2019 Big East Conference Preview

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A model of consistency in the conference, Villanova has been the unquestioned and best team in the Big East over the last 6 years. Jay Wright’s team has won 5 regular season titles, 4 conference tournament titles and 2 national titles, during that span. However, another strong crop of teams are set to challenge for the throne in 2019.

Expect More of the Same

The Wildcats lost 35 PPG between Eric Paschall and Phil Booth, along with their senior-leadership in the offseason. Jay Wright did an excellent job of managing the roster last season. The presence and focus of the offense towards Paschall and Booth alleviated any pressure or burden for this year’s new cast of Jermaine Samuels, Saddiq Bey, Dahmir Cosby-Roundtree and Cole Swider to emerge.

Cosby-Roundtree and Swider may still be susceptible to inconsistent minutes with the arrivals of 5-stars Jeremiah Robinson-Earl and Bryan Antoine. The latter is likely the best and most explosive athlete signed to the program since 2009. Antoine will add flair and electricity to games bound to boost the team’s energy and induce game-changing momentum shifts. However, it was recently revealed that Antoine might not get the chance to play this season after being diagnosed with a torn labrum in his shoulder. The situation is currently fluid and the potential for him to redshirt has already been discussed.

Fellow newcomer Robinson-Earl brings a champion’s pedigree to the program, after winning GEICO Nationals as a member of IMG Academy. Already a monster on the glass, he can comfortably replace the production lost last season by Paschall. He will have to leave the 3-point threat to Antoine, Collin Gillespie and Justin Moore, but his game is very solid within the arc and he can attack in multiple ways. Overall, Villanova is a very balanced squad and has the horses to collect another regular-season and conference tournament title.

Even with potential to add to their growing list of recent titles, Seton Hall and Xavier can make it a close race at the top. The Pirates received surprising news before the NBA Draft with star guard Myles Powell returning to South Orange. The National Player of the Year candidate was largely important to the team’s success last season and that won’t change this year. His scoring pedigree dictates much of the offensive flow and how long this team can hang around in games. Given Powell’s average outside shooting numbers, it’s particularly important for him to be on the mark from 3 in games and/or receive consistent production at the free throw line for this team to take the next step.

Losing only Michael Nzei from the starting lineup, the Pirates return a lot of firepower to this year’s team. Athletic Center Taurean Thompson will be given the chance to take over Nzei’s spot and should emerge as a reliable piece given the potential for big minutes. Alongside versatile big-man Sandro Mamukaleshvili, Seton Hall features a pair of rim protectors that can comfortably put the ball on the floor to score or create for this offense outside of Powell. Despite the positive fortunes and outlook for this team, the Pirates Achilles heel lingers from last season.

One of the worst 3-point shooting teams in the nation, Seton Hall still does not have a consistent deep threat to balance out their scoring. Not a single member on last year’s roster cleared the 38% mark. If this team is to take the next step, they desperately need to hit the deep ball to become a more dynamic and unpredictable offense. Their current M.O. is to pound the ball inside and get to the foul line. It’s worked for them, but they have also had trouble keeping pace in games where they cannot win the rebounding margin and create second-change opportunities to compensate for a lack of 3-point help. Equally as hindering as not being able to keep pace, this program was not able to blow teams out. Last season the Pirates only won 2 games against Power 5 or Big East schools by more than 10 points (both against Georgetown).

Xavier enters 2019 with a very similar situation to the Pirates. Receiving positive offseason news themselves, Paul Scruggs, Naji Marshall, Tyrique Jones and Quentin Goodin all decided to remove their names from early draft consideration and return to the program. Transfer chips Bryce Moore (Western Michigan) and Jason Carter (Ohio) have joined the team and are immediately eligible to contribute this year. Coach Steele’s team now is set to compete at the top of the Big East for a conference title and hopefully make some national noise as well.

