The Big East had nine players with eligibility remaining go through the NBA draft process. Now that the smoke has cleared and the dust has settled or what have you, five guys chose to forfeit their remaining amateur eligibility and continue playing basketball solely as profressionals. Obviously, these are big decisions not only for the players but also for the balance of power in the league. Let's break it down.
Isaiah Whitehead, Seton Hall - leaving
Whitehead may not have been the best player in the conference, but he was one of the most important. He led the league in usage, was fourth in assist rate, and fourth in three-point percentage while doubling as a fairly effective defender. Desi Rodriguez, Khadeen Carrington, and Angel Delgado are all nice pieces going forward for the Pirates, but the team rose and fell on Whitehead's work and he was locked in down the stretch in games played at or around sea level. His decision was the single biggest in the conference, dropping Seton Hall from a team with a puncher's chance for the title to one that lands somewhere in the mid-table muddle.
Ben Bentil and Kris Dunn, Providence - leaving
There's nothing Providence coach Ed Cooley likes to do more than take one or two guys and just saddle them up, and this year it was Bentil and Dunn who landed second and fifth in minutes percentage in Big East play. Dunn got the majority of the press, but he was a below-average offensive player (especially in the half court) who used a ton of possessions. Bentil was an absolute monster, crushing the glass at both ends, scoring at all three levels, and drawing more fouls per 40 minutes played than anyone else in the league. Both of these players are leaving at a point at which their stock is likely peaking.
Their departures don't cripple Providence, but they come darn close. Of the Friars' returning players, only Rodney Bullock played more than two-thirds of the available minutes, and he brought a conference ORtg of 95.7 in that time. If he doesn't make a huge jump, someone else is going to have to really step up to keep Providence afloat.
Henry Ellenson, Marquette - leaving
Ellenson came in touted as a monster pick up for Marquette, and he more or less fit the bill in his lone season of college play. He had some flaws exposed - not least of which was a complete inability to guard Trevon Bluiett - but he rebounded very well and showed good athleticism for a 6'11", 245-pound player. Neither he nor his brother Wally (also departing) will be missed among the Xavier faithful; as far as his decision's impact on Marquette goes, the Golden Eagles bring back some good pieces (Luke Fischer, Haanif Cheatham, JaJuan Johnson, et c.) and Coach Wojciechowski figures to have them continuing on an upward trajectory.
Jalen Reynolds, Xavier - leaving
It never quite came together for Jalen at Xavier. He'll be missed.
Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins, Villanova - returning
Yikes. You may recall that Villanova won the national title last year. In Hart and Jenkins, they're bringing back the first- and fourth-best players in the Big East according to KenPom.com and the dude who hit the gamer in the national championship game to boot. Hart is a versatile player on both ends of the court and was fifth in the KenPom Player of the Year rankings last year, and Jenkins is a nightmare matchup at the four who hit 100 threes in 40 games last season. Despite the departures of former BE POY Ryan Arcidiacono and the incredibly underrated Daniel Ochefu, Villanova will once again be favored to win the league thanks to getting these two guys back.
Trevon Bluiett, Xavier - returning
It's the nature of fans of a team to pick out flaws in players after a few dozen games, but just looking at the numbers for Bluiett reveals a pretty doggone talented player. With James Farr graduating and Jalen Reynolds off to seek his fortune, Bluiett is the exclamation point in a front line that would have otherwise been filled with question marks. His ability to play the three or four will allow Coach Mack to mix and match at the forward positions depending on who is playing well. Bluiett's return keeps Xavier firmly on Villanova's heels in the conference.
Mo Watson, Creighton - returning
I have mixed feelings about this one. On the one hand, I admire Watson's game and his ability to lead the conference in assist rate despite not being surrounded by a wealth of firepower. I've long stumped for Greg McDermott's qualities as a coach, and what he gets out of Watson speaks to that. On the other hand, there's something uniquely frustrating about watching a 5'10" guy carve up your team. It's hard to see Watson's stock going up in his senior year, but it was always going to be hard to see him finding a home in the NBA. He made the right decision to come back, and he'll be playing alongside former four-star recruit and Syracuse transfer guard Kaleb Joseph this year. With Watson at the helm, Creighton will be a top-four team in the Big East this year. I think.
The bottom line is that I think all nine guys made good decisions. I think the case could be made for Whitehead and/or Ellenson to have come back and tried to play their respective ways into the lottery, but that's leaving a lot of money up in the air if they think they'll be first-round guys this year. All three teams mentioned here with guys coming back will be in the mix near the top of the conference standings next season; on the flip side, Providence and Seton Hall have real question marks going forward thanks to the guys who set off into pro ball this year.