Conference Preview: Big East

Conference Preview: Big East

This article is part of our Conference Preview series.

Two main storylines fuel the Big East as we look ahead to 2020-21. The first is the addition of the Connecticut Huskies, as coach Dan Hurley brings a storied program to the conference to bring the total number of teams up to 11. Right out of the gates, UConn will bring in multiple formidable players that change the fantasy landscape of the entire conference. The Huskies were often left out of the season-long and DFS player pools while part of the American conference, but that will no longer be the case.

The second major storyline is the loss of star power. There isn't a single team that hasn't endured program-disturbing losses, whether it be due to graduation, transfer or simply an early NBA departure out of fear of a COVID-affected 2020. Last year's national leading scorer Markus Howard is no longer a threat to drop 50 on a given night, but equally important are the absences of conference staples like Myles Powell, Kamar Baldwin, Paul Reed, Naji Marshall and Alpha Diallo, just to name a few. This means that after the first round of Big East drafts/pools, a mountain of wild-card players await those adventurous enough to try this format. We'll try to cover as many as we can here.

Top Players

Overall: Marcus Zegarowski, G, Creighton

This is a pretty clear two-horse race between Zegarowski and Villanova's Collin Gillespie. Both had similar stat lines as four-category contributors averaging north of 15 points and around five assists in

Two main storylines fuel the Big East as we look ahead to 2020-21. The first is the addition of the Connecticut Huskies, as coach Dan Hurley brings a storied program to the conference to bring the total number of teams up to 11. Right out of the gates, UConn will bring in multiple formidable players that change the fantasy landscape of the entire conference. The Huskies were often left out of the season-long and DFS player pools while part of the American conference, but that will no longer be the case.

The second major storyline is the loss of star power. There isn't a single team that hasn't endured program-disturbing losses, whether it be due to graduation, transfer or simply an early NBA departure out of fear of a COVID-affected 2020. Last year's national leading scorer Markus Howard is no longer a threat to drop 50 on a given night, but equally important are the absences of conference staples like Myles Powell, Kamar Baldwin, Paul Reed, Naji Marshall and Alpha Diallo, just to name a few. This means that after the first round of Big East drafts/pools, a mountain of wild-card players await those adventurous enough to try this format. We'll try to cover as many as we can here.

Top Players

Overall: Marcus Zegarowski, G, Creighton

This is a pretty clear two-horse race between Zegarowski and Villanova's Collin Gillespie. Both had similar stat lines as four-category contributors averaging north of 15 points and around five assists in 2019-20. Both will have to take on more responsibility in their respective offenses, as Zegarowski loses Ty-shon Alexander and Gillespie loses Saddiq Bey, each leaving early for the NBA Draft. Both are playing for top-2 teams in the conference. Both are experienced college players not getting much NBA hype. I could change my mind a dozen times on these two before the season starts, but for now, give me Zegarowski. Even though he's coming back from a knee injury (he's apparently received full clearance), he's on the faster-paced team with less of a supporting cast. Creighton's success level this season is entirely in his hands, while Gillespie can afford a few bad games with more overall surrounding talent to lean on, particularly in the post.

Scoring: James Bouknight G, Connecticut

Bouknight served a suspension for the first three games of 2019-20 and proceeded to work as a reserve until mid-January. After that, he caught fire. He made his first start  Jan. 12 and averaged 15.8 ppg over the final 16 games of the season, reaching double figures 13 times. That even included a double-double (16 points, 10 rebounds) Feb. 29 against East Carolina. The Big East offers a step up in competition from the American, but with former backcourt members Alterique Gilbert (transfer) and Christian Vital (graduation) no longer in the mix, the Huskies will lean heavily on the sophomore and former four-star recruit.

