Now that the Big East portion of our Preview Series has been wrapped up, it's time to rank the ten Big East schools, preseason style. Only brief explanations will be provided for each ranking here, with more detailed looks at each team included in the appropriate links attached to each school's name.
I separated the schools into three tiers: NCAA hopefuls (some more than others), teams that will be in the bubble conversation (in or out) or NIT-likely, and those unlikely to play in either the NCAA tournament or NIT.
***NCAA tournament hopefuls***
Jay Wright returns everyone except guard James Bell and backup floor general Tony Chennault. The Wildcats are a consensus top-15 team due to their perennially all-conference backcourt. What's more is Villanova's intimidating frontcourt duo, which may also be the best in the Big East.
The Hoyas are on track to rebound from a disappointing 2013-14 season that left them out of the NCAA tournament. Center Josh Smith is back and looks to be in great shape while a league-best recruiting class and Big East Preseason Player of the Year D`Vauntes Smith-Rivera look to propel Georgetown back into postseason play.
The Muskies get the nod over St. John's since the NCAA's ruling on Red Storm forward Keith Thomas. Like Georgetown and Seton Hall, Chris Mack is bringing in a great recruiting class headlined by small forward Trevon Bluiett. Behemoth center Matt Stainbrook will be a double-double threat every night while seasoned point guard Dee Davis holds the reins on offense and forward Jalen Reynolds is projected to break out. Xavier looks a worthy candidate to return to the NCAA tournament.
***Bubble conversation or NIT-bound***
Steve Lavin has one of the best backcourts in the conference, but a ton of questions up front, especially after the sidelining of Keith Thomas for the season. Center Chris Obkepa will need to play very well while guards Rysheed Jordan and D`Angelo Harrison carry the scoring load for the team. The Red Storm certainly have the talent to Dance at guard, but they need to put it all together if they want to play past the Big East Tournament.
Half of Ed Cooley's heavily relied upon six-man rotation has left in Bryce Cotton, Kadeem Batts, and Josh Fortune. Again, the Friars are very thin at guard with Kris Dunn required to take on a Cotton-like role after returning from shoulder surgery that kept him out for most of last season. LaDontae Henton and versatile forward Tyler Harris will be asked a lot of questions as key returning players in the place of stalwart center Kadeem Batts.
Seton Hall's freshman class has done a good job of hiding deficiencies and loss of talent from their .500 team a year ago, and for good reasons. The six freshmen (headlined by Isaiah Whitehead and Angel Delgado) came in second in the conference only to Georgetown's stellar recruiting litter and will fuse together with redshirt freshman forward Rashed Anthony and greenhorn Northwestern transfer Chier Ajou.
Therein lies the problem.
Eight newcomers (though as a partial qualifier Mike Nzei will sit this season), will be heavily relied upon to support three core returning guys in senior forward Brandon Mobley and guards Jaren Sina and Sterling Gibbs. The Hall lost 67% of both their scoring and rebounding from last season with just 32 total minutes of D-1 ball played between forwards not named Brandon Mobley. Kevin Willard has a lot of new gadgets in his toolbelt this year, but also a lot of inexperience, leaving Seton Hall's 2014-15 outlook a foggy one to predict. The NCAAs are a probability, but far from a certainty with a lot of new faces.
***Post-season play unlikely***
The Bulldogs are thin across the board again this season, but have quite a few talented guys flying under the radar. Interim head coach Chris Holtmann has multi-faceted guard talented shooting guard Kellen Dunham along with Roosevelt Jones at his disposal, the latter of which sat out last season with a damaged wrist. Kameron Woods will anchor Butler at center while pass-first point guard Alex Barlow will also play a big role.
Greg McDermott's team lost a whole lot of talent from their Big East runner up team a season ago, including College Basketball Player of the Year, Doug McDermott. The older McDermott's coaching ability will be put to the test without his son and guys like Ethan Wragge and Grant Gibbs. Creighton does have core returnees in Austin Chatman, Devin Brooks, and Will Artino, along with a few talented newcomers, but they have an awful lot to replace.
This offseason, the Golden Eagles lost five of their six top scorers and most of their recruiting class when head coach Buzz Williams darted to Virginia Tech. Coupled with the fact that Marquette has just one player, infrequently used Steve Taylor, listed above 6-foot-6 eligible before December, it looks like the usually consistent basketball program will get worse before it gets better under new head coach Steve Wojciechowski. Senior point guard Derrick Wilson and 6-foot-4 sophomore Deonte Burton will be two guys leading the charge.
Billy Garrett Jr. will need to run the show for DePaul if Oliver Purnell's squad is to show any improvement from a year ago. Talented duo Cleveland Melvin and Brandon Young are gone while Charles McKinney was dismissed from the team this summer, leaving addition by subtraction as the only option for the Blue Demons. A trio of junior college transfers and Illinois transfer Myke Henry will join Garrett Jr. and talented center Tommy Hamilton.