Remade Big East offers competitiveness, heightened talent

In Big East, College Basketball by Ken Cross

By Sam Mullan

Maybe it is not safe to say that the idea of “Power 5 conference” only applies to college football because in case no one else has noticed, it wasn’t long ago that they called it “Power 6 conference.” That went away with the destruction of the Big East in the traditional sense of the conference – no Pitt, no Syracuse, and no Notre Dame, just as a starting point. However, isn’t the current Big East every bit as deep as the old? They have lost some of their traditional top teams, but with the additions of Butler, Creighton, and Xavier, this new Big East is something that should still be marveled at.

Here are the preseason honors for the Big East:

Best non-traditional Big East member: Xavier Musketeers

Xavier coach Chris Mack will have 10 key letter-winners and three starters, led by senior guard Remy Abell

Xavier coach Chris Mack will have 10 key letter-winners and three starters, led by senior guard Remy Abell. (Photo Courtesy of Xavier Sports Communications).

There was a time when Sean Miller leaving to coach Arizona was considered to be problematic for the Xavier program. Enter Chris Mack. Entering his 7th year at the helm, Mack has made the NCAA tournament all but one year, and this year will be no different. The Musketeers have lost an all-around star from last season in Matt Stainbrook, but per the norm, Mack has reloaded the Musketeer programs, which has a good chance of picking up a win or two once March rolls around.

Best coach: Jay Wright
Wright might be the best coach, but don’t mistake the fact that he’s also the coach under the most pressure. The Wildcats are the only team that has won the new Big East, under the top of the line tutelage of Wright. Wright has run the ‘Nova program for 14 years now with virtually nothing but success. It’ll be another impressive showing in Philadelphia this season.

Most exciting matchup: Crosstown Shootout, Cincinnati @ Xavier, December 12
While this may not be the best game of the season that includes a Big East team, I still can’t get the 2011 brawl out of my mind. There’s always a chance for a repeat of the festivities. There are very few teams, if any, that abhor each other more than these two. Expect this game to be one of the most physical games we see all year.

Best matchup: Oklahoma/Virginia vs. Villanova, December 7/19
Take your pick on this one. Villanova is truly challenging themselves in their non-conference schedule, facing off with two preseason AP Top 10 teams. In big games like this, I’ve always preferred neutral court sites, like we’ll see with Villanova and Oklahoma. However, the excitement that we’ll see Charlottesville for the Virginia game will be unmatched in any other non-conference game we see in 2015.

Best under the radar team: Georgetown Hoyas
Due to the “tradition” of early exits in March as of late, the Hoyas have been a team that’s been looked over on the schedule. John Thompson III hasn’t been nearly as successful as his father, but he also hasn’t been lucky enough to coach guys like Dikembe Mutombo, Patrick Ewing, and Allen Iverson. Running the Princeton offense always requires a talented big with great court vision and passing ability. With Greg Monroe and Henry Sims before him, freshman Jessie Govan has a chance to step into that role. The 67th rated prospect in the 2015 class, Govan’s size and skills on both ends of the court will allow him to be the anchor this offense requires. In a guard-centric conference, Govan may be even more dominant than expected, which will push the Hoyas up the rankings, once they get past their early tests of Maryland and Wisconsin.

Best player: Kris Dunn, Providence G
I try not to fall prey to this, but I’m definitely drinking the Kool-Aid here. Despite not even leading his team in scoring last season, Dunn can literally do anything and everything required of him. With LaDontae Henton gone, Dunn’s usage will increase dramatically. His size at 6’4” gives him an obvious advantage against any matchup he’ll see. If there’s one thing Dunn isn’t stellar at, it’s his pure shooting ability, but with his size advantage and ability to get to the hoop, that likely won’t prevent him for putting up impressive numbers. Not only will Dunn compete for Player of the Year in the Big East, but he’ll compete for Naismith Player of the Year Award for best men’s collegiate basketball player and a First Team All-American nomination. Dunn’s talent will put him in the running for a top 10 pick in the NBA Draft.

Best Team: Villanova Wildcats
I know I’ve talked a lot about the Wildcats tonight, but it’s for good reason. This team is extremely talented. Three straight years with at least one win in March Madness should be repeated in 2015. Make it three for three for the Wildcats in winning the new-look Big East. Yes, the Wildcats have lost more than their fair share of players from last season, but with the best Big East recruit of the 2015 class in Jalen Brunson joining the team, the Wildcats still have a solid group around Daniel Ochefu and Ryan Arcidiacono (hasn’t he been there for the last 10 years?). To be the best, you have to beat the best, and no one has been able to beat Villanova in the Big East thus far.