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An early look at the 2021-22 Big East Conference

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Villanova leads a deep conference.

NCAA Basketball: Villanova at Seton Hall Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

This has been an unprecedented offseason in college basketball with the combination of the extra year of eligibility for seniors as well as the new NCAA transfer rules. After the dust settles, what’s left in the Big East are a lot of experienced veterans and many, many new faces.

Despite the upheaval, Villanova yet again is the league favorite and is poised for its fourth-straight regular season league title. Including the Wildcats, as many as nine teams in the Big East appear to have a legitimate chance to make the NCAA tournament.

Here’s a breakdown of the league for an upcoming season that should hopefully look a little more normal.

Final Four Contenders

Villanova

Definitely gone: Jeremiah Robinson-Earl (15.7 ppg), Cole Swider (5.7)

Maybe returning: Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree (RS)

Key returnees: Collin Gillespie (14.0), Justin Moore (12.9), Jermaine Samuels (12.0), Caleb Daniels (9.6), Brandon Slater (3.8), Eric Dixon (3.0) Bryan Antoine (2.3), Chris Arcidiacono (0.9), Trey Patterson (0.0)

Key newcomers: Jordan Longino (FR), Nnanna Njoku (FR), Angelo Brizzi (FR)

When Collin Gillespie and Jermaine Samuels both decided to return for a fifth season, it immediately made Villanova one of a handful of teams with a legitimate chance at the 2022 NCAA title. The Wildcats will have plenty of experience in the backcourt, as Justin Moore will join them in the starting lineup. The question will be how the team replaces Jeremiah-Robinson Earl down low. Do the Wildcats go small? Is Eric Dixon ready? Are Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree or Nnanna Njoku options? Depth will also be a focus, but not for a lack of options. More so, for how Jay Wright will figure out a rotation that has at least 10 options. Yet, comparatively speaking, these are problems any program wishes they would have, as Villanova’s talent means its Final Four or bust this season.

Likely NCAA Tournament Teams

Xavier

Definitely gone: Jason Carter (5.5), Danny Ramsey (4.0), Bryan Griffin (3.9), C.J. Wilcher (3.3)

Key returnees: Zach Freemantle (16.1), Paul Scruggs (14.0), Nate Johnson (11.4), Colby Jones (7.7), Adam Kunkel (7.0), KyKy Tandy (6.6), Dwon Odom (6.6), Ben Stanley (6.0),

Key newcomers: Jack Nunge (TR), Jerome Hunter (TR), Cesare Edwards (FR)

In a crucial year for Travis Steele and the program, Xavier brings back nearly every key contributor from last season and adds two high-majors transfers in Jack Nunge (Iowa) and Jerome Hunter (Indiana). That should be more than enough to get this team back in the NCAA tournament. Zach Freemantle and Paul Scruggs are two of the best players in the league, while also giving the Musketeers versatility and experience. If guys like KyKy Tandy and Dwon Odom take the next step, then this could even be a second weekend squad. The main issue is figuring out why this group couldn’t get the job done last season and making sure it doesn’t happen again.

UConn

Definitely gone: James Bouknight (18.7), Brendan Adams (4.5), Josh Carlton (3.5)

Key returnees: R.J. Cole (12.2), Tyrese Martin (10.3), Isaiah Whaley (8.0), Tyler Polley (7.5), Adama Sonogo (7.3), Jalen Gaffney (6.1)

Key newcomers: Samson Johnson (FR), Rashool Diggins (FR), Jordan Hawkins (FR)

Last season’s injury to James Bouknight may have been a blessing in disguise for UConn, as the returning core here now has plenty of experience playing together under its belt. There isn’t a game-changer like Bouknight among this group, but they have depth and versatility at each position. To take the next step, either R.J. Cole or Tyrese Martin must go from good to great or one of the talented freshmen must emerge as a breakout star. Regardless, this team is an NCAA tournament squad and could make a little noise come March.

