2022-23 College Basketball Conference Preview: Big East Fantasy Outlook

2022-23 College Basketball Conference Preview: Big East Fantasy Outlook

This article is part of our Conference Preview series.

The most impactful story in the Big East heading into 2022-23 is that Jay Wright is no longer at the helm at Villanova, as the torch has been passed to Kyle Neptune. Neptune has eight years as an assistant at Villanova under his belt, in addition to four seasons as a head coach -- three at Niagara and one at Fordham. He'll have his work cut out for him in Year 1, as Villanova loses senior point guard Collin Gillespie (15.6 ppg), as well as Jermaine Samuels (11.1 ppg), plus Justin Moore (14.8 ppg) won't be available until mid-season as he works back from an Achilles injury. Four-star freshman Mark Armstrong will be tasked with taking the reins at point guard.

The team to beat this year in the Big East, however, is Creighton, a program that returns four of its top-6 scorers from a season ago, in addition to bringing in South Dakota State transfer and 16.2 ppg scorer Baylor Scheierman. One of those returnees is last year's Big East Freshman of the Year Ryan Nembhard (11.3 ppg, 4.4 apg), who is cleared from a wrist injury suffered towards the end of last season. Also bringing potential star power is 7-foot-1 center Ryan Kalkbrenner (13.1 ppg, 7.7 rpg), another now-healthy player (knee) with CPOY potential. Throw in key contributors Trey Alexander and Arthur Kaluma, plus another possible impact transfer in Francisco Farabello, and you have the best team on paper by a mile.

The UConn Huskies

The most impactful story in the Big East heading into 2022-23 is that Jay Wright is no longer at the helm at Villanova, as the torch has been passed to Kyle Neptune. Neptune has eight years as an assistant at Villanova under his belt, in addition to four seasons as a head coach -- three at Niagara and one at Fordham. He'll have his work cut out for him in Year 1, as Villanova loses senior point guard Collin Gillespie (15.6 ppg), as well as Jermaine Samuels (11.1 ppg), plus Justin Moore (14.8 ppg) won't be available until mid-season as he works back from an Achilles injury. Four-star freshman Mark Armstrong will be tasked with taking the reins at point guard.

The team to beat this year in the Big East, however, is Creighton, a program that returns four of its top-6 scorers from a season ago, in addition to bringing in South Dakota State transfer and 16.2 ppg scorer Baylor Scheierman. One of those returnees is last year's Big East Freshman of the Year Ryan Nembhard (11.3 ppg, 4.4 apg), who is cleared from a wrist injury suffered towards the end of last season. Also bringing potential star power is 7-foot-1 center Ryan Kalkbrenner (13.1 ppg, 7.7 rpg), another now-healthy player (knee) with CPOY potential. Throw in key contributors Trey Alexander and Arthur Kaluma, plus another possible impact transfer in Francisco Farabello, and you have the best team on paper by a mile.

The UConn Huskies should also be in the mix due to returning one of the best big men in the country in Adama Sanogo, in addition to recruiting arguably the best transfer class in the nation, which includes Tristen Newton, Nahiem Alleyne, Hassan Diarra and Joey Calcaterra. After that, there's a group of roughly six teams that could make the tournament, or just as easily fizzle out. We'll profile some of the top fantasy assets from each in the remainder of this column.

Top Players

Overall: Posh Alexander, G, St. John's  

Under head coach Mike Anderson in 2021-22, the Red Storm played at the fastest tempo of all 358 teams in Division 1 college basketball (per KenPom), which means plenty of opportunity for all of the program's top fantasy assets to compile stats. For that reason, I'm not too threatened by the multiple impact transfers -- who we'll discuss below -- cutting into Alexander's production. Alexander is a true triple-double threat after averaging 13.8 ppg, 5.5 apg and 4.4 rpg a season ago. The only missing piece is three-point shooting, which fell to a paltry 21.7 percent a season ago. Should he get that up to even 30, there's All-American potential here.

