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An early look at next year’s Big East: Is Villanova the clear favorite?

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The Wildcats are looking to return to the No. 1 spot

While Villanova is a national champion again, it will still be looking for a little payback next season. For the first time since the formation of the new Big East, the Wildcats will not enter the conference slate as the reigning regular season champion. However, the 2018-19 Big East seems to be one that Villanova could run away with. They’ll take their lumps here and there, but barring a mass exodus to the draft, the Wildcats will enter as the clear favorite.

With key draft decisions looming, here is a first look at how the Big East stacks up next season.

FRONT RUNNER

Villanova

Definitely gone: No one

Maybe gone: Mikal Bridges (17.7 ppg), Jalen Brunson (18.3), Donte DiVincenzo (13.4) and Omari Spellman (10.9)

Key returnees: Phil Booth (10.0), Eric Paschall (10.6), Collin Gillespie (4.3), Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree (3.1), and Jermaine Samuels (1.1)

Key newcomers: Jahvon Quinerly (FR), Cole Swider (FR), and Brandon Slater (FR)

Few teams will be more dependent on draft decisions than Villanova. Booth and Paschall are lock starters and the rest will depend on who comes back. If even one of Bridges, Brunson, DiVincenzo and Spellman return, they are Final Four good. If two or more return, they should be the favorites to repeat. But even if none return, they could still make a long NCAA tournament run, and without another serious Big East contender, they are the clear class of the conference.

CONTENDERS

Creighton

Definitely gone: Marcus Foster (19.8), Toby Hegner (8.4), and Manny Suarez (3.0)

Maybe gone: Khyri Thomas (15.1)

Key returnees: Martin Krampelj (11.9), Mitch Ballock (7.3), Ronnie Harrell Jr. (7.0), Jacob Epperson (6.3), Davion Mintz (6.1), Ty-Shon Alexander (5.5), and Kaleb Joseph (4.3)

Key newcomers: Damien Jefferson (TR), Marcus Zegarowski (FR), Sam Froling (FR)

Even with losing Foster, this is a very solid team entering next season. If Thomas returns, it’s likely a fringe Top 25 squad. Creighton has depth, balance, versatility, and a few impact freshmen. The biggest question mark for Greg McDermott’s team is who emerges as the go-to scorer, especially if Thomas leaves for the draft. Best-case scenario — Thomas comes back and this squad becomes Villanova’s top challenger. Worst-case scenario — they are a bubble team.

Marquette

Definitely gone: Andrew Rowsey (20.3), Haanif Cheatham (8.2),

Maybe gone: No one

Key returnees: Markus Howard (20.2), Sam Hauser (14.1), Sacar Anim (7.6), Jamal Cain (4.6), Greg Elliott (4.5), Matt Heldt (3.9), and Theo John (3.9)

Key newcomers: Ed Morrow (TR), Joey Hauser (FR), Brendan Bailey (FR)

The Golden Eagles should be back in the NCAA tournament next season. Yes, they lose their leading scorer in Rowsey, but Howard is back, and he might be the conference’s top returning player. Marquette’s younger rotation guys should take a step forward, and they add in two impact freshmen and Morrow, a productive transfer from Nebraska. They’ll start as a fringe Top 25 team and could emerge as one of the few legitimate conference contenders.

Providence

Definitely gone: Rodney Bullock (14.3), Kyron Cartwright (11.2), and Jalen Lindsey (8.8)

Maybe gone: No one

Key returnees: Alpha Diallo (13.2), Isaiah Jackson (7.4), Nate Watson (6.8), Malien White (4.8), Kalif Young (4.3), and Makai Ashton-Langford (4.2)

Key newcomers: David Duke (FR), A.J. Reeves (FR), Kris Monroe (FR)

Although some storied Providence careers have come to an end, this is a team that could still be in the mix for a conference crown. The Friars return a lot of their rotation, particularly their frontcourt pieces, and add in a terrific recruiting class that could see guards Duke and Reeves start as freshmen. With Ed Cooley working his magic, this should be an NCAA tournament squad and one that might have a ceiling of No. 2 in the conference.

Butler

Definitely gone: Kelan Martin (21.2) and Tyler Wideman (9.3)

Maybe gone: No one

Key returnees: Kamar Baldwin (15.7), Paul Jorgensen (10.2), Sean McDermott (7.5), Nate Fowler, (5.9), Aaron Thompson (4.3), and Henry Baddley (4.1)

Key newcomers: Jordan Tucker (TR)

Martin’s scoring and Wideman’s toughness will be hard to replace, but the rest of the core of this Butler team returns. Baldwin figures to take the next step and will try to fill Martin’s shoes, while Tucker, a Duke transfer who Villanova pursued heavily, is eligible in the second semester and should have an immediate impact. Depth is an issue, though, and they’ll need last year’s role players to take a major step forward. The Bulldogs feel like an NCAA tournament team and maybe a higher seed if everything breaks right.

