Big East basketball preview: 7 questions that will define the Big East
In part one of our conference previews, we broke down the ACC. Today, it’s time to dissect the Big East.
But first, a tribute to the best-dressed man in the conference that also happens to coach the league’s best team:
Coach Wright’s suit collection is almost as versatile as his small-ball lineups. Villanova has won two regular season Big East crowns in a row, and a three-peat looks imminent. Now, to the defining questions.
Is freshman phenom Jalen Brunson the next great Villanova guard?
By all indications… yeah, probably. The Wildcats have had plenty of talented guards in the past – Kyle Lowry, Randy Foye, Allan Ray, Scottie Reynolds, Darrun Hilliard and Ryan Arcidiacono (Brunson’s backcourt mate) all come to mind.
Brunson comes to Philadelphia with as much hype as any of those guys had, and it will surprise nobody if the Chicago native is an All-Big East performer this season. Arcidiacono is a reigning Co-Big East Player of the Year himself for Nova, and it will be interesting to see how Wright will split up ball-handling duties. Both players are point guards at heart.
A not so bold prediction: they’ll co-exist just fine. Brunson is a crafty lefty with deceptive speed and a silky jumper, while Arcidiacono does all the little things that any champion needs. Perhaps a return to the two-point guard system is just what the doctor ordered for a Wildcats team that has struggled in the NCAA tournament as of late.
Can Kris Dunn lead an inexperienced Providence squad to the NCAA tournament?
This is going to be a fascinating subplot of the Big East season. Many, including myself, consider Dunn to be the most talented player in college basketball. But the Friars lose three of their four leading scorers from last season in LaDontae Henton, Tyler Harris and Carson Derosiers. After Dunn, Ben Bentil is the team’s returning leader in scoring at 6.4 points per game.
Dunn is a facilitator at heart, but he could easily top 20 points per game this season. Picture the mid 2000s Los Angeles Lakers here, with Kobe Bryant leading a cast of unknowns to the playoffs while launching away at the cup relentlessly. Dunn is going to be unleashed this season, and that in itself will be an entertaining show.
Villanova is a good bet to win the conference, but who finishes second?
Last year, Butler and Georgetown tied for second place in the Big East, as each notched 12-6 records. The Bulldogs and Hoyas figure to be in the conference’s upper-echelon in 2015-16, but don’t sleep on Xavier.
The Musketeers finished 9-9 in conference play last season, but they had an impressive run in the Big East Tournament and made it to the conference championship game against Villanova. They made the Sweet 16 in the NCAA tournament before bowing out against Arizona, but they showed impressive fight against former head coach Sean Miller.
Xavier loses folk hero Matt Stainbrook, but Trevon Bluiett, Jalen Reynolds and Myles Davis are all back. Look for Reynolds, especially, to turn some heads in his junior year. The bouncy forward nearly averaged 20 and 12 per 40 minutes last season, and he’s going to see more post touches and pick-and-roll feeds with Stainbrook’s departure.
Is Chris Holtmann the next great Butler coach?
Butler won 23 games last season, was a No. 6 seed in the NCAA tournament and barely lost in the Round of 32 to Notre Dame. In the public eye, it was business as usual in Indianapolis. The Bulldogs are no strangers to success in recent years, so their 2014-15 performance seemed par for the course.
But before last season, Butler’s program was lower than it had been in a long time. Brad Stevens left for the Boston Celtics, and in Brandon Miller’s first season at the helm, the Dawgs went 4-14 in the Big East. Then, almost the entire 2013 recruiting class – Nolan Berry, Rene Castro and Elijah Brown – transferred. Needless to say, they were longshots to make the NCAA tournament in 2015.
And then, Coach Holtmann saved the day. Roosevelt Jones, who returned to the lineup after missing 2013-14 with a wrist injury, did too. Holtmann’s rookie campaign was impressive, and in his second season, he has the pieces in place to challenge Villanova for a conference championship. Time will tell if he can maintain last season’s momentum sans Alex Barlow and Kameron Woods.
Are people sleeping on Marquette?
In my humble opinion – yes, yes they are. The Golden Eagles had a down year in Steve Wojciechowski's first as head coach, but they’ve re-tooled for 2015-16.
At times last season, Marquette didn’t even have double-digit players suited up. MU is going to be stronger from both a quantity and quality standpoint this season, and everything starts with freshman sensation Henry Ellenson.
Ellenson is the Big East prospect NBA scouts are drooling over the most not named Kris Dunn. As far as potential is concerned, think of Gonzaga’s Kyle Wiltjer if he had better athleticism. Ellenson will play alongside Luke Fischer, who averaged 11 points, 4.8 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per game in 2014-15, to form what has a chance to be the best frontcourt in the Big East.
If Coach Wojo can get respectable play out of his guards, don’t be surprised to see the Golden Eagles dancing in March.
How will Chris Mullin fare in his first season coaching St. John’s?
Talk about drastic turnover in a program. The Red Storm have a new coach, and virtually their entire roster is different from last season.
D’Angelo Harrison, Rysheed Jordan, Sir’Dominic Pointer and Chris Obekpa are all gone. Kenpom.com predicts that the Johnnies will finish dead last in the Big East, but those rankings are skeptical to the unknown. It’s hard to fathom St. John’s being as good as they were last season, but Mullin’s inaugural season will be fascinating regardless with plenty of fresh blood.
What will Gus Johnson’s greatest Big East call be this season?
This was last year’s promo, but it still applies today.