Men’s Big East Conference outlook

Xavier will look to be competitive in a deep and talented Big East this year

Newswire photo by Desmond Fischer

With the 2020-2021 men’s basketball season starting on Wednesday, the Big East is shaping up to be one of the most competitive conferences in the nation.

The clear favorite to finish first in the conference is Villanova, with the general consensus placing Creighton second.

Sports journalist for The DePaulia Nate Burleyson agreed with this ranking when asked who he believes will take home the title.

“I have to say Villanova. They return a few great players, are always well coached, and are one of the best teams year in and year out,” he said.

Villanova went 24-7 for 2019-2020, and with four of their five starters returning, they’re poised to end with a similar record this year with Jeremiah Robinson-Earl and Collin Gillespie leading the charge.

Creighton had the same record last year, marking their best performance to date. This year they’re expected to be a power team again, with a deep bench and an intimidating offense led by Marcus Zegarowski.

Providence is another team to watch as they are predicted to finish third in the Big East. As long as junior David Duke can continue his scoring consistency after averaging 14 points per game last season, Providence should be in good shape. Senior Nate Watson also helps provide an interior presence on both sides of the ball for the Friars.

Connecticut (UConn) is rejoining the Big East and hopes to continue their 2019-2020 momentum with a strong sophomore class. Their incoming freshmen are also impressive, and will thrive under the leadership of coach Dan Hurley.

Projected to come in fifth is Seton Hall, which finished strong last season. However, they graduated three starters this year, and they’re looking to Bryce Aiken, a transfer from Harvard, to fill the offensive gap for his last eligible year.

Two Big East teams, the Villanova Wildcats and the Creighton Bluejays, are currently ranked in the top 25 nationally.

With Villanova coming in at No. 3 and Creighton at No. 12 according to this year’s AP preseason polls, both teams are formidable Final Four contenders. Seton Hall and UConn will also more than likely do fairly well in the tournament.

Tournament hopefuls include Marquette, Xavier, Providence and Butler. All four are predicted to do well in conference play, with St. John’s, DePaul and Georgetown projected to finish toward the bottom of the Big East once again.

Key players to watch out for include Creighton guard Markus Zegarowski, Villanova guard Collin Gillespie, Providence guard David Duke, Villanova forward Jeremiah Robinson-Earl and UConn guard James Bouknight.

Noteworthy newcomers either as freshmen or via transfer include D.J. Carton and Dawson Garcia of Marquette, R.J. Cole of UConn, Bryce Aiken of Seton Hall, Jared Bynum of Providence and Caleb Daniels of Villanova. Each has the potential to heavily impact the season for their respective teams.