Also Considered: Adama Sanogo, C, Connecticut; Ryan Kalkbrenner, C, Creighton; Ryan Nembhard, G, Creighton; Jared Bynum, G, Providence

Scoring: Adama Sanogo, C, Connecticut

Sanogo could have gone in any number of categories after his breakout 2021-22 campaign, but in a league where centers appear to be the top fantasy assets, we'll place him here as RotoWire's projected No. 2 scorer in the Big East (trailing only the aforementioned Posh Alexander). As one of the most improved players in college basketball last season, Sanogo posted 14.8 ppg and 8.8 rpg. The only roadblocks here are foul trouble and a lack of any outside shooting, but this is still a player with an NBA-ready, 6-10 frame who can dominate any given game in the paint. 

Also Considered: Posh Alexander, G, St. John's; Umoja Gibson, G, DePaul; Jared Bynum, G, Providence; Caleb Daniels, G, Villanova

Rebounding: Qudus Wahab, C, Georgetown

Sanogo is probably the true favorite here, but since we profiled him last, let's look to the Georgetown center. Wahab logged 8.2 rpg with the Hoyas in 2020-21 before transferring to Maryland for what turned out to be a broken season for the program, which lost head coach Mark Turgeon early on. Now back home, there's not much competition down low that can threaten Wahab's rebounding prowess. He's also a potential source for blocks after averaging 1.6 bpg in 2021-22.

Also Considered: Adama Sanogo, C, Connecticut; Ryan Kalkbrenner, C, Creighton; Manny Bates, C, Butler; Nick Ongenda, C, DePaul; David Jones, F, DePaul; Jack Nunge, F, Xavier; Eric Dixon, F, Villanova

Assists: Tyler Kolek, G, Marquette

Kolek led the Big East last year with 5.7 apg in the regular season while working as the primary ball handler for the Golden Eagles. The only concern with repeating is whether he has enough scoring options to feed, as Marquette lost its top-two scorers from last year in Justin Lewis (16.8 ppg) and Darryl Morsell (13.4 ppg). That will need to be made up by Kameron Jones in an off-ball role, as well as a hopefully-improved trajectory for Olivier-Maxence Prosper, if Kolek is going to repeat.

Also Considered: Posh Alexander, G, St. John's; Jared Bynum, G, Providence; Tristen Newton, G, Connecticut; Ryan Nembhard, G, Creighton; Kadary Richmond, G, Seton Hall

Center: Ryan Kalkbrenner, C, Creighton

Kalkbrenner went from a depth piece his freshman season to one of the most impactful players in the conference, starting 34 games and posting 13.1 ppg on 64.6 percent shooting, to go along with 7.7 rpg and 2.6 bpg. He did suffer a knee injury late, but he was cleared for all basketball activities all the way back in June. There is no shortage of talented centers in this league, but surely Kalkbrenner is a top-5 pick in Big East-only formats. There have even been rumblings of more three-point shooting from the 7-1 Kalkbrenner in practice, and if that clicks, there's CPOY potential.

Also Considered: Adama Sanogo, C, Connecticut; Qudus Wahab, C, Georgetown; Manny Bates, C, Butler; Nick Ongenda, C, DePaul; Eric Dixon, F, Villanova

Freshman: Mark Armstrong, G, Villanova

While Armstrong isn't even the highest-rated recruit on his team -- that honor goes to forward Cam Whitmore -- he has the clearest path to playing time, as he projects to step into the starting five and replace long-time point guard Collin Gillespie. The buzz about his skills in camp has been widespread, particularly with his ball-handling and on-ball defense. There's also a lot of scoring to replace, as the team isn't expecting Justin Moore until mid-season as he works back from an Achilles injury. He and Caleb Daniels will be counted on for essentially all of the backcourt scoring early on.

Also Considered: Cam Whitmore, F, Villanova; Donovan Clingan, C, Connecticut; Kam Craft, G, Xavier; Mark Armstrong, G, Villanova; Zion Cruz, G, DePaul; Denver Anglin, G, Georgetown; AJ Storr, F, St. John's; Desmond Claude, G, Xavier; Brandon Murray, G, Georgetown

Sleepers

Simas Lukosius, G, Butler

Lukosius is a point-forward that can play any position on the court, though he largely spent time at the three and four down the stretch last season. More ball-handling reps will be available in Indianapolis following the departure of Aaron Thompson, however, plus the Bulldogs lose three of their top-four scorers from a season ago. The 6-6 prospect from Lithuania didn't enter the program with much recruiting hype, but he's capable of big bursts, as shown by a 27-point effort against Xavier in last year's conference tournament.

