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

Taking a quick look around the Big East before conference play tips off

NCAA Basketball: Butler at Creighton Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

Over the next few days, we will be previewing the other ten Big East schools for the 2020-2021 season. We start with a look at the Butler Bulldogs, UConn Huskies, Creighton Bluejays, and DePaul Blue Demons.

Butler Bulldogs

2019-2020 Record: 22-9 (10-8)

Head coach: LaVall Jordan (4th season)

Key Players: Bryce Nze, Aaron Thompson, Bryce Golden, Jair Bolden (South Carolina)

Key Departures: Kamar Baldwin, Sean McDermott, Jordan Tucker, Khalif Battle

Last year, in LaVall Jordan’s 3rd season, the Butler Bulldogs got off to an incredibly hot start - rising to one of the top 5 teams in the country by the time conference play began. Ultimately, although the Bulldogs fell down to earth a bit during their Big East slate, they finished the season poised to be a 5 seed in the NCAA Tournament before COVID-19 brought everything to a screeching halt.

NCAA Basketball: Butler at Marquette Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

This year, the Bulldogs are tasked with replacing the production of Kamar Baldwin. Bryce Nze and Bryce Golden will be looked upon to shoulder most of that load with returning point guard Aaron Thompson tasked with controlling the offense.

Butler projects to fall around the middle of the pack in the Big East with an outside shot at an at large bit come March.

UConn Huskies

2019-2020 Record: 19-12 (10-8) (AAC)

Head coach: Dan Hurley (3rd seaon)

Key Players: James Bouknight, Brendan Adams, Jalen Gaffney, Josh Carlton, Akok Akok

Key Departures: Christian Vital, Sidney Wilson, Alterique Gilbert

The Huskies return to the Big East coming off a subpar season where they finished fifth in the AAC. The player to watch this year for UConn is James Bouknight. The 6’4” sophomore was a 3rd Team All-AAC and All-Freshman member last season. He will likely be in consideration for Big East Player of the Year this year as he tries to fill the voids left by the departures of Gilbert and Vital.

Overall, the Huskies will likely end up fighting it out for a third or fourth place finish in the Big East behind, at a minimum, Villanova and Creighton.

Creighton Blue Jays

2019-2020 Record: 24-7 (13-5)

Head coach: Greg McDermott (11th season)

Key Players: Marcus Zegarowski, Mitchell Ballock, Jacob Epperson, Shereef Mitchell, Jefferson, Christian Bishop

Key Departures: Ty-Shon Alexander, Kelvin Jones, Davion Mintz

Creighton took home a share of the Big East title last year and was heading into postseason play with a real chance to make some noise. With Ty-Shon Alexander and an absolute juggernaut of an offense, the Blue Jays were a legitimate threat to make a deep run in March. Enter COVID-19. The Creighton Blue Jays became the Creighton Blue Balls. (I couldn’t help myself).

Despite the disappointing finish to last season, all is not lost for Blue Jays fans this year. Creighton returns Marcus Zegarowski, a 2nd Team All-Big East selection as a sophomore last year, who finished last season with a blistering 3P% of 45.6%. The Jays also return Mitchell Ballock, Damien Johnson, and Christian Bishop - three experienced upperclassmen - and figure to be one of the most electric offenses in the Big East.

Right now, Creighton sits at #15 on KenPom and just ahead of Villanova at #8 in the AP Top 25. In sum, Creighton is a great team and will likely be Villanova’s sole challenger for the Big East title this season.

DePaul Blue Demons

2019-2020 Record: 16-16 (3-15)

Head coach: Dave Leitao (6th season)

Key Players: Charlie Moore, Romeo Weems, Jaylen Butz

Key Departures: Paul Reed

Remember when DePaul started last season 12-1? That seems like a lifetime ago. I am sure Blue Demon faithful feel the same. Paul Reed, the best player on the Blue Demons last year, turned pro this offseason, and Jalen Coleman-Lands transferred to Iowa State leaving the cupboard pretty damn bare for Coach Leitao.

NCAA Basketball: Marquette at DePaul Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

DePaul will look to Romeo Weems and Charlie Moore to carry the mantle this season. Weems was a member of the Big East All-Freshman team last year and was a Top 75 recruit. Overall, DePaul will likely remain in the basement of the conference for yet another season.