The Best of the Big East: Creighton, Xavier, Villanova

Posted by Eugene Rapay on November 11th, 2016

The Big East microsite will be rolling out previews on all 10 teams this week, sorted into three tiers. Today we review the projected top tier of teams — Creighton, Xavier and Villanova. RTC’s bottom and middle tier previews were published earlier this week.

#3: Creighton

Maurice Watson Jr leads a Creighton team poised to make some noise. (AP)

Maurice Watson Jr leads a Creighton team poised to make some noise. (AP)

Since joining the Big East, Creighton has mainly been on the outside looking in. Yes, the Bluejays’ first year in the league was great with NPOY Doug McDermott leading the way, but Creighton has yet to be the same since he departed Omaha. That’s bound to change soon as the Bluejays are poised to return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since the 2013-14 season. They’ll do so behind the play of point guard Maurice Watson, Jr. Not only is Watson a very good scorer, averaging a team-high 14.4 points per game last season, but he’s also a tremendous distributor. His 6.5 assists per game led the Big East and represented the 12th-highest assist rate (38.8%) in college basketball. Teammates flourish off of Watson’s setups.

Unlike those McDermott teams, last year’s Creighton squad excelled at scoring inside. The Bluejays sported the 14th best two-point shooting percentage (54.5%) in America, but fell around the middle of the pack in shooting from three-point range (35.5%). Creighton hopes to improve on its perimeter shooting weakness with the eligibility of Kansas State transfer Marcus Foster and freshman Davion Mintz. Foster in particular hopes to replicate the success he had during an all-Big 12 freshman year when he made nearly 40 percent of his three-point shots. Aside from the issue with perimeter shooting, the Bluejays also need to replace highly efficient center Geoffrey Groselle, a big man who averaged 11.2 points and 6.1 rebounds per game last season while shooting at a 70 percent clip. Creighton recruited a four-star forward in Justin Patton, who is likely to be tested early as Toby Hegner nurses an injury that will sideline him for the beginning of the season. Can head coach Greg McDermott make the new pieces jibe?

#2: Xavier

Xavier Looks to Overcome the Pain of Last Year's NCAA Exit (USA Today Images)

Xavier Looks to Overcome the Pain of Last Year’s NCAA Exit (USA Today Images)

The Musketeers are thrilled to return their top two scorers from last year’s Round of 32 squad, Trevon Bluiett and Edmond Sumner. They will, however, need to figure out how to replenish their frontcourt after the graduations of James Farr and Jalen Reynolds, both of whom played important roles in the paint. Makinde London, who seemed to be the natural successor up front, transferred to Chattanooga before the season began. Now Xavier is left with Sean O’Mara, a player hasn’t gotten much experience over the last couple of years, Norfolk State transfer RaShid Gaston and freshman Tyrique Jones. The latter pair will of course need time to adjust to Big East competition. Even then, there is some discomfort that Gaston is the only frontcourt player on Xavier’s roster to have averaged at least 10 minutes per game.

The Musketeers will also move forward without Myles Davis, a staple in the starting rotation over the last couple years. The 6’2″ senior guard, who averaged 10.8 points and 4.1 assists last season, was suspended indefinitely as a result of a recent domestic violence case. Sumner will therefore have to shoulder a greater workload in Davis’ absence, and if his freshman season is indicative of his abilities, he should be ready to break out. Replacing Davis in the starting lineup will be 2015-16 Big East Sixth Man of the Year, J.P. Macura, a diverse scorer who finishes at the rim and in the mid-range (ranking among the top 300 in two-point field goal percentage at 56.3 percent). Xavier was able to enjoy one of its best seasons in program history under Henry Iba Award winner Chris Mack. If they are to match or exceed that success this winter, the Musketeers will need players like Macura, O’Mara and Gaston to make the leap forward and replace the production of Farr, Reynolds, and Davis.

#1: Villanova

There Was No Such Painful Exit For Villanova (USA Today Images)

There Was No Such Painful Exit For Villanova (USA Today Images)

The Wildcats were fortunate that seniors Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins returned to school after flirting with the NBA Draft. Instead of head coach Jay Wright needing to replace four starters from his National Championship team — which would have counted as the most significant roster turnover in his 16-year tenure at Villanova — he now only has to replace two: point guard Ryan Arcidiacono and forward Daniel Ochefu. It won’t be an easy task, as each contributed over 1,000 career points as part of the winningest class in program history, but it’s better than having to replace nearly the entirety of a starting five. Filling in will be sophomore Jalen Brunson, who started alongside Arcidiacono but was limited in touches, and senior Darryl Reynolds, who will roam the paint after spending most of last season as Ochefu’s understudy. There’s no safety net for Reynolds on the blocks, as five-star incoming freshman Omari Spellman was ruled ineligible by the NCAA. Aside from Reynolds, the Wildcats don’t have much experience in the paint. The top reserves appear to be freshman Dylan Painter and Tim Delaney, a player who redshirted last year after hip surgery.

Villanova will look to avoid suffering a dreaded championship hangover, which means that the Wildcats must avoid falling too deeply in love with the three-point shot this season. Errant nights from beyond the arc drove early losses against Virginia and Oklahoma last year — against the Sooners in particular, Villanova made just 4-of-32 shots from long range in a blowout loss. Great offensive balance is what ultimately took the Wildcats all the way last season, even if the three-point shot was still a necessary staple of the offense. Over 42 percent of last year’s shot attempts came from three-point range (32nd nationally), so this year’s team needs to also achieve the ideal inside-out balance.

Eugene Rapay (3 Posts)

Share this story

Leave a Reply

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