Zach Freemantle, F, Xavier

Hardly considered a "sleeper" anymore after nearly averaging a double-double in 2020-21, Freemantle deserves to be highlighted here after a down year due to injury last season that may have casted him off the mainstream radar. Still, he may be underestimated due to having to share a frontcourt with Jack Nunge (13.4 ppg, 7.4 rpg), and it's admittedly possible the two could cannibalize each others' paint touches. That being said, a return to old form paired with a big discount on draft day could make him a league-winner.

Editor's Note: Less than a week after the posting of this column, word came down that Freemantle would be suspended indefinitely. We don't know what that means yet or how much time he'll miss, but Jack Nunge suddenly would become one of the more attractive center options in the Big East if Freemantle has to miss any significant chunk of games. 

Primo Spears, G, Georgetown

Spears could have gone in the "transfer" section, but with so many higher-profile players on the move in the conference, he qualifies more as a "sleeper" to me. He's currently in competition with Dante Harris for the starting point guard role, but even if he loses that battle, he could end up a major scoring threat as a sixth man. He recorded with a 12.7 ppg average during his freshman year at Duquesne, but the finish was what caught my eyes, as he logged performances of 25, 34 and 30 points during his last three games. He stands to lose some shot volume with more talent around him on the Hoyas, but assuming natural progression from Year 1 to Year 2, the 6-3 guard could end up a major factor.

Also Considered: Alexis Yetna, F, Seton Hall; Kameron Jones, G, Marquette; Montez Mathis, G, St. John's; Jayden Taylor, G, Butler; Trey Alexander, G, Creighton

Transfers

Andre Curbelo, G, St. John's

Curbelo entered Illinois with a ton of recruiting hype and showed big bursts as a sixth-man his freshman season behind Ayo Dosunmu. He was supposed to be the primary complement to Kofi Cockburn in Illinois last year, but an early-season neck injury derailed the campaign and left him delegated to a bench role upon his return. Perhaps a change in scenery is what's needed. Curbelo can score, rebound and distribute, and in a much faster-paced St. John's offense, the opportunities to rack up counting stats should be there alongside Posh Alexander in the backcourt.

David Jones, F, St. John's

Sticking with the Red Storm, Jones seemingly had a breakout campaign out of nowhere, posting 14.5 points and 7.4 rebounds across 28 games (27 starts) with DePaul last year. He ended up transferring in-conference and appears to be the perfect fit to take on the role previously occupied by Julian Champagne, albeit with slightly lower usage.

Tristen Newton, G, Connecticut

UConn needs a point guard to replace R.J. Cole, and who better than an upperclassmen from the Atlantic 10 who averaged 17.7 points, 5.0 assists and 4.8 rebounds last year with East Carolina. The scoring will almost certainly go down with much more talent around him, but that assist mark would have finished third in the entire Big East conference a season ago.

Baylor Scheierman, G, Creighton

While the Blue Jays bring back a big portion of their scoring and minutes from a season ago, they will lose 13.8 ppg and 7.8 rpg from 6-7 wing Ryan Hawkins. Scheierman is the perfect candidate to fill that role as a 6-7 wing himself, as he contributed 16.2 ppg, 7.8 rpg and 4.5 apg with South Dakota State a season ago. Despite moving to a power conference, he appears to be the favorite to land the last vacant spot in the starting lineup.

Also Considered: Manny Bates, C, Butler; Umoja Gibson, G, DePaul; Zach Wrightsil, G, Marquette; Devin Carter, G, Providence; Souly Boum, G, Xavier; Al-Amir Dawes, G, Seton Hall; Clifton Moore, F, Providence; Akok Akok, F, Georgetown; Ali Ali, F, Butler; Nahiem Alleyne, G, Connecticut

Top-10 Players*

  1. Posh Alexander, G, St. John's
  2. Adama Sanogo, C, Connecticut
  3. Jared Bynum, G, Providence
  4. Ryan Kalkbrenner, C, Creighton
  5. David Jones, F, St. John's
  6. Jack Nunge, F, Xavier
  7. Colby Jones, G, Xavier
  8. Umoja Gibson, G, DePaul
  9. Eric Dixon, F, Villanova
  10. Caleb Daniels, G, Villanova

*Note: These rankings are at the discretion of the article author, and may not necessarily correspond with RotoWire's official 2022-23 player rankings.

