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Big East men's basketball outlook, players to watch for 2020-21 season
BASKETBALL

Big East men's basketball outlook, players to watch for 2020-21 season

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World-Herald staff writer Jon Nyatawa made his preseason picks for the order of finish in the Big East and top players for the 2020-21 men's basketball season. 

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Predicted order of finish

1. Villanova

Last season: 24-7, 13-5 Big East (T-1st)

Coach: Jay Wright (20th season, 472-182 at Villanova)

Last NCAA appearance: 2019

Returning starters: Collin Gillespie (G 6-3 Sr.); Jermaine Samuels (F 6-7 Sr.); Justin Moore (G 6-4 So.), Jeremiah Robinson-Earl (F 6-9 So.)

Newcomer to watch: Caleb Daniels (G 6-4 Jr.)

Outlook: It was just three seasons ago that the Wildcats won the national title with one of the most talented college basketball teams in recent history. They aren’t at that level. But they’re not far off. Villanova has talent, experience and depth, and the best coach in the league. They may need Moore to emerge as a star, though.

2. Creighton

Last season: 24-7, 13-5 Big East (T-1st)

Coach: Greg McDermott (11th season, 231-116 at Creighton)

Last NCAA appearance: 2018

Returning starters: Marcus Zegarowski (G 6-2 Jr.); Mitch Ballock (G 6-5 Sr.); Damien Jefferson (G 6-5 Sr.); Christian Bishop (F 6-7 Jr.)

Newcomer to watch: Antwann Jones (G 6-6 So.)

Outlook: No Creighton team has entered a season with more national acclaim. How will the Jays handle the hype? Unclear. But it’s not difficult to see why the expectations are high. They bring back six members of last year’s rotation and they’re working to blend in three more potential contributors. So CU's confident it can build off last season’s top 10 finish, with maybe a little less small ball.

3. Providence

Last season: 19-12, 12-6 Big East (4th)

Coach: Ed Cooley (10th season, 181-122)

Last NCAA appearance: 2018

Returning starters: David Duke (G 6-5 Jr.); Nate Watson (C 6-10 Sr.)

Newcomer to watch: Jared Bynum (G 5-10 So.)

Outlook: The Duke-A.J. Reeves duo will provide fascinating theater. They both showed glimpses of their potential late last year. But Providence’s success likely hinges on their ability to harness their skills on a CONSISTENT basis. Because it seems to have plenty of auxiliary pieces to help supplement the production of their top 2 standouts.

4. UConn

Last season: 19-12, 10-8 American (T-5th)

Coach: Dan Hurley (third season, 35-29)

Last NCAA appearance: 2016

Returning starters: James Bouknight (G 6-5 So.), Josh Carlton (C 6-11 Sr.), Akok Akok (F 6-9 So.)

Newcomer to watch: R.J. Cole (G 6-1 Jr.)

Outlook: The Huskies probably have the widest range of possible outcomes in the league. They’re talented enough to finish in the top tier. But they’re also new to this reorganized conference and they’ll be relying on a developing roster. So things could flop. But they ended last year with a strong finish, presumably finding a winning blueprint.

5. Seton Hall

Last season: 21-9, 13-5 Big East (T-1st)

Coach: Kevin Willard (11th season, 191-137 at Seton Hall)

Last NCAA appearance: 2019

Returning starters: Myles Cale (G 6-6 Sr.); Sandro Mamukelashvili (6-11 F Sr.)

Newcomer to watch: Bryce Aiken (G 6-0 Sr.)

Outlook: There are a lot of questions. About whether you can build an offense around Mamu. About the health of Aiken. About the development of last year’s role players (namely, Cale and Jared Rhoden). About the absence of the tone-setting bravado from now-departed Myles Powell. A dropoff is expected from a season ago, but maybe not as drastic as one might think.

6. Marquette

Last season: 18-12, 8-10 Big East (T-6th)

Coach: Steve Wojchiechowski (seventh season, 115-81 at Marquette)

Last NCAA appearance: 2019

Returning starters: Koby McEwen (G 6-4 Sr.); Theo John (F 6-9 Sr.)

Newcomer to watch: D.J. Carton (G 6-2 So.)

