Big East Conference Preview: DePaul, Creighton, Marquette & Butler

Posted by Justin Kundrat on November 11th, 2014

The Big East microsite will preview each conference team in tiers in preparation for the season tipoff on Friday night.

#10: DePaul. As a perennial Big East bottom-dweller, it should come as no surprise that DePaul finds itself at the bottom of the preseason list once again. Turnovers and shooting percentages were abysmal last season (#269 and #257, respectively), and the team was too focused on pushing the pace to get crucial stops down the stretch (#326 in opponents’ effective field goal percentage). The loss of three contributors from last season’s 12-21 squad and an underwhelming recruiting class puts DePaul right where they finished last season: dead last. However, that’s not to say things won’t turn around here eventually. The team returns two key sophomores in Billy Garrett Jr., a 6’6 guard with the ball-handling skills of a one and the length of a small forward, and Tommy Hamilton, a 6’10” sophomore whose shooting ability makes him a mismatch for most defenders. To offset the loss of last year’s go-to guy, Brandon Young, DePaul has brought in a recruiting class featuring a transfer from Illinois, Myke Henry, and three junior college players, who, along with lone senior Jamee Crockett, are expected to offer much needed experience. Anyone who has watched the Blue Demons recently knows that there are a handful of talented pieces here that could serve as building blocks for the future, but with every step forward, there are two steps back. Garrett and Hamilton will certainly improve, but these are players who haven’t yet been asked to lead a winning program. With Young and running mate Cleveland Melvin now gone, defenses will turn their attention to Garrett and force other players to score. It appears to be yet another long season for DePaul.

Greg McDermott Needs to Figure Out What to Do Next (Getty Images).

Greg McDermott Needs to Figure Out What to Do Next (Getty Images).

#9: Creighton. Last season’s success marked a coming of age of sorts for Creighton. Four-year star Doug McDermott won the National Player of the Year award and graduated with the honor of ranking fifth all-time in points scored at the Division I level; the team posted its fourth consecutive 20-win season and was invited to its third consecutive NCAA Tournament; and the Bluejays ran one of the most efficient offenses in the country. But gone are the players who got them there. Four of the team’s five starters have since graduated, leaving senior point guard Austin Chatman to fill the void as the lone returning player who averaged more than 17 minutes per game. He will be joined by seniors Devin Brooks and Will Artino along with rising sophomore Isaiah Zierdan in what will without question be called a rebuilding year. Head coach Greg McDermott will likely be more concerned with the cohesion and development of his top recruits, Ronnie Harrell and Leon Gilmore, the first of whom has drawn favorable comparisons to former Creighton star Kyle Korver. Both should fill in nicely for a team that will lack depth at the forward position. Perhaps a projected ninth-place finish in this conference is too harsh given the return of four seniors who have plenty of experience playing in the Creighton system, but there are too many question marks around how they will perform without their All-American scoring machine in the lineup. Although there is enough talent here to finish much higher, such a result will be highly dependent on whether Artino, Brooks and the other former role players who flourished when McDermott drew the attention of defenses can prove themselves as reliable Big East starters. For now, the safe bet is on no.

#8: Marquette. Yet another case of an average team losing more than it gains this season. Senior leader Davante Gardner graduated, as did starters Jamil Wilson and Jake Thomas, and junior point guard Todd Mayo mysteriously departed in the offseason to pursue a career overseas. Unfortunately, those four players accounted for 64 percent of the Golden Eagles’ total scoring output last season. How does new head coach Steve Wojciechowski expect to replace them? He will try his best with the return of backcourt starter Derrick Wilson, sophomore forward Deonte Burton (who received Big East all-Rookie honors last season) and a key addition: BYU graduate transfer Matt Carlino, who brings tremendous all-around scoring ability. The losses of both Gardner and Chris Otule leaves the team with only two returning big men — measuring at just 6’6″ and 6’7″ — so it should come as no surprise that fans are worried about their team’s ability to generate consistent post offense. Marquette also adds a 6’11” transfer from Indiana, Luke Fischer, but he won’t be eligible to take the court until December. On the perimeter, the graduated Thomas and Wilson were last year’s two biggest three-point threats. Carlino, while only eligible for this season, is the contributor Marquette desperately needs to have a great year, as the team shot a chilly 32.1 percent from deep last season. He will add a much-needed dimension to an offense that would otherwise have to rely on Wilson and Burton’s ability to get to the rim and draw contact. That said, the stark lack of size on this roster will undoubtedly put a cap on Marquette’s ceiling this season. As with the teams profiled above, there is some talent but an equal number of holes that will be extraordinarily difficult to overcome without a rebuilding process. Expect another down year before Woj’s recruits enter the program and begin to right the ship.

Transfer Matt Carlino Gives Marquette a Legitimate Scorer This Season (Milwaukee.com)

Transfer Matt Carlino Gives Marquette a Legitimate Scorer This Season (Milwaukee.com)

#7: Butler. What started as a season full of hope ended in a disappointing 14-17 finish, with junior Roosevelt Jones sidelined for the entire season after tearing ligaments in his wrist. That left sophomore playmaker Kellen Dunham to carry the load on offense, a role he was not well-prepared for, and it showed. Dunham averaged 16.4 points per game last season, but it required a lot of shots, and senior Khyle Marshall was the only other player on the roster to average more than 7.5 points per game. The Bulldogs were typically strong on the defensive end of the floor, especially on the perimeter where they held opponents to just 31.5 percent shooting from distance. However, the predictability of the offense showed, with Dunham and Marshall accounting for just under 47 percent of the team’s field goal attempts, allowing opponents to lock them down and force low percentage shots. The results was that last season was Butler’s second worst in terms of shooting percentage and efficiency in the last 14 years. Butler loses two starters, but Dunham and Jones return along with senior point guard Alex Barlow and 6’9 forward Kameron Woods (second only to Dunham in minutes played last season). This experienced core along with incoming Indiana transfer Austin Etherington should provide the Bulldogs with better offensive diversity and plenty of firepower. But the lack of depth here is somewhat concerning, as Elijah Brown announced his intention to transfer in the offseason and the handful of returning players who did not start saw limited minutes last season (328th in bench minutes). The hope is that the incoming trio of recruits will aid the depth situation, but it would not be wise to expect an instant impact from these freshmen. Nonetheless, interim head coach Chris Holtmann (head coach Brandon Miller is taking a leave of absence while dealing with an undisclosed health issue) has an established starting lineup with all-Big East First Teamer Dunham leading the way, and that alone should keep Butler competitive in just about any conference game.

Justin Kundrat (122 Posts)

Villanova grad, patiently waiting another 10 years for season tickets. Follow Justin on twitter @JustinKundrat or email him at justin.kundrat@gmail.com


Share this story

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *