Rewind to Big East media day, October 16, 2013. Val Ackerman, the Big East’s new commissioner said the following to the media: “There’s no doubt the eyes of the basketball world and the eyes of others in college sports are definitely on the Big East.”
How true those words would be. And not surprisingly, the “eyes of the basketball world” were quick to be negative. Without the backing of ESPN, the Big East was constantly knocked and, even when good things happened, not given its full due. It was not an ideal first season for this new basketball-centric league. Marquette and Georgetown were picked 1 and 2 in the Big East Preseason Coaches’ Poll. Many thought that it was crucial for Marquette, a team that has had a good run of success since joining the conference in 2005, and especially Georgetown, a school that was a big part of the original Big East’s foundation, to be successful both in the conference and nationally. Injuries and lack of on court chemistry seemed to do in both the Golden Eagles and Hoyas as the teams would finish 6th and 7th after 18 regular season games. Only two teams were ranked heading into the Big East Tournament and there was a concern that those two teams might even be the only schools to make the NCAA Tournament.
You Only Get One First Impression
Despite how things looked heading into the Big East Tournament, 4 teams ended up making the Big Dance. The results of those 4 were not exactly fantastic on the national stage. Xavier was relegated to a 12 seed and a First Round play-in game which they would lose to NC State. Providence got the worst seed ever for a Big East champion as an 11 and matched up against an up and down North Carolina team. The game was arguably the most exciting one of the first few days of the tournament but ultimately PC fell to North Carolina despite Bryce Cotton’s 36 points. Villanova and Creighton both made it to the round of 32 but that’s where their journey’s would end. Nova would fall to former Big East foe UConn and Creighton put up a stinker against Baylor.
On the brightside, Providence’s Bryce Cotton was named an Associated Press Honorable Mention All American while Creighton’s Doug McDermott was named to the AP’s First Team All America and is the favorite to win the Wooden Award.
All the expansion talk is premature. The first season wasn’t exactly an overwhelming success with teams in the Elite 8 and Final 4 but I think it’s clear to anyone that isn’t negatively biased that this league is a very strong basketball conference. The partnership with Fox Sports 1 allows the schools to take a deep breath after the realignment stresses of the last few years. But these schools don’t have too much time to relax. A key will be each school must continue to beef up their out of conference schedules and keep recruiting at a high level. Right now, including Marquette players who are still signed with them, the Big East has the 3rd most top 100 players signed, 17 per Scout.com recruiting rankings behind only the ACC and SEC. That will help.
It will also help if Steve Wojciechowski can retain the 2014 class at Marquette and bring that program back from their worst season since joining the Big East in 2005. He has strong ties in the AAU community and word is that he had much more involvement in recruiting at Duke than it may have appeared from the outside.
It was pretty obvious throughout this first Big East season for the Butler Bulldogs that they need to get some Big East big men. Andrew Chrabascz had a solid freshman campaign and they are returning the Big East’s leading rebounder in Kameron Woods but their frontline was manhandled at times this season.
Brandon Miller will have to right the ship in Indy as they have had a few transfers but it appears that in the short term, they are in the mix for some high major transfers in former NC State point guard, Tyler Lewis and former West Virginia shooting guard, Eron Harris. Both players are sophomores and will have two years of eligibility left after sitting next season per transfer rules. The jury is still out on Miller and the Bulldogs but they have a history that goes further back than Brad Stevens so I think they will eventually get there but may need a few more years to get a Big East roster. Let’s not forget that prior to joining the Atlantic 10 last season, they were in the Horizon league.
In addition to a new school like Butler getting up to speed, it would be really helpful if an original Big East member, DePaul, could figure things out. The new arena they are getting will help but it’s still not exactly just off campus. Chicago is obviously a fertile recruiting ground but the Blue Demons have struggled to get any momentum going. Oliver Purnell was given another year, at least, to try to turn the corner. They do have some nice pieces returning in Billy Garret, Jr. – the Big East Rookie of the Year – and Tommy Hamilton IV.
