Predicting the 2014-15 Big East College Basketball Standings
The first year of the new Big East was quite uninspired, but in compiling the projected Big East standings for the 2014-15 college basketball season, we see a conference that could earn at least six bids to the NCAA tournament this year.
Of course, for a conference to send more than half its teams to the Big Dance, it needs to have a couple of dreadful teams at the bottom. Fortunately for the rest of the conference, DePaul, Marquette and perhaps even Creighton have volunteered to make that sacrifice this year.
At the brighter end of the spectrum, Villanova will be looking to make it two straight Big East regular-season titles, but don't be surprised if Georgetown or Xavier has something to say about it.
In ranking the teams from No. 1 through No. 10, we looked at outgoing players, incoming freshmen, D-I transfers, JUCO transfers, redshirts and projected starting fives. For better or worse, no stone was left unturned.
We look forward to your civilized disagreements about the order in which these teams will finish.
Other conferences previously covered in this summer series:
10. DePaul Blue Demons
2013-14 Record: 12-21 (3-15 in conference)
Key Players Leaving: Cleveland Melvin, Brandon Young, Sandi Marcius
Key Incoming Players: Myke Henry
Projected Starting Five: Billy Garrett Jr., Durrell McDonald, Jamee Crockett, Forrest Robinson, Tommy Hamilton IV
If it ain't broke, don't fix it. Or in this case, if it's hopelessly broken, don't expect it to be fixed.
DePaul has finished in dead last in the Big East in six consecutive seasons.
The Blue Demons lost their two leading scorers from last season, and their best incoming player is a forward who averaged 3.2 PPG in two seasons for Illinois before transferring last summer.
They do have three incoming JUCO transfers, but not one of them is regarded with particular promise.
If one of them pans out, though, DePaul might have just enough firepower to win a few conference games in 2014-15. There might also be hope for two or three years down the road, as their best returning players (Garrett and Hamilton) were both freshmen last season.
But if DePaul finishes anywhere other than 10th place this season, it would only be because some other team completely tanks. Expecting so much as five conference wins out of this team would be far too optimistic.
After all, DePaul is 10-98 in the Big East since the start of the 2008-09 season.
9. Marquette Golden Eagles
2013-14 Record: 17-15 (9-9 in conference)
Key Players Leaving: Davante Gardner, Chris Otule, Jake Thomas, Jamil Wilson
Key Incoming Players: Matt Carlino, Sandy Cohen, Nick Noskowiak, Luke Fischer*
Projected Starting Five: Derrick Wilson, Carlino, Todd Mayo, Cohen, Fischer
*Luke Fischer won't become eligible until December, but should be the starting center by the time Big East play begins.
When Buzz Williams decided to leave for a lower-paying job with Virginia Tech, it was a pretty big red flag that things were going downhill in a hurry for Marquette.
Before he left, the Golden Eagles had one of the 25 best recruiting classes in the nation. But within a month, Ahmed Hill, Satchel Pierce, and Marial Shayok all decommitted from Marquette, leaving Steve Wojciechowski with one heck of a rebuilding project.
Wojo was able to get Cohen and Noskowiak to recommit to Marquette, but the damage was done.
He still has a few months to add players, but as things currently stand, Fischer is the only player on the roster taller than 6'7".
The Golden Eagles will have some great senior guards in Wilson, Carlino and Mayo, but there will be nights when Marquette is minus-20 in rebounding margin.
In the long run, the Wojciechowski hiring should be a good one, but even John Wooden would need a couple of years to have this team ready to legitimately compete for a Big East title again.
8. Creighton Bluejays
2013-14 Record: 27-8 (14-4 in conference)
Key Players Leaving: Doug McDermott, Grant Gibbs, Jahenns Maniget, Ethan Wragge
Key Incoming Players: Ronnie Harrell
Projected Starting Five: Austin Chatman, Devin Brooks, Harrell, Avery Dingman, Will Artino
Fantastic as he was, Creighton was more than just Doug McDermott.
