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Big East Preview (Part 1): Butler, DePaul, and Creighton

The first look into some of the other teams in the conference.

NCAA Basketball: Villanova at Butler Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports

Over the next few days, we will be previewing the other nine Big East schools for the 2017-18 season. We start with a look at the Butler Bulldogs, Creighton Bluejays, and DePaul Blue Demons.


Butler Bulldogs

Head Coach: LaVall Jordan (1st season)
Previous Season Record: 25-9, 12-6 Big East -- Lost to North Carolina in Sweet 16 of NCAA Tournament, Lost to Xavier in Big East Tournament quarterfinals as 2-seed
Key Players: #30 Kelan Martin (6-7, 220) Sr., F; #3 Kamar Baldwin (6-1, 170) So., G; #4 Tyler Wideman (6-8, 240) Sr., F
Key Departures: Andrew Chrabascz, Avery Woodson, Kethan Savage, Tyler Lewis

Outlook: Chris Holtmann left for greener pastures over at Ohio State, leaving Butler alumnus and former basketball player LaVall Jordan to step in his place. Jordan comes to his alma mater after only one year of head coaching experience. He previously coached at Milwaukee last season, where the Panthers finished with a lackluster 11-24 record in his debut. Adding to the losses are the departures of four-year starter and frontcourt anchor Andrew Chrabascz, as well as graduate transfer and sharpshooter Avery Woodson—among other seniors. This leaves veteran Kelan Martin and proven youngster Kamar Baldwin to pick up the pieces. Martin has been a key player for the Bulldogs since his arrival and will look to insert himself into the conversation for the Big East Player of the Year award. While he led the Bulldogs in scoring and rebounding last season, he plays a strange sixth man role for Butler as the team’s top player. After a February slump last season, he was relegated from the starting lineup and was able to create a spark off the bench. Holtmann decided to keep the Butler star on the bench from that point on. As for Baldwin, he exploded onto the scene as a feisty two-way player as a freshman. He played well in both Villanova games and will look to build on his freshman campaign. These two will be integral to how the Bulldogs do this season, as they try to disprove their eighth-place ranking in the preseason Big East polls.


Creighton Bluejays

Head Coach: Greg McDermott (8th season, 166-82 record at Creighton)
Previous Season Record: 25-10, 10-8 Big East — Lost to Rhode Island in Opening Round of NCAA Tournament, Big East Tournament Runner-Ups
Key Players: #0 Marcus Foster (6-3, 205) Sr., G; #2 Khyri Thomas (6-3, 210) Jr., G
Key Departures: Justin Patton, Maurice Watson Jr., Cole Huff, Isaiah Zierden

Outlook: Things were looking incredibly promising for the Creighton Bluejays last season. The preseason self-proclaimed “best backcourt in the Big East” seemed to back up their talk by getting off to one of the best starts in program history, as well as reaching the Bluejays’ highest rankings in the polls ever. Unfortunately, an ACL injury and some off-court troubles for Maurice Watson Jr. started a derailment for Creighton. While Justin Patton and Marcus Foster continued to hold the line, the second half of the season didn’t turn out as well as the first. With Patton gone for the NBA, it seems like the Creighton backcourt will try to carry the team again, albeit with less talent. In his debut season for the Bluejays, Foster proved to be one of the best scorers around, with the ability to knock it don from nearly anywhere. His 18.3 points per game last season makes him the top returning scorer in the conference. Meanwhile, his teammate, Khyri Thomas might not light up the scoreboard like he does or Watson Jr. did, but he’s one of the best perimeter defenders around. A Co-Big East Defensive Player of the Year last season, Thomas makes up for what he lacks offensively on the defensive side of the court. While these guys will be important to Creighton this season, as demonstrated last year, point guard play is integral for getting the Bluejays going and getting Foster the ball. The Bluejays tried a handful of different guards at point (some converted) last year—Ronnie Harrell Jr., Isaiah Zierden, Tyler Clement, and Davion Mintz, before officially sticking with Mintz. Mintz is going to have to take a great leap forward from his freshman season, he’s projected to be the starter and will have to contribute in a much bigger way.


DePaul Blue Demons

Head Coach: Dave Leitao (3rd season in current tenure, 76-79 through five years at DePaul)
Previous Season Record: 9-23, 2-16 Big East -- Lost to Xavier in Opening Round of Big East Tournament as 10-seed
Key Players: #11 Eli Cain (6-6, 200) Jr., G; #10 Tre’Darius McCallum (6-7, 220) Sr., F; #4 Brandon Cyrus (6-5, 195) So., G
Key Departures: Billy Garrett Jr., Chris Harrison-Docks

Outlook: Things continue to be tough for the DePaul Blue Demons, who might have some guests with them in the basement of the Big East (ahem, *cough* Georgetown) this season. Dave Leitao has yet to see a double-digit win season since rejoining the Blue Demons and his current tenure has been a far cry from his first one, when he took DePaul to the NCAA Tournament—a place that the Blue Demons haven’t been to since that 2004 season. This offseason hasn’t been smooth either, as a couple transfers, a top-tier recruit decommitting—while an eighth grader, class of 2022, gives a verbal--took over the Blue Demons’ storylines. However, DePaul was able to bring in graduate transfer Marin Maric (Northern Illinois), who can possibly have an immediate impact. With Billy Garrett Jr. gone, it is now finally Eli Cain’s team. While Cain did increase his scoring output, it came at the price of efficiency, as his shooting percentages drastically fell from his solid freshman season. Now, he just needs to get over the wall of that sophomore year, but should be well aware that opposing defenses will be even more keen on shutting him down as the focal point of the team. Aside from Cain, DePaul also has Tre’Darius McCallum, who is the team’s top rebounder. He’s also capable of quietly hitting double digit scoring figures, but might need to take an even bigger role on offense to complement Cain. Overall, expectations are looking low for DePaul, but breaching the 10-win mark and/or finishing better than Georgetown might do wonders for their morale.