Losing Semaj Christon to the NBA draft will hurt Xavier but Chris Mack has 3 of those 17 top 100 recruits coming in next season and will look to stay in the top 4. Xavier needs to step up and pay Mack though. He seems to still be making Atlantic 10 money and if they are serious about keeping him around – he’s been mentioned with the Wake Forest opening – they need to pay him accordingly.
It’s likely that Creighton is due for a downturn and it’s easy to see why since they are losing one of the best college basketball players of all time in Doug McDermott but the fans in Omaha are behind that program and Greg McDermott will restock shooters and get that offense humming again.
Seton Hall had a rough season with injuries, suspensions and some team chemistry issues but getting to the Big East Tournament semifinals while upsetting Villanova along the way, should serve as good momentum to go along with the impressive recruiting class that Kevin Willard is bringing in next season headlined by potential Big East Rookie of the Year candidate in Isaiah Whitehead.
St. John’s really needs to figure out a way to get all their great athletes to play basketball. The embarrassing effort in the first round loss against Robert Morris in the NIT in front of just a shade over 1,000 fans at Carnesseca Arena was not how Steve Lavin wanted to head into the offseason especially when, only a month or so ago, a contract extension was apparently being discussed. Rysheed Jordan seemed to be the key to the Red Storm’s success so getting him to continue to grow will be key. Losing Jakarr Sampson to the NBA (can anyone say D-league?) will hurt but Lavin always manages to pull some impact Spring commitments out of his…hat.
Georgetown likely has the best incoming recruiting class of any team in the conference and will look to get back to the top of the Big East despite losing point guard, Markel Starks and 4 year glue guy, Nate Lubick. I expect Josh Smith will return to action next season and likely will have lost even more weight. I expect the Hoyas to be a top 4 team in the Big East next season.
Villanova will have to deal with the loss of James Bell and Tony Chennault to graduation but everyone else is back and they will add a pair of top 100 players to the mix in Mikal Bridges and Phil Booth. Look for Villanova to be the preseason #1 in the Big East Coaches’ Poll.
Finally, the defending Big East Tournament Champion Friars of Providence College will have to deal with losing All American, Bryce Cotton and fiery big man, Kadeem Batts. They have a very good recruiting class coming in and McDonald’s All American, Kris Dunn will be ready to play after his second shoulder surgery in two years. The Friars are still in the market for two more guards to add to their 2014 class that already includes 3 top 100 players. It’s likely that they will target a 5th year transfer or junior college player for at least 1 of those spots because they need one of those scholarships to be able to contribute right away in 2014-2015. Ed Cooley might not know what to do with all the depth he has on paper right now but I’m sure he’ll figure something out.
What Does It All Mean?
The Big East in it’s current form is certainly not the Big East of 2013. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing. All the talk that the Atlantic 10 might be on par or even better than the Big East because they got 6 teams into the NCAA Tournament is beyond ludicrous. The roster’s from top to bottom in the Big East are on a different level than the Atlantic 10.
But I digress.
The Big East is no longer the best basketball conference in the country. But I’m fine with that. Having the Fox Sports 1 money certainly doesn’t hurt but philosophically, I love the Big East in its current form. I love that the schools are all on the same page and that they are concerned with making sure their core values as athletic programs and academic institutions are shared among all member schools. I also love the 10 team format that produces a round robin schedule where every team plays a home and home with each other.
Expansion will eventually happen because Fox will want it and it may help down the line with getting more teams in the NCAA Tournament which would result in more NCAA Tournament units to share among the conference members. But until expansion happens, I’ll enjoy playing in historic Hinkle Fieldhouse every year and in front of 19,000 fans in Omaha every year along with all the other arenas in the conference.
So things are a little different in the Big East these days but I’ll paraphrase Mark Twain in saying that the reports of the Big East’s demise have been greatly exaggerated…mostly by ESPN.