Unfortunately, most of the other pivotal players from last year's team have also graduated.
Chatman is Greg McDermott's only returning starter. Artino, Brooks, Dingman and Isaiah Zierden each played a crucial role off the bench, but this team will look nothing like what it did last year.
Not only is Creighton going to have considerably less talent than last year, but quite a few other teams in the Big East should be better than they were a season ago. Georgetown, Seton Hall and Xavier all have great incoming freshmen, and Butler should be much improved with Roosevelt Jones back in the mix.
Harrell could be a stud, but one freshman can't possibly replace everything the Bluejays are losing.
On the bright side, Creighton's fall from grace should only last for one season. Greg McDermott landed Cole Huff, Ricky Kreklow and Maurice Watson as transfers who will most likely need to sit out this year, but that's one heck of a trio the Bluejays will be adding in 2015-16.
7. Providence Friars
2013-14 Record: 23-12 (10-8 in conference)
Key Players Leaving: Bryce Cotton, Kadeem Batts, Josh Fortune, Brandon Austin
Key Incoming Players: Paschal Chukwu, Jalen Lindsey
Projected Starting Five: Kris Dunn, LaDontae Henton, Lindsey, Tyler Harris, Carson Desrosiers
Losing Cotton could be an even bigger deal for Providence than Doug McDermott's departure from Creighton.
Once the Friars lost Dunn for the season, they had little choice but to play Cotton for just about every minute of every game—and he didn't disappoint. The senior point guard averaged 21.8 points and 5.9 assists per game.
But now he's gone, and so are a trio of other important players.
Batts graduated. Nothing they could do about that. But Fortune probably would have been a starter this year if he hadn't transferred to Colorado. And Austin was their top 2013 recruit before his involvement in a sexual assault incident that resulted in his dismissal from the team.
Still, Providence might have just enough in the tank to flirt with a second consecutive NCAA tournament appearance.
If Dunn stays healthy this year, he and Henton should be a solid duo in the backcourt. In addition to the other three projected starters, the Friars will also have Chukwu (7'1" C) off the bench in a formidable frontcourt.
That's the optimistic perspective, though.
Harris isn't much of a rebounder, and Desrosiers is no stranger to foul trouble. If Lindsey and Chukwu are unable to deliver quality minutes as freshmen, it might be a rough year for Ed Cooley's squad.
6. Seton Hall Pirates
2013-14 Record: 17-17 (6-12 in conference)
Key Players Leaving: Fuquan Edwin, Eugene Teague, Brian Oliver
Key Incoming Players: Isaiah Whitehead, Angel Delgado
Projected Starting Five: Sterling Gibbs, Whitehead, Brandon Mobley, Delgado, Patrick Auda
Few fanbases have been tortured like Seton Hall's over the past eight seasons.
There are a lot of teams that haven't been to the NCAA tournament since 2006, but just about all of them have lost more games than they have won during that stretch. The Pirates, however, are 132-125 in the last eight years.
Last season was particularly painful as 10 of their 17 losses were by five or fewer points.
With a little better luck, they could have easily made the Big Dance.
Though that team is losing three of its top four scorers, Seton Hall has one of the best recruiting classes in the entire country—headlined by Isaiah Whitehead.
If he is as good as advertised, it should only take about 10 minutes for fans to get over the loss of Edwin, Teague and Oliver.
The one top scorer who didn't graduate is junior point guard Gibbs. He and Whitehead (and backup point guard Jaren Sina) will likely be the best backcourt in the conference.
Will the frontcourt be good enough to help those great guards make the tournament?
Auda had four different games last season with at least 15 points, but he was an inconsistent scorer and an average rebounder. Mobley had three games with at least 16 points, but also had six games with two or fewer—and like Auda, he wasn't a great rebounder given his height (6'9").
For the sake of Seton Hall fans, here's hoping Delgado is good enough from Day 1 to help break the streak of 13-18 losses per year.
