2020 Big East Basketball Predictions
The big offseason storyline for Big East college basketball is the return of prodigal son Connecticut. After seven mostly awkward years of frolicking in the American Athletic Conference, the Huskies are back where they belong, matching up with what remains of traditional Big East rivals like Georgetown, Seton Hall and Villanova.
While that is A story for Big East basketball this winter, I do not think that is THE story in Big East hoops.
Villanova will begin the season ranked No. 3 in the country, and the Wildcats are primed to make another run at a national championship. Jay Wright’s program claimed titles in 2016 and 2018 and have the talent, experience and ability to cut down the nets again this season.
First, the Wildcats have their sights set on another Big East regular season championship. Villanova has won six of the seven regular season titles since Connecticut’s departure. And they are the clear favorites to do it again this season amidst a league that is undergoing changes both large and small.
Last year the Big East was primed to unleash holy hell on the rest of the country in the NCAA Tournament. Superstars like Markus Howard, Myles Powell and Kamar Baldwin were going to put exclamation points on their stellar careers. Unfortunately, they never go the chance. And their graduations have created a bit of a vacuum in the Big East. The league may have lost the most star power and experience of any league in the country. And the result is a league that is in a clear rebuilding and retooling season.
Here are Doc's Sports 2020-21 Big East Conference college basketball predictions:
The Favorite: Villanova
Draft Kings Sportsbook currently has the Wildcats listed with the best odds of any college basketball team to make the Final Four (+100) and to win the national championship (+700). They deserve the hype. Villanova has four of five starters back from last year’s Top 10 squad. Led by Collin Gillespie, one of the best point guards in the country, and Jermaine Samuels, a three-year starter, the Wildcats have the talent and experience to run teams out of the gym. Villanova also adds Tulane transfer Caleb Daniels, who redshirted last season and practiced with the team. The Wildcats are a three-point bombing squad that is impossible to match up with. They were also an elite defensive team last year and should be able to hit the ground running when play gets started.
The Challenger: Creighton
Last year’s Big East co-champions start the year at No. 11 in the country in both the AP Poll and the Coaches Poll. Creighton started last year outside the Top 30 in both polls and finished in the Top 10, making them one of the biggest surprises in college hoops. Triggerman Marcus Zegarowski is one of the most versatile offensive players in the country and back after averaging 16.1 points and five assists. He leads the nation’s No. 3 most efficient offense, which can assault opponents with a seemingly endless array of sets and shots. Four starters are back for this squad along with sixth man Denzel Mahoney, who averaged 12 points per game. Creighton should also get a boost from the return of big man Jacob Epperson, who missed all of last season. He’s not an offensive threat. But at 6-11, he is one of only two players on the roster 6-8 or taller. Creighton isn’t going to sneak up on anyone this year. Especially the oddsmakers.
The Dark Horse: Connecticut
The Huskies picked the perfect season to re-enter the Big East. Dan Hurley has endured two rebuilding seasons. Now Connecticut has enough talent to compete for the top of this league, bolstered by the fact that so many teams lost high-end, all-star talents. The Huskies will rally around future pro James Bouknight, who averaged 17.8 points in his final 10 games last year. He will lead a diverse and interesting backcourt, which isn’t full established beyond the sophomore two-guard. Last year’s starting point guard, Jalen Gaffney, is back. But stud transfer R.J. Cole may replace him. Tyrese Martin and Brendan Adams are also in the mix on the wing. Post play will determine Connecticut’s upside. Josh Carlton needs to find his 2018 form, and Tyler Polley needs to stay healthy. Those two seniors will set the tone for a frontcourt that is short on depth and experience. This should be a solid team to bet early in the season until people realize how good they could become.
The X-Factor: Providence
The Friars have been big-time underachievers over the last two seasons. Coach Ed Cooley has had a wealth of talent but just could not get Providence to gel. The Friars started to show signs late last year, winning their final six games heading into the postseason. They lost five guys that were in their nine-man rotation and should take a step back. That said, they have three potential all-league players that have yet to play their best basketball. David Duke and Nate Watson are three-year starters whose production is yet to match their ability. And if A.J. Reeves can shake off the injuries and inconsistencies that have plagued his first two years, he could absolutely explode. Three transfers – Jared Bynum, Brycen Goodine and Noah Horchler – will be playing key roles. And if they gel quickly, this could be a sneaky underdog team.
