By: Luke Feliciano ~Staff Writer~
The Musketeers are heading into their fourth season in the reenvisioned Big East Conference and are primed to face some tough opponents this year in conference play.
Villanova is arguably the toughest opponent on Xavier’s entire regular season schedule. While the Wildcats fell short of capturing the conference championship a season ago, they ended up winning the NCAA Tournament on a Kris Jenkins buzzer beater.
The Wildcats lost two of their best players, Ryan Arcidiacono and Daniel Ochefu, to professional basketball, but they still have strong players coming back. Villanova returns a star trio of Kris Jenkins, Jalen Brunson and Josh Hart, who was voted the Big East Preseason Player of the Year.
They are the coaches’ favorite to win the conference and even have the pieces to repeat as NCAA champions.
Georgetown had a fairly young team last season and brings back a lot of now-experienced players.
The team will look different without point guard D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera, but the Hoyas return some key pieces in L.J. Peak, Tre Campbell and Isaac Copeland. Georgetown may turn some heads in a winnable Big East.
Creighton may very well be in contention with both Villanova and Xavier atop the Big East this year. First Team All-Big East guard Maurice Watson Jr. leads the Blue Jay offense.
Creighton also secured one of the top transfers in the country, Marcus Foster, who averaged 15.5 points per game in his time at Kansas State.
Seton Hall made an impressive late-season run, ultimately capturing the 2015-2016 Big East title. The Pirates will have to find replacements for key losses of Isaiah Whitehead to the NBA and the graduation of Derrick Gordon.
Seton Hall still has some valuable pieces coming back, however, including two Second Team All-Big East Preseason players Khadeen Carrington and Angel Delgado as well as Desi Rodriguez.
Marquette’s biggest returning player is center Luke Fischer, who earned Second Team All-Big East Preseason honors.
The Golden Eagles lost their best player last year, Henry Ellenson, who was a first round pick in June’s NBA draft. Marquette has also welcomed in a key transfer, Katin Reinhardt, from UNLV. He is expected to have a big impact this season.
Butler graduated two important starters, Roosevelt Jones and Kellen Dunham, leaving the Bulldogs thin at the wing heading into this season. Kelan Martin and graduate transfer Kethan Savage will lead the way for the Bulldogs.
Providence lost its dynamic duo of lottery draft pick guard Kris Dunn and forward Ben Bentil, who opted to leave school.
The two accounted for a whopping 64.2 percent of the Friars’ scoring last year, forcing them to rely on players with less experience. Look for contributions from Rodney Bullock and Jalen Lindsey.
DePaul and St. John’s didn’t make too much noise in the conference last season, and this season shouldn’t be any different.
The Blue Demons are led by their Second Team Preseason All-Big East guard Billy Garrett Jr. while the Red Storm will turn to second year guard Frederico Mussini, who led the team in assists last season.