Def Pen Sports continues its NCAA basketball preview series with a focus on the Big East this week. As a conference, the Big East underachieved in the NCAA Tournament and looks to make an improvement in 2019-2020. There is some serious upperclassmen star power and some the strongest guard play of any league.
Let’s take a look at the top storylines to watch in the Big East.
St. John’s starting the Mike Anderson Era
St. Johns is a tradition-rich program that has gone through a famous list of coaches since the storied Lou Carnesecca era. The Red Storm have had Fran Fraschilla, Mike Jarvis, Steve Lavin, and former star Chris Mullin try to lead the program, but only achieved mild to little success. Now, they turn the keys of the program to former Arkansas coach, Mike Anderson. Anderson brings a relentless up and down pressing style of play in which St. Johns hasn’t been accustomed to. Luckily, St. Johns has two experienced star guards in Mustapha Heron and LJ Figueroa who can benefit from Anderson’s system. Sophomores Marcellus Earlington, Greg Williams, and NC State transfer Ian Steere will have to be relied upon in order for St. Johns to make an impact in Anderson’s first season. For Anderson, this is a major crossroad in his career. He got the opportunity of a lifetime as a former Razorback player to bring them back to prominence. Unfortunately, he couldn’t get Arkansas back to the 40 minutes of hell days with Nolan Richardson. Now he’ll try to bring the former Big East powerhouse back to the promised land.
Can Georgetown take the next step in the Big East with their promising sophomore trio and impact transfer Omer Yurtseven?
In Patrick Ewing’s third season at Georgetown, he finally has a team that is NCAA Tournament worthy. Georgetown returns the talented freshman trio of Mac McClung, James Akinjo and Josh LeBlanc who all made appearances on the Big East All-Freshman Team. Throw in instant impact transfer Omer Yurtseven from NC State and you’ve got a dangerous team. Ewing’s Georgetown squad was able to really benefit with some extra practice from an off-season Bahamas basketball trip. The development of Akinjo, McClung, and LeBlanc in particular and the leadership from Yurtseven are critical for Georgetown making their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2014-2015. The Hoyas have some early season tests before the Big East slate against Penn State, Syracuse, Texas, (Cal or Duke from the 2K Empire Classic) and Oklahoma State.
Mac McClung AT THE BUZZER ?
James Akinjo with 3 seconds left in OT ?
Hoyas win in Double OT, 96-90 pic.twitter.com/Pn1q2ewCY2
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) January 12, 2019
Will Villanova defend their conference title against Seton Hall and Marquette’s star power?
Jay Wright and the Villanova Wildcats come into this season as the favorites to take the Big East crown again as they have won the regular-season crown five of the last six seasons. Eric Paschall and Phil Booth have graduated but 5-star recruits, Bryan Antoine and Jeremiah Robinson-Earl should be able to start and fill the void from day one. In addition, Jermaine Samuels looks to make the jump from budding role player to star. The next two competing teams for the crown, in Seton Hall and Marquette, have star power in Myles Powell and Markus Howard respectively. Both the Pirates and the Golden Eagles rely heavily on their stars while Nova will be looking to take a more collective approach towards defending their title.
Jermaine Samuels may have missed the free throw on purpose just so he could pull off this MASSIVE CRAM. pic.twitter.com/qonRtAioNo
— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) December 22, 2018
The second factor will be team success. Seton Hall is being highly regarded as a top 20 team this year by most outlets, with Marquette being seen as a good but not great team in most previews. The difference between the two is Marquette lost both Hauser twins in a shocking development last year, while Seton Hall returns almost everyone from a team that slugged it out with Villanova in the Big East Championship last March. If Hall or Marquette are top 15 or 20 teams, then Powell and Howard will be strongly considered for NOP.
Powell and Howard are both very good players and will most likely both be All-Big East First Team members. They will assuredly be on everyone’s All American watch list. The important factor will be if their respective teams will be good enough to push them into the conversation of NOP.
Can Providence make it into the second weekend?
Providence College has seen an unprecedented run of success under Ed Cooley. They have made the postseason for the last 7 years, made the NCAA tournament 5 times in a row, but have failed to make a deep run. This year’s squad is coming off a tough season last year where they struggled mightily at times and failed to make the NCAA tournament for a sixth straight time, which lead to a general feeling of frustration and anger in the fanbase. The team has seemingly solved its issue at point guard by bringing in the experienced and talented Luwane Pipkins as a grad transfer. The team brings back most of its important players and will have another year of experience and practice under their belt. The question is not only can this team get back into the tournament, but can they get to the second weekend?
Why this is the year for the Friars in the Big East and beyond
Providence returns most of their key players from last year, only losing Isisah Jackson to graduation and Drew Edwards and Makai Asthon-Langford to transfer. Neither player had a strong season last year and these departures should open up more opportunities for the players who remain. David Duke showed flashes of great potential last year, AJ Reeves was on fire to start the season before an injury sidelined him for nearly a month and a half. Alpha Diallo was strong last season but still struggled to hit 3s. The main issue most Friar fans point to is a lack of consistent play and some issues with point guard play on offense. With Pipkins, the Friars offense gains an experienced and good guard who can not only distribute the ball but also create his own shot, bringing pressure off Diallo who at times seemed like the only player who could create on offense.
Consistency is key; if the Friars are able to consistently play to their talent and experience, then this team will be back in the tournament and fighting for a spot in the Sweet Sixteen. It will come down to how well this team can rebound from a tough season last year and how well they gameplan for opponents. Ed Cooley is a very capable coach who has brought the best out of players that were overlooked by other programs. The question will be can he bring the best out of an experienced and talented team that will be looking to return to form this season.