Big East Season Preview: The Outsiders (#7-#10)

Posted by Justin Kundrat on November 9th, 2015

Forecasting a team’s performance is no easy task, and to do it before a single game has been played is the equivalent of heaving half-court shots while wearing a blindfold. Nevertheless, here we are, just a work week away from the season tipping off and trying to determine which teams are worth buying into. Cases can be made for most any team to outperform its expectations, but at the end of the day, forecasting involves assessing the most likely scenarios and then re-evaluating those over the course of the season. Below are four Big East teams that will be starting the season at the bottom of the conference totem pole with a brief discussion of what they can do to alter that perception.

Chris Mullin has his work cut out for him this season. (AP)

Chris Mullin has his work cut out for him this season. (Photo: AP)

10. St. John’s

Poor, poor St. John’s. The only people that pity the team more than the fans are the players themselves. Following a 32-point turnover-fest to Division II St. Thomas Aquinas in a recent exhibition game, the collective faith of everyone involved with the program has dimmed. After all, this is a team returning just three sparingly used players from last season’s squad and throwing them into the mix with a handful of freshmen and transfers. The future might indeed turn out to be bright and Italian sensation Federico Mussini will do his best to challenge the negative prevailing sentiment, but expectations have been tempered. Best case? Mussini reins in the offense, freshman point guard Marcus LoVett quickly acclimates to the collegiate level, and Chris Mullin seamlessly integrates transfers Durand Johnson and Darien Williams in steering the Johnnies to the NIT. The more likely scenario is a ninth or 10th place Big East finish, but fans need to look past this season and take joy in a bigger picture that looks significantly better than the present. 

9. DePaul

Hey, look! The outdated, out of fashion Oliver Purnell is finally out of the program. What does that mean for the school’s trajectory this season? Probably nothing. It’s hard to argue with some of the talent here, namely juniors Billy Garrett Jr. and Tommy Hamilton, but there are still too many other holes in the roster to field a winning team. A change of head coaches and the return of nearly every player on last season’s squad is a nice start, but so much of this season rests on the progression of the two stars. Can Garrett finally contribute in a consistent manner? Will Hamilton, a 6’11” big man who can step out and shoot the ball, actually play with some offensive aggression? As a Big East fan, it would be nice to see the perennial dumpster fire that is DePaul finally start clicking. If I were a gambling man, I’d bet we see occasional flashes of a cohesive unit this season. The return of journeyman head coach Dave Leitao should provide signs of future promise.

It has been a rough go for DePaul but big man Tommy Hamilton and company have another chance to change that narrative of futility. (Chicago Tribune)

DePaul has struggled recently, but big man Tommy Hamilton and company have another chance to push the program away from futility. (Photo: Chicago Tribune)

8. Creighton

Sorrow, devastation, “not again!”: the three most common thoughts going through the heads of Creighton fans last season. To be fair, it wasn’t entirely the team’s fault. Following a mass exodus, the Bluejays had some rebuilding to do. Down the stretch there were a significant number of heartbreaking losses: Eight of the team’s 14 conference defeats were decided by five points or fewer. The progression of junior James Milliken and sophomore Isaiah Zierden (pre-injury), however, was encouraging, and Greg McDermott added a number of intriguing pieces to his balanced, pro-style offense. The two most exciting newcomers are Nevada transfer Cole Huff and freshman Justin Patton. Huff is a wiry 6’8″ forward who will likely be utilized on the wing where his three-point shooting and ball-handling will be on full display; Patton, a 6’10” center, will provide depth on the interior. Even though the Bluejays are ranked eighth here, there is certainly some upside given the talent on the roster as well as McDermott’s coaching ability. A November 19 non-conference test against Indiana will provide Creighton an early chance to prove it.

7. Marquette

This is a difficult place to put the Golden Eagles. They aren’t really a basement dweller, but given the numerous questions surrounding the team heading into the season, they haven’t yet earned the right to be credited otherwise. Leading scorer Matt Carlino is gone, but heralded prospect Henry Ellenson, a consensus top 10 recruit, arrives. While it might not be evident in last year’s season summary, first-time head coach Steve Wojciechowski‘s group actually came together in impressive fashion near the end of the season. The Golden Eagles might have been frequently out of rhythm on the offensive end, but they surprised defensively (74th nationally in defensive efficiency) despite having just one player over 6’7″. That player, Indiana transfer Luke Fischer, figures to play a key role this season alongside Ellenson, as both should dominate the paint in a conference devoid of talented big men. Those two post players, when combined with the versatility of JaJuan Johnson and the ever-improving play of Duane Wilson, give Marquette a chance to surprise this year. However, allowing your season to hinge on the play of freshmen is never a safe bet. Ellenson’s ability to thrive in his role, along with the development of freshman Traci Carter at point guard, creates a significant contingency for Marquette success.

Justin Kundrat (166 Posts)

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


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