be a big-time scorer.
  • MYLES POWELL, Seton Hall: The 6-foot-2 guard is coming off a sophomore season in which he averaged 15.5. He’ll be asked to do even more this season with Desi Rodriguez and Angel Delgado no longer on the roster. If he can be a little more efficient, he’s looking like a potential all-conference performer.
  • ALPHA DIALLO and EMMITT HOLT, Providence: Diallo had a breakout sophomore campaign in which he went from a five-point scorer to a 13-point scorer. He shot 46.6 percent from the floor and also grabbed 6.6 rebounds per game. Holt, meanwhile, missed the 2017-18 season due to injury. He averaged 12.5 points as a sophomore after transferring from Indiana.

WHO’S COMING?

  • JAHVON QUINERLY, COLE SWIDER and BRANDON SLATE, Villanova: The Wildcats may have suffered some significant losses to the pro ranks, but they’ll benefit from a highly-regarded group of incoming freshman. Quinerly is the headliner as a top-30 prospect Jay Wright undoubtedly looks at as the future of the point guard position for his program. Swider and Slate are both top-50 prospects with big futures ahead of them.
  • DAVID DUKE and A.J. REEVES, Providence: Ed Cooley has taken the Friars to five-straight NCAA tournaments and looks to have the talent to keep Providence viable in the top half of the Big East for the foreseeable future with Duke and Reeves, a pair of top-50 guards, coming into the program.
  • JAMES AKINJO, Georgetown: Previously a UConn pledge, Akinjo flipped to Patrick Ewing and the Hoyas after Kevin Ollie’s ouster. He gives Georgetown the gem of a solid four-man recruiting class
  • KYLE CASTLIN, Xavier: The Columbia graduate transfer averaged 10.5 points whiles hooting 49.6 percent from the field and 34.9 percent from distance. He gives Travis Steele talent and experience when both will be paramount in his first season at the helm in Cincinnati.
  • JOSEPH CHARTOUNY, Marquette: The 6-foot-3 guard averaged double figures in scoring in each of his three seasons with Fordham before deciding to grad transfer to the Golden Eagles.
  • QUINCY MCKNIGHT, Seton Hall: The Sacred Heart transfer sat out last season as a transfer, but he provides the Pirates with firepower. He averaged 18.9 points as a sophomore.

COACHING CHANGES

  • TRAVIS STEELE, Xavier: When Chris Mack left his alma mater to take the reins at Louisville, Steele was the natural successor. He was initially hired at X by Sean Miller and then spent nine years on Mack’s staff, going to NCAA tournaments and making a name for himself as one of the country’s top recruiters. Xavier has turned into a Midwestern power in no small part because it’s made smart hiring decisions, and Steele looks to be cut from the same cloth that made Miller and Mack prolific winners.

WAY-TOO-EARLY ALL-BIG EAST TEAM

MARKUS HOWARD, Marquette (POY)
SHAMORIE PONDS*, St. John’s
OMARI SPELLMAN*, Villanova
JESSIE GOVAN*, Georgetown
MYLES POWELL, Seton Hall

AP Photo/John Minchillo

WAY-TOO-EARLY POWER RANKINGS

1. VILLANOVA: The losses the Wildcats sustained were more than just significant, but the talent and culture remains intact in Philadelphia. Omari Spellman’s decision looms large, but a strong recruiting class – plus Jay Wright – keeps ‘Nova on top.

2. XAVIER: Another bet on culture, Xavier is another program that lost a ton, but by keeping some level of continuity by promoting Travis Steele, the Musketeers may not slip as far as you’d normally expect considering their losses. Steele has his work cut out for him, but the pieces are there to be competitive.

3. PROVIDENCE: Kyron Cartwright and Rodney Bullock are two huge names to lose, but Alpha Diallo and Emmitt Holt should be enough to carry the offensive load.

4. CREIGHTON: Greg McDermott reinvented his program the last few years, going from being among the country’s slowest-paced teams to one of the quickest. WIth the losses of Marcus Foster and Khyri Thomas, this will likely be the third chapter of his time in Omaha following this back-to-back NCAA tournaments and the Dougie McBuckets era before that.

5. SETON HALL: The Pirates will hang their hats on getting a lot of production from Myles Powell and Quincy McKnight to overcome the losses of Angel Delgado, Khadeen Carrington and Desi Rodriguez.

6. GEORGETOWN: Jessie Govan’s decision to stay or go will have a big impact on the Hoyas’ future, but Patrick Ewing’s return to to D.C. looks to be headed in the right direction.

7. BUTLER: How Kamar Baldwin goes, the Bulldogs are likely to follow. He’s going to have a ton of offensive responsibility if Butler is going to get back to the NCAA tournament in LaVall Jordan’s second season.

8. MARQUETTE: The Golden Eagles are 1-for-4 in NCAA tournament seasons under Steve Wojciechowski, and his fifth season looks to be an uphill battle to improve that percentage.

