The Wildcats (22-6, 11-4 Big East) had trouble shaking St. John’s until late on a night the program honored former star Kyle Lowry. Lowry, a five-time All-Star guard for the NBA champion Toronto Raptors, played two seasons for the Wildcats and was one of the early pieces that helped build coach Jay Wright’s program into a national power.
Lowry was flanked by former teammates and called the jersey recognition honor a “once in a lifetime” experience that he was able to share with his wife and two young sons. His sons, Karter and Kameron, played with the microphones at a halftime press conference.
Lowry played from 2004-2006 when the Wildcats made their first two NCAA Tournament trips of Wright’s young tenure.
“From the time I got here, he was kind of on that proverbial hot seat,” Lowry said. “Now, he’s never going anywhere and he’s one of the best coaches in the history of college basketball.”
Wright has since won two national titles at Villanova and was named the AP Coach of the Decade. Wright has said how Lowry skipped classes and was disruptive at practice, so much so that it got to the point where the feisty guard might not have made it to a second season. Lowry, now extremely close with Wright, laughed when he recalled his rocky relationship with his coach.
“My freshman year, I was such an immature kid and I didn’t know what to expect, I didn’t know what I wanted or what I could do or what my abilities were off the court,” Lowry said. “I didn’t know what I was, I didn’t know who I was. Me and Coach never talked about basketball. We always talked about these things off the court. That’s why me and Jay, to this day, have the relationship that we have. It wasn’t nothing about basketball. He didn’t worry about me on the court. He worried about me as a man.”
Wright’s biggest worry Wednesday was a St. John’s team that came in 12½-point underdogs and kept the deficit within single digits for most of the second half. Greg Williams Jr. buried a 3 for the Red Storm (14-14, 3-12) with 4:37 left that pulled them within six.
Moore, though, steadied the Wildcats with his fifth 3 of the game, a driving layup and a pull-up jumper in succession that stretched the lead to 13 and sealed another win for the perennial Big East power.
Villanova hit seven 3s to St. John’s one in the first half but only led 36-34 at the break.
St. John’s is just counting down the days until the season ends. Barring an improbable run to a championship in the Big East Tournament, the Red Storm are looking for the future. They played their fourth straight game without Mustapha Heron (13.8 points) because of a sprained right ankle.
Villanova won its fifth straight game and has a big rematch against No. 13 Seton Hall ahead on March 4. Seton Hall won the first meeting and both teams could meet again in a conference tournament title game.
Lowry had a staredown with former Wildcat Donte DiVincenzo, the most outstanding player of Villanova’s 2018 title team, after a hard foul in Toronto’s game against Milwaukee on Tuesday.
“Donte better cut that stuff out,” Lowry said with a laugh. “That’s my guy, though. I fouled him hard and he didn’t like it. It’s all in the competitive nature. I love Donte and what he’s doing. He’s having a great year. Hopefully, we see them in the playoffs.”
St. John’s returns home to play No. 10 Creighton
The Wildcats play Providence on Saturday at Wells Fargo Center.
Tuesday’s Things to Know: Villanova gears up for big stretch, Auburn wins ugly in 2OT and Rutgers keeps rolling
1. Villanova runs streak to seven ahead of grueling stretch
Jay Wright’s team had little trouble winning its seventh-straight Tuesday with a 79-59 victory at Madison Square Garden over St. John’s. Saddiq Bey was brilliant, scoring 23 points on 8 of 14 shooting, including 5 of 9 from deep. Collin Gillespie was equally great, going for 17 points, 13 boards and six assists while Jeremiah Robinson-Early had 13 points and 14 rebounds. Cole Swider and Justin Moore both had 11 to put all five Wildcat starters in double-figures to help offset the absence of the injured Jermaine Samuels.
The victory, while unremarkable given St. John’s mediocrity, keeps momentum for Villanova heading into a huge stretch that very well could decide the Big East. They’ve got Creighton at home Saturday before a trip to No. 16 Butler and then back-to-back home games against No. 10 Seton Hall and Marquette, which handed the ‘Cats their lone conference loss this season.
How Villanova emerges from this four-game stretch – and subsequently what the Big East landscape looks like – will likely be determined by a couple of things. If the ‘Cats are going to make it through in the conference driver’s seat, it’ll probably because Villanova’s defense proves for real. The Cats’ defense this season on the whole has been fine, ranking 60th nationally on KenPom, but it’s been the best in the Big East during conference play. They’ve been stingier both inside and outside the arc while improving on the glass. They’ve kept opponents from launching a lot of 3s and have mostly kept them off the line.
Wright’s team is going to be fine offensively, even if they haven’t been elite in Big East play yet. If the defense holds up, the ‘Cats are going to be sitting pretty come March.
2. No. 17 Auburn comes from behind to win in 2OT
Things were looking pretty dire for Auburn. The Tigers narrowly avoided a third loss in four games over the weekend when they blew a big lead to a sub-.500 Iowa State team, and then they fell behind by 19 in the second half Tuesday at Ole Miss.