The Musketeers are a physical team and struggled to score the 3-ball almost as much as the Pirates did last season. The point guard position is an area of hope for to improve upon their poor perimeter shooting. Grad transfer Bryce Moore has consistently been a reliable outside shooter in his career, despite not being the primary scoring option on former Western Michigan teams. Although he likely won’t be the starter for this team, he has the chance to provide steady production in an area of need.

Goodin is likely entrenched as the team’s primary PG, but freshman KyKy Tandy should receive plenty of minutes this season. Tandy is a crafty ball-handler and frequently finds dribbling lanes into the paint to dish or finish acrobatic layups. Tandy’s ability to penetrate the middle of the defense will create opportunities to collapse the interior and free up Goodin, Scruggs and Marshall for uncontested 3-pointers.

Xavier may not have the advantage of a conference or national player of the year candidate, like Seton Hall, but they do have incredible depth that likely will overcome any injuries or poor scoring nights the Pirates are susceptible to. The potential for this team to compete on a high level is readily evident and it wouldn’t be surprising to see this team emerge as a mainstay in the top-25.

As Tough As Ever

Behind Villanova, Seton Hall and Xavier, the Big East is an incredibly deep conference. Patrick Ewing looks to have his best team, since taking the helm at his alma mater. Defensive All-Conference players Mac McClung, James Akinjo and Josh LeBlanc look to build on their freshman seasons for the Hoyas and could be the conference’s surprise team to compete for the title. The trio will undoubtedly lead Georgetown in scoring this season, but North Carolina State transfer Omer Yurtseven will challenge the top 3 replacing departed senior Jessie Govan. A return to the Big Dance seems destined to happen.

Ed Cooley’s Friars suffered several casualties in the offseason, losing Isaiah Jackson and Makai Ashton-Langford. Providence brought in some nice talent and may actually be better and more formidable than they were a year ago. UMass graduate transfer Luwane Pipkins (16.0 PPG, 5.2 APG, 4.9 RPG) provides immediate depth and production at the PG position. He will likely share ball-handling duties with Alpha Diallo and create a much more dynamic lineup for Providence inside and out. The Friars are battle-tested and have a real chance to take a step forward within the conference this season.

The other Big East national player of the year candidate, Markus Howard, also pulled his name out of the NBA Draft this Summer. Marquette’s leading scorer has the potential to keep the Golden Eagles competitive in the conference this year, but the team lost a lot of frontline depth from the 2018 squad. The Hauser brothers, Sam (Virginia) and Joey (Michigan State), both transferred out of the program, despite being starters and having large roles within the offense. Coach Wojciechowski will be relying on transfers Koby McEwen, Jayce Johnson and freshman Symir Torrence to fill out the missing depth from last year’s squad. McEwen and Torrence are playmaking guards that can help to ease the pressure on Howard to produce at ultra-high levels. Still, this team will only go as far as Howard takes them.

Lastly, Creighton has one of the strongest backcourt trios in the conference. Ty-Shon Alexander, Marcus Zegarowski and Davion Mintz averaged almost 36 PPG and only Center Martin Krampelj departed from the 2018 squad. This team is limited however, by a thin frontcourt group that could find difficulties against dominant inside teams like Xavier or Seton Hall. As one of the best perimeter teams in the nation, the Bluejays will need to stay aggressive on the outside and keep defenses guessing to reach another 20-win season.

Projected Standings:

1. Villanova
2. Xavier
3. Seton Hall
4. Georgetown
5. Providence
6. Marquette
7. Creighton
8. Butler
9. St. John’s – A coaching change and a lot of experience gone from last year’s team does not bode well for the Johnnies this season. LJ Figueroa and Mustapha Heron are great building blocks for new coach Mike Anderson, but what other potential stars surround them remains to be seen. It’s going to be a long year for the Red Storm in 2019.
10. DePaul – Kansas transfer Charlie Moore has received a waiver from the NCAA to immediately play for the Blue Demons this year. Forming a strong duo with freshman forward Romeo Weems, this DePaul team could surprise some teams in the conference. However, its still likely to be too steep of a climb at this stage to contend for the conference title.

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