By Pat Gainor, Staff Writer
Under Sean Miller, Xavier has already made a case to be one of the leading contenders for the elusive BIG East crown. But across the division, several other suitors stand waiting. Here is an analysis of every BIG East team in 2022, as well as who has the best chance to duel Xavier for the title in 2022.
The Blue Jays are an absolute powerhouse this year and definitely a school to watch out for. Opening at #9 in the AP Preseason poll, Creighton holds both a tough paint threat in junior center Ryan Kalkbrenner–who scored a career-high 24 points and went 10/11 on shots–and a new scoring threat beyond the arc in South Dakota State transfer senior guard Baylor Scheierman.
Creighton has a similar play style to Xavier’s–attacking the paint at all times with the occasional volley from beyond the arc. With Kalkbrenner’s production, a consistent rim attack is almost guaranteed. But Scheierman and the Creighton three point attack has been hot and cold through the first two matches. In their opener against the University of St. Thomas (MN), Creighton went 8-34 from beyond the arc and only being able to down the Tommies on a late 16-3 run. But the next night, the Jays went 12-27 en route to a decisive 96-61 blowout to aforementioned North Dakota.
In many ways, the success of Creighton’s game plan compared to Xavier’s will come down to the people executing it. This season will determine whether a program with two or three stars running the show or a program with less “star” power in exchange for more rounded out talent executes the game plan better. Creighton is set to duel Xavier in Cintas on Jan. 11,, one of three Top 500 games this season.
Wanna know how much Villanova misses Jay Wright? Last Friday, the #16 Wildcats fell to unranked crosstown rival Temple (PA) and were at one point down by 15. Yikers.
But even then, as hilariously embarrassing as that loss was, it’s still very early to count out Nova. The Wildcats, now under the leadership of former assistant Kyle Neptune, still have a three-headed monster of redshirt junior Eric Dixon, graduate student forward Brandon Slater and graduate student guard Caleb Daniels. Their 16-seed isn’t an act of generosity–Villanova definitely still has the ability to win basketball games. Not only will they have to do so with new blood running the show, but they’ll have to do it without their two best players.
Highly anticipated freshman forward Cam Whitmore is out for the beginning of the season, still rehabilitating from thumb surgery. While his presence has been missed in the opening weeks, this might be a whole different team we’re talking about a month from now, when the Wildcats have his elusiveness and electric offensive prowess to work with. Perhaps, more sorely missed will be senior guard Justin Moore.
Moore, tore his Achilles in the final minute of the Elite Eight victory over Houston last year and is projected to be out for most of the season up until the weeks leading into March. This is a massive hole to fill, considering how Moore has been widely considered one of the best guards in the BIG East, and the true test will come down to how successful Neptune can be with big gaps and bigger expectations.
Of all the teams in the BIG East, Providence is the least predictable. The Friars took a massive blow after losing all five of their starters through graduation, and Head Coach Ed Cooley is looking to fill that hole with transfers, notably graduate student guard Noah Locke (Louisville), sophomore guard Devin Carter (South Carolina), sophomore forward/guard Bryce Hopkins (Kentucky) and redshirt freshman guard Corey Floyd Jr. (UConn). There’s no question that Cooley has retained talent to work with senior guard Jared Bynum, but their success depends on how well they can mesh as a team.
It’s any given night at this point. Providence squeaked out a one-point win over Rider University in their season opener and definitively defeated Northeastern University the following Saturday. While another run to the Sweet Sixteen doesn’t seem likely, a team with this level of talent has the ability to make some noise. As long as every last puzzle piece falls into place.
According to the BIG East Preseason Poll, Creighton has received nine votes to win the BIG East conference. Xavier is in second place with two, and Villanova has received one. BIG East conference play will begin on Dec.r 16 when Xavier travels to Georgetown and opens at Cintas on Dec. 20 against Seton Hall.