2019 Big East Predictions: League Should be All-Out War
Last year may have been a bit of a "down" year for the Big East. They sent only four teams to the NCAA Tournament. None of those teams was higher than a No. 5 seed, and one (St. John's) got bounced in the First Four.
That said, it wasn't all bad. Nine of 10 teams in the conference made a postseason tournament, and all but one team in the league (Butler) finished the season above .500 for the year.
Last year may have been the proverbial step back before a step forward. And this season the Big East is loaded. I can see as many as seven of the league's 10 teams competing for an NCAA Tournament bid, and everyone in the league, except for St. John's, comes into the season with a realistic chance of going to a postseason tournament.
Add in the fact that Connecticut has decided to return to the league next year, and I would say that this venerable hoops league is definitely trending upward.
Here are Doc's Sports 2019-20 Big East Conference college basketball predictions:
The Favorite: Villanova
The Wildcats have absolutely dominated this conference since the realignment of 2014. Villanova has won the regular-season title five times in the last six years, including last season. Yet, despite that proven success, Villanova is not the consensus pick to win the league title this year. Losing program stalwarts Phil Booth and Eric Paschal, both of whom played big roles in Villanova's national title run two years ago, is a blow. Yet Jay Wright has reloaded with a highly-touted four-man recruiting class and has a new core to work with. This team doesn't have any seniors on the roster. So a lot will be thrust onto the shoulders of gritty guard Collin Gillespie and swing forward Saddiq Bey. If things click this season, the Wildcats could be back in the Sweet 16. And if they continue to develop then next year they could be back in the Final Four.
The Challenger: Seton Hall
I said last year that the Pirates were poised to take a step back before taking a step forward this year. Here we are. Seton Hall welcomes back nearly 90 percent of its scoring from last season and has to replace only one guy from its nine-man rotation. Surprisingly, guard Myles Powell decided to return to school. The senior is one of the best scorers in the country and a potential All-American. He averaged more points (23.1) than any other two Pirates combined last year. And the key to Seton Hall's season will be whether or not a suitable running mate steps up to help carry the load. Junior forward Sandro Mamukelashvili has shown potential but needs to show more consistency. Quincy McKnight is a solid role player at the point, and Myles Cale has some untapped upside. But this is Powell's show. And much like Markus Howard at Marquette, the Pirates will go as far as he can carry them.
The Dark Horse: Xavier
Xavier has a core of four upperclassmen that is as versatile and tough-minded as any quartet in college basketball. Guards Quentin Jones and Paul Scruggs and forwards Tyrique Jones and Naji Marshall give Travis Steele a rock solid foundation. And after missing the NCAA Tournament last year, the Musketeers will be extremely motivated to get back to The Big Dance. Last year the core four seemed to rely too much on transfers Zach Hankins and Ryan Welage to provide interior size and 3-point shooting. Xavier took a summer trip to Spain this year, and I get the impression that that Xavier veterans are going to take matters into their own hands this year. Are they good enough? What they lack in talent they make up for in toughness and grit. Is that enough? Transfers Bryce Moore and Jason Carter will fill in at the edges and have something to contribute. But if Xavier is going to go dancing this year, it will 100 percent be on the backs of their four upperclassmen.
The X-Factor: Providence
The Friars were big-time underachievers last season, losing nine of their last 14 games and spending just one day in the NIT tournament. They have a lot of potential this year, though, and if they can stay healthy they should be a player in the Big East race. It starts with returning leading scorer Alpha Diallo. I will admit it: I have never once watched Diallo and thought that he was the best player on the court, much less a future NBA player. Yet he did average 16 points and eight rebounds last season. Junior Nate Watson, on the other hand, looks the part of a future pro. The 6-10 center has been dealing with a knee issue, and his status is uncertain. High-scoring UMass transfer Luwane Pipkins has been banged up, backup forward Emmit Holt is still trying to rebound from two injury-plagued seasons, and touted frosh Greg Gantt is dealing with an Achilles issue. If the Friars get healthy - and if A.J. Reeves and David Duke make strides in Year 2 - then the Friars will be legit.
The Disappointment: Marquette
Markus Howard is one of the five best players in college basketball. Period. And that alone is generally enough to get a team into the NCAA Tournament. But the loss of transfers Sam and Joey Hauser - who were obviously tired of playing second fiddle to Howard - really hurts this team. The Eagles are now almost solely dependent on Howard for offense. He's only 5-11 and 180 pounds. It's not that he can't carry this team, as he did while taking 37 percent of the team's shots last year. I just don't think that Howard is going to hold up, physically, for 30-plus games. Howard will get more support in the post. And Utah State transfer Koby McEwen might be one of the most important transfers in the country. But I don't think it adds up to a second-weekend tourney team.
Georgetown - Patrick Ewing is hoping that his program can make some serious strides in Year 3. Monster center Jessie Govan is gone. But stellar transfer Omer Yurtseven should be able to make up for most of Govan's missing 17 points and eight rebounds per night. Sophomore guards Mac McClung and James Akinjo are budding stars that need to build on last year, when they combined for 26 points, six rebounds and six assists per game. Yurtseven's rust level and contributions from several other transfers will likely determine if this team's ceiling is the NIT or NCAAs. This looks like a good team to buy low on.
Creighton (+800) - The Bluejays will be boom or bust for bettors. They have pretty much nothing in the post. They have only three guys on the roster taller than 6-7. One is hurt, one is an Idaho State transfer and the other is a D-II transfer. So Creighton is going to play four guards and one forward almost exclusively. They are going to bomb 3-pointers from all over the place. And when Creighton's backcourt, led by Ty-Shon Alexander and Marcus Zegarowski, are hot, then they can beat anyone. When they are not, then they can lose to anyone. Expect a lot of shootouts.
Butler - The Bulldogs are in a precarious position. Last year was just their second losing season in the last 14 years. It was their second losing season since joining the Big East in 2013-14. And the prospects for this year's group are limited at best. Kamar Baldwin is outstanding. But he proved last year that he couldn't do it alone. Unless Jordan Tucker makes a major jump, then this looks like a CBI-caliber team comprised of Baldwin and a bunch of role players.
DePaul - Slowly but surely, Dave Leitao is rebuilding this program. He's increased the team's win total each of the last two years and got the Blue Demons within a game of a CBI championship last March. Leitao lost three double-digit scorers but instantly replaced them with some intriguing pieces. Top 50 freshman Romeo Weems is DePaul's highest-rated recruit in ages. Transfer Cart'Are Gordon is another Top 100 recruit, and transfer Charlie Moore is a former double-digit scorer at Cal. Throw in Jalen Coleman-Lands, who played just nine games last season after his transfer in, and you have some intriguing pieces to toss in with Paul Reed and Devin Gage. A return to the CBI would be an accomplishment.
St. John's - The meandering Red Storm continue to wander the college basketball wilderness. Mike Anderson becomes the third big-name coaching hire in a row for St. John's, following the failed tenures of Steve Lavin and Chris Mullin. Anderson never got things rolling in Arkansas. But he has had success in the past and will bring his pressing, trapping, up-tempo style to NYC. Mustapha Heron and L.J. Figueroa comprise a solid backcourt. But Anderson is starting from scratch beyond that, and a return to the NCAA Tournament is simply not possible.
Projected Big East Standings
2. Seton Hall
10. 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 12 of 13 winning nonconference seasons. Robert's $100-per-Unit clients have banked a remarkable $63,050 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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