Conference Preview: Big East

Conference Preview: Big East

This article is part of our Conference Preview series.

As expected, 2018-19 was a bit of a down season for the Big East, as Villanova took a step back and no one else really stepped up. Marquette looked like a legitimate Final Four contender and then fell apart late in the season, resulting in a first-round blowout at the hands of Murray State. Villanova ended up the most successful team in the conference again, yet it only made it to the Round of 32.

After notching a couple 1-seeds two years ago, the Big East has kind of toppled, and its glory as a top conference is no longer. That could change if Villanova returns to the top-10 and Seton Hall improves like expected, but the Pirates have rarely had these kinds of expectations to live up to. 

Guards like Markus Howard and Myles Powell are two of the best in the country in terms of fantasy production, though it remains to be seen if they have what it takes to make a run in the NCAA tournament. The Big East is a good conference from top-to-bottom, but succeeding on a national level is far from guaranteed and another year of non-elite play is the most likely outcome.

TOP PLAYERS

Center: Omer Yurtseven, Georgetown Hoyas

The lack of an elite team is seen in the lack of an elite center in the Big East. A lot of that has to do with the majority of teams being guard heavy, but there isn't one big man that will completely

As expected, 2018-19 was a bit of a down season for the Big East, as Villanova took a step back and no one else really stepped up. Marquette looked like a legitimate Final Four contender and then fell apart late in the season, resulting in a first-round blowout at the hands of Murray State. Villanova ended up the most successful team in the conference again, yet it only made it to the Round of 32.

After notching a couple 1-seeds two years ago, the Big East has kind of toppled, and its glory as a top conference is no longer. That could change if Villanova returns to the top-10 and Seton Hall improves like expected, but the Pirates have rarely had these kinds of expectations to live up to. 

Guards like Markus Howard and Myles Powell are two of the best in the country in terms of fantasy production, though it remains to be seen if they have what it takes to make a run in the NCAA tournament. The Big East is a good conference from top-to-bottom, but succeeding on a national level is far from guaranteed and another year of non-elite play is the most likely outcome.

TOP PLAYERS

Center: Omer Yurtseven, Georgetown Hoyas

The lack of an elite team is seen in the lack of an elite center in the Big East. A lot of that has to do with the majority of teams being guard heavy, but there isn't one big man that will completely dominate the conference. Yurtseven isn't a center in the traditional sense, at least in the old-school sense. The NC State transfer is a big dude (7-0), who can do the usual big man stuff like get rebounds and blocks, but he also stretches the floor, a la Jessie Govan last season. In his final season at NC State, Yurtseven averaged 13.5 points and 6.7 boards per in 23.8 minutes per game. Considering Govan averaged more than 30 minutes and 17 points each of the past two years for the Hoyas, there's a good chance Yurtseven sees similar time and production. Throw in a projected two blocks per game, and while he may not be a true center, he'll fill the statsheet on both ends of the court.

Also considered: Jaylen Butz, DePaul; Jayce Johnson, Marquette; Nate Watson, Butler; Tyrique Jones, Xavier

Freshman: Romeo Weems, DePaul Blue Demons

Wait, DePaul? Yes, DePaul. Weems is a four-star prospect and one of the highest-rated freshman in the Big East along with Villanova's Bryan Antoine and Justin Moore. The difference is that Weems is likely slated for close to 30 minutes per game and an expected key piece in DePaul's lineup due to the departures of Eli Cain and Max Strus. Weems should fit in as a 6-7 small forward, and he won't get all of the attention with Paul Reed and Jaylen Butz taking a lot of blows in the paint. Weems picked DePaul over in-state schools Michigan and Michigan State, which shows the kind of talent he brings.

Also considered: Bryan Antoine, Justin Moore, Eric Dixon, Villanova; Greg Gantt, Providence; Symir Torrence, Marquette; KyKy Tandy, Xavier; Khalif Battle, Butler

Scoring: Markus Howard, Marquette Golden Eagles

This selection didn't take much analysis. Howard averaged 20.4 points per game as a sophomore and 25.0 ppg as a junior. He battled a few nagging injuries last season, yet still shot better than 40 percent from deep. While he could get more attention this year without the Hauser brothers, that also means more shots. He took 36.7 percent of Marquette's shots last season, and it wouldn't be surprising if that number crept closer to 40 percent. He should be near 25 points per game yet again, with 30 points a possibility. To reach those numbers, he'll either have to draw more fouls, take more shots or shoot better from inside the arc (43.7 percent from 2-point last season). Any of those things could happen and he's not a guy to bet against. Myles Powell could easily overtake Howard, but Seton Hall has a few more players to help in scoring.

