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An early look at the 2020-21 Big East Conference

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Villanova appears to be the favorite, again.

NCAA Basketball: Villanova at Georgetown Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

The 2019-20 season will be a tough act to follow for the Big East, as the conference was perhaps the best in the nation.

Next season will be different for a few reasons. First, the league could be a little more top heavy than last year. Second, an old rival enters back into the mix in UConn. Expect Villanova to be the consensus favorite yet again in the league, while there could be some surprises throughout the rest of the standings.

With key draft decisions still looming, here’s an early look at the Big East conference:

Final Four contenders

Villanova

Definitely gone: None

Maybe gone: Saddiq Bey (16.1 ppg)

Key returnees: Collin Gillespie (15.1), Justin Moore (11.3) Jermaine Samuels (10.7), Jeremiah Robinson-Earl (10.5), Cole Swider (6.1), Brandon Slater (1.6), Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree (1.5), Bryan Antoine (1.1)

Key newcomers: Caleb Daniels (TR), Eric Dixon (RS-FR)

With or without Saddiq Bey, this group is a Final Four threat in 2021. Of course, with him, the Wildcats are probably the national title favorite. There’s balance, versatility, and continuity on this roster. Although everyone from last year may return, the Wildcats still have some impact “newcomers” in the rotation. Caleb Daniels should be a rotation piece and potential starter, while a healthy Bryan Antonie gives Villanova a scary weapon. This is Jay Wright’s deepest team since 2018 and expectations will be high next season.

Creighton

Definitely gone: Ty-Shon Alexander (16.9 ppg), Kelvin Jones (3.0), Jalen Windham (2.6)

Maybe gone: Denzel Mahoney (12.0), Damian Jefferson (9.4)

Key returnees: Marcus Zegarowski (16.1), Mitch Ballock (11.9), Christian Bishop (8.6), Shareef Mitchell (2.7)

Key newcomers: Jacob Epperson (RS-injured), Antwann Jones (TR), Ryan Kalkbrenner (FR)

The unexpected departure of Ty-Shon Alexander likely derails any legit chance Creighton has at competing for a national title. Offense won’t be a problem, but as usual, Creighton’s question mark is on defense, where Alexander was its best defender in years. Assuming Denzel Mahoney and Damian Jefferson return, the Bluejays still have a ton of talent, though, and with the right progression from its core players, they remain a Final Four threat due their depth and offensive ability. Marcus Zegarowski will be in the mix for the conference’s top player.

Likely NCAA tournament teams

Seton Hall

Definitely gone: Myles Powell (21.0 ppg), Quincy McKnight (11.9), Romaro Gill (7.8), Taurean Thompson (4.0), Anthony Nelson (2.7)

Maybe gone: Sandro Mamukelashvili (11.9)

Key returnees: Jared Rhoden (9.1), Myles Cale (6.0), Shavar Reynolds (4.2), Tyrese Samuel (3.2), Ike Obiagu (2.4)

Key newcomers: Bryce Aiken (TR), Takal Molson (TR), Dimingus Stevens (FR), Jahari Long (FR)

With Myles Powell gone, the Pirates have a whole different look, but this team should not be overlooked. Seton Hall will be led by two transfers in Bryce Aiken (Harvard) and Takal Molson (Canisius). Both players are capable of averaging at least 15.0 ppg in the conference. With them in the fold and the likely return of Mamukelashvili, the Pirates should have enough to finish in the upper half of the conference and land an NCAA tournament bid. The non-transfer returnees and their progression will be what determines whether this team can be anything more than that.

