On the heels of Big East media day there is a lot of buzz surrounding the conference that produced the 2015-16 champion, Villanova. A conference compiled of non-FBS football schools finally had its major breakthrough. However, there is still plenty to talk about 2016-17.
So you thought Villanova was a one time deal? Wrong. Despite the major losses of Daniel Ochefu and Ryan Arcidiacono the Wildcats are still very much a threat. They were the overwhelming pick for the top spot in the preseason poll. Jay Wright’s reigning champions return the preseason player of the year in Josh Hart, championship hero Kris Jenkins and Jalen Brunson. Jenkins was voted preseason First Team All-Big East and Brunson was given honorable mention.
The team returns six players that played in all 40 games. This includes sophomore Mikal Bridges. A highly touted recruit, Bridges could be the one to replace Arcidiacono’s production after a productive first tour. The team did take a serious blow in their quest to fill the void left by Ochefu. Five star recruit Omari Spellman likely would have been in the starting five for the Wildcats, but the NCAA ruled him ineligible. This makes Eric Paschall the only notable addition to the team. A Fordham transfer, he is the former 2014-15 Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Year. He did practice with the team last year, thus is familiar with the system.
Despite the departed pieces of the current champs, Nova will have a successful season. There is no reason that they should not win the regular season conference title. Even with all of the talent concentrated at places like Duke, Kentucky and Oregon, the Wildcats should be in the running for another NCAA title. At minimum they should make the Elite Eight. Anything other than that would be a let down.
The Xavier Musketeers finished second in the preseason poll, right where they did in the 2015-16 standings. The Musketeers had an early exit from the NCAA Tournament due to Wisconsin’s Bronson Koenig’s fall-away jumper in the second round. Chris Mack’s team loses two big bodies in Jalen Reynolds and James Farr, as well as former Indiana transfer Remy Abell.
The team does return Big East preseason first teamers Edmund Sumner and Trevon Bluiett. The two were the leading scorers on the team in 2015-16. Bluiett showed improvements in several statistical categories including a seven percent increase from deep to 39.8%. Sumner is an excellent distributor and will lead the team at the one this year while still grabbing more than three boards per game. Another key returnee would be Myles Davis, however his status for the season is uncertain as he is under an indefinite suspension. The team did add three four star recruits, as well as Florida A&M transfer Malcom Bernard who averaged 14.4 points and 7.0 rebounds along with 2.3 steals per game. Bernard could help the Musketeers on both ends of the floor in place of Abell.
Third in the poll are the Creighton Blue Jays who added Marcus Foster from Kansas State. After sitting out the 2015-16 season, Foster is ready to contribute. Foster would be on the receiving end of Maurice Watson Jr. The former transfer is a prolific creator for those around him. Watson Jr. led the Big East in assists last season after transferring from Boston.
With no notable recruits Foster, Watson Jr. and fellow returnee Cole Huff will be counted on to lead the team in 2016-17. All three are transfers which have become a key part of Greg McDermott luring players to Omaha. Senior Isaiah Zierden will also play a key role. He was among the teams leading scorers last year and his advanced stats show that he also had an impact on the defensive end.
|Creighton Blue Jays Transfer Players|
|Maurice Watson Jr.||Boston|
|Marcus Foster||Kansas State|
|*Not eligible for 2016-17 season.|
Georgetown, Seton Hall and Butler are all possible contenders, but not likely to make much noise. Seton Hall won the Big East tournament but lost Isaiah Whitehead early to the NBA. John Thompson’s Hoyas did not even crack the AP top 25 last season. Butler lost two program staples in Roosevelt Jones and Kellan Dunham to graduation. Of these three, Butler had the most success last year, but also lost the most going into this season.
Off the Map
The Providence Friars were a power packed team in 2015-16. Ben Bentil and Kris Dunn left early for the NBA as they should have. Dunn was one of the most prolific point guards in the country as a junior. Bentil stepped up and led the team in scoring and rebounds.
With their exit, Providence loses nearly half of its 74 points per game. They will rely on Rodney Bullock and Kyron Cartwright for their team identity. The only other notable addition is four star recruit Alpha Diallo. Diallo possesses the ability to move the ball on the wing, but will need to improve his shot if he wishes to impact the Friars season. The degree of difficulty to replace two talents like Bentil and Dunn likely means a rebuilding year for Providence.