5. St. John's Red Storm
2013-14 Record: 20-13 (10-8 in conference)
Key Players Leaving: JaKarr Sampson, God'sgift Achiuwa, Orlando Sanchez, Max Hooper
Key Incoming Players: Keith Thomas
Projected Starting Five: Rysheed Jordan, Phil Greene, D'Angelo Harrison, Thomas, Chris Obekpa
St. John's dodged one heck of a bullet when Obekpa reneged on his decision to transfer, electing to instead come back for at least one more year with the Johnnies. Had the shot-blocking machine actually followed through and left town, 6'5" Sir'Dominic Pointer would have been the tallest returning player that scored more than two points last season.
With Obekpa back in the fold, though, this is a team that could do some serious damage.
Harrison might be one of the most underrated players in the country.
The Red Storm's shooting guard will enter his final collegiate season with 1,672 career points already under his belt. Harrison obviously won't come anywhere close to Doug McDermott's 3,150 points, but he could easily mess around and become just the 10th major-conference player in the past 18 years to reach at least 2,275 career points.
And Jordan might be just as good of a player as Harrison is before all is said and done.
The big risk-reward for St. John's is JUCO-transfer Keith Thomas. As outlined by Zach Braziller of the New York Post, Thomas has gone through a litany of issues to get to where he is today. From injuries to academic problems, legal problems and deaths in the family, you name it and Thomas endured it.
But when both mentally and physically healthy, Thomas is a monster on the court. Last season for Westchester Community College, Thomas averaged 15.3 points and 15.7 rebounds per game—leading the nation in the latter category.
If he can be even remotely that effective at the D-I level, it would go a long, long way toward helping the Red Storm replace Sampson in the paint. Throw in the expected improvement in Jordan's game as a sophomore, and St. John's should find itself on the right side of the bubble this year.
4. Butler Bulldogs
2013-14 Record: 14-17 (4-14 in conference)
Key Players Leaving: Khyle Marshall, Erik Fromm, Elijah Brown, Rene Castro
Key Incoming Players: Kelan Martin, Austin Etherington
Projected Starting Five: Alex Barlow, Kellen Dunham, Roosevelt Jones, Andrew Chrabascz, Kameron Woods
I still don't understand how Butler's 2013-14 season spiraled so hopelessly out of control.
On New Year's Eve, the Bulldogs entered a game against Villanova with a 10-2 record on the season that included a pair of neutral-court, two-point losses to Oklahoma State and LSU. They took the Wildcats to overtime before eventually coming up short.
They subsequently lost two more overtime games in the next two weeks and simply never recovered.
Yes, it was their first season without Brad Stevens. And yes, losing Roosevelt Jones to a preseason wrist injury certainly didn't help matters. But Butler deserved better than 14 conference losses in what wasn't a very strong Big East.
No matter. The Bulldogs will be back in business this season.
Losing Marshall and Brown could make things difficult, but keeping Dunham and getting Jones back should more than help ease the blow.
When he wanted to be, Dunham was the type of player who could single-handedly carry a team to victory, and Jones was poised for a breakout junior season before that wrist injury. If both players put it all together, look out.
The only real question mark in the lineup is at power forward, but Brandon Miller has several options between Chrabascz, Martin and Etherington. One of them will eventually pan out, and Butler will be back in the NCAA tournament where it belongs.
3. Xavier Musketeers
2013-14 Record: 21-13 (10-8 in conference)
Key Players Leaving: Semaj Christon, Isaiah Philmore, Justin Martin
Key Incoming Players: Trevon Bluiett, Edmond Sumner, Remy Abell
Projected Starting Five: Dee Davis, Myles Davis, Bluiett, Jalen Reynolds, Matt Stainbrook
The Musketeers should be very good, but they also could have been incredible.
Had Christon not left two years early for the NBA and Martin not transferred to SMU, Xavier would be the favorite to win the Big East. Philmore was the only key player that had to leave, and with all due respect, he was pretty replaceable.
