Will Murphy ’23
The Big East is perennially one of the best conferences in college basketball, and this year’s Conference looks very deep from top to bottom. Villanova University figures to be a title contender between their experienced group of returning upperclassmen and their strong class of freshmen. In particular, look for fifth-year guard Collin Gillespie to lead the team and potentially play his way into an All-American selection. If the Wildcats can stay healthy, they should be a legitimate Final Four threat.
In their second year since their return to the Big East, University of Connecticut is a team that could challenge Villanova for the top spot within the conference. Despite losing star guard James Bouknight to the NBA, the Huskies have room to improve on last year’s strong showing. A trio of freshmen, led by top 50 recruit Samson Johnson, should be able to replace a good chunk of Bouknight’s production, while the returning upperclassmen, like R.J. Cole, are allowed to step up and shoulder more of the playmaking responsibilities.
Seton Hall University, led by head coach Kevin Willard, is another team that is consistent atop the standings in the Big East. Look for Bryce Aiken to take a big step forward in his second year at Seton Hall, as he will be one of the strongest guards in the conference, and form a formidable backcourt pairing with Syracuse transfer Kadary Richmond.
A team that could surprise some people with a top-three finish in the conference this year is Butler University. Last year, Butler had one of the youngest rotations in the country, and their star point guard and leader, Aaron Thompson, battled injuries all year. With Thompson returning for his fifth year, alongside sophomore guard Chuck Harris, the Bulldogs should bounce back from last year’s disappointment.
Another solid team that may be a top three finish is Providence College. The Friars return one of the best big men in the country in Nate Watson ’21GS, who should be able to dominate in the post and on the glass. One thing to look for is the potential addition of a more reliable jumper for Watson which would make the already imposing big man nearly unstoppable. The X-Factor for Friars should be Brycen Goodine ’23, a sharp-shooting guard with serious bounce. If Goodine can break out for Providence and Watson takes a step forward with his jumper the Friars could be poised for a run into the NCAA tournament.
The Xavier University Musketeers is another team that should be battling for a position in the middle of the pack in the deep Big East. The Musketeers return their top seven scorers from last year’s team and are hoping that experience can give them an edge this year. Zach Freemantle is a strong forward with the ability to grab rebounds, score, and facilitate offense for his teammates out of the post. If Paul Scruggs and Freemantle can stay healthy Xavier is another team with realistic NCAA tournament aspirations.
Georgetown University’s run at the end of last year has many people questioning if it was a fluke or not. Led by head coach, Patrick Ewing, Georgetown was a talented bunch, but they did not put it together until the Big East tournament last year, where they rattled off four consecutive wins to win the tournament and secure a bid into the NCAA tournament. This year’s team is looking to build off that positive momentum, despite the departure of their top four scorers from last year. If the Hoyas can have a solid year, it will likely be Dante Harris, a sophomore point guard, stepping up to lead the squad with his ability to get to the rim and create easy offense for others. Another player to watch for Georgetown is freshman Aminu Mohammed, who is projected to be a first-round pick in next year’s NBA Draft. Mohammed will be relied upon to replace a large portion of the scoring that was lost from last year’s squad.
St. John’s University is another team that will be of great interest this year. Head coach Mike Anderson likes to play at one of the fastest paces in the country and relishes speeding other teams up with their high-pressure full-court press. Leading the charge for St. John’s will be Julian Champagnie and Posh Alexander, each of whom should be candidates for the Conference’s player of the year. University of Vermont transfer Stef Smith should provide some much-needed three-point shooting off the bench for the Red Storm.
Creighton will be an intriguing team to watch this year as well, after losing their entire starting lineup from last year. Expect them to struggle early in the year, but considering they have the top-ranked freshman class in the Big East they could put things together as the year progresses. Arthur Kaluma should lead the bunch with his physicality on the defensive end and ability to guard multiple positions. Marquette University could be in line for a bounce-back year following their acquisition of Shaka Smart as head coach. They are going to have to rely heavily on the four transfers that they picked up, namely Darryl Morsel, the reigning Big Ten defensive player of the year. DePaul University should struggle again this year after losing their best player, Charlie Moore, from a team that was unable to find success last year. On the bright side, the Blue Demons do have a promising freshman in Ahamad Bynum, whose versatile skill set should allow him to make an impact immediately.