9. ST. JOHN’S: If Shamorie Ponds returns, it’s not hard to see the Red Storm outperforming this prediction. If he doesn’t, it could be another difficult year for Mullin and Co.

10. DEPAUL: The Blue Demons have three-straight losing seasons in Dave Leitao’s second go-round, and it looks as though a fourth is likely.

Metta World Peace says he was offered $35,000 to throw college game

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With a supreme court decision paving the way for expanded legalized gambling, the topic has been all over the place this week.

Even the NCAA has softened its stance in the face of inevitability.

Not that it comes as any surprise, however, there is a dark side to gambling. One former St. John’s standout and NBA All-Star Metta World Peace (formerly Ron Artest) experienced when he was with the Red Storm, according to an interview he conducted with Yahoo.

“I see the issues with betting. I’ve been approached in college. I got approached a couple times to throw games,” he said said in an interview with Jared Quay. “One interesting time, they come to me in my neighborhood and say, I’ve got $35,000 for you. I said alright that’s cool. I’ll take 35,000. They said, we need you to throw a game. That’s when I’m like, ‘You a–hole.’ But it crossed my mind. Thirty-five thousand dollars? To throw a game? Not bad.”

The question will become if sports betting is legalized on a wider scale, will that do more or less to curtail bad actors from trying to subvert and control outcomes? Legalization brings more regulation, but also a bigger pool of money – though theoretically it would flow toward legitimate operations that carefully monitor irregularities rather than underground ones.

Still, if there’s money to be made, there are likely people willing to work around the law. And they’ll target those who they believe could be tempted the most.

“That’s the problem. When you don’t have no money, they don’t have no money, and they attack them,” World Peace said. “That’s the problem I have with betting because these guys that are betting, they’re bullies. Some of them are bullies. And they’ll force a kid into a situation and then when a kid’s trying to go to the NBA, they’ll hold it against the kid.

“They’ve got to have really harsh rules on people that’s using kids. If anybody gets in that situation, they should snitch and then that person should go to jail because you can not be putting kids under pressure like that.”

Gavitt Games features national title game rematch

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Nothing like news in May of a national championship rematch to get you excited about November.

Michigan and Villanova, which battled for the NCAA tournament title in March, headline the Big East and Big Ten matchups of the Gavitt Games, which were announced Tuesday.

‘Nova bested the Wolverines, 79-62, in San Antonio to win its second national championship in three years. The Wildcats will be without Mikal Bridges and Jalen Brunson, both of whom are pursuing NBA careers, but they’re still a national-title contender in 2019 as the No. 2 team in our preseason top 25. Michigan landed just outside at No. 26.

Not a bad little non-conference matchup.

In other notable games, Wisconsin and Xavier will meet in a rematch of a memorable 2016 second-round NCAA tournament matchup while Ohio State will visit Creighton and Marquette will head to Indiana.

 

2018 Gavitt Tipoff Games Schedule

Tuesday, Nov. 13

Georgetown at Illinois

Wisconsin at Xavier

Wednesday, Nov. 14

Michigan at Villanova

Seton Hall at Nebraska

Marquette at Indiana

Thursday, Nov. 15

Ohio State at Creighton

Penn State at DePaul

Friday, Nov. 16

St. John’s at Rutgers

 

Big East Tournament Preview and Postseason Awards

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For the first time since it reconstituted as a new league, the Big East has a champion other than Villanova. Xavier ended the Wildcats’ four-year run atop the conference despite getting swept by Jay Wright’s program in their two meetings this season, finishing one-up on ‘Nova with a 15-3 league record.

Now as those to teams head into the conference tournament, the question becomes can both of them secure a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament? As things stand now, it looks as though both are incredibly well positioned to do just that, but they made need a third matchup in the title game to wrap up a pair of top seeds for the league.

While there is plenty of intrigue at the top of the league, there’s plenty at stake elsewhere as well. Creighton, Butler and Seton Hall all can help their own causes as all three have the profile of an 8/9 seed. Providence may not feel great about its spot unless it can win its opening-round tilt against the Jayhawks. Then there’s Marquette, which appears to be lingering right around the cutline heading into the season’s final week.

There is a lot at stake at Madison Square Garden this week, and St. John’s, Georgetown and DePaul have all proven capable as potential spoilers, setting the action up to be among the most compelling tournaments across the country.

THE FAVORITE

Yes, the Musketeers were the regular-season champs, but you’ve got to peg Villanova as the team to beat here. Three of the Wildcats’ four losses came away from home and the fourth is simply inexplicable as they fell to St. John’s at the Wells Fargo Center. Probably best to chalk that last one up to statistical variance.

‘Nova has a potential player of the year in Jalen Brunson, a player who thrives under pressure and in the clutch. Brunson is simply one of the best players in the country playing arguably the most important position for postseason success. Put him and Jay Wright together and it just feels downright silly to bet against Villanova. Let’s not also forget that the Wildcats topped Chris Mack’s team four-straight times dating back to last year.

