Although the reigning national champion’s shot at a repeat performance took a hit with the ineligibility of five-star freshman forward Omari Spellman, a fourth straight Big East regular season title is still a safe bet for Villanova. The Wildcats will be reliant upon its three seniors, including forward Darryl Reynolds and guard Kris Jenkins — who drained the game-winning buzzer beater over North Carolina. Leading the senior class and team is Big East Preseason Player of the Year forward Josh Hart, who was also named an AP Preseason All-American. Joining Hart in the backcourt will be junior guard Phil Booth and sophomore guard Jalen Brunson, a Bob Cousy Point Guard of the Year contender.
Xavier finished second in the Big East last year and was one of the only teams to handily outplay Villanova heading into March, winning 90-83 at home. Despite the void in the Musketeers’ frontcourt left by the loss of Jalen Reynolds and James Farr to graduation, the addition of Norfolk State senior transfer RaShid Gaston puts Xavier in a position to compete with the top teams in the nation. Combined with the return of the team’s leading scorers and star guards, junior Trevon Bluiett and sophomore Edmond Sumner, should once make Xavier the Big East’s second national title contender along with reigning champ Villanova.
Junior transfer guard Marcus Foster averaged 15.5 points per game and shot just under 40 percent from three-point range during his first year with the Kansas State Wildcats. He has the potential to turn last year’s average Creighton squad into a potential breakout team. Alongside senior guard Maurice Watson Jr., the duo has the playmaking ability to become one of the more dangerous backcourts in the conference, giving Greg McDermott and the Bluejays the offensive creativity it needs to succeed as No. 22 in the AP top-25 preseason poll.
Last season, Georgetown saw its first losing season in 12 years and its first below-.500 campaign in Head Coach John Thompson III’s coaching career. This year, the absence of D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera (COL ’16) and Paul White — who transferred to Oregon — leaves an opportunity for the likes of junior guard L.J. Peak as well as transfer junior guard Jonathan Mulmore and transfer graduate student guard Rodney Pryor to run the Hoyas’ offense. With new perimeter talent and an experienced frontcourt, Georgetown has the personnel to rectify last year’s disappointing results.
With the departures of Kellen Dunham and Roosevelt Jones — who combined to score 38 percent of the Bulldogs’ points last year — Butler will turn to senior guard Tyler Lewis and junior forward Kelan Martin to lead the Bulldogs’ offense. Butler will also need strong interior play from senior forward Andrew Chrabascz and freshman forward Joey Brunk if it wants to improve on last year’s fifth-place finish.
6. Seton Hall
The Pirates would find themselves much higher on this list had they not lost Isaiah Whitehead to the NBA. Whitehead’s draft and the graduation of sixth man Derrick Gordon comes at a detriment to Seton Hall, who will now be reliant upon consistent play from junior forward Angel Delgado and junior guard Khadeen Carrington. Freshman guard Myles Powell also needs to be a standout if Seton Hall wants another shot at hoisting the Big East Tournament trophy come March.
Although Marquette is returning all but one player from last year’s 20-13 (8-10 Big East) squad and has arguably the best recruiting class in the Big East according to ESPN’s class rankings, the chances of the Golden Eagles finishing in the top half are doubtful. However, if senior center Luke Fischer can stay out of foul trouble and the Golden Eagles can find balance in their backcourt between sophomore Haanif Cheatham and senior guard Jajuan Johnson, they might have a shot at mixing things up in the talent-laden Big East.
The 2016-17 campaign will most likely be a rebuilding year for Ed Cooley and the Friars. Despite recruiting efforts that led to the signing of freshman guard Alpha Diallo, junior transfer forward Emmitt Holt and freshman forward Kalif Young, there is only so much that can be done to replace the contributions of Kris Dunn and Ben Bentil, who were both lost to the NBA. Fortune needs to favor the Friars if they are going to force any upsets, especially without any noteworthy seniors on the roster.
9. St. John’s
With the integration of sophomore forwards Kassoum Yakwe and Yanuba Sima on the defensive end of the court solidified, the Red Storm will look to improve its offensive spread with the addition of two new guards in redshirt freshman Marcus LoVett Jr. and freshman Shamorie Ponds. St. John’s found itself at the bottom of the heap last year, finishing 1-17 in the Big East, and while roster turnover certainly does not help, a few more years of experience could revive Chris Mullins’ lineup.
DePaul has struggled for years to find success in the Big East conference. Posting one disappointing season after another, the Blue Demons are not left with many options when it comes to recruiting impact players. At No. 196, freshman guard Brandon Cyrus is the team’s only top-250 recruit in two years, and with only one returning scorer in senior forward Peter Ryckbosch, who tallied just only 37 points all of last season, it does not look like the Blue Demons’ losing streak is going to end anytime soon.