Men’s Big East conference outlook

Xavier will look to finish at the top of the Big East with their core returners

By Justine Malone, Staff Writer

The Xavier men’s basketball team hopes to rebound from last season’s disappointing seventh-place finish in the Big East and first-round loss to Butler in the Big East Tournament. This year, Xavier was selected to finish third in the Big East Preseason Coaches’ Poll. 

Xavier brings back their top seven scorers under fourth-year Head Coach Travis Steele. This includes junior Zach Freemantle, a Preseason All-Big East First Team member who led the Musketeers with 16.1 points and 8.9 rebounds per game last year. 

Xavier also brings back senior Ben Stanley along with fifth-year players Nate Johnson and Paul Scruggs, another Preseason All-Big East First Team pick who averaged 14.1 points per game last season.

The Villanova Wildcats were chosen to finish first in the Big East Preseason Coaches’ Poll and have a top-five AP poll preseason ranking. After falling in the Sweet 16 to Baylor last year, they hope to complete unfinished business under the leadership of Head Coach Jay Wright. 

Notable returners for the Wildcats include fifth-year star point guard and Preseason Big East Player of the Year Collin Gillespie, who averaged 14 points and 4.6 assists last season; fifth-year forward Jermaine Samuels, a Preseason All-Big East Second Team pick who scored 12 points per game; and junior Justin Moore, another Preseason All-Big East Second Team selection.

Challenging the Wildcats for the Big East title are the University of Connecticut Huskies, picked to finish second in the Big East Preseason Coaches’ Poll. 

Coming off a third-place Big East finish with an 11-6 conference record under Dan Hurley and an NCAA Tournament bid, the Huskies are looking strong with returning graduate student guard R.J. Cole and senior guard Tyrese Martin. 

Look for these players to have an increased role with the departure of James Bouknight, who averaged 18.7 points and 5.7 rebounds per game. Bouknight was a first-round pick in the 2021 NBA draft, and he will be difficult to replace for the Huskies.

Behind Xavier, the St. John’s Red Storm was selected to finish fourth and has two of the conference’s best players in Preseason Big East First All-Team selection: Julian Champagnie, who led the Big East in scoring with 19.8 points per game, and sophomore guard Posh Alexander, last year’s Big East Freshman of the Year with 10.9 points per game. However, they may struggle after losing five of their top seven scorers from last year. They did bring in Purdue transfer Aaron Wheeler, who will be key. 

The Seton Hall Pirates bring back four of their top six scorers, including center Ike Obiagu, senior forward Jared Rhoden, a Preseason All-Big East First Team member; and fifth-year wing Myles Cale.

It will be a difficult task to replace Sandro Mamukelashvii, who led the Pirates in scoring with 17.5 points per game last year, but the Pirates have chances to do so.

Butler, selected for sixth place, brings back ten of its top eleven scorers from last season, with five double-figure scorers. These scorers include sophomore guard Chuck Harris (12.9 points per game), forward Bryce Nze (11.9 points per game) and Bryce Golden (10.4 points per game). Butler hopes to improve their balance of talent to succeed in the conference.

The Providence Friars were chosen to finish seventh. They believe senior center Nate Watson can step up in a big way, after being third in scoring in the conference last year (16.9 points per game)and with the departure of David Duke. Justin Minaya and A.J. Reeves should also make an impact.

Creighton was selected to finish eighth and will significantly struggle with the loss of all five starters from their 22-9 season last year. However, they will have to rely on their seven freshmen recruits, as well as reserves Ryan Kalkbrenner and Alex O’Connell.

The Marquette Golden Eagles are led by new Head Coach Shaka Smart, who will rely on a brand-new roster including top-100 guard Steve Mitchell and sophomore returners forward Justin Lewis and guard Greg Elliott. As a result, this team was selected for the  ninth spot and will most likely face a difficult year ahead.

The Patrick Ewing-led Georgetown Hoyas were picked to finish tenth in the Preseason Big East Coaches’ Poll, despite an underdog Big East championship last season. 

Look out for freshman and five-star recruit Aminu Mohammed, a McDonald’s All-American guard. Mohammed is expected to make an immediate impact with players like sophomore guard Dante Harris, the Big East Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, on a squad that lost several key players and leadership. 

Rounding out the conference is the DePaul Blue Demons, who are positioned to finish in eleventh place in the Big East. 

The team is looking to rebuild under new Head Coach Tony Stubblefield and will rely on senior Javon Freeman-Liberty and junior center Nick Ongenda for this season, along with sophomore Jalen Terry.

The Musketeers begin conference play against Marquette on Dec. 18.