UConn

Definitely gone: Christian Vital (16.4 ppg), Alterique Gilbert (8.5), Sidney Wilson (3.3)

Maybe gone: None

Key returnees: James Bouknight (13.0), Tyler Polley (9.5), Josh Carlton (7.8), Brendan Adams (7.4), Isaiah Whaley (6.0), Akok Akok (5.8), Jalen Gaffney (3.9)

Key newcomers: R.J. Cole (TR), Andre Jackson (FR), Javonte Brown-Ferguson (FR), Adama Sanogo (FR), Richie Springs (RS-FR)

Connecticut is returning to the Big East at the right time, as it has a young core capable of making noise. James Bouknight is a special player, and he’s surrounded by a balanced and deep team full of players poised to take the next step. The wild card in this situation is R.J. Cole, a Howard transfer, who was an elite scorer albeit in a far lesser league. Despite the promise for this Huskies team, it is fair to wonder if the adjustment to the Big East may come with a few hiccups along the way. Even so, UConn should be an NCAA tournament team based on talent alone.

NCAA tournament bubble teams

St. John’s

Definitely gone: Mustapha Heron (13.8 ppg), Nick Rutherford (5.5), Damien Sears (1.3)

Maybe gone: L.J. Figueroa (14.5)

Key returnees: Rasheem Dunn (11.9), Julian Champagnie (9.9), Marcellus Earlington (9.0), Greg Williams Jr. (5.7), Josh Roberts (5.0), David Caraher (4.3)

Key newcomers: Arnaldo Toro (TR), Posh Alexander (FR), Dylan Addeae-Wusu (FR), John McGriff (RS-FR), Vince Cole (JC), Isaih Moore (JC)

The biggest surprise in the Big East this year could be St. John’s. Coach Mike Anderson has a solid core returning, especially if L.J. Figueroa opts to return for his senior season. Junior college transfer Vince Cole is a big addition, and should help create a balanced scoring attack for the Red Storm. Depth is another positive for St. John’s, as the team will still have options even if Figueroa departs. In a slight down year for the league, look for St. John’s to be higher in the standings than usual and competing for an NCAA tournament bid.

Providence

Definitely gone: Alpha Diallo (14.1 ppg), Luwane Pipkins (10.8), Maliek White (7.8), Kalif Young (5.0), Emmitt Holt (4.8)

Maybe gone: None

Key returnees: David Duke (12.0), Nate Watson (9.0), A.J. Reeves (7.4), Greg Gantt (2.6), Jimmy Nichols Jr. (2.2), Kris Monroe (1.3)

Key newcomers: Jared Bynum (TR), Jyare Davis (FR), Alyn Breed (FR), Brycen Goodine (possible transfer waiver)

Coach Ed Cooley returns one of his thinnest and least experienced teams next season. He has a strong guard trio in David Duke, A.J. Reeves, and St. Joe’s transfer Jared Bynum, and he has Nate Watson down low. However, beyond that, there isn’t much the Friars can count on heading into next season. Of course, Cooley is a master in maximizing talent on his roster, so the Friars will still be dangerous, but it’s hard to imagine this group being anything more than a bubble team.

Georgetown

Definitely gone: Omer Yurtseven (15.5 ppg), James Akinjo (13.4), Terrell Allen (9.5), Jagan Mosely (8.2), Josh LeBlanc (7.2), Galen Alexander (4.2), Myron Gardner (3.1),

Maybe gone: Mac McClung (15.7)

Key returnees: Jahvon Blair (10.8), Jamorko Pickett (10.2), Qudus Wahab (5.5), Timothy Ighoefe (2.5)

Key newcomers: Jalen Harris (TR), Jamari Sibley (FR), Tyler Beard (FR), Kobe Clark (FR), Malcolm Wilson (RS-FR)

The mass exodus from Georgetown began during the season and can get even worse if Mac McClung decides to go pro. However, it seems likely that he will return, and if he does, it will give the Hoyas an elite scorer they so desperately need. As Coach Patrick Ewing tries to rebuild the roster, the biggest issue is again depth. The Hoyas will need some immediate impact from freshmen with Jabari Sibley likely most up to to task. With McClung back, this is a bubble team. If not, NIT bound at best and questions will rise about Ewing.