St. John’s

Definitely gone: Greg Williams Jr. (9.5), Rasheem Dunn (9.4), Isaih Moore (9.2), Vince Cole (8.7), Marcellus Earlington (6.8)

Key returnees: Julian Champagnie (19.8), Posh Alexander (10.8), Dylan Addae-Wasu (6.5)

Key newcomers: Montz Mathis (TR), Aaron Wheeler (TR), Stef Smith (TR), Joel Soriano (TR)

With Julian Champagnie returning, St. John’s should make the NCAA tournament. If not, they might not sniff it. Champagnie led the Big East in scoring last year and teaming him up again with Posh Alexander, the league’s top freshman, might give St. John’s the best inside-out duo in the league. However, the other storyline here is the mass exodus of contributors and their replacements. Word is all four transfers are good fits for Coach Mike Anderson’s style but are more role players than anything else, much like the players they replace. The Red Storm will no doubt play hard and give some teams fits, and Champagnie being back allows them to dream of a league title and a deep March run.

NCAA Tournament Bubble Teams

Seton Hall

Definitely gone: Sandro Mamukelashvili (17.5), Shaver Reynolds (7.7), Takal Molson (5.3)

Key returnees: Jared Rhoden (14.9), Myles Cale (11.9), Bryce Aiken (5.7), Tyrese Samuel (5.4), Ike Obiagu (4.9)

Key newcomers: Jamir Harris (TR), Alexis Yetna (TR), Kadary Richmond (TR), Brandon Weston (FR), Tyler Powell (FR), Ryan Conway (FR)

For the second season in a row, Seton Hall is losing a Big East Player of the Year, but things still look bright for next season. That’s because the Pirates once again cleaned up in the transfer market. Jamir Harris brings over 20.5 ppg from American, and he should run the point. Additionally, they added a talented big in Alexis Yetna from South Florida as well as Syracuse’s Kadary Richmond, who showed a lot of promise as a freshman at Syracuse. The Pirates also bring back Myles Cale and Jared Rhoden, the latter of which is the likely focal point of the offense. If it meshes well, Seton Hall should have talent, depth and a spot in the NCAA tournament.

Butler

Definitely gone: None

Key returnees: Chuck Harris (12.9), Bryce Nze (11.4), Jair Bolden (10.5), Aaron Thompson (10.4), Bryce Golden (10.4), Bo Hodges (8.2), Myles Tate (6.7), JaKobe Coles (6.3)

Key newcomers: Ty Groce (TR), Pierce Thomas (FR)

Butler is one of the few teams in the county that returns every major contributor from last season after a handful of seniors decided to stick around for a fifth season. The question is whether that is a good thing for a team that went 10-15 last season. Rising sophomore Chuck Harris came on strong late last season, and if he continues to progress, Butler will look better. The team also gets much healthier as Aaron Thompson and JaKobe Coles will be back from injury. The experience and progression of this roster should make them better in 2021-22, and it’s likely they’ll be in consideration for an NCAA tournament bid.

Providence

Definitely gone: David Duke (16.8), Jimmy Nichols Jr. (6.1), Greg Gantt (4.0)

Key returnees: Nate Watson (16.9), A.J. Reeves (9.6), Noah Horchler (6.7), Jared Bynum (5.8), Alyn Breed (5.0)

Key newcomers: Al Durham (TR), Justin Minaya (TR), Matteus Case (TR), Rafael Castro (FR)

Despite losing a potential first-round pick in David Duke, the Friars may improve on last year’s 13-13 finish. They bring back Nate Watson for a fifth year, and he projects as the top big man in the league. While Duke was insanely talented, Jared Bynum had a higher assist-to-turnover ratio last year and could be a better fit at the point for an Ed Cooley team. To take the next step, the Friars will need production from their wings. Rising senior A.J. Reeves is a high recruit still looking to meet his potential. Meanwhile, transfers Al Durham (Indiana) and Justin Minaya (South Carolina) bring experience and production in major conferences. As usual, it might not look pretty, but Providence has the tools to make the Big Dance.

