The non-conference schedule has been dissected, a team at a time, the players have been broken down, from their worst possible outcomes, to the best, what has sent Xavier hurtling toward the top of the college basketball world, though, is their conference. Ken Pomeroy, lord of the college basketball stats realm, has ranked the conferences and has the Big East third behind the ACC and Big 12, the same place they finished last year. The defending national champ comes from the Big East, three of the consensus preseason top 25 come from the Big East, and Xavier’s top five 2017 recruiting class has the Big East in the top three in four and five star recruits.
All of that to say, there is no question that the conference is part of the secret behind the success of the Musketeers. This season Xavier is projected to finish second in the Big East behind the reigning champs. You already know all there is to know about X before this thing tips off on Friday, here’s where everyone else stands.
Villanova: (Final KenPom last year- 1, Preseason KenPom- 2)
It’s not really hard to remember where the Wildcats ended the season last year. They were that team jumping around after Kris Jenkins lived the dream that every basketball fan has had since birth. Jay Wright doesn’t have rebuilding seasons, though, and Nova looks primed to make a deep run again this year.
Key Losses: Ryan Arcidiacono and Daniel Ochefu. Both of these guys were solid performers without setting the world alight. Ochefu was a James Farr type who rebounded voraciously (top 150 in both rates) and got most of his offense in that way. Arcidiacono was a solid shooter (39.4% from deep) who kept everyone involved in the offense and chipped in 12 points per game in his own right. Losing two four year seniors could gut most programs, but Villanova has ascended to the ranks of the teams mostly insulated from departures.
Key players: What about a team that returns Kris Jenkins, Josh Hart, Mikal Bridges, and Jalen Brunson? What if that team added four star recruits in Donte DiVencenzo (6-4, guard) and Tim Delaney (6-8, forward) after red shirt seasons and 6-9 five star Omari Spellman if he doesn’t redshirt? That’s a loaded team, and that’s without dipping into the talented pool of role players still on the roster. These guys are still going places.
Seton Hall: (Last year- 29, Preseason- 38)
The Pirates went from being a plucky upstart story to being remarkably annoying last year. Xavier knocked them off once, but lost to them twice in the final fortnight of the season, including in the Big East tournament. The face of the team has changed since then, but SHU is far from out of the NCAA running.
Key Losses: Isaiah Whitehead. Whitehead used 31% of the Pirates possessions last year and essentially led the team in everything that mattered with a 18.2/3.6/5.1 line on 38% shooting. Once conference play had well and truly started, Whitehead threw the team on his back and didn’t drop them until his spectacular 4-24 flameout in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Derrick Gordon also moved on, though Seton Hall will feel his loss much more on the defensive end.
Key players: Khadeen Carrington was second on the team in usage behind Whitehead. Carrington was an indisputably better shooter and more efficient offensive player and should thrive with more opportunities to score now that Whitehead isn’t monopolizing the ball. Angel Delgado also comes back with his excellent rebounding on both ends and a penchant for extravagant whining. Supplementing those two are the team’s most efficient scorer from last year, Dest Rodriguez, and four star guard and three point ace Myles Powell.
Butler: (Last year- 30, Preseason- 19)
The best team in college basketball to play their home games in a barn last season rallied late in the year and picked up a tournament win before being eliminated by Virginia. That fitting send off to eighth year senior Roosevelt Jones could be eclipsed by the Bulldog squad this year.
Key losses: Short of Providence, Butler may be the team that took the biggest hit with departures. Roosevelt Jones, despite being nearly 30, averaged 13.8/6.6/4.7 in 34 minutes per game. That he did that with a 108.8 efficiency speaks to the discipline in his game. Kellen “Kelli” Dunham scaled back his usage last year and posted an offensive rating of 118. Dunham led the team in scoring with 16.2 points per game and posted a shooting line of .438/.429/.841.
Key players: Andrew Chrabascz (“Cabbage” to Byron Larkin) was the nation’s 74th most efficient player last year. Chrabascz averaged 10.7 per game and shot 53% inside the arc and 37% from deep. The returning usage leader for Butler is Kelan Martin, who used 26% of the Bulldogs possessions last year and posted a 15.7/6.8/1.1 line, rebounding well despite being only 6-6. Tyler Wideman, a 6-8 post, and Tyler Lewis, a 5-11 guard, also return to join four star 6-10 true center Joey Brunk.
Creighton: (Last year- 40, Preseason- 32)
The Bluejays flew (pun!) under the radar most of last year and ended up needing a deep run in the Big East tournament to strengthen their at large argument. They didn’t get it and ended up playing elsewhere while the eyes of the world were on the NCAAs.
Key losses: Seven footer Geoffrey Groselle and his 124.9 offensive rating are gone. Groselle was also 50th in the nation on the offensive glass and shot 70% inside the arc. That’s not incredibly easy production to replace. James Milliken posted a 9.7/2.1/1.8 line in 26 minutes as a glue guy and also moves on to the post-graduate world.
Key players: That leaves Greg McDermott with the nation’s 12th most efficient assist man in Mo Watson, his second most efficient scorer in Isaiah Zierden, and an absolute host of solid players. Creighton returns seven guys who averaged double digit minutes last year and adds 6-11 post Justin Patton to go with and explosive athlete in 6-5 Kobe Paras. If the ‘jays can find a way to replace what Groselle brought them, they could earn that AP top 25 slot.