Also Considered: Marcus Zegarowski, G, Creighton; Mitch Ballock, F, Creighton; David Duke, G, Providence; Jamorko Pickett, F, Georgetown; Collin Gillespie, G, Villanova; Justin Moore, G, Villanova; Charlie Moore, G, DePaul; Rasheem Dunn, G, St. John's

Rebounding: Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, F, Villanova

After testing the NBA Draft waters, Robinson-Earl is back as the highest returning rebounder (9.4 rpg) in the Big East conference. Villanova returns the same backcourt a year ago in Collin Gillespie and Justin Moore, but will lose Saddiq Bey to the NBA, along with the 4.7 rpg he provided. Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree is still in the picture, but Robinson-Early locks down the five spot when it matters most, seeing 86 percent of the team's center minutes over the final five games of 2019-20 (per KenPom). Robinson-Earl is a walking double-double looking to impress NBA scouts and take his team on a deep postseason run. Let him do the same for your fantasy squad.

Also Considered: Sandro Mamukelashvili, F, Seton Hall; Josh Carlton, F, Connecticut; Bryce Nze, F, Butler; Julian Champagnie, F, St. John's; Jamorko Pickett, F, Georgetown; Jermaine Samuels, F, Villanova; Jaylen Butz, F, DePaul; Theo John, F, Marquette; Damien Jefferson, F, Creighton

Assists: Charlie Moore, G, DePaul

While the transfer market brings some sleeper assist candidates to the conference in 2020-21, the safe bet for top distributor is last year's leading assist man Charlie Moore (6.1 apg). Moore won't have NBA talent Paul Reed to dish easy buckets to, but he does have a pair of upperclassmen in the frontcourt in Darious Hall and Jaylen Butz. There's also a chance Romeo Weems makes a huge leap for the Blue Demons, giving Moore another quality offensive option. Don't forget -- Moore also led the team in scoring last season at 15.5 ppg.

Also Considered: DJ Carton, G, Marquette; Aaron Thompson, G, Butler; Bryce Aiken, G, Seton Hall; Jalen Harris, G, Georgetown

Center:  Josh Carlton, Connecticut

The Big East features a lot of tall wings that end up taking up time at the center spot, but the the 6-11 Carlton should have no questions about his eligibility here. He's been consistent with the Huskies, averaging 6.1 rpg or greater in back-to-back seasons. Carlton has also fared just fine against Big East-caliber competition, posting 10 points and eight rebounds against Xavier last season, and later tallying 12 points and six boards against Villanova. There's always a bit of foul trouble risk, and he could eventually see competition from freshman Adama Sanogo. Nonetheless, he's a reliable option that fits the bill.

Also Considered: Nate Watson, Providence; Jaylen Butz, DePaul; Qudus Wahab, Georgetown 

Freshman: Dawson Garcia, F, Marquette

UConn may technically be bringing in the highest-rated players, but Garcia steps into a team that needs to immediately replace 27.8 ppg from Markus Howard, last year's leading scorer in the country. DJ Carton and Koby McEwen will undoubtedly chip away at that, but Garcia adds a whole new dimension in the frontcourt. He has shooting touch uncharacteristic of a player who stands at 6-foot-11, and can dribble like a guard, often bringing the ball up the court in high school. This makes him the perfect candidate to be a stretch-four alongside Theo John, but his finishing ability with both hands around the rim could ultimately lead him to cut into John's minutes if coach Steve Wojciechowski wants to roll with a smaller lineup instead of having two bigs. Marquette hasn't had this much buzz about a recruit since the Hauser brothers, and it can easily be argued that Garcia has a higher ceiling.

Also Considered: Andre Jackson, F, Connecticut; Adama Sanogo, C, Connecticut; Dwon Odom, G, Xavier; Jamari Sibley, F, Georgetown; Posh Alexander, G, St. John's
 

Sleepers

Justin Moore, G, Villanova

Moore is the X-factor on a Nova team that just might have the firepower to win it all. He began last year as a starter before moving to a sixth-man role, with his season high of 25 points coming as a reserve in a Dec. 1 matchup against La Salle. He later regained that job, averaging 14.7 points across a whopping 35.8 minutes over the final six games of the season. A four-star pedigree with a wide open path to playing time, Moore could easily be viewed in 2021-22 the same way we're looking at Collin Gillespie this season.