Rather than lament about what could have been, though, let's take a brief look at the actual roster that should get back to the NCAA tournament for a second straight year.
Dee Davis is the de facto team leader. The senior point guard averaged 4.7 assists per game last season despite the fact that Christon was the primary ball-handler. This will be Davis' first real chance to run the show, and we're expecting big things.
Myles Davis also figures to have an increased role this year. As a freshman, the shooting guard made just 33 percent of his three-point attempts, but he was one of the prized possessions of the 2012 recruiting class alongside Christon and Reynolds.
If Davis is unwilling or unable to blossom as a sophomore, Chris Mack will also have Abell, Sumner and Brandon Randolph at his disposal when it comes to backcourt depth.
Stainbrook is the team's workhorse in the paint, but Mack has all sorts of options in the frontcourt as well. In addition to Reynolds and Bluiett, Xavier will have James Farr, Makinde London and Sean O'Mara coming off the bench to play in the post.
There might not be a single player on this roster who plays a game in the NBA, but the Musketeers have a deep rotation of above-average talent. That should be more than enough to finish in the top third of the 2014-15 Big East.
2. Georgetown Hoyas
2013-14 Record: 18-15 (8-10 in conference)
Key Players Leaving: Markel Starks, Nate Lubick
Key Incoming Players: Isaac Copeland, L.J. Peak, Paul White
Projected Starting Five: D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera, Jabril Trawick, Aaron Bowen, Copeland, Mikael Hopkins
The Hoyas are losing a great player in Starks, but they also have the best incoming class in the conference.
It's not the Fab Five or the Big Three, but Copeland, Peak and White should be three of the five best freshmen in the Big East. Good for Georgetown that they'll all be suiting up for John Thompson III.
In addition to the young studs, Smith-Rivera could easily be the Big East Player of the Year in his junior season.
The reason Georgetown is at No. 2 instead of No. 1, though—aside from Villanova being a very good team—is the lack of a second player in the backcourt.
Between the three freshmen, Bowen, Hopkins, Reggie Cameron and Joshua Smith, the Hoyas have forwards and centers for days.
But who's the second guard? Trawick is a fine player who averaged 12.0 PPG over the last 12 games of last season, but he's not really a three-point shooter or a point guard.
Then again, North Carolina is in pretty much the exact same boat—excellent junior combo guard, three great incoming forwards, a big man with talent but poor conditioning, no true secondary guard, etc.—and we picked the Tar Heels to win the ACC.
Georgetown just might be good enough to go from NIT to Big East champs overnight.
1. Villanova Wildcats
2013-14 Record: 29-5 (16-2 in conference)
Key Players Leaving: James Bell, Tony Chennault
Key Incoming Players: Mikal Bridges, Phil Booth
Projected Starting Five: Ryan Arcidiacono, Darrun Hilliard, Josh Hart, JayVaughn Pinkston, Daniel Ochefu
Perhaps the most promising thing about Villanova is that—aside from DePaul—the Wildcats are the only team in the Big East that isn't banking heavily upon a freshman or JUCO transfer that has never played in the team's system.
Isaiah Whitehead, Isaac Copeland, Trevon Bluiett and Keith Thomas could be All-Big East players this year, but they could also take a little while to adapt to their new environment.
With Villanova, we know what we're getting, and we already know it's good.
Bell is a substantial loss, but Hart would've been the Big East Sixth Man of the Year if not for the fact that Davante Gardner started most games on the bench for Marquette for reasons that never made any sense. Hart's transition into the starting lineup will be both seamless and welcome.
And with Hart now in the starting five, perhaps either Dylan Ennis or Kris Jenkins will make a run at the honor of best bench player in the conference.
Jay Wright does have a pair of ESPN 100 recruits in Bridges and Booth, but he also has the luxury of rarely needing to count on either of them in a big spot thanks to a quality septet of returning players.
Last year was the first time since 1982 that Villanova won an outright Big East title.
Fans should only need to wait another eight months to celebrate the next one.
Kerry Miller covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @kerrancejames.