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Big East preview: Another national title team in here?

Big East preview: Another national title team in here?

They move the goalposts in the Big East. When the league reformed 10 years ago, cynics questioned whether a non-football conference could compete with football-supported teams. Three national championships in seven years seem to have settled that argument.

But now comes the league’s window to renegotiate its television deal, and those same skeptics are wondering if the Basketball Center Conference can get anything on the negotiating table. Fox paid a king’s ransom for college football, and while schools without the pigskin need less to survive (teams now make $4.6 million in revenue), they need something. What can the Big East offer in the future?

Maybe Commissioner Val Ackerman can pull out preseason picks. 10 (three) teams, more than any other conference, and four of them in the top 25. Their return to the league saw the team inject a threat on the wings and new energy in Georgetown, and mix in a Hall of Fame coach. This year looks to be the perfect storm for the Big East to showcase its brand, influence and opportunity.

The big question: Can he deliver the goods?

Two main stories

Can (relatively) new blood add to the Big East legend?

Asked about his team’s ninth pick in the preseason poll last year, Marquette’s Tyler Kolek recalled: “F—m.” The Golden Eagles feel the same way, being picked to win the conference after the regular season and postseason. .

“People like to tag things in the preseason,” coach Shaka Smart said. “it’s good. But how deep we are depends more on two preseason picks.”

Ditto for Creighton. The Bluejays defied expectations as the league’s No. 2 pick and No. 8 preseason AP ranking. All are so common that none of them matter in the dynamic and occasionally brutal NCAA tournament. San Diego State’s Darion Trammell hit a free throw with 1.2 seconds left in the game, and the Bluejays haven’t watched game film since their devastating loss in the Elite Eight. “No. No way,” says senior guard Baylor Scheierman. “Why would I?”

If those two teams live up to their early payouts, it will add to the Big East’s street cred. Three of the current 11 schools (UConn, Georgetown and Villanova) have won national titles, while three others (Providence, Seton Hall and St. John’s) have reached the Final Four as a member of the league.

St. John’s coach Rick Pitino spoke at Tuesday’s Big East media day. (Craig Ruttle/AP)

have you heard Rick Pitino is back

Shortly before 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, Rick Pitino took the court at Madison Square Garden for the league’s media day. “He’s like Elvis,” said one Big East colleague. It wasn’t far. Everywhere Pitino went, someone followed him, and the media crowd around St. John’s table grew so large that it was impossible to confirm that Pitino was actually sitting there.

It’s on the sidelines for now, but anyone who thinks the Red Wave won’t be the main attraction isn’t paying attention. The same program, which has one season since 2016, posted a 7-13 conference record a year ago, was picked to finish fifth this year. There is legitimate interest in a completely revamped roster filled with transfers, but the coaches who cast their votes were thinking more about the 71-year-old on the field than the 20-somethings on the court. Pitino is one of only two active coaches with more than one national title and the only one to lead three different teams to the Final Four.

St. John’s revitalization has long been on the Big East’s to-do list. The school finally has someone to work with.

Three players to watch

Donovan Clingan, Yukon: The rally was barely over before Dan Hurley started singing the praises of the big man. “If not one of the best players in the country — he might be one,” UConn’s coach said in May. A great compliment when one of the greats in college basketball already owns that title. But Clingan’s per-40-minute production (21.7 points, 17.1 rebounds and five blocks) almost matches Zach Eaday. The difference is last season, Klingan didn’t have to do it so often, with Adama Sanogo gifted to eat up minutes. The Huskies’ title hopes of following up on another deep March run will be significantly better if Clingan, who was on the walk at media day after suffering a sore foot, can show what strength he has to become a real impact player. .

Bryce Hopkins, Providence: Nobody talks about Providence much — as a team, that is. The Wrecks, angered by their former head coach, are the subject of many intriguing plots. But by season’s end, people may be talking about Hopkins a lot. Consider him one of the few players (including Colek, a preseason pick) with a shot at Player of the Year. A year ago, the no-name guy (Ed Cooley) averaged 15.1 points and 8.5 rebounds as a one-man breakout team, and Kim English is more than enough to build on in Year 1.

Trey Alexander, Creighton: When Ryan Nembhard transferred to Gonzaga, McDermott looked to the transfer portal for a certain type of guard: “It had to be someone who would fit with Trey,” McDermott says. That’s how important Alexander is to the Bluejays’ success. The answer came from Utah State’s Steven Ashworth, who McDermott previously said he has good chemistry with Alexander. Although Alexander says he is comfortable outside guard, he knows he needs to play more off the ball. After the junior tested the waters late last year, it came loud and clear from NBA execs, which is why Alexander spent so much time on ball screens this season. “I’m really anxious to go,” Alexander said. “I know what kind of player I am.”

High newcomer

Stephon Castle, UConn: The Huskies welcome a top recruiting class to Storrs to join the defending national champions, and Castle is the star. The 10th-best drafted player in his class, he was one of two freshmen named to Jerry West’s preseason roster (along with Baylor’s Jacoby Walker), though he was considered only a two-guard by Covington, Ga. He is native. destruction. He can go to the rim and score, but he is a very good player and defender. He won’t last long. Husky fans enjoy it while it’s here.

