Once the premier basketball conference in the country, the Big East‘s inaugural season after reconstruction was anything but extraordinary.
Now, the conference needs to have a bounce-back season or risk continuing its progressive drift into the sea of irrelevance. Just two players (one first-rounder, one second) from the league were selected in July’s NBA Draft, and outside of Bryce Cotton, no undrafted Big East alum has signed a contract with an NBA team.
Luckily for Big East basketball fans, the near future is exceptionally brighter than the recent past. Generally speaking, the Big East was a young conference with a lack of experience at key positions. This season, teams like Villanova, Marquette, Georgetown, Butler and St. John’s will return the majority of their core players and hopefully establish a bigger presence in the top-25 polls consistently.
While teams like Creighton, Providence and Xavier lost their star players, these schools have built up their programs nicely and attracted some quality recruits to join decent lineups. Each team is well-coached and could also be a factor in the conference championship race.
Despite less-than-ideal records last season, there was evidence of new stars developing all across the conference. D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera and Joshua Smith will be a deadly combination for the Hoyas, while JayVaughn Pinkston, Josh Hart and Ryan Arcidiacono make for a well-balanced attack on offense for Villanova.
New head coach Steve Wojciechowski has a lot of talent to play with for his first season at Marquette, starting with Todd Mayo and the gifted freshman guard Sandy Cohen. Rysheed Jordan of St. John’s is another guard absolutely loaded with talent, but he will need to improve on a rather pedestrian freshman campaign last year.
Austin Chatman is an outstanding veteran guard who will replace Doug McDermott as the primary creator for the Creighton offense. He contributes a nice combination of scoring and assists, and he will be trusted with more responsibility during his senior season. Butler also boasts a plethora of crafty players in the backcourt, with the lethal shooter Kellen Dunham and all-around stud Roosevelt Jones, who is looking to rebound after spending most of last season on the sidelines injured. The Bulldogs return four starters this season and are sure to build on their 4-14 record during conference play.
While the conference is still a long way from the former elite status it once boasted, the Big East is taking strides of improvement toward becoming one of the more respectable leagues in the nation. The talent is there; now the teams just need to capitalize on their abilities and develop, win some games over top programs from other leagues and have more than one or two teams continue climbing up the weekly rankings. There may not be an absolute star this season like McDermott last year, but this season’s conference is much deeper and the players will deliver some quality basketball all year long.