Xavier

Definitely gone: Naji Marshall (16.8 ppg), Tyrique Jones (14.0), Quentin Goodin (6.0), Bryce Moore (2.5)

Maybe gone: None

Key returnees: Paul Scruggs (12.7), Zach Freemantle (7.5), Jason Carter (6.9), Kyky Tandy (6.7), Danny Ramsey (2.0)

Key newcomers: Nate Johnson (TR), Bryan Griffin (TR), Down Odom (FR), C.J. Wilcher (FR), Colby Jones (FR), Dieonte Miles (RS-FR)

Losing its best player, Naji Marshall, to the NBA draft puts a damper on Xavier’s ceiling for 2020-21. With his departure, along with senior Tyrique Jones, the question is, who scores for the Musketeers? Coach Travis Steele brought in a strong recruiting class last year and will do the same this year, although there isn’t a transcendent talent in either. One of the young players will need to step up quick and assume a larger offensive role to pair with Paul Scruggs and transfer Nate Johnson. All in all, this appears to be a bubble team that is a year or two away from real damage in March.

Marquette

Definitely gone: Markus Howard (27.8 ppg), Sacar Anim (13.1), Jayce Johnson (3.8), Ed Morrow (3.4)

Maybe gone: Brendan Bailey (7.1)

Key returnees: Koby McEwen (9.5), Jamal Cain (5.2), Theo John (5.1), Greg Elliot (5.1)

Key newcomers: Dawson Garcia (FR), Justin Lewis (FR), Oso Ighodaro (FR), Dexter Akanno (RS-FR)

With the Markus Howard era officially over, Marquette will have an entire new look and a gaping hole on offense. While no returning player averaged double figures in scoring, expect that to change quickly, due largely to the sheer volume of opportunities they’ll inherit with Howard gone. Overall, though, this Marquette roster is a little thin and will need a few players to take a big leap in their game, most notably Koby McEwen and talented freshman Dawson Garcia. Right now, the team seems NIT bound, and that’s not great for Coach Steve Wojciechowski, who is likely on the hot seat.

Long shots

DePaul

Definitely gone: Jalen Coleman-Lands (11.1 ppg), Devin Gage (4.5), Flynn Cameron (2.3), D.J. Williams (1.6)

Maybe gone: Paul Reed (15.1)Key returnees: Charlie Moore (15.5), Jaylen Butz (10.1), Romeo Weems (8.0), Darious Hall (4.5), Markese Jacobs (3.2), Nick Ongenda (2.7)

Key newcomers: Kobe Elvis (FR), Javon Freeman-Liberty (possible transfer waiver)

DePaul could be dangerous if Paul Reed returns and Valparaiso transfer Javon Freeman-Liberty gets a transfer waiver. However, it seems unlikely Reed comes back, and Freeman-Liberty’s situation is an unknown. That leaves a thin roster without much certainty. Charlie Moore is a good guard and could lead the league in scoring, but beyond him, it’s unclear who else can chip in. Add in that DePaul seems to consistently play below its talent level, and it should be another long year for the Blue Demons.

Butler

Definitely gone: Kamar Baldwin (16.2 ppg), Sean McDermott (11.7), Henry Baddley (3.2), Derrik Smits (3.1), Khalif Battle (3.0)

Maybe gone: Jordan Tucker (8.9)

Key returnees: Bryce Nze (9.2), Bryce Golden (7.9), Aaron Thompson (7.2), Christian Davis (2.6)

Key newcomers: Jair Bolden (TR), Mike Parker (TR), Myles Tate (FR), JaKobe Coles (FR), Scooby Johnson (FR), Chuck Harris (FR), Myles Wilworth (FR)

It may be a tough year for Butler, as it loses a lot of scoring and leadership, particularly with the graduation of Kamar Baldwin. What returns is a young group with few sure things, including five freshmen. Bryce Nze and Bryce Golden make for a solid tandem down low, but it’s unclear who will step up in the backcourt, as Jordan Tucker seems likely to leave. Aaron Thompson and South Carolina transfer Jair Bolden have experience, and the hope is that both will take a step forward in their senior year. Getting back to the NCAA tournament would be an accomplishment in what is a transition year for the program.