Xavier looks forward to a strong Big East

By: Brent Raines ~Sports Editor~

Photo courtesy of villanovaoneup.wordpress.com | Ochefu could determine ‘Nova’s tourney run.

It’s now year three of the new Catholic-flavored Big East, and the 2015-16 season might represent Xavier’s best chance to make a run at a conference title. For the second consecutive season, the media picked the Musketeers to finish fourth in the conference at Big East Media Day. Here is the Newswire’s Big East conference preview and predictions.

1. Villanova (16-2 2014-15 conference record, Projected finish at BE Media Day: First)

Another year, another conference championship for the Wildcats. While both James Farr and Chris Mack stressed the importance of beating Villanova in interviews with the Newswire, Villanova simply has too much talent for others to outpace them over the course of the regular season. Gone is the vastly underappreciated glue-guy Dylan Ennis, who transferred to Oregon, but highly recruited freshman Jalen Brunsen will help offset the loss.

The Wildcats return a plethora of skilled perimeter players such as Ryan Archiadiacono, Josh Hart and Darrun Hilliard, but the real key will be replacing the departing senior JayVaughan Pinkston’s size and physicality down-low. Big men Daniel Ochefu and Kris Jenkins will be enough for the Wildcats to run through the regular season again, but lack of depth might result in another quick exit from the Big Dance.

2. Xavier (9-9, fourth)

The Musketeers might be losing a lot of production from last season due to the graduations of Dee Davis and Matt Stainbrook, but they are more than equipped to replace them. Jalen Reynolds has improved markedly each season, and a slimmed down Sean O’Mara should be ready to fill in the minutes off of the bench.

While they are without Davis’s steadiness and experience, Larry Austin Jr. and Edmond Sumner bring a size and athleticism to the frontcourt that Davis never had. Also, keep an eye on Myles Davis. Mack made a point to praise the redshirt junior’s leadership in his interview with the Newswire. Xavier’s completeness may make it the Big East team most likely to succeed in the NCAA Tournament. Another run to the Sweet 16, or beyond, might be coming in March.

3. Butler (12-6, third)

Much like Xavier, Butler is a program built on consistency and player development. Losing two key graduates in Alex Barlow and Kameron Woods will hurt, but the Bulldogs’ coaches will likely mine a few diamonds from the fringes of the roster. Kellen Dunham, Andrew Chrabascz and Roosevelt Jones return to lead the team, and NC State transfer Tyler Lewis will add an offensive burst. Butler will likely return to the tournament and might scare a heavy top-seeded opponent while there.

4. Georgetown (12-6, second)

Preseason all-Big East D’Vauntes Smith- Rivera returns to lead a young but talented team. Georgetown has had one of the top-two recruiting classes in the Big East in the past two cycles, and coach John Thompson III will look to develop his talent while Smith-Rivera leads the team to wins. The Hoyas will struggle more than some may think during the regular season, but might have their best shot in several years for their first return to the Sweet 16 since 2007.

Photo courtesy of theday.com | Dunn missed much of his first two seasons due to injuries.

5. Providence (11-7, fifth)

How far can one player carry a team? Providence will look to answer that question as preseason favorite for player of the year Kris Dunn surprised everyone and returned for his redshirt junior season. The 6-foot-4 point guard can do a bit of everything, and he will likely have to, as the Friars lost three of their four top scorers and another key bench player in 7-foot-2 Pascual Chukwu. Dunn ought to carry the team to the tournament, but he will have his hands too full to advance them any further from there.

6. Seton Hall (6-12, seventh)

It’s easy to forget that the talented Pirates were ranked in the early phases of conference play last season. If he can get along with his teammates, former five-star recruit Isaiah Whitehead might make a run at Big East Player of the Year. Seton Hall’s tourney chances are in Whitehead’s hands. Will he rise up to the challenge?

7. Marquette (4-14, sixth)

Coach Steve Wojciechowski certainly has the program on the upswing and was able to lure the Big East’s top recruit to Milwaukee. The Coach K acolyte will lean on seven-foot, five-star recruit Henry Ellenson and his five-man recruiting class, but the Golden Eagles do not have much leftover talent to help them out. They are probably one year away from seriously contending in the Big East, but might show enough to get to the NIT.

8. DePaul (6-12, eighth)

Dave Leitao returns. The man who guided the Blue Demons to their last NCAA Tournament appearance in 2004 will take another shot at reviving the downtrodden program. He will have the wily Billy Garrett, Jr. to work with and not much else. DePaul finishing eighth rather than tenth says more about the last two teams than the Blue Demons, who already do not figure to be that good.

9. Creighton (4-14, ninth)

Can Greg McDermott win without his son leading the team? There was a lot more talent than just Dougie McBuckets on Creighton’s most recent successful teams, but all of that talent is gone now. The elder McDermott will have Kansas State transfer Marcus Foster and highly touted local recruit Justin Patton at his disposal, but that will not be enough to contend in the Big East. The rowdy CenturyLink Center may help Creighton to a few upsets, but it figures to be a rough season in Omaha.

10. St. John’s (10-8, tenth)

The Red Storm followed the Iowa State guide to success and hired a local legend with no coaching experience to invigorate the program. Hall-of-Fame player Chris Mullin hopes he can coach as well as he played. The Red Storm lost 11 players from last years’ team, so a solid recruiting class will look to showcase the future.

Between the Knicks and St. John’s, Madison Square Garden probably will not be hosting much quality basketball until the Big East Tournament.