 Koby McEwen, G, Marquette

This one is simple. The Golden Eagles lose both of their leading scorers from last season in Markus Howard and Sacar Anim, leaving more than 40 points per game up for the taking. DJ Carton was presumably brought in to man the point, leaving McEwen in the same off-ball role as 2019-20. He's capable of manning the point of called upon, however, which was shown in a Jan. 29 game against Xavier when Howard went down. Even when he's not scoring, McEwen can salvage good fantasy days. In all three seasons (two with Utah State), McEwen has put up at least 5.0 rebounds and 3.2 assists. He shot a career-low 29.2 percent from beyond the arc last season, so there's even room for improvement.

Romeo Weems, F, DePaul

The Blue Demons are not really known for making big splashes in recruiting, but they were able to land one of the better prospects in recent memory when they signed Weems. The 6-6 wing was an ESPN top-50 recruit and flirted with being in the top-10 overall at his position. Weems started every game for DePaul last season and even had two double-doubles, but he failed to reach 20 points in any game and shot just 42.7 percent from the field. After another year to develop, the big difference now is that Paul Reed isn't there to get in his way. Many of Charlie Moore's 6.1 assists from a season ago will now be heading Weems' way, setting the stage for a big leap in his sophomore campaign.

Also Considered: Mitch Ballock, G, Creighton; Jermaine Samuels, F, Villanova; R.J. Cole, G, Connecticut; Vince Cole, G, St. John's; 

Transfers

Bryce Aiken, G, Seton Hall (from Harvard, graduate transfer)

Aiken will be tasked with replacing point guard Quincy McKnight, who started 64 games in the last two seasons for the Pirates and evolved into a double-digit scorer. Not to mention, Myles Powell and his 21.0 ppg are gone as well. Aiken has battled injuries to consistently be a double-digit scorer in the Ivy League, with his best season (22.1 ppg) coming in 2018-19. He dealt with a foot injury at the end of last season, but if he's healthy, few transfers step into as favorable of a playing time situation in 2020-21.

DJ Carton, G, Marquette (from Ohio State, granted waiver)

Carton has massive shoes to fill, as four-year point guard Markus Howard -- along with his nation-leading 27.8 ppg scoring average -- is no longer with the program. While with the Buckeyes, Carton was forced to split ball-handling reps with C.J. Walker, but he's now in line to get a much bigger share of the minutes with the move to the Big East. He was a double-digit scorer and 40 percent three-point shooter on a slow-paced team in the Big Ten, so imagine what he can do with a bigger opportunity. It's not too outlandish to suggest he sneaks his way onto one of the all-conference teams by the end of the season.

Alex O'Connell, G, Creighton (from Duke, needs waiver)

O'Connell is a player who consistently carved out minutes with Duke despite all of the five-star talent constantly coming and going from the program. He's already appeared in 101 games (14 starts) for the Blue Devils, averaging double-digit minutes in each of his three seasons. While 2019-20 was a bit of a letdown in terms of three-point shooting (27.3 percent), he's still a 36.1 percent career shooter from distance, and is coming off his best season in terms of points (5.2 ppg), rebounds (2.2 rpg) and assists (0.8 apg). That doesn't seem like much, but a move to a lesser power conference should treat him well. He could slot right into the starting spot vacated by Ty-shon Alexander, provided he gets a waiver from the NCAA.

Also Considered: Jalen Harris, G, Georgetown (from Arkansas); R.J. Cole, G, UConn (from Howard)
 

Top-10 Players*

  1. Marcus Zegarowski, G, Creighton
  2. Collin Gillespie, G, Villanova
  3. Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, F, Villanova
  4. Sandro Mamukelashvili, F, Seton Hall
  5. James Bouknight, G, Connecticut
  6. Charlie Moore, G, DePaul
  7. David Duke, G, Providence
  8. Koby McEwen, G, Marquette
  9. Paul Scruggs, G, Xavier
  10. Julian Champagnie, F, St. John's

*Note: These rankings are at the discretion of the article author, and may not necessarily correspond with Rotowire's official 2020-21 player rankings.