We haven’t even mentioned Mikal Bridges or the strong supporting cast around he and Brunson, so despite Xavier’s strength and the potential landmines that other conference contenders potentially pose, VIllanova is the easy pick here.

THE CONTENDERS

Xavier is the clear second choice here behind the Wildcats. Mack’s group may have lost twice to Villanova, but their only other stumble along the very treacherous Big East path was a loss at Providence. They haven’t been susceptible to the slip-ups that ultimately cost Villanova another regular-season title. Veteran and talented guard play is always at a premium in win-or-go-home scenarios, and X has that in spades with Trevon Bluiett and JP Macura, both of whom are dudes you’d want in your corner with the season on the line. The offense is legit, but can the defense get enough stops over three-straight games?

Beyond the two headliners, Creighton and Seton Hall are potentially serious threats for a crown. If the Bluejays get hot, they can shoot their way to a title on the strength of Marcus Foster, Khyri Thomas and a cast of role players all capable of filling it up. For the Pirates, they’ll go as far as Desi Rodriguez and Angel Delgado will take them, which could be pretty darn far.

WHO NEEDS A WIN THE MOST?

While Providence would probably feel better with a win, it’s Marquette without a doubt here. The Golden Eagles are either in the First Four or the outside looking in, depending on which bracketologist you ask. A win against DePaul might night move the needle a whole lot, but a loss certainly will and not in the direction Steve Wojciechowski wants it to. If they can get past the Blue Demons and score an upset against Villanova, that should more than do it.

WHO IS ON THE BUBBLE?

Certainly Marquette is, but Ed Cooley’s team isn’t going to want to leave the Big Apple without a win. Providence could probably survive a loss to Creighton in the quarterfinals, but then you’re probably looking at either the First Four or forcing the committee to make a decision about you, neither of which are places a team wants to be. Unless Providence moves on to Friday or Saturday, it’s probably going to be a tense Sunday.

THE SLEEPER

Butler tied for sixth in the Big East standings, but their KenPom ranking of 24 is the third-best in the league. They’re not really elite anywhere, but they’re balanced and strong across the board. It may be LaVall Jordan’s first year at the helm in Indianapolis, but the Bulldogs have a winning pedigree and shouldn’t be discounted simply because of their 9-9 league record.

Butler has already knocked Villanova off once this season, so the Wildcats aren’t going to be an insurmountable obstacle in Friday’s semifinals. And, honestly, it won’t take much more than Kelan Martin, who is averaging 21.2 points per game, to raise his level of play for three days for Butler to find itself cutting down nets at the Garden. MSG seems to bring the best out of the best, and Martin very well could be the one to answer that call.

PLAYER TO WATCH

Martin and Brunson, as previously mentioned, are great candidates here, but let’s focus instead for a moment on Mikal Bridges. The 6-foot-6 junior is averaging 17.6 points, 5.5 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game while shooting 51.1 percent from the floor and 42 percent from distance. When that’s the second-best player on your team, you’re doing all right.

Bridges has been on a tear lately, too, scoring at least 20 points in four of his last five games. The Wildcats won all four games when he hit that mark and lost the one in which he didn’t. If Bridges keeps filling it up, look for Villanova to keep winning.

X-FACTORS

– Villanova has lost to both St. John’s and Providence this season, begging the question of just how vulnerable might they be in the early rounds of this tournament? They conceivably could see both those teams in the tournament’s opening two days. Were those games flukes and ‘Nova will bulldoze its way to Saturday, or were those sneaky matchup issues waiting to jump up and get them once more?

– Xavier’s defense is fine. Really, it is. But it’s not exactly good, either. The Musketeers don’t force turnovers or a ton of misses, though they do clean the glass. If an opponent can free up shooters consistently, they could shoot Xavier out of the Garden.

– Marcus Foster generates a lot of buzz for his offense for Creighton, but Khyri Thomas may be the better offensive player. He’s certainly the more efficient. While having a much lower usage rate that his teammate, Thomas shoots 43.1 percent from 3-point range and 63.6 percent from inside the arc. With defenses focused on Foster, Thomas is more than capable of winning games for Creighton.

NBC SPORTS BIG EAST HONORS

PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Jalen Brunson, VIllanova

COACH OF THE YEAR: Chris Mack, Xavier

FIRST TEAM ALL-BIG EAST

  • Jalen Brunson, Villanova
  • Mikal Bridges, Villanova
  • Kelan Martin, Butler
  • Trevon Bluiett, Xavier
  • Marcus Foster, Creighton

SECOND TEAM ALL-BIG EAST

  • Khyri Thomas, Creighton
  • Shamorie Ponds, St. John’s
  • Angel Delgado, Seton Hall
  • Desi Rodriguez, Seton Hall
  • Markus Howard, Marquette