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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.

LJ Figueroa staying at St. John’s

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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.

Report: Chris Mullin stepping down at St. John’s

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St. John’s head coach Chris Mullin is expected to step down from his position with an official announcement this week.

First reported by Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports, Mullin will exit his alma mater after four seasons at the helm. Even though St. John’s athletic director Mike Cragg said that Mullin would be back next season as head coach with a statement only a few days ago, Mullin will step aside after a disappointing tenure.

One of the greatest players in program history, Mullin’s hiring was met with a lot of local excitement. After landing some talented recruits, those expectations grew even bigger. But Mullin was never able to make a significant postseason run as he struggled to gain traction in a tough Big East.

During his tenure, Mullin finished 59-73 overall and 20-52 in the Big East as St. John’s had a disappointing end to this season after a 12-0 start. Flaming out in the First Four of the 2019 NCAA tournament after barely making into the Field of 68, the Red Storm suffered a blowout loss to Arizona State in Dayton to end their season.

Sun Devils head coach Bobby Hurley could be an option to make a move back to the East coast as his name is already being linked to the St. John’s opening.

“Chris Mullin is our coach,” St. John’s AD says

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Chris Mullin will be back at St. John’s next year, according to the school’s athletic director.

“Let me be clear and I said from the start, Coach Mullin is our head coach and we are not looking for another head coach,” Mike Cragg said in a statement released to Jeff Goodman of Stadium.

Speculation had begun to run rampant regarding Mullin after he completed his fourth season at his alma mater with an NCAA tournament exit in the First Four. It was the first NCAA tournament appearance for the Red Storm under Mullin, who has gone 59-73 overall and 20-52 in the Big East without a single winning season in conference play.

The lack of success isn’t the only issue facing St. John’s as a pair of departure have hurt the program as well. Shamorie Ponds, one of the Big East’s best players last year, has announced his plans to go pro without the intent to return to school. Mullin also lost assistant Matt Abdelmassih, who had recruited the bulk of the Red Storm roster, to Nebraska and Fred Hoiberg.

The program has had momentum and success in small supply in four seasons, and what little there was last season – Mullin’s first with a winning record – looks as though it will be difficult to sustain going forward.

St. John’s junior Shamorie Ponds going pro

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Shamorie Ponds’ college career is coming to a close.

The St. John’s junior will declare for the NBA draft and sign with an agent, he announced Thursday.

“Playing for St. John’s has been nothing less than amazing for me. To RedStorm Nation, I thank y’all each & every night for giving me the confidence to be myself and accept me for who I am thru my highs & lows,” Ponds wrote on Instagram. “With that being said, coming to St John’s was one of the best decisions of my life. After speaking it over with my loved ones, I want to announce that I WILL BE ENTERING THE 2019 NBA DRAFT & hiring an agent.”

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Playing for St. John’s has been nothing less than amazing for me. To RedStorm Nation, I thank y’all each & every night for giving me the confidence to be myself and accept me for who I am thru my highs & lows❤️. To my brothers, we been thru hell & back but this season was a success even though we ain’t get the outcome we wanted. I appreciate my dawgs for picking me up when I was down, and challenging me each and every night to be the best me. GANG 4Eva🤞🏽🖤. To the coaching staff, all 3 years y’all brung out something new in me, I’ve mature over the years, y’all helped me become a better person on and off the court. I thank y’all for that🙏🏾. With that being said, coming to St John’s was one of the best decisions of my life. After speaking it over with my loved ones, I want to announce that I WILL BE ENTERING THE 2019 NBA DRAFT & hiring an agent. #NWNBForever✍🏽 & the Journey continues . . . #2out ✌🏽 💔

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The 6-foot-1 Brooklyn native averaged 19.7 points this past season, shooting 45.3 percent overall and 35.3 percent from 3-point range. His scoring and playmaking helped the Red Storm make their first NCAA tournament in four years under coach Chris Mullin, albeit a First Four loss to Arizona State. Ponds projects as a a late-first, early-second round pick heading into the early predraft process.

His departure surely isn’t overly surprising, but it does underscore the fact it could be an uphill climb for St. John’s next season. Even with the tourney bid, it’s hard to see how Mullin won’t be under considerable pressure to show positive momentum after barely getting into the Big Dance. Now he’ll have to do it without his best player of the last two years.

Arizona State races past St. John’s

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Arizona State raced out to an early lead and never trailed as they advanced past St. John’s with a 74-65 win on Wednesday night during an NCAA tournament First Four game in Dayton.

Jumping out to a double-digit lead 10 minutes into the game, the Sun Devils were barely threatened until late in the second half as the Red Storm had a disjointed night on offense. St. John’s had some early momentum in the second half during an 8-0 burst when the Arizona State lead was cut to eight points. The Sun Devils quickly pushed the lead back to double-digits with another run. With under five minutes left, St. John’s made a final push to cut the Arizona State lead to seven but they never made it over the hump to get fully back into the game.

Freshman Luguentz Dort was the standout for Arizona State on Wednesday as he finished with 21 points. Although Dort experienced a scary fall early in the second half, he shook off the hard landing to return. Dort’s health will be something to monitor for the next round as he’s clearly the best offensive weapon for the Sun Devils. Forward Zylan Cheatham (14 points) was the only other double-figure scorer for the Sun Devils on Wednesday as Arizona State didn’t play a particularly crisp game on offense.

Although Arizona State (23-10) led the entire game, they had 21 turnovers and some sloppy possessions that they’ll need to clean up before Friday’s first-round matchup with Buffalo. Arizona State advances to play the No. 6 seed Bulls on Friday in a West Region game in Tulsa. The matchup will feature Sun Devils head coach Bobby Hurley going against his former team as he left Buffalo four seasons ago to take the job in Tempe. Hurley will also be facing a head coach, Nate Oats, that he hired as an assistant coach at Buffalo. Wednesday’s win for the Sun Devils also marks the first NCAA tournament win for Arizona State since 2009 when they beat Temple in the first round.

St. John’s (21-13) never found a rhythm on offense as they shot 32 percent (22-for-69) from the field and 26 percent (8-for-31) from three-point range. Junior guard Shamorie Ponds (25 points, four assists) and guard L.J. Figueroa (19 points) were two of the only bright spots for the Red Storm as St. John’s turned the ball over 16 times.

Starting the 2018-19 season with a 12-0 record, St. John’s finished the year 9-13 as they plummeted once Big East play started. After such a promising start to the season, many predicted that St. John’s would be a factor in the Big East race.

Instead, St. John’s slipped to the point of barely making the Field of 68 as they were the last at-large team let into the field. Losing in a First Four game after being a top-25 team only two months ago is a very disappointing ending to what looked like a comeback season for this program. The Red Storm have not won an NCAA tournament game since 2000 as they’ve dropped five straight in the Big Dance.