As all college basketball fans know, Villanova is the reigning and defending National Champions after an unexpected title run last spring. The national title was hard fought for and well deserved for Jay Wright and company. Not only did the Wildcats prove their legitimacy as a program, but they validated the entire Big East conference with their performance in March Madness. And while Nova is atop Mount Olympus there are several contenders that will challenge their supremacy in the Big East in 2016-2017.
One of the few teams that was able to obtain a victory against Villanova last year was Xavier. While the Musketeers lost forwards Jalen Reynolds and James Farr, coach Chris Mack still has talent returning this season. The guard play will be strong with Trevon Bluiett and Edmund Summers and sparkplug J.P. Macura, who is transitioning from 6th man to starter this season for X. While the backcourt is a proven commodity in Big East play, the frontcourt is unproven entering this season. Sean O’Mara and Rashid Gaston will be getting most of the minutes at forward as Xavier looks to utilize a smaller lineup similar to the style that is implemented at Villanova.
This year’s Blue Jay roster was built in an unconventional style as coach Greg McDermott acquired several key players via transfer. In 2016, the team’s leading scorer and assist man was Maurice Watson Jr., who transferred into Creighton from Boston University. Watson Jr. now has some extra help this year with Kansas State transfer Marcus Forster becoming eligible after sitting out the 2015-16 season. In his two seasons at Kansas State, Forster averaged 14. 1 points. Cole Huff, a transfer from Nevada will get major minutes at forward and provide interior scoring and defense to help out coach McDermott’s crew. The Jays already are building an impressive resume after beating Washington State, NC State, Ole Miss, and #9 ranked Wisconsin.
While Villanova came away with the national title, Seton Hall was able to cut down the nets at Madison Square Garden by defeating the Wildcats in the Big East final 69-67. Gone for the Pirates is Isaiah Whitehead, but coach Kevin Willard still has talent returning to campus in South Orange, New Jersey. While Whitehead left for greener pastures, Khadeen Carrington is willing and able to be the premier scoring threat for Seton Hall this season. The paint will be anchored by junior forward Angel Delgado who could average a double double this season. Coach Willard also has a glue guy that can do almost anything on the floor in the form of forward Desi Rodriguez. He can score, rebound, and defend. Rodriguez could do the dirty work that would allow the Pirates to turn bad losses into tough wins.
While the season is still in its infancy, the Big East will be a challenge for the Wildcats. The tough conference play can either strengthen the team and allow ‘Nova to make another deep run into March or the intense competition can wear out Nova and make them vulnerable to an early exit in the postseason.
Photo: Sarah Hoffman/The World-Herald
-(1) Villanova faces (5) West Virginia in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament