Big East Key Questions: Part 2

Posted by Brad Cavallaro on November 25th, 2020

Note that Part 1 of Big East Key Questions can be located here.

1. Does Villanova belong in the conversation as a national title contender?

Jay Wright is Excited to Be Back in Action (USA TODAY Sports)

Villanova absolutely belongs in the conversation as a national title contender, somewhere in the top tier with Baylor, Kansas and Gonzaga. Despite losing Saddiq Bey to the Detroit Pistons, the Wildcats return four other starters including two potential All-Americans in Collin Gillespie and Jeremiah Robinson-Earl. Gillespie took an enormous leap as a junior by improving his playmaking ability to go along with his reliable long range shooting. Robinson-Earl is a perfect modern center who can defend, rebound and use his quickness to attack the basket. An improved shooting stroke will make him an NBA First Round pick.

However, it is Villanova’s supporting cast that elevates it to the top. Scoring combo guard Justin Moore is due for a major breakthrough after a strong freshman season, and Jermaine Samuels is a forgotten man nationally despite his senior experience, defensive versatility, and double figure scoring at the power forward position. Even with Bryan Antoine currently sidelined, the remainder of the team has a unique mix of upside and experience. Daniels (Tulane transfer scoring guard), Brandon Slater (lockdown defender), and Cole Swider (shooter) could all emerge based on promising flashes, while backup center Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree has played meaningful minutes throughout his career. This mix of high-end talent, experience, and intriguing wildcards has Wildcats fans rightfully excited for the start of the 2020-21 season.

2. Can Providence carry over their hot finish into this season?

I’m buying Providence stock this year. David Duke is a star-caliber player that people outside the Big East seem to foolishly overlook. The Friars’ defense should remain at a high level with a Duke/Jared Bynum backcourt and a deep and experienced frontcourt, and the transfers seem to fit in seamlessly with the existing roster. Noah Horchler provides an inside-out threat, Bynum has a facilitating point guard, Brycen Goodine as a three-and-D rotation guard, and Ed Croswell as a physical presence. Ultimately it will be AJ Reeves and Nate Watson who determine Providence’s fate, though. Both had slightly disappointing seasons last year as Ed Cooley leaned on defensive-minded seniors Maliek White and Kalif Young as the year progressed. They need to be double-figure scorers who play serviceable defense which would allow Providence to utilize Reeves’ shooting and Watson’s post scoring to their full extent. The Friars have Top 25 upside and will likely return to the NCAA Tournament.

3. Marquette and Seton Hall both lost an elite college basketball player. Which team is in a better spot to move forward without its star?

Sandro Mamukelashvili Gives Seton Hall Hope This Season (USA TODAY Sports)

I have Seton Hall as the better team this year. The Pirates not only lose star guard Myles Powell, but also their second and third best players in Romaro Gill and Quincy McKnight. Gill was a dominant interior defender and McKnight was one of the best perimeter defenders in the Big East. This may seem like a reason to pick against Seton Hall, but their two remaining starters are being criminally underrated. Jared Rhoden is a great two-way wing who made a jump offensively as a sophomore, and Sandro Mamukelashvili is one of the most underappreciated bigs in the entire country. Mamu can handle the ball, shoot from the perimeter, and make plays from the center position. The x-factor will be Bryce Aiken who is known as prolific perimeter scorer but has been slowed with injury. If he is good to go, the Pirates have the makings of a top-30 team with their high-level starters and an experienced and defensive-minded supporting cast.

Marquette will be fine. They literally could not have found a better replacement for Markus Howard than with Ohio State transfer DJ Carton. Carton is a former elite recruit who got off to a strong start in Columbus before leaving because of a mental health issue. He was one of the best transfers on the market and is the perfect fit to move Marquette into the post-Howard era with three years of eligibility remaining. The Golden Eagles don’t return anyone as good as Seton Hall’s pair, however, and do not have the same level of proven experience as the Pirates among their supporting cast. The x-factor for Marquette might be Dawson Garcia, the skilled power forward who could raise Marquette’s ceiling considerably if he can become their secondary scorer.

4. Where does the league stands nationally — how many NCAA Tournament bids are in play?

The dream scenario for the Big East this season would be seven bids, but six is most likely. Separating the conference into tiers you have Villanova in Tier 1 as a national title contender, Creighton in Tier 2 as a top-15 team, and Tier 3 consisting of clear NCAA Tournament teams like Providence, Seton Hall, Connecticut and Marquette. Where I diverge from most is my Tier 4 of Xavier and St John’s, which would be considered bubble teams. If Butler gets a waiver for Bo Hodges, the Bulldogs would move up, but they are currently slotted in Tier 5 along with Depaul. Georgetown is a clear last place team in Tier 6.

The Big East should be the third-best league in college basketball this season, with the Big Ten and Big 12 looking like the clear top two conerences. The Big 12 has multiple title contenders and potentially as many as six Top 25 teams. The Big Ten has incredible depth, but lacks the top-tier teams. The ACC’s top is similar to the Big East’s, but the middle and bottom is considerably worse. The SEC and Pac-12 are not too far behind.

Brad Cavallaro (16 Posts)

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