Our staff writers select the College Hoops Digest BIG EAST Preseason Rankings, and declare the Preseason Players & Rookies of the Year.
It’s history in the making! While you wait for the results in Nevada and Arizona, here’s a poll you can rely on – the first-ever College Hoops Digest BIG EAST Preseason Awards.
We polled six of our staff members and friends of the site on their predictions for a season like no other.
Josh Adams USBWA – College Hoops Digest (Editor-in-Chief, Seton Hall beat)
Brian Wilmer USBWA – College Hoops Digest
Jaden Daly USBWA – Daly Dose of Hoops
Dan Gardella – College Hoops Digest
Conor Gereg – College Hoops Digest (UConn beat)
Jake Zimmer – College Hoops Digest (Providence beat)
College Hoops Digest BIG EAST Champion Prediction:
College Hoops Digest BIG EAST Preseason Co-Players of the Year:
Colin Gillespie (Villanova), Marcus Zegarowski (Creighton)
**Each received 2 votes**
College Hoops Digest BIG EAST Preseason Co-Rookies of the Year: Dawson Garcia (Marquette), Andre Jackson (Connecticut)
**Each received 2 votes**
Villanova = 6/6 in selections for #1 seed
#1, Villanova (66 pts, 6/6 in first place selections): We’re not sure there’s a more well-oiled machine than a Jay Wright offense. The ‘Cats return a potential Player of the Year candidate in Colin Gillespie, a stud-in-the-making in Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, and a downtown sniper in Justin Moore. After yet another elite offensive output in 2019-20, expect Commissioner Jay and the crew to give us more of the same this year.
#2, Creighton (60 pts, 6/6 in second place selections): Even though their postseason could have potentially been stained by the Johnnies on “The Day The World Stopped” (March 12, 2020, of course), it’s widely believed that Creighton could’ve made a deep run in the NCAA Tournament. Two of the Bluejays’ top three scorers will return this year, and they’ve only improved. We will see how valuable our Co-Player of the Year selection Marcus Zegarowski is as a floor marshal, and to what degree sharpshooter Mitch Ballock can fill in the massive gap left by Ty-Shon Alexander.
#3, Connecticut (49 pts, 3/6 in third place selections): You were sorely missed, Connecticut! It seems as though everyone except Kevin Willard is excited to have the Huskies back in town. While UConn hasn’t made it to the tournament since 2016, you’d be a fool not recognize the talent Dan Hurley has assembled. A rounded-out, more athletic, and defensively-minded James Bouknight could prove a dangerous foe for even the most staunch of BIG EAST opponents. Hurley will look to compliment his budding superstar with two transfer scoring weapons in RJ Cole (21.4 ppg with Howard in 2018-19) and Tyrese Martin (12.8 ppg with Rhode Island in 2019-2020). With center Akok Akok potentially out for the season due to an Achilles tear, this is a middle-tier paint frontcourt at best: expect the Huskies to play – and win – plenty of shootout games.
#4, Seton Hall (48 pts, 3/6 in fourth place selections, highest ranking = #3): Kevin Willard had a busy offseason for the Pirates, and not necessarily by choice. After one of the best seasons in program history, Seton Hall has to replace three of its anchors from last year – All-American Myles Powell, seven-footer Romaro Gill, and the miracle impact player that turned out to be Quincy McKnight. The Pirates will have to lean on senior Sandro Mamukelashvili (say it five times fast, Jaden can’t) who, despite his 6’11” frame, is a clear threat from downtown. Seton Hall was able to snatch up a “store-brand” version of Powell in Harvard transfer Bryce Aiken; although the BIG EAST is quite literally a whole new ballgame, Aiken has proven to be an elite scorer that makes smart decisions. We’ll see how well he can command a healthy mix of veterans and underclassmen, along with Canisius transfer Takal Molson (16.9 ppg in 2018-19).
#5, Providence (47 pts, 3/6 in fifth place selections, highest ranking = #3): In a very crowded top-five, the Friars seem to be the odd team out, and for rhyme or reason we’re unsure of. Although losing three (or four) of its 2019-20 starters, the Friars have seemed to almost entirely reload their platoon. As with many of Ed Cooley’s teams, this year’s Providence group will be anchored by its veteran leadership. According to Cooley, David Duke – now a junior – has made significant developments in his offensive game, basketball IQ, and leadership skills. Cooley has admittedly used a page out of the Kris Dunn playbook to develop Duke’s game – his first two years in the Friar garb came as a second-option, while his upperclassman years certainly show promising signs to make Duke the featured scorer in all formats. With defensive wizard Nate Watson returning at full strength, Noah Horchler (North Florida) adding height at the power-forward position, and transfers Jared Bynum (St. Joseph) and Brycen Goodine (Syracuse) appearing as a “full-go,” you’d be a fool to be surprised if Providence is playing on Saturday night at the Garden.
