By John Fanta, @John_Fanta
The talk of the preseason in the BIG EAST was how loaded the conference is at the top. While #6 Villanova once again led the pack in the preseason poll, #17 Xavier and #23 Seton Hall were the lead candidates to pursue the top spot in the league. Through one weekend, those three powers flexed their muscles and other squads showed potential. Here are five takeaways from opening weekend.
1. Musketeers’ Depth
The cliche is often said that a coach could not have asked for much more from his team. That statement may have never been more true than on Friday night, when Xavier exploded for a 101-49 win over Morehead State. Powered by 21 first-half points by Trevon Bluiett, the Musketeers jumped out to a 15-1 lead and never looked back. While the senior duo of Bluiett and J.P. Macura combined for 43 points, Xavier showed why it could be even better than last year’s Elite Eight squad. The Musketeers can cause so many match-up issues for a defense. There’s the sharp contrast of Tyrique Jones, who is a more of a straight-up post player, and Kerem Kanter, a stretch center. There’s freshman wing Naji Marshall, who tallied 12 points in his debut. And that’s just for starters. The Musketeers did not look like the 17th-best team in America in their opener. They looked better than that. The assistant coaches who are drawing up scouts for this Xavier team will have to take some extra time, because the Musketeers can beat you in a variety of ways.
2. Myles Powell
Angel Delgado had two ordinary days at the office with his 51st and 52nd career double-doubles in a weekend Pirate sweep, but it’s a SHU sophomore that showed off one piece of the wealth of depth Kevin Willard has to work with. Myles Powell, also known as “Cheese,” surged at the end of his freshman season with 28 points in the BIG EAST Tournament. The 28 he combined for this weekend had a different feel to them, though. Powell’s comfort level was evident from watching him. Benefiting off playing around veterans as a rookie, Powell showed this weekend that he used that as a learning tool. While The Hall has a star-studded senior class that leads headlines, Powell is a massive part of the present and future. When he delivered from the perimeter last year, there was a night-and-day difference for Seton Hall’s offense. A more consistent Powell bodes very well for the Pirates.
3. Eric Paschall Has Molded into the Villanova Way
When Villanova junior Eric Paschall transferred from Fordham in 2015, the thought was that Jay Wright would help mold the stretch four even more. The Atlantic 10’s Rookie of the Year in 2014-15, Paschall showed from the get-go how talented he was. It’s this season, though, that will see him play one of the top roles on a national title contender. Pascall answered the bell with 14 points in Friday’s 75-60 win for Nova over Columbia. While Kris Jenkins is gone, Paschall has many similar qualities. No, the greatest shot in college hoops history isn’t on Paschall’s resume, but his inside-out game fits the Wright Way perfectly.
4. Marquette’s Defense
After Marquette allowed 75.6 points per game last season, which ranked ninth in the BIG EAST, Steve Wojciechowski made defense the priority over the summer for the Golden Eagles. Yes, Marquette welcomed in a retooling Mount St. Mary’s team in Friday’s opener, but their defensive intensity was on point. The Golden Eagles scored 16 points off 16 turnovers and here’s the most telling stat – Marquette held The Mount to 7-of-28 from three-point land. Up next is a lengthy Purdue team, which visits the Golden Eagles Tuesday at 8:30 PM ET on FS1 in the Gavitt Tipoff Games.
5. The Patrick Ewing Era Begins with a W
The long-awaited debut of Patrick Ewing as the head coach of Georgetown ended the way #33 led the Hoyas as a player – with a win. With Michael Jordan, Dikembe Mutombo, and Jeff Van Gundy, among others watching, the Hoyas rolled out to an early lead and coasted to a 73-57 victory over Jacksonville. With seven players standing at 6-foot-7 or taller, Ewing has a lot of size to work with, and it showed Sunday. Juniors Jessie Govan and Marcus Derrickson combined for 40 points and 23 rebounds in a dominant effort. The Hoyas’ up-tempo style glimmered in moments, as Govan put down a leak-out slam in the first half to get the Hoyas’ faithful standing. While Georgetown turned it over 18 times and must figure some things out in the backcourt, the Hoyas started their new chapter with a W. The first brick has been laid in what will be a process, but it was all smiles on the Hilltop on Sunday afternoon.