A coach who has to win

Kyle Neptune, Villanova

This is probably a bit unfair. Neptune is only in its 2nd year, but this is also the fact that it controls Villanova Cadillac. Injuries to Cam Whitmore and Justin Moore’s ongoing Achilles recovery provided ample reason for the Wildcats’ struggles — a 17-17 record — last season. But this season, Villanova reloaded. The Neptunes dive into the transfer portal and add TJ Bamba (Washington State), Tyler Burton (Richmond), Lance Ware (Kentucky) and Hakeem Hart (Maryland) to bolster the program’s usual veteran backcourt. The result is a team consisting of four graduate students, two traditional seniors and one redshirt senior.

If the results don’t light up as expected, there’s zero chance that the rational management will do anything about Neptune, but fans will be itching. Remember, they still wanted Wright fired after Year 2.

Projected order of finish (based on Big East coaches opinion)

1. Marquette: Olivier-Maxis Prosper left for the NBA. The Golden Eagles were the only ones to lose. So Smart’s squad, in league hardware from a season ago, sits here. That and Kolek, a preseason All-American a year ago, led the way in assists-to-assist ratio with 12.9 per game. He, along with Cam Jones and Stevie Mitchell, built an imprecise backcourt close to tailoring to how Smart likes to play.

Kalk Scaled

Ryan Kalkbrenner is Creighton’s anchor. (Timothy D. Easley/AP)

2. Creighton: If Nembhard transfers to Gonzaga and Arthur Kaluma to Kansas State, the Bluejays could challenge Kansas for the No. 1 seed in the preseason. Ryan Kalkbrenner has finally found a defense that matches Creighton’s long-explosive offense (the Jays were 14th in adjusted defense a year ago, according to KenPom), and he and Alexander could both emerge as All-Americans. Shearman proved just a year ago how well he fits into McDermott’s system. Creighton isn’t deep — McDermott said he’s comfortable with an eight-man rotation that stretches to nine — but that’s one of the few questions they need to answer.

3. Connecticut: Most of the Huskies’ hopes rest at the feet of Klingon. Assuming he makes a speedy and full recovery, there’s every reason to expect UConn to re-enter the league and nationally. Castle is a big part of advanced expectations, but don’t forget about the return of Alex Karaban and Tristan Newton. Hurley picked up a red-hot shooter from Rutgers in Cam Spencer. Harley needs some of his beloved freshmen to jump in and add depth, but otherwise, there’s not much to hate about Yukon.

4. Villanova: Before he blew his Achilles in the NCAA tournament two years ago, Moore was one of the best players in the league. He is finally healthy. Is it that simple? kind of. Stop me if you hear this, but Villanova wants to have good guards who do good things, which historically makes for a good team. Combine a healthy Moore with an older roster, and you have a basic recipe for Wildcat success. The only caveat: Most of this year’s experience comes from Portal, and how well they practice playing “Villanova basketball” and “tough, smart and together” will determine how good the Cats can be.

5. St. John: So let’s talk about the players? Because the 71-year-old didn’t fit in? in case. Pitino made no bones about his intentions when he took over the Red Tide, basically saying publicly that he would show the best part of the door. True to form, Pitino now has one returning player in Joel Soriano, a 15-12 guy from a year ago. Everyone is new, including Nahim Ale, who made the move after averaging 17 minutes for national champion UConn. He had 19 in his double overtime performance against Rutgers.

6. Xavier: Someone asked Sean Miller in the media when he expected to pick up where he left off a year ago – namely in the Sweet 16. “We have 10 new players. Three of them are internationals. Expected returnees Zach Fremantle (foot) and Jerome Hunter (undisclosed injury) may not play this season, which will not make the reboot any easier. Kentucky) is excited about transfers.

7. Providence: What’s the best way to start your first power-conference job? To work with Hopkins and Devin Carter. English will take a big leap from George Mason after Cooley shut down for another league school. English never lacked confidence, even during his time at Missouri, but with Carter scoring runs and Hopkins doing everything else, he has every reason to expect a smooth transition.

8. Georgetown: Cooley isn’t shy in his first year on the Hilltop. “This is not the year to take on a new job in this league,” he said. The Hoyas dug into the portal for immediate help — Dontrez Stiles (North Carolina), Jayden Epps (Illinois) and Ish Massoud (Kansas State, despite being out for a month with a broken hand) — so there’s reason to expect growth from the past two years. But progress is incremental, not rapid.

9. Seton Hall: Shaheen Holloway at least now has players to help him. Kadari Richmond, Al-Amir Dawes and Dre Davis all logged big minutes for the Pirates last season, and should help close the learning gap that led to a 10-10 league record. The big question: Can Seton Hall score? The Pirates ranked 133rd offensively a year ago under Ken Pomeroy and were next to last in the league in scoring at 69.4 points per game.

10. Butler: Posh Alexander landed among the St. John’s Assassins with Thad Matta’s gang. He’s one of five transfers who averaged a double-double last season, but it remains to be seen whether those players can repeat those feats. Only Alexander and Pierre Brooks II (Michigan State) came from power schools.

11. DePaul: When the sun rises, DePaul is definitely the pick of the Big East. The hope that something big will come has something to do now – the university is building a new training facility, hoping to open it in the summer of 2025. Tony Stubblefield has six transfers that could make a bit of noise, but the Blue Devils remain the team that shows me the most.

(Top photo of Tyler Kollek: Greg Fiume/Getty Images)