BY KYLE BEERY | SPORTS CONTRIBUTOR
It’s that time of year again. College basketball is upon us. With ESPN’s 24-hour Tip-Off Marathon beginning Monday night, and Butler tipping off this weekend, I’m here to bring you my predictions for the Big East Conference.
If I hit this on the head, come March, I’ll be the front-runner to win Warren Buffett’s billion-dollar bracket challenge. What do I mean by that? I certainly won’t have a perfect bracket, so don’t expect this to be perfect. But like many analysts and writers do every spring, I’ll give my best insight and shot at predicting the Big East’s finishing order and player awards.
Big East Finishing Order & Team Capsules
The Wildcats are the clear favorites in 2014-2015. Jay Wright’s team, ranked 12th in the Associated Press and USA Today polls, returns four starters from a team that received a 2-seed in the NCAA Tournament. We all know about JayVaughn Pinkston and Darrun Hilliard, but the Cats also have threats in Ryan Arcidiacono and Daniel Ochefu.
The Hoyas were a bit of a disappointment last season, as they were eliminated in the second round of the NIT, but this should be quite the bounce back year for them. With the Big East’s Preseason Player of the Year D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera (17.3 ppg in 2013-2014), and the potential return of big man Joshua Smith (academically ineligible for most of last season), look for Georgetown to be a high-scoring, well-defending team like we’re all used to seeing in D.C. We’ll find out a lot about the Hoyas in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament over Thanksgiving.
Butler fans will probably panic when they see the Musketeers getting this much preseason hype. But in all actuality, it’s deserved. Yes, they lost Semaj Christon, but Xavier has a solid core in center Matt Stainbrook and point guard Dee Davis. They also have a good group of freshmen coming in, including Trevon Blueitt, who was highly pursued by Butler.
4. St. John’s
Like Georgetown, St. John’s was a little disappointing last season. They had, and still have, a lot of talent, but as it has been for several years now, they couldn’t pull it together for a tournament bid. Steve Lavin’s club touts a very deep frontcourt with D’Angelo Harrison, Rysheed Jordan, Phil Greene IV and Jamal Branch. Center Chris Obekpa makes the Red Storm a formidable opponent down low – as a junior he’s the all-time leading shot blocker in school history.
The Bulldogs head into the season with a new coach (Chris Holtmann) and a good group of new faces – three freshmen and a transfer. But they’ve also got Kellen Dunham, Alex Barlow, Kameron Woods and Andrew Chrabascz all returning as starters from last season. And don’t forget about Roosevelt Jones, bask after missing last season due to a wrist injury. If the veterans and the new faces can mesh well with Holtmann, and develop a little depth, the Bulldogs could be poised to get themselves in the middle of the pack in the second year in the Big East. We’ll also find out a lot about Holtmann’s squad in the Bahamas, as their first game is against North Carolina.
6. Seton Hall
Seton Hall has been on the verge of becoming a threat in the Big East over the last few years, as they showed last season, knocking off top-seed Villanova en route to an appearance in the Big East Tournament semifinals. Sterling Gibbs is the returning leading scorer, and the Pirates have a heck of a recruiting class, including Isaiah Whitehead, the Preseason Big East Rookie of the Year.
The Friars, the surprise Big East Tournament Champion and near-upset special, have a pretty good returning group with the likes of LaDontae Henton and Carson Desrosiers, but the departure of Bryce Cotton will have a much bigger impact than many analysts are expecting. However, 7th is a notch up from last year’s 8th place finish.
Buzz Williams left for Virginia Tech. They lost three starters, and along with Williams’ departure, they lost several key recruits. This will be a rebuilding year for new coach Steve Wojciechowski’s Golden Eagles.
Doug McDermott. One of the most exciting college basketball players in ages. He’s gone. Also gone are thre other starters: Ethan Wragge, Grant Gibbs, and Jahenns Manigat. Austin Chatman returns as a starter, but this is going to be a down year for the Bluejays. How can it not be after losing someone with a name like “Dougie McBuckets?”
I was very tempted to pick the Blue Demons to avoid a seventh straight season at the bottom of the Big East, but there’s just not enough there for me. Billy Garrett, Jr. (last season’s conference Rookie of the Year) and Tommy Hamilton IV will keep DePaul competitive. They’ll pull off an upset or two, but they’ll be at the bottom again.
Big East Awards
All-Big East First Team
D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera, Georgetown,
Kellen Dunham, Butler
D’Angelo Harrison, St. John’s
JayVaughn Pinkston, Villanova
Matt Stainbrook, Xavier
All-Big East Second Team
Dee Davis, Xavier
Billy Garrett, Jr., DePaul
Rysheed Jordan, St. John’s
LaDontae Henton, Providence
Darrun Hilliard, Villanova
All-Big East Honorable Mention
Roosevelt Jones, Butler
Austin Chatman, Creighton
Sterling Gibbs, Seton Hall
Ryan Arcidiacono, Villanova
All-Big East Rookie Team
Isaiah Whitehead, Seton Hall
Tyler Wideman, Butler
Angel Delgado, Seton Hall
Trevon Blueitt, Xavier
Isaac Copeland, Georgetown
Big East Player of the Year: JayVaughn Pinkston, Villanova
Big East Rookie of the Year: Isaiah Whitehead, Seton Hall
Check out the official Big East preseason polls and awards.