The Disappointment: Marquette
You don’t just lose a guy like Markus Howard and expect everything to be fine. One of the greatest scorers in college basketball history, Howard was the alpha and omega of the Golden Eagles offense. In fact, his style of play essentially pushed away Marquette’s best chance of replacing him, forcing the transfer of the Hauser brothers prior to last year. The Golden Eagles have several big men that can rebound and defend but no longer have any pop in their backcourt. Steve Wojciechowski hasn’t impressed me much as a tactician, so I think Marquette is going to be hard-pressed to find any success in this clear rebuilding season. Highly touted freshmen Justin Lewis and Dawson Garcia provide some hope for the future. But the present should be pretty ugly and this is a team to bet against.
Seton Hall – You don’t just lose a guy like Myles Powell and expect everything to be fine. Seton Hall is better positioned than Marquette to withstand the loss of their star player. However, losing Powell and invaluable point guard Quincy McKnight is still a huge blow. Sandro Mamukelashvili is now the go-to guy. And as long as he stays healthy, I think he’ll be up to the task. Seton Hall’s season will be determined by whether or not last year’s role players – guys like Myles Cale and Jared Rhoden – can raise their level of play.
Georgetown – You have to feel bad for Patrick Ewing. In three years, he actually did a good job of rebuilding this Hoyas program. But everything absolutely imploded last season. First, four players transferred or were dismissed from the team for nasty off-court incidents. Georgetown was still competitive despite those losses. Then injuries to their two best players crushed any hope. The hits kept coming this offseason when star guard Mac McClung decided to transfer. Now it is back to the drawing board for a team with seven raw freshmen and sophomores.
Butler – You don’t just lose a guy like Kamar Baldwin and expect everything to be fine. Butler rode a short bench (and Baldwin) to an overachieving 2019-20 season. They lost three starters, though, and are yet another team that is entering a rebuilding season. There are no stars on this team, and the Bulldogs will lean on veteran role players trying to raise their level of play. I don’t expect it to be pretty.
DePaul – The Blue Demons are a bit of a wild card. Last season they started 12-1, with wins over Texas Tech and Iowa, and then completely fell apart during a 3-15 Big East stint. DePaul lost three starters, including their best player, Paul Reed. They still have stud point guard Charlie Moore and two other starters back. Moore gives them a clear go-to guy, and sophomore Romeo Weems could make a big jump. The key for this team will be the contributions from transfers Ray Salnave and Javon Freeman-Liberty. If they acclimate quickly, this team could be ATS gold.
St. John’s – I trust Mike Anderson. Everywhere the guy goes he wins. And everywhere he goes he builds the same team: a fast, athletic, up-tempo, pressing, buck-wild group that plays at a frantic pace. St. John’s lost their two best players, L.J. Figueroa and Mustapha Heron, and Anderson is trying to replace them with a pair of high-scoring junior college transfers, Vince Cole and Isaih Moore. I expect the Red Storm to take a step back this season after going just 5-13 in league play last year. However, Anderson won’t stay down for long, and their style of play could cause havoc against unprepared opponents.
Xavier – Xavier was able to compete last year due to a mix of experience, grit and sheer will. The loss of several of those vets, especially Naji Marshall, will leave this year’s squad exposed. Like so many other teams, this is a clear transitional season for the Musketeers. There are too many unknowns with this squad, which is relying on three transfers and five freshmen to settle in. Travis Steele inherited a great program with an experienced core. Now we will find out if Steele can create and coach his own squad.
Projected Big East Standings
5. Seton Hall
8. St. John’s
Robert Ferringo is a member of the Basketball Writer's Association of America and a professional sports handicapper for Doc's Sports. He is considered one of the best college basketball handicappers in the country and has an unrivaled run of 13 of 14 winning nonconference seasons. Robert’s $100-per-Unit clients have banked a remarkable $68,470 in the last 13 years with his nonconference picks (November and December) alone. There is no better moneymaker in the nation and Robert is looking forward to another amazing season. You can sign up for his college basketball picks and get more information here.
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