Providence: (Last year- 44, Preseason- 63)
Ed Cooley’s band of media darlings apparently did enough to merit a berth to the tournament last year, but his policy of running his horses until they die caught up with him in the second round. Bereft of any other strategy, or players used to contributing, the Friars have their work cut out for them this year.
Key losses: Kris Dunn and Ben Bentil are gone. Dunn and his passing lane patrolling on defense took the headlines, but it was Bentil who was far more efficient with more usage on offense. With just those two departures Providence loses 37.5/13/7.3 per game, both of their players with a usage rate over 20%, their only guy in the top 500 in either rebounding rate, two of their top three three point shooters, their best free throw shooter, and their top blocks guy. Oh, and Junior Lomomba left as well.
Key players: Say hi to Rodney Bullock. Last year Rodney was, actually, on the team and actually played more minutes than Dunn. Bullock was a horse in his own right with a line of 11.4/6.8/1 on 44% from the floor. After that, Providence returns barely 20 points per game combined from their remaining players. Adding to the ranks this year are ESPN100 forward Alpha Diallo and three star point guard Maliek White. Is Ed Cooley a good coach? We’ll soon find out.
Marquette: (Last year- 97, Preseason- 47)
Marquette’s freshman class last year gave them a lot of preseason hope that never did pan out. The Golden Eagles played some good games, beating Butler and Providence, but were nowhere near consistent enough to make a run toward the tournament. Another loaded class is sparking more excitement, but Marquette needs to prove they can live up to it.
Key losses: Henry Ellenson was the big piece from the recruiting class that had everyone so excited, and he’s gone. 17 points, ten rebounds, and two assists is never easy to replace, but Marquette loses only Ellenson. It’s a big loss, but it may not be crippling.
Key players: Luke Fischer and his 12 points, Haanif Cheatham and his 11, and Duane Wilson for 11, and JuJuan Johnson with 10 per game all return to help with the scoring. That’s a good deal of scoring coming back and Fischer especially is a force on the offensive glass. ESPN100 recruits Markus Howard, an explosive scoring guard, and 6-6 swingman Sam Hauser are both excellent prospects that could boost the Eagles into bubble contention.
Georgetown: (Last year- 62, Preseason- 29)
If questions remain about Ed Cooley’s ability to coach, they must swirl constantly around JTIII. The Hoyas were loaded with talent and projected to finish second in the conference last season, instead they went 15-18 and lost to both Radford and UNC Ashville. Georgetown has talent again this year, but does that matter?
Key losses: DSR has finally moved on. It must have been a frustrating senior season for the point guard, but he played nearly 90% of the available minutes and was once again the leading scorer and assist man on the team. Some part of him must surely wonder what might have been.
Key players: Literally everyone else returns. LJ Peak exploded last year to average 12.3 points on 41% behind the arc. Bradley Hayes was a monster on the defensive glass and 250th in the nation in offensive rebounding rate. Isaac Copeland played more minutes than anyone but DSR and shot 54% inside the arc on his way to 11 points per game. Marcus Derrickson and Tre Campbell each averaged 21 minutes per game and also come back to bolster the team on the wings. Jagan Mosley, a four star guard with scoring ability from off the ball, is the top recruit to join the team.
DePaul: (Last year- 182, Preseason- 177)
Yes, the Blue Demons weren’t the worst team in the conference last year. As unlikely as that is, it isn’t because they were any good. At some point in time DePaul will surely have to win again, or they may find themselves the sacrificial lamb to add a legitimate contender to the Big East.
Key losses: Myke Henry was the only player on the team with an offensive rating over 105, and he’s now gone. Henry led the team in scoring (13.7 ppg), and rebounding (6.2 per game) as well. Xavier terrorizing 6-11 swingman Tommy Hamilton transferred out to greener pastures at Texas Tech.
Key players: Billy Garrett remains a very serviceable point guard on a team that needs a miracle worker. Garrett is an excellent free throw shooter and a solid decision maker. On a team like Xavier, he’d be a great option off the bench. On DePaul, he’s the de facto star. The sad fact is that DePaul doesn’t have anyone coming in that really catches the eye. Dave Leitao hasn’t shown any ability to bring in top level players.
St. John’s: (Last year- 211, Preseason- 108)
Further up I’ve questioned whether a couple of guys were high level coaches. There is no such question with Chris Mullin, he isn’t. The Red Storm have lost seven players to transfer and return exactly zero seniors.
Key losses: No one on this team had an offensive efficiency over 95. In that distorted prism, the loss of Durand Johnson, a shameless gunner who scored 12 points per game on 37% from the floor, seems like something worse than it is. Felix Balamou is also gone but, well, he was awful.
Key players: Here’s where the rubber meets the road (or the butt meets the scorer’s table?) for Mullin. Federico Mussini, Kassoum Yawke, Malik Ellison, and Yankuba Sima all return as sophomores. Marcus Lovett arrived as the basketball messiah last year and then was ruled ineligible. He and all-everything guard Shamorie Ponds are the future of the team. If Mullin can’t get some production from his underclassmen this year, if he, say, simply sits on the table sipping Sprite and watching the world burn, he’ll go down as nothing more than a nostalgic sideshow when he’s fired at the end of the season.