Last year, I claimed that some team from the Big East needed to make some noise in the NCAA tournament. The BEast was in danger of slipping into mid-major territory, but Villanova put me in my place by rolling to a national championship. The Wildcats beat Kansas, Oklahoma and North Carolina on their way to the teamís first championship since 1985. It was an impressive run and I wonít mention the m-word again. The conference has plenty of returning talent, but Villanova is once again the clear favorite. The Wildcats have won the regular season championship in each of the three seasons since the conference kicked football to the curb (and became my favorite).
TOP THREE PLAYERS
Josh Hart (G)
Hart may not be the flashiest of players, but there is little he canít do. He led the national champions with 15.5 points per game and his 6.8 rebounds from the backcourt were outstanding. The 6-foot-5 senior also plays staunch defense. His three-point shooting fell to 35.7 percent last year after hitting an unfathomable 46.4 percent from long range as a sophomore. Hart will once again be supported by Kris Jenkins, Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges. The team wonít have the services of 6-9 freshman forward Omari Spellman, who was ruled academically ineligible, so Darryl Reynolds will be the main man in the paint (and a nice sleeper) as the team tries to replace Daniel Ochefu.
Trevon Bluiett (G/F)
Like Hart, Bliuett is a well-rounded player who had a nice bump in production last season. The 6-6 Indianapolis native averaged 15.1 points and 6.1 rebounds per game, and he showed off an improved three-point stroke (39.8 percent), particularly in non-conference play. Bluiett hit multiple three-pointers in his first nine games before falling off against Big East opponents. He had five double-doubles and six games with at least 20 points, but he managed just seven points in the season-ending loss to Wisconsin in the second round of the NCAA tournament. Edmond Sumner could have easily been named a sleeper, except he was productive (11.0 points and 3.6 assists per game) as a redshirt freshman.
Angel Delgado (F)
Delgado makes the top three in the Big East for the second straight season. While his sophomore statistics mirrored his fine freshman numbers (9.9 points and 9.3 rebounds per game), there are few post players in the conference who can compete with the 6-9 native of the Dominican Republic. It may help that noted inefficient player Isaiah Whitehead is gone, and Khadeen Carrington and Desi Rodriguez should lead the offense. Delgado may get a few more shot attempts after converting 56.7 percent of his shots from the field last season, and he should push both points and rebounds into double digits, which would make him one of the most reliable big men in the country.
Marcus LoVett (G)
LoVett is another player who was touted last year, but he didnít get a chance to play after being deemed a partial qualifier. The Red Storm needed all the help they could get last year, but they were particularly weak at point guard. No player averaged more than 2.6 assists per game (Malik Ellison) and using Italian shooting guard Federico Mussini as the field general did not work. LoVett, a 6-1 guard who played high school ball in Chicago and California, should be able to attack the basket and distribute. He averaged 25.0 points, 8.0 rebounds and 7.0 assists per game in his final year of high school and may make the Red Storm worth watching.
Rodney Pryor (G)
The Hoyas have plenty of questions heading into the new season, but it seems as if they have an obvious replacement for leading scorer D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera. The 6-5 Pryor comes from Robert Morris, where he averaged 18.0 points and 8.0 rebounds per game for a team that did not make much noise in the NEC last season. Pryor will not be the distributor that Smith-Rivera was, so the team will hope that Tre Campbell is ready to take the point guard reins. The Hoyas should be set in the frontcourt with Jesse Govan, Marcus Derrickson and Isaac Copeland ready to take the next step.
Marcus Foster (G)
Head coach Greg McDermott is quickly transforming Creighton into a haven for transfers. Last year, he welcomed Mo Watson and Cole Huff with varying degrees of success. Foster, a 6-3 guard who played at Kansas State for two seasons, has crossed the Midwest to join the Bluejays. On paper, Foster and Watson should form one of the most dynamic backcourts in the country. The junior transfer hit just 34.7 percent of his three-pointers and 38.8 percent from the field overall in his last year with the Wildcats. If he can return to his freshman shooting numbers (39.5 percent on threes, 42.3 percent from the field), the Bluejays could be trouble for opponents.
A PAIR OF SLEEPERS
Jalen Lindsey (G)
With Kris Dunn and Ben Bentil in the NBA, the Friars have a lot of production to replace; someone will have to step up. Kyron Cartwright is likely to slide into the starting point guard slot, and he should be a nice source of assists. Rodney Bullock is still around and should lead the team in scoring and rebounding. Lindsey, a 6-7 guard, is my best guess at the player who will make the greatest leap. As a sophomore, he averaged 7.0 points and 4.4 rebounds per game despite woeful shooting numbers (38.1 percent from the field, 26.9 percent on three-pointers). Lindsey scored in double figures six times in non-conference play and popped off for a career-high 30 points in a Mar. 5 win over St. Johnís.
Sandy Cohen (F)
Like Lindsey, Cohen had some nice games in non-conference play before going quiet during the Big East schedule. The 6-6 junior will be tasked with replacing some of Henry Ellensonís numbers. He scored in double digits seven times against non-conference foes, including a career-high 24 points in a Dec. 8 win over San Jose State. Cohen canned six three-pointers in that contest, but he hit multiple threes in only three other games. With more consistent minutes and a larger role, Cohen could produce decent numbers alongside center Luke Fischer and guard Haanif Cheatham.