Villanova, Seton Hall lead the pack
After producing the national champion in two of the previous three years and having at least one top-2 seed every season since 2002, the Big East took a step back last season. With Villanova losing most of the key pieces from its 2018 national championship team and Xavier needing to replace coach Chris Mack and several key veterans, the league as a whole didn’t have any true national contenders. Both Marquette and Villanova made runs up the rankings during January, but not a single team made it out of the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament.
That should change this season. Villanova is going to be back in the mix nationally, and Seton Hall returns nearly every key piece from a 20-win team that reached the Big East title game. Outside the top two, there are at least five other teams that could make a legitimate case for the NCAA Tournament — if not the preseason top 25. And the one thing from last season that should carry over to 2019-20 is the success of the bottom of the league. Not a single team finished more than a game below .500 last season, and every team in the Big East won at least seven conference games. Once again, there won’t be any truly bad teams in the conference this season.
Perhaps the most exciting aspect of the upcoming Big East campaign is going to be the (at least) two head-to-head matchups between Marquette’s Markus Howard and Seton Hall’s Myles Powell — two of the best scorers in the country going at it.
Will either of them be enough to knock Villanova from its perch?
The Wildcats had their lowest win total since 2013 and lost veterans Phil Booth and Eric Paschall — but will once again be the Big East favorite. Collin Gillespie and several role players are back, and Jay Wright brings in five-star recruits Bryan Antoine and Jeremiah Robinson-Earl.
2. SETON HALL
Myles Powell will push for All-America honors this season, and Michael Nzei is the only personnel loss from a year ago. The Pirates are poised for their fifth straight NCAA Tournament and have a great shot to get out of the first weekend.
After a positive first season under Travis Steele, the Musketeers bring back their top four scorers and also add a talented recruiting class — with Ohio transfer Jason Carter providing reinforcements up front. Naji Marshall is ready to become a national name.
The Hauser brothers departed earlier than expected, meaning Steve Wojciechowski will need to find help for Markus Howard. It starts with Utah State transfer Koby McEwen, but Brendan Bailey and Sacar Anim will have to produce more consistently.
The Bluejays finished strong last season and return four starters — led by potential all-conference guard Ty-Shon Alexander and unanimous Big East All-Freshman selection Marcus Zegarowski. Potential weaknesses are down low and on the defensive end.
Patrick Ewing has the Hoyas progressing under his watch, and they’re ready to take the next step this season. James Akinjo and Mac McClung return in the backcourt, and NC State transfer Omer Yurtseven might immediately be the Big East’s best big man.
After flirting with Michigan, Ed Cooley returned to the Friars and could return them to the NCAA Tournament after missing the field for the first time since 2013. All five starters are back, and Luwane Pipkins and Greg Gantt are impact newcomers.
It feels like guard Kamar Baldwin has been at Butler forever — and still doesn’t get the credit he deserves. He needs help, though, and LaVall Jordan will have to rely on a pair of mid-major transfers up front in Derrik Smits and Bryce Nze.
After finishing above .500 for the first time since 2007, can Dave Leitao move the Blue Demons up the Big East standings? They do lose their top three scorers, but a talented recruiting class enters the fold, and Paul Reed is back in the frontcourt.
10. ST. JOHN'S
Mike Anderson takes over for Chris Mullin and has something of a rebuild on his hands — both in personnel and system. But the return of high-scoring wings Mustapha Heron and LJ Figueroa should help ease the transition.
Player of the Year: Markus Howard, Marquette
Best Defensive Player: Quincy McKnight, Seton Hall
Most Underrated Player: Kamar Baldwin, Butler
Newcomer of the Year: Omer Yurtseven, Georgetown
Kamar Baldwin, Sr. , G, Butler
Alpha Diallo, Sr., G, Providence
Markus Howard, Sr., G, Marquette
Naji Marshall, Jr., F, Xavier
Myles Powell, Sr., G, Seton Hall
James Akinjo, So., G, Georgetown
Ty-Shon Alexander, Jr., G, Creighton
Mustapha Heron, Sr., G, St. John’s
Paul Scruggs, Jr., G, Xavier
Omer Yurtseven, Jr., C, Georgetown
Saddiq Bey, So., F, Villanova
LJ Figueroa, Jr., F, St. John’s
Koby McEwen, Jr., G, Marquette
Paul Reed, Jr., F, DePaul
Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, Fr., F, Villanova