Big East Preview
Big East Conference Preview
3. St. John’s
5. Seton Hall
Player of the Year – Collin Gillespie (Villanova)
Coach of the Year – Travis Steele (Xavier)
Freshman of the Year – Aminu Mohammed (Georgetown)
Field of 68 Teams
1. Villanova Wildcats (2020-2021 Record: 18-7, 11-4)
The Big East continues to go through Jay Wright and the Villanova Wildcats. Since the 2013-2014 season, Villanova has won at least a share of the conference championship in 7 of the 8 seasons. As long as Jay Wright is the head coach, I do not see things changing at all - especially going into this season. Wright gets his All-American point guard Collin Gillespie back for one final go around. Gillespie has unfinished business going into the year after suffering a knee injury late last season that ultimately kept him out for the big dance. The one and only question for this Villanova team is how will they replace Jeremiah Robinson-Earl? It is never easy to replace an NBA type guy, but I look for Senior Jermaine Samuels to fill the void. Four starters are back from a sweet 16 finishing team, so many people have Final Four expectations in Philadelphia. I cannot see the rest of the Big East being able to compete for this conference title. A shiny ring for Nova in 8 of the last 9 years seems most likely.
2. UConn Huskies (2021-2021 Record: 15-8, 11-6)
UConn returned to their roots last season heading back the Big East. They fared well finishing third in the conference behind just Villanova and Creighton. Head Coach Dan Hurley ultimately brought them back to their first NCAA tournament since 2016 but fell short losing in the first round to Maryland. It is hard to believe that it has already been seven years since UConn won the National Championship. This year’s team isn’t exactly a championship contender going into the season with the departure of star guard James Bouknight but they have great odds to make their second straight NCAA tournament with four returning starters as well as the 9th best recruiting class headed to Storrs Connecticut. Replacing an NBA lottery pick player is virtually impossible to replace, so Senior guard RJ Cole will have to improve from his 12.2 ppg last season to make up for the lost scoring. UConn does have experience that will help though - returning 78.6% of their scoring - giving them the best chance to challenge Villanova for the Big East championship.
3. St. John’s Red Storm (2020-2021 Record: 16-11, 10-9)
Everyone seems to be talking about how the St. John’s Red Storm have not won an NCAA tournament game since 2000. There is a good chance that changes this March as the best duo in the Big East play for the Red Storm. Posh Alexander and Julian Champagnie come back to this team who narrowly missed out on the Indianapolis NCAA tournament a season ago. Champagnie is a legitimate All-American player after averaging 19.8ppg, 7.4rpg and being selected to the Big East 1st team last season. The haul of newcomers that head coach Mike Anderson secured this off season from the transfer portal will need to step up and support these two stars if they finally want to get over the hump. A pair of Big Ten transfers Montez Mathis (Rutgers) and Aaron Wheeler (Purdue) will play a large role in that. I am a bit higher on St. John’s than most and I believe the firepower of Alexander and Champagnie will be enough to get them a trip (and a win) to the NCAA tournament.
4. Xavier Musketeers (2020-2021 Record: 13-8, 6-7)
Xavier has yet to get a NCAA tournament bid since Chris Mack left for Louisville, but this year seems to be their best team yet. They bring back guard Paul Scruggs and forward Zach Freemantle who will run the show all season long. Each averaged double figures for last year’s team that ended up on the wrong side of the bubble. In addition to that dangerous duo, Steele brings back six other returnees that played meaningful minutes for him. This is a massive year for head coach Travis Steele after an inconsistent season last year finishing under .500 in conference play. He is my sleeper pick to win Big East Coach of the year. Iowa transfer Jack Nunge will take over as the man in the middle standing a large seven foot tall. Xavier has struggled since Mack left, so fans are eager to end the three-year tourney drought. In year three of the Steele era, Xavier fans can rejoice as they should be dancing once again come March.
5. Seton Hall Pirates (2020-2021 Record: 14-13, 10-9)
Seton Hall fell apart to end last season and missed their first NCAA tournament since 2016. They lost 5 of their last 6 to end the season and were not invited to the NCAA and NIT field despite finishing over .500 in Big East play. Big East Player of the Year Sandro Mamukelashvili is no longer in college, so the Pirates will look at Senior guard Jared Rhoden to fill the void. Rhoden averaged 14.9 points and 6.7 rebounds a game a season ago and was just barely left off my preseason Big East 1st team for 2022. The return of Myles Cade and the addition of Kadary Richmond from Syracuse give the Pirates a very good backcourt. I see head coach Kevin Willard getting back on track this season and Seton Hall sneaking onto the right side of the bubble in March.
1st Team All-Big East
G Collin Gillepsie (Villanova)
G Posh Alexander (St. John’s)
G Paul Scruggs (Xavier)
F Julian Champagnie (St. John’s)
C Nate Watson (Providence)
- Lock Mamba Sports, @Lockmamba on Twitter