Projected Team Standings

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

Team Notes: It's Villanova and Creighton in a tier of their own, but anyone in the 3-to-8 range is capable of making a run at third place. It seems like each program is losing a superstar -- some unexpectedly -- so transfers and underclassmen will need to step up for many of these programs to maintain their status. Collectively, this makes the Big East one of the most difficult conferences to predict in 2020-21. It might see eight NCAA Tournament teams, but could just as easily only fit in three.

Projected Rotations

For deeper or Big East-only leagues, we'll include projected team rotations here. Asterisks denote any player whose status is uncertain for the upcoming season. Think we left anyone out? Let us know in the comments.

First NameLast NameSchoolPosition
AaronThompsonButlerG
BryceNzeButlerF
BryceGoldenButlerF
JairBoldenButlerG
MylesTateButlerG
ChristianDavidButlerF
BoHodges*ButlerF
DenzelMahoneyCreightonG/F
MitchBallockCreightonF
MarcusZegarowskiCreightonG
DamienJeffersonCreightonF
JacobEppersonCreightonC
ChristianBishopCreightonG
Antwann JonesCreightonG
AlexO'Connell*CreightonG
RomeoWeemsDePaulF
JaylenButzDePaulC
CharlieMooreDePaulG
DariousHallDePaulF
RaySalnaveDePaulG
PaulyPaulicapDePaulF
JavonFreeman-Liberty*DePaulG
JamarkoPickettGeorgetownF
JahvonBlairGeorgetownG
JalenHarrisGeorgetownG
QudusWahabGeorgetownC
JamariSibleyGeorgetownF
ChudierBileGeorgetownF
DonCareyGeorgetownG
KobyMcEwenMarquetteG
TheoJohnMarquetteF
GregElliottMarquetteG
JamalCainMarquetteG
DawsonGarciaMarquetteF
DJCartonMarquetteG
NateWatsonProvidenceC
A.J.ReevesProvidenceG
DavidDukeProvidenceG
JaredBynumProvidenceG
GregGanttProvidenceF
NoahHorchlerProvidenceF
BryceAikenSeton HallG
TakalMolsonSeton HallG
JaredRhodenSeton HallG
MylesCaleSeton HallG
SandroMamukelashviliSeton HallF
IkeObiaguSeton HallC
TyreseSamuelSeton HallF
GregWilliams Jr.St. John'sG
JulianChampagnieSt. John'sF
JoshRobertsSt. John'sF
RasheemDunnSt. John'sG
MarcusEarlingtonSt. John'sF
PoshAlexanderSt. John'sG
DavidCaraherSt. John'sF
JoshCarltonUConnC
TylerPolleyUConnF
BrendanAdamsUConnF
JamesBouknightUConnG
JalenGaffneyUConnG
AkokAkokUConnF
TyreseMartinUConnF
RJColeUConnG
ColinGillespieVillanovaG
JustinMooreVillanovaG
BryanAntoineVillanovaG
JermaineSamuelsVillanovaG
DhamirCosby-RoundtreeVillanovaF
JeremiahRobinson-EarlVillanovaF
ColeSwiderVillanovaF
CalebDanielsVillanovaG
PaulScruggsXavierG
JasonCarterXavierF
KykyTandyXavierG
ZachFreemantleXavierF
NateJohnsonXavierG
DwonOdomXavierG

Want to Read More?
Subscribe to RotoWire to see the full article.

We reserve some of our best content for our paid subscribers. Plus, if you choose to subscribe you can discuss this article with the author and the rest of the RotoWire community.

Get Instant Access To This Article Get Access To This Article
RotoWire Community
Join Our Subscriber-Only College Basketball Chat
Chat with our writers and other RotoWire College Basketball fans for all the pre-game info and in-game banter.
Join The Discussion
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.
College Basketball Best Bets: Picks, Odds & Predictions for Thursday, Dec. 1
College Basketball Best Bets: Picks, Odds & Predictions for Thursday, Dec. 1
DFS College Basketball: Thursday Preview & Picks
DFS College Basketball: Thursday Preview & Picks
College Hoops Barometer: Risers & Fallers
College Hoops Barometer: Risers & Fallers
DFS College Basketball: Wednesday Preview & Picks
DFS College Basketball: Wednesday Preview & Picks