Also considered: Myles Powell, Seton Hall; Kamar Baldwin, Butler; Ty-Shon Alexander, Creighton; Alpha Diallo, Providence; Naji Marshall, Xavier; Paul Reed, DePaul; Mustapha Heron, St. John's

Rebounding: Paul Reed, DePaul Blue Demons

There are a few candidates for this spot, as Reed, Sandro Mamukelashvili and Tyrique Jones all averaged within a half rebound of each other last season. Reed had the best average per minute of the bunch and after seeing his time increase by the game last season, he could be headed for 30 minutes every night. The 6-9 forward isn't that big, but he's athletic and had nine double-doubles last season. In all, he averaged 26.9 minutes, 12.3 points and 8.5 boards per game. No longer competing with Femi Olujobi for minutes (and rebounds), Reed could be set for a 15 and 10 line every game. 

Also considered: Sandro Mamukelashvili, Seton Hall; Tyrique Jones, Naji Marshall, Xavier; Omer Yurtseven, Josh LeBlanc, Georgetown; L.J. Figueroa, St. John's; Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree, Villanova; Jaylen Butz, DePaul

Assists: James Akinjo, Georgetown Hoyas

Akinjo led the league in assists last season (5.3) and should do so again as Georgetown's core isn't much different with Yurtseven replacing Govan. Akinjo's main competition for this title is Quentin Goodin and while he was close at 4.8 APG last season, he did it while averaging 34.7 minutes per game. Akinjo was at 31.6 mpg and still led the league as a freshman. That said, the addition of UCF transfer Terrell Allen could change things for the Hoyas. Allen averaged 30 minutes and 4.3 assists per game with the Knights last season and will undoubtedly fight Akinjo and Mac McClung for playing time. That's something Goodin doesn't have to worry about unless freshman KyKy Tandy comes in and steals minutes.

Also considered: Quentin Goodin, Xavier; Devin Gage, DePaul; Quincy McKnight, Seton Hall; Aaron Thompson, Butler; Luwane Pipkins, Providence; Collin Gillespie, Villanova

Sleepers

Ed Morrow Jr., senior forward, Marquette Golden Eagles

Marquette's playing time in the front court is unknown with Morrow battling Theo John, Brendan Bailey and transfer Jayce Johnson for minutes. However, Morrow is expected to start and that automatically gives him sleeper status on a team that needs production from someone other than Howard. Morrow averaged 15 minutes per game last year, but that number was at 20 in the final five games. He's been a great rebounder on a per-minute basis since his time at Nebraska, and as long as he reaches 20 or even 25 minutes per game, he has the potential to hit a double-double every game.

Jermaine Samuels, junior forward, Villanova Wildcats

Villanova is a balanced team with a good mix of returning players and freshmen vying for production. Of course, Phil Both and Eric Paschall are gone, which means someone has to take over as the leaders. That'll likely turn into a few players, but Samuels maybe made the most improvement of anyone on the team last year throughout the season. He started as a bit player, at times going scoreless in a game. However, something happened in the final month as he averaged 34.4 minutes, 13.3 points and 7.6 boards per game in the last eight contests.

Also considered: Saddiq Bey, Bryan Antoine, Villanova; Greg Williams Jr., St. John's; Sacar Anim, Marquette; Jaylen Butz, DePaul; Jacob Epperson, Creighton

Top-10*

  1. Markus Howard, G, Marquette
  2. Myles Powell, G, Seton Hall
  3. Naji Marshall, F, Xavier
  4. Kamar Baldwin, G, Baldwin
  5. Paul Reed, F, DePaul
  6. Alpha Diallo, F, Providence
  7. Ty-Shon Alexander, G, Creighton
  8. Mustapha Heron, G, St. John's
  9. James Akinjo, G, Georgetown
  10. L.J. Figueroa, F, St. John's

*Note: These rankings are at the discretion of the article author and may not necessarily correspond with Rotowire's official 2019-20 player rankings.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Adam Zdroik
Adam, a 2019, 2018 and 2017 Finalist for FSWA Soccer Writer of the Year, is RotoWire's soccer editor. He also runs RotoWire's Bracketology, as well as writes on other various college basketball content. He has previously worked at ESPN and Sporting Kansas City, and he is a former Streak for the Cash winner and Michigan State graduate.
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