Projected Team Standings

  1. Creighton
  2. Connecticut
  3. Villanova
  4. Xavier
  5. St. John's 
  6. Providence
  7. Butler
  8. Marquette
  9. Seton Hall
  10. Georgetown
  11. DePaul

Team Notes: Creighton seems poised to run away with the conference, but UConn has the talent to keep up, and I'm not ready to count Villanova out just yet. Xavier is next for me given Sean Miller's key returnees and major additions via the transfer market. St. John's has SO much talent on paper, though I've admittedly over-estimated this in the past and been burned by the program's lack of defense. Providence returns a lot, but I'm not sure as many close games will go its way this year. With Butler, Marquette and Seton Hall, I worry about a lack of a true star to take over with the game on the line. There's some talent to like on Georgetown, but I fear Patrick Ewing's seat getting hotter, and I'm not sure the turnaround is imminent. DePaul picked up respectable transfers, but it won't be enough to pull the program out of rebuild status.

Projected Team Rotations

First NameLast NameSchoolPosition
MannyBatesButlerC
ChuckHarrisButlerG
JalenThomasButlerF
SimasLukosiusButlerF
EricHunterButlerG
AliAliButlerF
JaydenTaylorButlerG
RyanKalkbrennerCreightonC
BaylorScheiermanCreightonG
ArthurKalumaCreightonF
RyanNembhardCreightonG
TreyAlexanderCreightonG
FranciscoFarabelloCreightonG
MasonMillerCreightonF
UmojaGibsonDePaulG
CalebMurphyDePaulG
NickOngendaDePaulC
ZionCruzDePaulG
JavanJohnsonDePaulF
JalenTerryDePaulG
PhilmonGebrewhitDePaulF
QudusWahabGeorgetownC
DanteHarrisGeorgetownG
AkokAkokGeorgetownF
BrandonMurrayGeorgetownG
JayHeathGeorgetownG
BrysonMozoneGeorgetownG
RyanMutomboGeorgetownC
ZachWrightsilMarquetteG
TylerKolekMarquetteG
KamJonesMarquetteG
OsoIghodaroMarquetteF
OlivierProsperMarquetteF
StevieMitchellMarquetteG
DavidJoplinMarquetteF
DevinCarterProvidenceG
JaredBynumProvidenceG
CliftonMooreProvidenceF
EdCroswellProvidenceF
NoahLockeProvidenceG
BryceHopkinsProvidenceF
CoreyFloydProvidenceG
KadaryRichmondSeton HallG
Al-AmirDawesSeton HallG
AlexisYetnaSeton HallF
FemiOdukaleSeton HallG
TyreseSamuelSeton HallF
TrayJacksonSeton HallF
DreDavisSeton HallG
PoshAlexanderSt. John'sG
DavidJonesSt. John'sF
JoelSorianoSt. John'sC
DylanAddae-WusuSt. John'sG
AndreCurbeloSt. John'sG
EsahiaNyiweSt. John'sF
MontezMathisSt. John'sG
AdamaSanogoUConnF
TristenNewtonUConnG
AndreJacksonUConnG
JordanHawkinsUConnG
SamsonJohnsonUConnF
NahiemAlleyneUConnG
AlexKarabanUConnF
EricDixonVillanovaF
CalebDanielsVillanovaG
CamWhitmoreVillanovaG
BrandonSlaterVillanovaF
MarkArmstrongVillanovaG
TreyPattersonVillanovaF
ChrisArcidiaconoVillanovaG
JackNungeXavierF
ColbyJonesXavierG
SouleyBoumXavierG
ZachFreemantleXavierF
AdamKunkelXavierG
JeromeHunterXavierF
KamCraftXavierG

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jake Letarski
RotoWire Editor for College Basketball and MMA. Frequent podcaster, plus radio and video guest. Follow Jake on Twitter at @RotoJake.
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