It turned out to be nothing to be worried about, unless you were on your couch hoping to watch good overtime basketball.
The Tigers narrowly escaped, 83-82, against the Rebels, overcoming a huge deficit and mistakes of their own making that could have negated their comeback but instead will be footnotes.
Auburn shot 56 percent from the field and 46.2 percent from 3-point range in the second half to mount its comeback while Ole Miss shot just 33 percent. They nearly gave the game away, though, after taking a two-point lead in the final seconds of overtime. The Tigers missed a jumper that would have put them up four with 25 seconds left, but the shot missed and they inexplicably fouled on the rebound to allow Ole Miss to tie the game with 22 seconds left on free throws. After a missed 3 in a tie game by Danjel Purifoy, Ole Miss gave Auburn a gift it just wouldn’t accept. Devontae Shuler’s inbounds pass under the basket with 2 seconds left went astray and was headed out of bounds, which would have resulted in no time coming off the clock and Auburn getting the ball on the baseline, but Isaac Okoro, for some reason, grabbed the ball, waited a second and called timeout. Samir Doughty’s forthcoming 3 out of the huddle as time expired miss to send things to 2OT.
Ole Miss led by as many as four in overtime, but Auburn took the lead with 1:41 left. The two teams traded missed opportunities for the remainder of the game, leaving the Tigers with a win.
College basketball: Not always pretty, but rarely boring.
3. Rutgers continues to build its case
It’s been 29 years since Rutgers last made the NCAA tournament. It’s been 13 since the Scarlet Knights even finished above .500 in a season. Both those streaks seem incredibly likely to fall in just a handful of weeks.
Rutgers ran its overall record to 16-5 and its Big Ten mark to 7-3 with a 70-63 victory Tuesday at home against Purdue.
Steve Pikiell’s team is building a bulletproof resume after losses to St. Bonaventure and Pittsburgh in the first month of the season made it seem as the status quo would be very much in place in Piscataway this winter. Since then, the only three losses Rutgers have taken have all been on the road to high-quality opponents, with Michigan State, Illinois and Iowa the only teams able to get the best of them.
Rutgers is doing it o the strength of a top-10 defense that overcomes an offense that can be clunky at times, especially at the 3-point line. Defense as stout as the Scarlet Knights are playing, though, makes up for a lot of deficiencies on the other end.
No. 11 Butler blows 23-point lead, survives St. John’s 60-58
NEW YORK — Christian David hit a go-ahead 3-pointer with 43 seconds left and No. 11 Butler rallied after blowing a 23-point lead to beat St. John’s 60-58 Tuesday night in the Big East opener for both teams.
St. John’s (11-3, 0-1) staged a 29-4 run in the second half and took a 48-46 advantage on Marcellus Earlington’s layup with 6:49 remaining.
Butler (13-1, 1-0) trailed 58-53 when Raheem Dunn hit an uncontested layup with 3:08 left, but then the Bulldogs clamped down defensively. Kamar Baldwin’s jumper made it 58-57 with 2:01 remaining, and following a series of wild sequences at the rim, Butler took the lead.
Earlington blocked Bryce Nze’s layup with 49 seconds left, but Butler retained possession when Aaron Thompson grabbed the rebound. Baldwin found David, who hit an open 3-pointer from the right corner.
Dunn missed a layup with 19 seconds remaining and LJ Figueroa missed a 3-point try with one second left.
Baldwin led Butler with 19 points and a career-high five 3-pointers. Sean McDermott and Jordan Tucker added 12 points apiece as Butler shot 40% and overcame 24 turnovers.
Nick Rutherford led St. John’s with 15 points and Dunn added 12 as the Red Storm shot 34.5% and missed 18 of 22 3-point attempts, including their first 11 tries.
Butler: Butler continued to be stout defensively, using an aggressive defense that held another opponent under 60 points. The Bulldogs have held 10 of their first 14 opponents under 60 points.
St. John’s: It was a tough night for leading scorer Figueroa, who picked up his fourth foul early in the second half and sat for most of the Red Storm’s comeback. He went scoreless in 13 minutes.
Butler hosts Creighton in its first Big East home game Saturday.
St. John’s visits Xavier on Sunday, which lost at Villanova in its conference opener.
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.
St. John’s received some positive news on Wednesday as LJ Figueroa decided to return to the program after exploring transfer options.
Hitting the transfer portal after the departure of previous head coach Chris Mullin, Figueroa will be able to play next season instead of sitting a transfer year.
By staying with the Red Storm, the 6-foot-6 Figueroa gives St. John’s a proven two-way wing and double-figure scorer for new head coach Mike Anderson. Figueroa averaged 14.4 points, 6.4 rebounds and 1.7 assists per game last season — his first with the school — as he shot 51 percent from the floor and 38 percent from three-point range.
St. John’s has a chance to be solid with Figueroa returning next season but they’ll have to figure out how to plug a few roster questions — most notably replacing point guard Shamorie Ponds. The return of Figueroa at least gives the Red Storm an all-conference threat who helps them in multiple ways.