Monday, October 14, 2013

Big East Roundtable: Part I

If media projections hold true, Davante Gardner and Marquette will once again be number one in Big East this season. (Photo courtesy of The Sporting News)

With the Big East taking on a new shape, we figured we would try something new to supplement our "32 In 32" preview. Normally, we would preview each team individually, as we have done in the past; but based on the success our NCAA Tournament roundtable post garnered, (it ended up becoming the most viewed piece in this site's history, surpassing the 2011-12 list of Jon Rothstein comparisons) we wanted to see if lightning could strike twice, and tried a member of each school's media to join us for it. Unfortunately, some red tape and extenuating circumstances prevented us from bringing a Butler representative onto our dais, but the other nine schools are present and accounted for.

The roundtable questions were so expansive to the point where this endeavor will be broken into two parts, with the first part focusing on the likely conference champion, overrated and underrated teams, potential "Game of the Year" contenders, and the amount of NCAA Tournament bids the Big East will receive. Without any further ado, we present our panel of nine representatives, with our own Jaden Daly serving as moderator:

Representing Creighton: Patrick Marshall, White And Blue Review (Twitter: @wildjays, @whitebluereview)
Representing DePaul: Dan Stack, We Are DePaul (Twitter: @WeAreDePaul, @StacDemon)
Representing Georgetown: Andrew Geiger, Casual Hoya (Twitter: @CasualHoya)
Representing Marquette: Mark Strotman, Paint Touches (Twitter: @PaintTouches)
Representing Providence: Daniel James, Friarblog.com (Twitter: @TheWarriorFriar)
Representing St. John's: Norman Rose, Rumble In The Garden (Twitter: @ECoastBias, @rumbleSBN)
Representing Seton Hall: Jason Guerette, South Orange Juice and New Jersey Newsroom (Twitter: @JPGuerette)
Representing Villanova: Chris Lane, VUHoops.com (Twitter: @VUhoops, @chrisjjlane)
Representing Xavier: Brad Dobney, Banners On The Parkway (Twitter: @BannersParkway)

Question #1: Who is the likely Big East champion?
Results: Marquette (6 votes), Georgetown (3 votes)

Why Marquette?
Dan Stack: Davante Gardner, Jamil Wilson, Todd Mayo and Chris Otule are a solid core to build around; and while Creighton and Doug McDermott are a threat, (not to mention St. John's and Georgetown) I think their move from the MVC to the Big East will be a bit of a transition for them.
Mark Strotman: Despite losing Vander Blue to the NBA, Marquette is the frontrunner in the Big East. Though they'll be replacing four starters, its bench was arguably as good as its starting lineup last year. Jamil Wilson, Davante Gardner and Todd Mayo all came off the bench in 2012-13, but played large roles, and now they'll do so in the starting lineup. The biggest question mark the Golden Eagles must answer is who mans the point guard spot. Junior Cadougan graduated, leaving defensive standout junior Derrick Wilson and incoming Top 50 freshman Duane Wilson. If they can get serviceable production there, they could run away with the inaugural season.
Daniel James: Buzz Williams is a great coach who can make the most out of his roster year in and year out, and that team comes out ready to compete like every game is an NCAA Tournament game.
Norman Rose: I think Marquette is head and shoulders above the rest of the Big East in terms of talent, coaching and experience; but it's the easy answer, isn't it? Despite so much youth in the backcourt, Davante Gardner, Steve Taylor and Chris Otule are very good players, plus consider that the team lost a shooting guard who wasn't that great at shooting and a turnover-prone point guard. There's room for maintaining at least the status quo.
Jason Guerette: Yes, the Golden Eagles lost a lot with the departures of Trent Lockett, Junior Cadougan and Vander Blue; (whose head-scratching decision to declare early for the NBA Draft I will never understand) but they still have Davante Gardner, as well as the criminally underrated Jamil Wilson. That forward duo is about as good a combo as you'll find. Chris Otule returns to protect the paint, as does Todd Mayo for some perimeter scoring. Buzz Williams' freshman class is also solid, led by JaJuan Johnson and Duane Wilson, giving him options on the perimeter. Johnson can score, and Wilson seems like he's a point guard that fits the Marquette mold. Toss all of that with the fact that no one outworks Williams' teams on the floor, and you get a conference favorite in what is pretty much a wide-open league.
(For the record, Chris Lane also had Marquette)

Why Georgetown?
Patrick Marshall:
 Being new to the Big East, there is probably a lot that I don't know, but hopefully I can quickly catch up. However, when I think of the Big East, I think of Georgetown. Frankly, they are the face of the new league. When Creighton was rumored to be heading to the Big East, that was the first game I started thinking about. Despite losing a few key players, their nonconference schedule looks the best as far as preparing for league play. Forget about what happened to them against Florida Gulf Coast last season, they will likely come out as champs.

