Big East Key Offseason Questions: Part II

Posted by Justin Kundrat on April 13th, 2016

The NCAA Tournament is now behind us and the days of transfers, NBA Draft declarations and coaching moves are upon us. April signals yet another ending, as we tear down everything we knew and build anew. The offseason has a way of inspiring hope that a new season will bring about improvement, that maybe this time things will be different. Consider where the Big East’s very own Villanova was just one year ago this spring. That unknown is why the offseason is such an intriguing time. Below is a list of key questions that each Big East team will attempt to solve over the coming six months. Part One, which included Butler, Creighton, DePaul, Georgetown and Marquette, can be viewed here.

ProvidenceWhat happens to Ben Bentil?

Ben Bentil Broke Out Big Time This Year (USAT Sports)

Ben Bentil Broke Out Big Time This Year (USAT Sports)

It’s a shortsighted question but the answer plays a large role in Providence’s long-term outlook. If Bentil leaves school this offseason, Ed Cooley will have to replace two players (along with Kris Dunn) who accounted for 51 percent of his team’s scoring, a virtually insurmountable task for this program. Rising junior Kyron Cartwright came into his own as a distributor this season, although his passing figures to be hampered without the All-American around to convert for him. His absence would force one of Providence’s role players to assume greater scoring duties, and the most likely candidate for that role is Rodney Bullock, a 6’8″ forward with a streaky shooting touch. It would be silly to completely write off this team off without Bentil returning, but having him back for his junior season would certainly put the Friars back into NCAA Tournament consideration. Providence fans will undoubtedly be on the edge of their seats for the next month.

Seton Hall: How will the Pirates’ defense fare without Derrick Gordon?

The eclipsing question is whether Isaiah Whitehead will choose to return for his junior season, but the inclination is to think that he will. That turns the focus to the departure of Derrick Gordon, a UMass graduate transfer who was one of the most important pieces on this season’s surprising team. In a nutshell, Gordon’s defensive focus coupled with his leadership gave the Pirates a steadying force on an otherwise emotionally volatile team. Believe it or not, Seton Hall’s defense ranked eighth nationally on Kenpom, largely due to the generation of steals and denials of easy baskets inside. Gordon’s departure removes the team’s best perimeter defender. How will the electrifying Whitehead and rising junior Khadeen Carrington fare without him?

St. John’s: How quickly will incoming players such as Marcus LoVett and Shamorie Ponds adapt to the college game?

This season was the bottoming out of the St. John’s program just before the tide turns. First year head coach Chris Mullin brought in six freshmen and a transfer in a frenzied six months before the season began, and the result was much as expected — an 8-24 record littered with all kinds of growing pains. But those freshmen showed plenty of promise and will serve as an important component of Mullin’s long-term rebuilding process. The spotlight now will turn to its next class of players, namely Marcus Lovett, Jr., who was deemed ineligible last season, and Shamorie Ponds, a highly-touted freshman scoring guard. The biggest hole in the Red Storm’s lineup last season was with its guard play, and these two players should bolster it in time in both scoring and shot creation. The program’s success will hinge on the when.

Villanova: Who fills the massive gap left by Daniel Ochefu?

Daniel Ochefu (USA Today Images)

Daniel Ochefu Leaves Villanova with a Title and a Giant Hole Inside to Fill (USA Today Images)

Much of this season’s success at Villanova can be attributed to Ochefu’s outstanding play. An offensive system that revolved around numerous ball screens set by the 6’11” forward flourished as a result of his passing out of the low post. On the defensive end, the senior’s presence in the paint enabled Villanova’s guards to aggressively pressure the perimeter. By playing the role of shot-blocker and inside rebounder, he served as the team’s last chance and very effective safety net. Rising senior Darryl Reynolds and incoming freshman Omari Spellman will split time manning the middle in his absence. Reynolds steadily improved throughout the season, demonstrating an ability to score at the rim and rebound effectively, albeit in limited minutes. Spellman is a highly-rated recruit, but will undoubtedly need time to learn Jay Wright’s complicated defensive system. It’s safe to assume that Villanova’s defense will undergo some growing pains next season.

Xavier: Without James Farr and potentially Jalen Reynolds, will the Musketeers’ offensive efficiency plummet?

Age has become an increasingly negative factor in NBA scouts’ evaluations of players and given that Jalen Reynolds is already 23 years old, many believe he will simply take a swing at the NBA draft. If this happens, Chris Mack’s two leading frontcourt players and its massive edge on the glass will have departed. Xavier was one of just 13 teams in the country to rank among the top 50 in both offensive and defensive rebounding percentage last season, in large part because of Farr and Reynolds. These offensive rebounds provided countless second chance opportunities for an otherwise pedestrian shooting team. For Xavier to sustain its success next year, one of two things needs to happen: Trevon Bluiett and Edmond Sumner must become more efficient scorers; or incoming transfer RaShid Gaston, who averaged nearly 10.0 RPG at Norfolk State, will easily adapt to a higher level of competition.

Justin Kundrat (142 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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