The 2020-21 college basketball season is finally upon us. After months of uncertain waiting, it does appear as though games will be tipping off across the country later this week. This comes as welcome news to Big East basketball fans everywhere who are eager to see how their teams look upon taking the court. Villanova and Creighton, especially, are facing high expectations this season as preseason contenders for the national championship, but there are surprise teams every single year.
How will Butler, Marquette, and Seton Hall respond to losing their star player this offseason? Can Travis Steele lead Xavier to exceed expectations after two down years? Will Villanova live up to the hype as a powerhouse? All of these questions that we have pondered since the shutdown last March are soon to be answered. No more Johnny Thunderbird sitting sadly in the stands at Madison Square Garden but rather fans – either remote or at lower capacity – ecstatically watching their favorite players grace their home courts once again.
Now, without any further ado, let’s dive right into my full Big East basketball season preview for 2020-21. This article will dive into my rankings with team-by-team breakdowns followed by looking into the conference’s biggest questions, stars to watch, and lend thoughts on preseason awards predictions.
11. Georgetown hoyas
Last season: 15-17 (5-13 BE); No. 83 in DPI
Head coach: Patrick Ewing (4th year with school)
Key returners: JaMorko Pickett, Jahvon Blair, Qudus Wahab
Notable newcomers: Jalen Harris, Jamari Sibley, Donald Carey
Even after a tumultuous opening month of the season, Georgetown was a bubble team throughout most of 2019-20 before an utter collapse down the stretch. The Hoyas lost their last six regular-season contests and dropped their opener in the Big East Tournament as well. This eliminated all hope of reaching their first NCAA Tournament since 2015 and also ignited pessimism regarding a possible resurgence this year.
Not only did the Hoyas finish last year under .500, but they also lost their two leading scorers this offseason. Mac McClung and Omer Yurtseven both departed with the former heading to Texas Tech and the latter taking the professional route. Terrell Allen and Jagan Mosely graduated as well, leaving Georgetown with only two of its top six rotation players from last season. That does not inspire a ton of confidence.
Leading the way in the nation’s capital this year will be JaMorko Pickett and Jahvon Blair. The two returners were both solid a season ago, combining to average 18.4 points, 10.8 rebounds, 4.8 assists, and 2.0 steals per game as secondary pieces. Now in starring roles, they will each need to take their games to the next level. Another key player coming back is Qudus Wahab, a sophomore who showed promise in 14.7 minutes per game last year. The 6-10 big is an excellent rebounder and shot-blocker.
Georgetown will fill out the rest of its rotation with newcomers. Namely, Arkansas transfer Jalen Harris appears poised to start at point guard. Harris saw his role diminish greatly last season with the Razorbacks but had posted 7.6 points and 5.6 assists per game as a full-time starter in 2018-19. He will be tasked with being the Hoyas’ primary creator this year and could return to filling the stat sheet. Donald Carey (Siena) and Chudier Bile (Northwestern State) are also joining the mix. They both averaged double-digit points per game at their last stops.
Perhaps the most important newcomer, though, will be Jamari Sibley. A 6-8 freshman ranked as the No. 101 overall prospect in the class, Sibley will be tasked with playing big minutes right away. If he performs at a high level immediately, that would not only raise the Hoyas’ ceiling for this season but would give them a building block for the future.
10. depaul blue demons
Last season: 16-16 (3-15 BE); No. 106 in DPI
Head coach: Dave Leitao (6th year with school)
Key returners: Charlie Moore, Romeo Weems, Darious Hall
Notable newcomers: Courvoisier McCauley, Ray Salnave, Pauly Paulicap
DePaul showed a ton of promise early last season with a 12-1 non-conference record that included victories over Iowa, Minnesota, and Texas Tech. That all turned out to be for naught, however, as the Blue Demons squandered their hot start by winning just one of their first 13 Big East games. They finished just 3-15 in conference play, marking the program’s 13th consecutive season with a below-.500 conference record. At this point, DePaul needs to be placed in the preseason bottom tier every year until proven otherwise.
DePaul experienced a major loss this offseason with Paul Reed leaving for the NBA. Reed was one of the conference’s top players last season and will be extremely difficult to replace in the frontcourt. Not only was he an impactful defender who ranked 32nd in the nation in block rate (9.4%) but he was also a versatile scorer that stretched the floor to 3-point range occasionally. The program also waved goodbye to Jalen Coleman-Lands, another double-digit scorer, as he transferred to Iowa State.
Thankfully, DePaul does bring back some key pieces. Point guard Charlie Moore is a preseason First Team All-Big East selection and he will be the team’s leading scorer and playmaker. Returning alongside him will be defensive standout sophomore Romeo Weems and former Arkansas forward Darious Hall. Jaylen Butz is going to miss the beginning of this season due to “undisclosed reasons” and his timeline for return is to be determined.
Additionally, Coach Leitao did a very nice job securing talented transfers. Pauly Paulicap (Manhattan), Ray Salnave (Monmouth), and Brian Patrick (Fort Wayne) all scored double-figures per game at their last D-1 stops. Courvoisier McCauley is also joining the mix after a spectacular D-II campaign. Javon Freeman-Liberty (Valparaiso) would also really help, but he is still awaiting the result of his waiver request. There is talent on this roster with the returners and transfers.
On the whole, though, Reed was a massive loss and Coleman-Lands will be missed as well. Even with their roster additions, I find it hard to imagine DePaul making substantial strides compared to last season. The Blue Demons need to prove they can escape the cellar of the conference before I trust them.
9. st. john’s red storm
Last season: 17-15 (5-13 BE); No. 87 in DPI
Head coach: Mike Anderson (2nd year with school)
Key returners: Rasheem Dunn, Julian Champagnie, Marcellus Earlington
Notable newcomers: Vince Cole, Arnaldo Toro, Posh Alexander
St. John’s was similarly successful in non-conference play last season before stumbling in the Big East slate. Overall, though, the Red Storm finished ahead of DePaul in the conference standings and showed growth. It definitely felt like a transition year into the Mike Anderson era for SJU. The Red Storm are in need of a resurgence, having reached just three NCAA Tournaments over the past 18 years, and Anderson is the type of established coach that could ignite that.
While the departures of LJ Figueroa, Mustapha Heron, and Nick Rutherford are meaningful, St. John’s has some promising pieces that could lead to exceeding this preseason projection. Most notably, Julian Champagnie was excellent for the Red Storm down the stretch last season. He made clear strides while averaging 15.1 points, 7.4 rebounds, 1.1 steals, and 1.3 blocks per game over SJU’s final seven regular-season games. He should be poised to take a big leap as a sophomore alongside fellow returners Rasheem Dunn and Marcellus Earlington.
Greg Williams Jr., Josh Roberts, and David Caraher will be back in the rotation as well.
In terms of newcomers, Coach Anderson dipped into lots of different markets. Vince Cole (jr.) and Isaih Moore (jr.) both committed via the JUCO route and are expected to be rotation pieces. Cole is the elite 3-point threat that SJU was missing a year ago while Moore is a versatile frontcourt player. Arnaldo Toro was a traditional transfer addition from George Washington and he has received great reviews as a possible starter. Additionally, SJU fans are eager to see local products Posh Alexander and Dylan Wusu make impacts during their freshmen seasons.
I considered placing St. John’s as high as No. 7 in this preview. I am actually a big believer in Coach Anderson and this roster, even with this low spot in the rankings. Losing Figueroa is a big deal, though, even with his inefficiencies. SJU needs to be much better offensively this year and it’s difficult to foresee exactly where those improvements come from.