Outlook: Markus Howard was the centerpiece of Marquette’s attack last year. Now he’s gone. But the Golden Eagles brought in a top 25 recruiting class -- plus the addition of Carton. Do they need time to recalibrate? Or can the young guys blossom in the heat of battle? Either way, it’s an important season for Wojo.

7. St. John’s

Last season: 17-15, 5-13 Big East (T-8th)

Coach: Mike Anderson (second season, 17-15)

Last NCAA appearance: 2019

Returning starters: Rasheem Dunn (G 6-2 Sr.); Julian Champagnie (F 6-8 So.), Josh Roberts (F 6-9 Jr.)

Newcomer to watch: Isaih Moore (F 6-10 Jr.)

Outlook: The Johnnies’ final record was deceiving last year. They lost several close games in league play while they worked to transition into Anderson’s system. And when they were at their best, they were scary. Ask West Virginia, Arizona or Creighton. This team surely does not have it all figured out just yet. But there’s an intriguing nucleus in place.

8. Xavier

Last season: 19-13, 8-10 Big East (T-6th)

Coach: Travis Steele (third season, 38-29 at Xavier)

Last NCAA appearance: 2018

Returning starters: Paul Scruggs (G 6-4 Sr.); Jason Carter (F 6-8 Sr.)

Newcomer to watch: Dwon Odom (G 6-1 Fr.)

Outlook: The Musketeers were tough to understand last year. They had a group full of determined veterans, yet they struggled to find an offensive flow. They were a preseason top 25 team that was in danger of missing the NCAA tournament. Perhaps a few personnel changes can solve the problems. Certainly the urgency’s rising in Cincinnati.

9. Butler

Last season: 22-9, 10-8 Big East (5th)

Coach: LaVall Jordan (fourth season, 59-40 at Butler)

Last NCAA appearance: 2018

Returning starters: Aaron Thompson (G 6-2 Sr.); Bryce Nze (F 6-7 Sr.); Bryce Golden (F 6-9 Jr.)

Newcomer to watch: Jair Bolden (G 6-3 Sr.)

Outlook: The Bulldogs will defend, relentlessly. And they’ll make opposing teams miserable. The concern is on the other end of the floor. They lost their best shooters and their go-to guy, Kamar Baldwin. So they will ask a lot (maybe too much?) of their newcomers.

10. Georgetown

Last season: 15-17, 5-13 Big East (T-8th)

Coach: Patrick Ewing (fourth season, 49-46 at Georgetown)

Last NCAA appearance: 2015

Returning starters: Jamorko Pickett (F 6-8 Sr.)

Newcomer to watch: Jamari Sibley (F 6-8 Fr.)

Outlook: Portions of last season provided a sampling of what Georgetown could be under Ewing. The Hoyas played hard and showed toughness, despite their limited numbers. But ultimately, they lost their final seven games. The potential breakthrough year ended disastrously. And now Ewing has to hit the reset button.

11. DePaul

Last season: 16-16, 3-15 Big East (10th)

Coach: Dave Leitao (ninth season, 122-132 at DePaul)

Last NCAA appearance: 2004

Returning starters: Charlie Moore (G 5-11 Sr.); Jaylen Butz (F 6-9 Sr.); Romeo Weems (F 6-7 So.)

Newcomer to watch: Courvoisier McCauley (G 6-5 Jr.)

Outlook: If DePaul couldn’t figure out how to pull itself out of the Big East cellar with last season's squad, it’s difficult to bet on the Blue Demons now. But there’s still momentum and optimism within the program. Better days are ahead? Yes? Right? Maybe? They'll have to prove it first.

All-Big East predictions

First team

Marcus Zegarowski, Creighton

James Bouknight, UConn

Collin Gillespie, Villanova

David Duke, Providence

Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, Villanova

Player of the year

Marcus Zegarowski, Creighton

Newcomer of the year

D.J. Carton, Marquette

Coach of the year

Mike Anderson, St. John’s

Most improved

KyKy Tandy, Xavier

Defensive player of the year

Aaron Thompson, Butler

Sixth Man

Andre Jackson, UConn

NCAA tournament locks

Villanova, Creighton, Providence, UConn

NCAA tournament bubble

Seton Hall, Marquette, St. John’s, Xavier


Meet the 2020-21 Creighton men's basketball team

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