Andrew Geiger: Even with the departure of Otto Porter to the NBA and Greg Whittington lost for the season with a torn ACL, the Hoyas return starters Mikael Hopkins, Nate Lubick, Jabril Trawick and Markel Starks, and will plug in sophomore D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera at the two spot for added scoring punch. Oh, and Georgetown will have UCLA transfer Josh Smith once conference play begins as well. Big frontcourt + experienced backcourt + depth = casual upside.
Brad Dobney: Even with that little slip-up against Florida Gulf Coast last year, Georgetown was still a Top 20 team according to KenPom despite being 298th in experience. Obviously, losing Otto Porter doesn't help, but there is still a ton of talent left on that squad, most notably (for me) former Xavier verbal recruit D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera. DSR showed the stones to take a big role in the offense as a freshman, and a good summer will have him in position to help this team back to the top of the pile.

Question #2a: Who is the most overrated team in the Big East?
Results: Butler (3 votes), Creighton (2 votes), Georgetown (2 votes), Providence (1 vote), Xavier (1 vote)

PM: The most overrated team right now is probably Providence. There is a lot of hype about them by a team that could be a surprise in the conference race, but I don't see any historical things that make me think they will really break out as that team.
DS: Butler. Without Brad Stevens, this team will have to show me something. Besides, like Creighton, their adjustment to the Big East could be a bumpy ride.
AG: Creighton. Yes, the Bluejays return a bunch of guys and probably have the best player in the conference in Doug McDermott, but I think they are going to find some tough sledding against Big East defenses, the likes of which they didn't see in the Missouri Valley.
MS: It's hard to get a grip on the three newcomers, but I think Xavier may struggle. It's more a gut feeling than anything, but relying on underclassmen in the Big East; even the new Big East, is tough.
DJ: Georgetown.
NR: I don't think any of the teams are overrated, but Creighton has enough gaps and enough of a leap that I'd be wary about putting them second, let's say, but they can shoot like most Big East teams could not.
JG: Georgetown. The departure of Otto Porter to the NBA and the season-ending injury to Greg Whittington will be much more taxing than everyone makes them out to be. How Joshua Smith will fit in after a couple of months is anyone's guess, and certainly not a guaranteed major boost.
Chris Lane: Butler.
BD: Butler. Their whole always seemed to exceed the sum of their parts, thanks in large portion to the steady hand of Brad Stevens at the till. Rotnei Clarke and Andrew Smith have both moved on, leaving a big gap in the ranks both inside and on the perimeter. Roosevelt Jones broke his wrist and looks slated to miss the season. The team is still getting buzz thanks to their status as national media darlings, but don't believe the hype.

Question 2b: Who is the most underrated team in the Big East?
Results: Providence (4 votes), St. John's (2 votes), Villanova (2 votes), Seton Hall (1 vote)
PM: It was tough deciding between St. John's and Villanova for this one. However, I think the team people have been overlooking is the Wildcats. After a troubling 13-19 record in the 2011-12 season, Jay Wright turned things around, finished 20-14, and made a return to the NCAA Tournament. While everyone is talking about Georgetown, Creighton and Marquette; and even the other newcomers in Butler and Xavier, it is Villanova who will likely sneak into the mix and surprise a lot of people.
DS: Providence. They gelled late last season, and with a nice core group (Kadeem Batts, Bryce Cotton and LaDontae Henton) returning; mixed in with some solid newcomers, Ed Cooley has his team heading in the right direction.
AG: Ed Cooley has done a great job getting talent to Providence, and it's only a matter of time before it results in wins on the court.
MS: Perhaps they're not really "underrated," but I think St. John's can do serious damage toward the top of the Big East. D'Angelo Harrison has NBA first-round potential, and they're starting to get some experience under their belt. If Steve Lavin can get an always short-handed bench to log some decent minutes this year, the Red Storm will finish higher than most believe.
DJ: St. John's. With the amount of talent that team has, I'm stunned they're not getting at least a little more coverage. If they can come together, then watch the hell out.
NR: Providence could be a sleeper. Despite a dedication to defense, they weren't that great on that side of the ball for much of the year, but they can improve with all the length that becomes eligible this season, and there's some emerging offensive talent in Josh Fortune and Kris Dunn.
JG: Seton Hall. Call me a homer if you want, but I firmly stand by this pick, and it isn't because I'm an alum. The Pirates were a mess last year for two major reasons: Turnovers and injuries. Put the latter in 48-point font and bold it, underline it, italicize it, and stick it in Times Square. I defy anyone to find a team more decimated by injuries last season than the Hall. Consider this when you look at their 15-18, 3-15 Big East season of 2012-13: Every single scholarship player except for TWO (Tom Maayan and Kyle Smyth) either missed significant time with an injury, or played through a nagging injury. This season, the reset button has been pressed. Are they healthy? Yes. Experienced? Yes. Deep? Yes. Fuquan Edwin is one of the best all-around players in the conference. Gene Teague looks positively svelte and should average a double-double down low. Brandon Mobley (another criminally underrated forward) and Patrik Auda have returned, as well as Brian Oliver, all of whom showed promise before being dealt injury-riddled campaigns. If they have gotten over the injury bug that ran rampant through their locker room last year, the Pirates can; and will, surprise people, even with the loss of Aaron Cosby. Every preseason poll known to man will have them either eighth or ninth. Just like pretty much every year, they will outperform that mark, possibly by 3-4 spots if everything comes together.
CL: Villanova.
BD: Providence. The Friars are bringing back a pair of very talented players in guard Bryce Cotton and forward Kadeem Batts. Couple that with a pair of intriguing recruits and a seven-footer coming off a transfer season, and Providence has the potential to sneak up on some people.

