College Basketball Betting Preview for Big East: Which Teams Can Compete With Villanova?
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- Villanova is once again the clear favorite in the Big East, but things won't be a walk in the park.
- St. John's, Xavier, UConn, Seton Hall and two others represent the conference's second tier.
- Shane McNichol breaks down the Big East from top-to-bottom.
The nation’s best basketball-first conference is primed for a dramatic season.
Villanova will be largely unchallenged at the top of the standings, but the battle for additional NCAA Tournament spots will be heated.
The next five or six teams in the pecking order will have their sights set on the postseason.
The hierarchy in the conference standings could go a long way in determining who dances into the NCAA Tournament and who is left in the NIT or sitting at home.
Few teams will benefit more from the fifth year of eligibility being offered to players this season than Jay Wright and the Wildcats.
This rule allows long-time contributor Jermaine Samuels to stick around and gives Nova Nation one more year with Collin Gillespie, after an injury ended his season prematurely last year.
Two variables will decide if Villanova is a national title contender or simply among the best teams in the Big East.
First, Wright is counting on unproven players in his frontcourt. Jeremiah Robinson-Earl headed for the NBA with no obvious replacement behind him. Villanova will need Eric Dixon, Trey Patterson or Nnanna Njoku to step up and provide production in the paint.
Secondly, Villanova needs to find a capable second scorer.
Samuels has always been more of an energy player, though he did improve as a shooter last year. Former highly-ranked recruit Bryan Antoine has never shown the flashes expected of him at Villanova.
That makes Justin Moore the most likely candidate. A leap in Moore’s production in his junior year could make Wright’s offense — which is always powered by guards creating — much more potent this season.
If you’re eyeing Villanova in the futures market, early non-conference games against Tennessee, UCLA and Baylor should be an indication of its standing nationally.
The Crowded Second Tier
The Huskies are likely the second-best team in the conference, but the gap between Villanova and anyone else is a canyon-sized gulf.
UConn will be extraordinarily frisky on the defensive end (keep an eye out for early-season unders), though the Huskies’ offense has the tough task of replacing the production of lottery pick James Bouknight.
Bouknight led the Big East in usage rate last season and no one remaining on this roster looks ready to fill that void.
There’s actual buzz growing for a St. John’s team led by Mike Anderson.
Posh Alexander and Julian Champagnie are a legitimate one-two punch capable of sparking the St. John’s offense.
A handful of intriguing transfers, like Stef Smith from Vermont, Montez Mathis from Rutgers and Aaron Wheeler from Purdue, add some additional pop.
If the Johnnies can be as pesky defensively as they were last year — ranking 10th nationally in steal rate — there’s a tournament bid in their future.
The Musketeers’ chances to fight in the Big East’s top weight class took a hit when junior forward Zach Freemantle suffered an injury that should keep him sidelined into December.
He had a chance to be the best scoring big in the conference, and still might, but he’ll be missed.
His production could be replaced by Iowa transfer Jack Nunge, who showed real flashes last season while backing up Luka Garza.
If Nunge can be a reliable second banana to fifth-year senior Paul Scruggs, Xavier has the depth to be an at-large tournament team capable of winning in March.
Sandro Mamukelashvili powered everything offensively for the Pirates last year.
Kevin Willard is hoping that Syracuse transfer Kadary Richmond can fill that role this season. Richmond will be flanked by upperclassmen who have been a part of this recent stretch of Seton Hall success.
Keep an eye on Bryce Aiken, former Ivy League Player of the Year at Harvard. If he can stay healthy, he really elevates Seton Hall’s offensive ceiling.
His injury history won’t make that easy, though, as Aiken hasn’t played 20 games in a season since 2017.
The Bluejays are very talented, though it will be interesting to see if Greg McDermott is able to make his team gel together throughout the course of the season.
Creighton lost its five leading minute-getters from last season and will look for players like Ryan Kalkbrenner and Shereef Mitchell to grow from reserves to meaningful starters.
In lieu of returning production, McDermott will be looking for newcomers to step in. He brought in the best recruiting class in school history (seventh in the nation, via 247 Sports) and last year’s top recruit (Rati Andronikashvili) returns from a torn ACL.
Ryan Hawkins transferred up from Division II, where he scored 22 points per game and led Northwest Missouri State to the National Championship.
If McDermott can arrange that hodgepodge into a house of cards, the Bluejays could be the second-best team in the conference. That is far easier said than done, though.
LaVall Jordan brings everyone back this season, with only UCLA returning a higher percentage of last year’s minutes among power conference teams (yes, football fans, the Big East is a power conference).
Returning everyone from a team that was sub-.500 doesn’t engender a ton of excitement unless there’s some real player development.
Sophomore Chuck Harris is the prime candidate there after dropping 12.9 points per game in his rookie campaign. Butler needs him to grow as a creator to lead the offense if it wants to compete for a tournament bid this season.
The Back of the Pack
Leading scorer David Duke headed off to the pros, leaving Providence in a bind in the scoring department.
Ed Cooley’s teams always defend and rebound, but if he’s going to continue to run a slow, flex-based offense without a dynamic scorer on the roster, it’s hard to see how the Friars can contend in a crowded Big East.
Shaka Smart is the new sheriff in town, though expectations should be tempered in year one.
There isn’t much to work with in Milwaukee, save for Maryland transfer Daryl Morsell. He’s one of the nation’s best perimeter defenders and should benefit from playing in Smart’s defensive scheme.
Otherwise, it figures to be a rebuilding year with a new coach adjusting to a new program.
Most of the roster that put together last year’s miracle run at MSG to win the Big East Tournament is gone. Patrick Ewing once again faces a difficult season.
Dante Harris should grow into a go-to guy for the Hoyas, yet the talent around him is just not strong enough to expect this team to compete for a tournament bid.
Freshman center Ryan Mutombo is a familiar name for fans — he’s Dikembe’s son — but the glory days in D.C. are ancient history for this program.
And Also, DePaul
Are a new coach and four power conference transfers enough to pull DePaul out of the Big East cellar? No, sadly. We’re talking about DePaul.
Since joining the Big East, DePaul has played 17 seasons in the conference and has one winning record. The Blue Demons haven’t finished outside of the bottom three teams in the conference standings since 2007 and have been last or tied for last five years running.
New coach Dana Stubblefield brought former top-100 recruit Jalen Terry from Oregon with him via the transfer portal, but that simply isn’t enough to elevate the Blue Demons from the depths of hell.