Creighton

Definitely gone: Marcus Zegarowski (15.8), Denzel Mahoney (12.5), Damien Jefferson (11.9), Christian Bishop (11.0), Mitch Ballock (9.9), Antwann Jones (3.4)

Key returnees: Ryan Kalkbrenner (5.9), Alex O’Connell (3.4), Shereef Mitchell (3.3)

Key newcomers: Ryan Hawkins (TR), KeyShawn Feazell (TR), Arthur Kaluma (FR), Trey Alexander (FR), Ryan Nembhard (FR), Mason Miller (FR)

After its first Sweet 16 appearance in nearly 50 years, Creighton is ready to retool. Most of the scoring is gone, and the Bluejays will attempt to rebuild around their youth. Arthur Kaluma, Trey Alexander, and Ryan Nembhard lead a strong recruiting class that should get plenty of minutes this season. Sophomore Ryan Kalkbrenner has NBA potential and could emerge as the team’s leading scorer. The expectations should be low with this group, but if everything clicks, it could be an NCAA tournament team.

Georgetown

Definitely gone: Jahvon Blair (15.4), Qudus Wahab (12.7), Jamorko Pickett (12.2), Chudier Bile (10.2), Jalen Harris (4.0)

Key returnees: Donald Carey (8.0), Dante Harris (8.0)

Key newcomers: Tre King (TR), Kaiden Rice (TR), Aminu Mohammed (FR), Jordan Riley (FR), Ryan Mutombo (FR)

The Hoyas and Patrick Ewing finally looked like they broke through last March by winning the Big East tournament. However, what followed was another mass exodus for the program, including the shocking transfer of Qudus Wahab. What’s left are a couple of skilled guards in Donald Carey and Dante Harris and plenty of unknowns. Freshman Aminu Mohammed should start from Day 1 as a wing and transfer four-man Tre King comes with some hype from Eastern Kentucky. Down low is anyone’s guess, but Ewing has done a great developing his bigs. Ewing can coach and this roster probably is better than it looks, but it will still be an uphill battle to return to the NCAA tournament.

Long Shots

DePaul

Definitely gone: Charlie Moore (14.4), Oscar Lopez Jr. (8.8), Romeo Weems (7.3) Pauly Paulicap (7.2), Ray Salnave (6.3), Kobe Elvis (5.2), Darious Hall (4.9)

Key returnees: Javon Freeman-Liberty (14.4), Nick Ongenda (5.7), David Jones (5.1), Courvoisier McCauley (3.1)

Key newcomers: Brandon Johnson (TR), Tyon Grant-Foster (TR), Jalen Terry (TR), Philmon Gebrewhit (TR), Ahamad Bynum (FR)

DePaul is seemingly always a program in flux, but this year might take the cake, as five of the team’s top six scorers have departed. That leaves new coach Tony Stubblefield with the task of remaking the Blue Demons roster on the fly. He’s added a few intriguing pieces, including Jalen Terry, an Oregon transfer, who was a Mr. Basketball finalist in Michigan and should run the point. He also has a capable scoring wing in Javon Freeman-Liberty and a reliable frontcourt presence in Brandon Johnson, a Minnesota transfer. However, while the Blue Demons should be able to cobble together a serviceable starting lineup, finding scoring threats could be a concern in what will likely be a long season.

Marquette

Definitely gone: D.J. Carton (13.0), Dawson Garcia, (13.0), Koby McEwan (10.2), Jamal Cain (9.6), Theo John (8.0), Jose Perez (3.1)

Key returnees: Justin Lewis (7.8), Greg Elliott (6.2)

Key newcomers: Darryl Morsell (TR), Tyler Kolek (TR), Kur Kuath (TR), Olivier-Maxence Prosper (TR), Stevie Mitchell (FR), Emarion Ellis (FR), Kameron Jones (FR), Keeyan Itejere (FR), David Joplin (FR)

While hiring Shaka Smart was a massive upgrade for the program, that doesn’t mean success will happen overnight, especially with this roster. Dawson Garcia was a potential all-league player, but he’s the latest to exit the program. Maryland transfer Darryl Morsell was reigning Big Ten defender of the year but is limited offensively. They’ll need to find offense from sophomore Justin Lewis, freshman Stevie Mitchell and Tyler Kolek, a sharp-shooting George Mason transfer. This is a very young roster, so it does give Smart a blank slate to mold into what he wants, but in the short term, goals should be modest ones.