BUBBLE TEAMS

Georgetown

Definitely gone: Jonathan Mulmore (5.6) and Trey Dickerson (4.4)

Maybe gone: No one

Key returnees: Jessie Govan (17.9), Marcus Derrickson (15.9), Jamorko Pickett (9.6), Jahvon Blair (9.0), Kaleb Johnson (7.9), and Jagan Mosley (6.6)

Key newcomers: Josh LeBlanc (FR), Grayson Carter (FR), Mac McClung (FR)

If the Georgetown revival is going to happen under Patrick Ewing, it’s going to start with this team. Govan will be a contender for Big East Player of the Year and all of the other most important pieces return to the mix. Add in a freshmen class that should contain three impact players, and there seems to be a good shot that the Hoyas might actually be in the mix for an NCAA tournament bid this year. There’s no other way to say it — this is a pretty solid team.

Xavier

Definitely gone: Trevon Blueitt (19.3), J.P. Macura (12.9), Kerem Kanter (10.9), and Sean O’Mara (6.7)

Maybe gone: No one

Key returnees: Quentin Goodin (8.7), Naji Marshall (7.7), Kaiser Gates (7.2), Tyrique Jones (7.0), and Paul Scruggs (4.9)

Key newcomers: Zach Hankins (TR), Keonte Kennedy (FR)

Xavier is as reliable a program as you can find, and Travis Steele seems like a good fit to replace Chris Mack, as he’s kept the returnees and recruits together. That being said, this feels like a major transition year. Outside of Marshall, none of the returnees seem like anything more than role players, and the newcomers don’t look like first-year impact players. The NCAA tournament is possible, but this is not a squad eyeing another No. 1 seed or conference crown.

St. John’s

Definitely gone: Marcus Lovett (14.9), Bashir Ahmed (11.3), and Tariq Owens (8.4)

Maybe gone: Shamorie Ponds (21.6)

Key returnees: Marvin Clark (12.5), Justin Simon (12.2), and Bryan Trimble Jr. (3.1)

Key newcomers: Mikey Dixon (TR), Greg Williams (FR), Josh Roberts (FR)

If Ponds returns, which he probably will, then St. John’s might have an NCAA tournament contender. Dixon is an impact transfer from Quinnipiac that will give the Red Storm a second scoring option, while Clark and Simon should take a step forward. They aren’t deep at all and don’t have a ton of size, but they’ll have good guards and defense. That might be enough to move to the middle of the pack in the Big East and snag a bid. If Ponds leaves, they’ll likely finish last in the conference.

Seton Hall

Definitely gone: Desi Rodriguez (17.5), Khadeen Carrington (15.6), Angel Delgado (13.6), and Ishmael Sanogo (5.5)

Maybe gone: Michael Nzei (3.9)

Key returnees: Myles Powell (15.5) and Myles Cale (4.3)

Key newcomers: Quincy McKnight (TR), Romaro Gill (TR), Taurean Thompson (TR), Anthony Nelson (FR), Valdir Manuel (FR)

Seton Hall will likely graduate more talent than any team in the Big East. It will only return just two rotation pieces, but the keys here are the transfers. McKnight was a big-time scorer at Sacred Heart, and Thompson is a reliable frontcourt piece from Syracuse. If the transfers play well and a good freshman class develops quickly, they could make some noise. Still, this team seems destined to take a step back.

BOTTOM DWELLER

DePaul

Definitely gone: Marin Maric (13.6), TreDarius MacCallum (10), and Brandon Cyrus (7.2)

Maybe gone: Max Strus (16.8)

Key returnees: Eli Cain (11.7), Devin Gage (5.9), Justin Roberts (4.3), Paul Reed (3.6), and Jaylen Butz (3.5)

Key newcomers: Jalen Coleman-Lands (TR)

A lot of this depends on Strus. It’s a stretch to think he’ll stay in the NBA draft, but crazier things have happened. If he returns, he might lead the conference in scoring. Losing Maric hurts inside, but Coleman-Lands, an Illinois transfer, gives DePaul another strong 3-point threat. Throw in a solid and developing rising sophomore class, and it’s not inconceivable that DePaul moves towards the middle of the pack next season.