by John Fanta, @John_Fanta
College basketball season tips off in just over a week. Crazy, right?
With that said, here’s 10 BIG EAST preseason thoughts on my mind.
1. Can Villanova continue its reign?
How many teams lose an NBA Draft first round pick and a star stretch-4 and simply reload? That’s what the BIG EAST coaches project Villanova doing. Despite Jay Wright saying goodbye to Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins, he has said this preseason that his Wildcats’ team is even deeper than a year ago. With the return of Phil Booth, who missed last season with a knee injury, and the addition of redshirt freshman tower Omari Spellman, the Wildcats have the surrounding weapons to complement Big East Preseason Player of the Year Jalen Brunson.
2. Just how big of an impact will Seton Hall’s freshmen make?
Kevin Willard has a stretch-4 beyond his years in Sandro Mamukelashvili. The Pirates’ skipper has maintained that “Mamu” will get significant minutes. Add that in with dynamic guard Myles Cale, who can score in a variety of ways, and The Hall’s depth can be the game-changer for a deep March run.
3. Kerem Kanter gives Xavier a different dimension.
The 6-foot-10 forward comes to Xavier from Green Bay, where he was a star. Kanter, the brother of the Knicks’ Enes Kanter, has a unique skill set. Chris Mack doesn’t call him a front-court player because Kanter goes beyond that. He can knock down the three, and put the ball on the floor. That’s what makes him an NBA prospect. It’s wild to think that Kanter is added into a group that went to the Elite Eight last year.
4. Butler’s Kamar Baldwin’s poised for a BIG year.
The Butler sophomore was a unanimous All-BIG EAST Freshman Team selection, yet was snubbed from any preseason honors. Baldwin — and for that matter, the Bulldogs — have been slept on before. Taking over as the Dawgs’ point guard, expect Baldwin to be a postseason award winner. New head coach LaVall Jordan has a lot of faith in his new floor general, and it’s reflect in the Bulldogs’ practice. Teams won’t be sleeping on Baldwin for long.
5. How will St. John’s transfers mesh with the sophomores?
Shamorie Ponds and Marcus Lovett had free reign in their freshman campaign. With the Red Storm adding impact transfers Justin Simon (Arizona) and Marvin Clark (Michigan State), a big thought is how the Johnnies will mesh with each other. Chris Mullin’s back-court is stacked, but shot selection was an issue last year for SJU. They have the talent to make the climb in the Big East, but need to be efficient if it’s going to materialize.
6. Patrick Ewing has seven guys at 6-foot-7 or taller. How will he use them?
While the Hoyas have questions to answer in their backcourt, the wealth of size that Ewing has entering his first year leading the Hoyas can cause match-up issues for others. Jessie Govan is Georgetown’s star. It will be intriguing to see if the senior can benefit from his head coach’s wisdom.
7. Creighton’s freshman class is going to be fun to watch develop.
Marcus Foster and Khyri Thomas lead the story-lines for the Bluejays, but I like this freshman class a lot. Ty-Shon Alexander could see time at point guard for Creighton while lefty Mitch Ballock has a great perimeter touch and is beyond his years in maturity. Keep an eye on 6-foot-10 center Jacob Epperson. There’s a lot of buzz around the Australian big man. While he may be raw now, he has the potential to do the types of things Justin Patton did for the Bluejays. We will not see it immediately from Epperson, but with time, this kid could be really special.
8. How will Providence’s Kyron Cartwright and Makai Ashton-Langford coexist?
Ed Cooley has led Providence to a program-best four straight NCAA Tournaments and a fifth is expected. Why? The Friars return virtually everyone and welcome in another strong recruiting class. The key for Providence is perimeter shooting. Kyron Cartwright gives the Friars that along with Jalen Lindsey, but Cartwright has also had to run the point. With Makai Ashton-Langford entering, will that lead to Cartwright spending some more time off the ball to get more looks from deep. The two players are too talented to keep off the floor. It will be fascinating to see what Cooley does with them.
9. Marquette’s Theo John is one of the most physically ready freshman BIG’s.
The Golden Eagles will continue to spread it out offensively, but with Luke Fischer gone, their front-court has preseason question marks. One answer comes to them in a strong recruiting class for Steve Wojciechowski. 6-foot-9, 245-pound freshman Theo John has the frame of a veteran. Recruited by Minnesota, Maryland, and Florida, among others, you can see why by looking at him. John gives Wojo a boost inside, and while the freshman is still finding his way when it comes to finishing at the college level, he still is going to get good minutes in his first year with the Golden Eagles.
10. New Era, New Star for DePaul
As the Blue Demons usher in the Wintrust Arena era, they have a new star to help them do it. Division II transfer Max Strus (Lewis University) has special potential to shine for Dave Leitao’s program. The 6-foot-6 guard could very well be DePaul’s best player, and he has some serious range. Look for him and Eli Cain to lead the way for the Blue Demons.
Look for more Big East hoops story-lines throughout the season on John’s show, Big East Shootaround, located on Facebook Live and the Fox Sports Go app.