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Big East Preview (Part 3): Seton Hall, St. John’s, Xavier

A final look into the rest of the conference.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Second Round-Kansas vs Seton Hall Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

Over the next few days, we will be previewing the other nine Big East schools for the 2018-19 season. We conclude with a look at the Seton Hall Pirates, St. John’s Red Storm, and Xavier Musketeers.

Seton Hall Pirates

Head Coach: Kevin Willard (9th season, 150-113 record)
Previous Season Record: 22-12, 10-8 Big East — Lost to Kansas in NCAA 2nd round, Lost to Butler in Big East Tournament Quarterfinals as #3 seed
Key Players: #13 Myles Powell (6’2”, 195) Jr., G; #1 Michael Nezi (6’8”, 205) Sr., F; #0 Quincy McKnight (6’4”, 185) Jr., G
Key Departures: Khadeen Carrington, Angel Delgado, Desi Rodriguez, Ismael Sanogo

Outlook: After finally picking up an NCAA tournament win, Seton Hall’s famed 2014 recruiting class moves on, save for Michael Nezi. That leaves head coach Kevin Willard in a tough spot, having to mesh transfers and freshmen along with Myles Powell. Powell will be the leader of this team, after averaging 15.5 points, 2.8 assists, and 2.6 rebounds on 37.9% shooting from three last season. Nezi is a solid energy guy who will play strong defense but will not put up double digit points night in and night out. Quincy McKnight, a transfer from Sacred Heart, is eligible this season after having to sit out 2017-18. McKnight will make up for a lot of the losses on the offensive side of the ball, as he averaged 18.9 points, 4.9 rebounds, and 3.0 assists in his last season at Sacred Heart. Taurean Thompson, a transfer from Syracuse, is another newcomer who should help out the Pirates this season. Thompson was a top-100 recruit and was decent in his first season in Syracuse, and should be counted on in the paint for Seton Hall this season. It will be tough for Seton Hall to get back to the NCAA tournament for a 4th straight season, but it will be a great coaching job by Willard if they do.

St. John’s Red Storm

Head Coach: Chris Mullin (4th season, 38-60 record)
Previous Season Record: 16-17, 4-14 Big East — Lost to Xavier in Big East Tournament Quarterfinals as #9 seed
Key Players: #2 Shamorie Ponds (6’1”, 180) Jr., G; #5 Justin Simon (6’5”, 2015) RS-Jr., G; #13 Marvin Clark II (6’7”, 225) RS-Sr., F; #14 Mustapha Heron (6’5”, 210) Jr., G
Key Departures: Marcus LoVett, Bashir Ahmed

Outlook: With the recent news that Auburn transfer Mustapha Heron will be eligible in 2018-19, expectations are high in New York this season. The Red Storm have seen improvement every year under Chris Mullin, going from 8 wins, to 14, to 16 last season. St. John’s should see their win total jump once again, as the good news started back in May when Shamorie Ponds decided to return for his junior season. Last season, Ponds averaged 21.6 points, 5.0 rebounds, and 4.7 assists while playing 37 minutes a game, good enough to make the Big East First Team. The addition of Heron is so important because he is a long, rangy wing who can shoot and defend, giving Ponds a capable side kick. Marvin Clark II and Justin Simon are two returnees who averaged double digits last season and are capable of playing solid defense. They are also joined by Mikey Dixon, a transfer from Quinnipiac who is eligible after sitting out last season. St. John’s next improvement should be to hit 20 wins (or more) and return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2015.

Xavier Musketeers

Head Coach: Travis Steele (1st season)
Previous Season Record: 29-6, 15-3 Big East — Lost to Florida St. in 2nd round of NCAA Tournament as #1 seed, Lost to Providence in semifinals of Big East Tournament as #1 seed
Key Players: #0 Tyrique Jones (6’9”, 235) Jr., F; #1 Paul Scruggs (6’3”, 200) So., G; #13 Naji Marshall (6’7”, 222) So., F
Key Departures: Trevon Bluiett, Kerem Kanter, JP Macura, Sean O’Mara, Kaiser Gates

Outlook: Chris Mack left for Louisville and Xavier decided to promote from within, giving Travis Steele his first head coaching job at the collegiate level. Xavier was set to undergo a big change regardless, with the graduations of Bluiett, Kanter, Macura, and O’Mara. Steele had to deal with another loss, however, when Kaiser Gates passed up his last year of eligibility to go pro. Tyrique Jones, Paul Scruggs, and Naji Marshall all played an important role in Xavier’s 29 wins and #1 seed last season, and they will be the three leaders this upcoming season. They are joined by three graduate transfers; Kyle Castlin (from Columbia), Ryan Welage (San Jose St.), and Zach Hankins (D-II Ferris State). Xavier has a strong history of hiring excellent head coaches when their former ones depart for bigger jobs, and there’s no evidence this hire will be any different. This season, however, it would be a bit of a surprise to see Xavier in the NCAA Tournament once again.