#6, Marquette (33 pts, 4/6 in sixth place selections, highest ranking = #6): Why would we come up with something collectively when we can just use the words of our Editor-in-Chief? “Theo John. Bad mother***er.” In the curious case of Steve Wojciechowski, who has statistically underperformed his Marquette predecessors, his latest task will be replacing an All-American scorer in Markus Howard. To hold their spot in the middle tier of the poll, the Golden Eagles are going to have to rely on two guys who have never worn the Milwaukee blue-and-gold. Sophomore DJ Carton averaged 10.4 at Ohio State a year ago, and will likely be calling Wojo’s shots as the point guard. If he lives up to his expectations, our Co-Rookie of the Year selection Dawson Garcia may round out one of the best frontcourts in the conference, but only time will tell if Marquette can reverse its course with a roster that clearly isn’t as talented as last year.
#7, Xavier (29 pts, 3/6 in seventh place selections, highest ranking = #6): The Musketeers were picked by BIG EAST coaches to finish 3rd in the conference last year, and got quite a swift reality check when conference play came around. A disappointing 8-10 record against BIG EAST opponents was pretty crushing for a promising Xavier team, who now finds itself in the bottom tier of a stacked conference in 2020-21. The good news? There’s a LOT of talent in Cincinnati. While Paul Scruggs returns as the clear scoring option for the X-Men, sophomores KyKy Tandy and Zach Freemantle are showing signs of being the most coveted second-years in the conference. We think Gardner-Webb transfer Nate Johnson, who’s exercising his last year of eligibility at Xavier, might fit in well with this group of raw scorers.
#8, St. John’s (22 pts, 1/6 in eighth place selection, highest ranking = #6): Why so high, you ask? While St. John’s had two big losses in LJ Figueroa and Mustapha Heron, the Red Storm seemed to add more than they lost. Knowing his team’s weaknesses, 2nd-year head coach Mike Anderson (yes, we’re still baffled as to why the Razorbacks let him walk) added height in Arnaldo Toro (George Washington) and Isaih Moore (JUCO @ Pearl River CC). They’ll take a bet on sophomore Julian Champagnie and redshirt-senior Rasheem Dunn to fill in the gaps. While they’re certainly a scrappy group, the Johnnies have a long way to go.
#9, Butler (21 pts, 1/6 in ninth place selections, highest ranking = #7): One of the most confusing teams of the 2019-20 season, Butler finds itself yet again at the bottom of the bucket in nearly every BIG EAST preseason poll. Replacing All-American candidate Kamar Baldwin is certainly among the top priorities of LaVall Jordan, who will try to build momentum off one of Butler’s best defensive seasons in program history. While his teams have proven to defy their expectations year-after-year, succeeding without a clear floor marshal & go-to scorer could be one of Jordan’s tallest orders yet. None of the Bulldogs’ five projected starters averaged a double-digit scoring effort last year, but seniors Aaron Thompson and Bryce Nze seem to be most well-positioned to do a bulk of the scoring in 2020-21.
#10, DePaul (14 pts, 3/6 in tenth place selections, highest ranking = #8): “Wait, DePaul is good?” That’s the question most of America was asking last year after a red-hot 12-1 start to non-conference play. Of course, as we all didn’t want to accept, the Blue Demons came back to earth and proceeded to go 3-15 the rest of the way out. DePaul will lean on All-BIG EAST First Team selection Charlie Moore (what?) – the Kansas transfer two-years removed averaged 15.5 per game last season. Look for transfers Ray Salnave (Monmouth) and Javon Freeman-Liberty (Valparaiso) to step up bigtime if the Demons have any hope of competing.
#11, Georgetown (6 pts, 6/6 in eleventh place selections): We’re trying to find the silver lining here…bear with us. After quite a disappointing and scandal-ridden 2019-20 season, Patrick Ewing finds himself rebuilding the Hoyas once again – albeit his 4th year at the helm. Mac McClung sought greener pastures with Texas Tech (who can blame him) and big man Omer Yurtseven left campus as soon as he got his diploma. It’s a tall order…but if Georgetown has a prayer, they need to look for JaMorko Pickett and Qudus Wahab to pick up the slack.