Question #3: What is the early "Game of the Year" contender in the Big East?
PM: The early "Game of the Year" contender has to include Creighton. When you have a two-time All-American returning, every game is going to have several mentions of Doug McDermott. With every Big East school playing on New Year's Eve, there is bound to be some excitement, but what you need to do is circle January 25th vs. Georgetown on the calendar. If you want to see what college hoops is about and what Creighton brings to the table, you will see it there. The CenturyLink Center will likely have over 18,000 fans hanging from the rafters for this one. If they could fill things up for a showdown with Wichita State in the MVC, just imagine what it will be like now with the Big East on the schedule. These conference games by themselves trump anything that has been in the CLink in its existence. With the Hoyas as the face of the conference, this will be a big game. The return in DC on March 4th could be for a conference championship.
DS: Gotta go with St. John's at Georgetown on January 4th. These two old-time Big East rivals will face off early, and whoever wins that game will establish some instant credibility as conference contenders.
AG: The Georgetown-Villanova game to close the regular season (March 8th) could possibly be for the Big East championship, so it's tough for me to pick another one here.
MS: February 19th: Creighton at Marquette. With Brad Stevens out of the picture, Buzz Williams becomes unquestionably the conference's best game planner, and not since Kemba Walker was dominating the Big East has Williams had to game plan for a player like Doug McDermott. How Williams tries to defend the likely scoring champion will be fun to watch, and this may also determine the league champion. Marquette's home win streak in conference may also be in play, making this a gigantic matchup.
DJ: Xavier vs. Butler. Home team is moot, they both have a passionate rivalry.
NR: DePaul vs. Creighton. I just want to be different, but I will say that if a team like Creighton struggles with play inside the arc and possibly with athleticism, DePaul could spring a surprise on them.
JG: Georgetown at St. John's, February 16th, 7 p.m., Madison Square Garden. I was tempted to pick the Red Storm's matchup with Marquette at MSG, but the time of day of that start (12:30) swayed me in this direction. Two teams from the original Big East, predicted to be in the top half of the standings, at the Garden, in prime time on a weekend late in the season. This game could have some big repercussions, especially if both teams can perform up to their preseason ratings, plus it's a more deliberate, grind-it-out Hoyas philosophy against the all-out athletic assault of St. John's. Did I mention it's at the Garden? Count me in.
CL: Georgetown at Villanova in the final game of the season.
BD: Georgetown at Creighton, January 25th, 8 p.m., Fox Sports 1. A big time matchup in the new Big East. Georgetown may well be the more talented team, but I don't think it's a huge gap. Creighton will have the continuity of having so many guys who have multiple years playing together under their belts, and Doug McDermott can flat out put the biscuit in the basket. A home crowd should swing this one in the Bluejays' favor, but I anticipate a great game.

Question #4: How many NCAA Tournament bids do you expect the Big East to receive?
PM: I would be disappointed if I didn't see at least five teams get in. If the Mountain West can get five teams in, then there should be at least five in for the Big East. If the Big East wants to maintain a persona of a big time conference, they can't fail in the nonconference season, especially this year. A questionable nonconference performance easily puts the bids down to about three.
DS: Four. (Marquette, St. John's, Georgetown and Creighton) It will be hard in the first year for the Big East to garner as much respect as its BCS brethren, and with the true round-robin style of scheduling of the ten teams, they will cannibalize each other.
AG: I like the chances for four teams, (Georgetown, Marquette, Creighton, Villanova) and an outside shot at five if St. John's can finally get its act together.
MS: Locks: Marquette, Creighton, Georgetown. In play: Xavier, Villanova, Providence. I'll say all six teams make it.
DJ: Five.
NR: Five.
JG: Definitely four, possibly five if the teams don't cannibalize each other.
CL: I want to say seven, but six feels more likely.
BD: Seven.

Stay tuned for part two of our roundtable, where we predict award winners and ask our panel to play a game of word association for each school in the Big East, as well as offer a shameless plug of the school they cover in an attempt to show the casual fan what to expect.

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