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

A look into some of Villanova’s conference foes.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Second Round-Purdue Boilermakers vs Butler Bulldogs Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Over the next few days, we will be previewing the other nine Big East schools for the 2018-19 season. We start with a look at the Butler Bulldogs, Creighton Bluejays, and DePaul Blue Demons.

Butler Bulldogs

Head Coach: Lavall Jordan (2nd season, 21-14 record at Butler)
Previous Season Record: 21-14, 9-9 Big East — Lost to Purdue in 2nd round of NCAA Tournament, Lost to Villanova in semifinals of Big East Tournament as 6-seed.|
Key Players: #3 Kamar Baldwin (6’1”, 195) Jr., G; #5 Paul Jorgensen (6’2”, 185) RS-Sr., G; #2 Aaron Thompson (6’2”, 185) So., G; #22 Sean McDermott (6’6”, 195) RS-Jr., F,; #1 Jordan Tucker (6’7”, 210) So., F
Key Departures: Kelan Martin, Tyler Wideman

Outlook: In his first season as the head coach of the Butler Bulldogs, Lavall Jordan led his team to the 2nd round of the NCAA tournament. Despite taking some bumps throughout the Big East season, their 20 wins was enough to propel them to a #10 seed and a victory over the Arkansas Razorbacks in the 1st round of the NCAA tournament, before falling to Purdue. After a full season as Butler’s head man, Jordan has his team ready to return to the NCAA tournament. The loss of Kelan Martin can’t be overstated, however, as he graduated as the 2nd leading scorer in Butler history, scoring 2,047 points in his career. There are plenty of guys left to pick up the pieces, led by junior Kamar Baldwin. Baldwin is a tough defender, and capable of stretching the floor a little bit, he shot 33% from 3 last season. Paul Jorgensen and Sean McDermott may night be the best defenders, but shot 35% and 43% respectively from behind the arc last season. The biggest addition for Butler will be Jordan Tucker, who is eligible once the 1st semester concludes. Tucker was a top-100 recruit who spent the first half of last season at Duke, before transferring out. The New York native only played in two games for the Blue Devils, but if what he showed in high school is any indication, he will be a valuable addition for Butler.

Creighton Bluejays

Head Coach: Greg McDermott (9th season, 187-94 record at Creighton)
Previous Season Record: 21-12, 10-8 Big East — Lost to Kansas St. in First Round of NCAA Tournament, Lost to Providence in Big East Tournament Quarterfinals as 4-seed
Key Players: #15 Martin Krampelj (6’9”, 235) Jr., F; #24 Mitch Ballock (6’5”, 205) So., G; #41 Jacob Epperson (6’11”, 225), So., C; #11 Marcus Zegarowski (6’2”, 180), Fr., G
Key Departures: Marcus Foster, Khyri Thomas, Toby Hegner, Ronnie Harrell Jr.

Outlook: Creighton was one of the many teams last season who finished around .500 in Big East and made the NCAA tournament in the 7-10 seed range. The Bluejays missed a big opportunity when they fell 69-59 to Kansas St. in the first round of the NCAA tournament, as they would have been the beneficiary of UMBC upsetting #1 Virginia. Instead, that loss was the last game for Marcus Foster, Khyri Thomas, and Ronnie Harrell Jr., three very big losses for Greg McDermott. Now, the Bluejays will need some big years from young guys to make the tournament for the third consecutive season. Sophomore guard Mitch Ballock is on many watch lists, as a lot of analysts believe he will make a big jump from his 7.3 points, 2.9 rebounds, and 1.9 assists per game last season. Ballock also shot 34% from three on 127 attempts. Jacob Epperson, who hails from Australia, is another sophomore who could play a big role for McDermott’s squad. The plan for Epperson was to red shirt last season, but Krampelj’s ACL tear forced the Aussie into action. The big man struggled a bit defensively, but provided decent rim protection and had some success on offense. In Cerighton’s overtime victory over Villanova last season, Epperson totaled 12 points on 5-6 shooting, 5 rebounds, and 2 blocks. Krampelj’s return from injury is another important addition for Creighton, as he averaged 11.9 points and 8.1 rebounds before injury. Kremplej is expected to be ready for the start of the season. Creighton’s 2018 recruiting class was ranked 42nd nationally by 247sports, and is headlined by Marcus Zegarowski, ranked 110th in the 247sports composite rankings. Zegarowski is a combo guard who can run the point and shoot from the deep. If he is able to step in and contribute right away, he will be a valuable piece in getting Creighton to another tournament.

DePaul Blue Demons

Head Coach: Dave Leitao (4th season in current tenure, 87-99 through six years at DePaul)
Previous Season Record: 11-20, 4-14 Big East — Lost to Marquette in Opening Round of Big East Tournament as 10-seed.
Key Players: #11 Eli Cain (6’6”, 200) Sr., G; #5 Jalen Coleman-Lands (6’4”, 185) Jr., G; #31 Max Strus (6’6”, 215) Sr., G
Key Departures: Marin Maric, Tre’Darius McCallum, Brandon Cyrus

Outlook: The DePaul Blue Demons had 11 wins last season, their most since the 2014-15 season and the first time they’ve reached double-digit wins since that same season, when they totaled 12 wins. That tells you pretty much all you need to know about DePaul and Dave Leitao, who finished last in the Big East for the second straight season. While DePaul might actually make some improvements, it’s hard to see where the wins will come from. They should get seven from the non-conference portion of their schedule, but it’s hard to see where they pick up more from the rest of the non-conference and Big East. The Big East might not get seven teams into the NCAA tournament again, but the teams near the bottom of the conference won’t be bad enough for DePaul to beat consistently. Max Strus returns after averaging 16.8 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 2.7 assists while shooting 33% from three. Eli Cain contributed 11.7 points and 4.7 assists. Justin Coleman-Lands is eligible after transferring from Illinois, where he shot 40.2% from three in two seasons in Champaign. DePaul’s recruiting class ranked 61st per 247sports, with the highest ranked commit being 6’3” point guard Flynn Cameron. If those three returnees improve enough, and the new guys can play a little, DePaul could win 13-14 games and along with the currently highly ranked 2019 recruiting class, it could be enough to save Leitao’s job for one more year.