Big East Season Preview: The Contenders (#1-#3)

Posted by Justin Kundrat on November 11th, 2015

Over the last two days, we covered the group of Big East teams that are likely to be on the outside looking in (#7-#10) followed by the group of dark horses that could go either way (#6-#4). Today’s group falls under the “almost certain to win” category — in other words, the contenders. While it’s true that there are some strong teams within the middle-tier category as well, a clear, distinctive line exists between the groupings. All three of the league contenders should be in the Top 25 on a weekly basis, and each one has a strong case for winning the conference.

3. Butler

Andrew Chrabascz will be looking to improve upon a breakout sophomore campaign. (Butler Athletics)

Andrew Chrabascz will be looking to improve upon a breakout sophomore campaign. (Butler Athletics)

The Bulldogs fall into a strikingly familiar predicament as Xavier, only the impact of their losses is less significant. Gone are starters Alex Barlow and Kameron Woods, both of whom provided a strong defensive presence but neither a game-changing impact. In come two transfers and a 6’10” freshman, Nate Fowler. What does this mean for Butler? Perhaps predictably, more of the same old “grind-it-out” basketball that the program is known for. Leading scorers Kellen Dunham and Roosevelt Jones are back for their senior seasons and center Andrew Chrabascz will be looking to improve upon a breakout sophomore campaign. Moreover, Tyler Lewis, NC State’s former starting point guard, is eligible and should elevate Butler on the offensive end of the floor. Given the team’s experience and offensive versatility at every position, it seems that just about all of the pieces are in place for a successful season. The Bulldogs enter the season nationally ranked (#24) and with two preseason conference first teamers (Dunham and Jones), but it seems as if they’re still being overlooked. Head coach Chris Holtmann will undoubtedly use this to his advantage, but there should be no doubt that shotmaker extraordinaire Dunham and his helter-skelter counterpart Jones will keep Butler in contention all season long.

2. Georgetown

It seems as if D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera has been playing college basketball for eight years. Or maybe it’s just because John Thompson III has recruited similar players to run his Princeton offense over the years — guys who are comfortable playing that crucial facilitator role. Either way, Smith-Rivera figures to lead the conference in scoring for a Hoyas squad that has experienced significant roster turnover. So why is Georgetown ranked as a contender? Isaac Copeland, that’s why. The 6’9″ sophomore forward showcased his long-range shooting ability a year ago, and he did so in a highly efficient manner. His height and athleticism enable him to play at the four, creating a frustrating mismatch for opponents both in transition and in Georgetown’s halfcourt sets. Copeland is easily the league frontrunner for breakout player of the year, but there are many others worthy of highlighting here. Sophomores LJ Peak and Paul White will fill in at several different positions, providing scoring and defensive versatility, and freshman Jesse Govan, a highly touted 6’10” center, is expected to man the middle. It remains to be seen how Govan will perform at the collegiate level, however, and there are obvious concerns about the Hoyas’ lack of interior depth until Louisville transfer Akoy Agau becomes eligible in mid-December. Copeland and White will likely play heavy minutes at the forward slots to neutralize that weakness, but the team will necessarily take an entirely different shape this season in the absence of Mikael Hopkins and Joshua Smith. Like any Thompson club, the Hoyas will play to their strengths, and should Smith-Rivera’s supporting cast supplement his production on a consistent basis, Georgetown poses a legitimate threat to take the Big East crown.

1. Villanova

Make no mistake about it, this is a huge season for Ryan Arcidiacono and Villanova. (USA TODAY Sports)

Make no mistake about it, this is a huge season for Ryan Arcidiacono and Villanova. (USA TODAY Sports)

“Pencils down, heads up.” That sudden look of shock and horror that spans across a student’s face upon hearing those words resembles that of Villanova after yet another early NCAA Tournament departure. The lack of recent postseason success for the Big East’s top program is translating into a national perception of a conference that lacks an ability to compete with the other powerhouse programs in March. It’s a negative impression that Jay Wright is desperately seeking to change. So what does Villanova have in store for this season? The final seasons of Ryan Arcidiacono and Daniel Ochefu, for one. Arcidiacono has played the role of team leader ever since he stepped on to campus and it appears that Wright’s trust in his point guard is paying off. The senior serves as a steadying force when he’s on the floor and will lead a loaded backcourt that also features star freshman Jalen Brunson, arguably the best incoming point guard in the country. Juniors Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins are also expected to enter the starting lineup for the first time, and the key question for them is whether they can fill the shoes of departed seniors Darrun Hilliard, JayVaughn Pinkston and transfer Dylan Ennis. While they are entirely different breeds of player, Hilliard and Pinkston were responsible for a number of big time plays last season. I mentioned big time, right? Wright will also be expecting major contributions from Ochefu this season, a player who in the past dominated smaller opponents but struggled mightily against larger ones. At first blush, Villanova has one of the best backcourts in the country and figures to win the Big East regular season title yet again. But it is hard to ignore the team’s roster turnover and it could take some time for Wright’s reconfigured team to reach its full potential. Whether the addition of a future pro like Brunson is the postseason answer remains to be seen.

Justin Kundrat (175 Posts)

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

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