Big East basketball is in the midst of a busy offseason with several coaching changes and excellent work in the transfer portal. How does the league project for 2022-23?
There is no such thing as a quiet offseason, and that was certainly the case with Big East basketball this spring. Coaching changes and transfer portal domination made waves across the sport.
Most notably, Villanova head coach Jay Wright surprisingly announced his retirement fresh off his fourth career Final Four. Former assistant coach Kyle Neptune, who spent last season as Fordham’s head coach, is the new top man in Philadelphia. Villanova was far from the only Big East program with a coaching change this offseason, though.
Three other programs entered the coaching carousel this offseason and all hired coaches with tremendously strong ties to their respective universities. Butler pulled longtime Ohio State head coach Thad Matta out of retirement to take the top job. Matta previously played and coached at Butler in the late-90s and early-00s and reached two Final Fours while leading Ohio State. Xavier similarly turned to a former coach in Sean Miller, who led the program from 2005-2009. He spent 12 years at Arizona following his first stint with the Musketeers.
While Butler and Xavier fired their previous coaches to hire Matta and Miller, Seton Hall needed to fill its opening following Kevin Willard leaving for Maryland. The Pirates filled their position with Shaheen Holloway, a former Pirates player who took Saint Peter’s to the Elite Eight this past season. He is coming to Newark with a tremendous amount of momentum as a result.
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The Big East is going to look much different next season. Not only are there several new coaches dotting the conference, but there was also plenty of roster turnover. Eight of the 11 All-Big East selections from last season are not returning. To counteract, the conference moved swiftly in the transfer portal. Without any further ado, though, let’s dive into a way-too-early look at the league.
Projected order of finish
11. Georgetown: The Hoyas improved this offseason with a bolstered frontcourt of Akok Akok and Qudus Wahab. They also added several backcourt transfers with Brandon Murray (LSU), Jay Heath (Arizona State), Amir Spears (Duquesne) and Bryson Mozone (USC Upstate). Is that enough to escape the Big East’s cellar? After all, Georgetown went a winless 0-19 in conference play last year. They will be better but still have to prove that they can win more consistently. New faces will need to jell quickly. Make no doubt about it, though: Georgetown’s roster is much-improved.
10. DePaul: Leading scorers Javon Freeman-Liberty and David Jones both departed this offseason, leaving lots of questions for DePaul. The Blue Demons did add a pair of high-major transfers who led their teams in scoring last season: Caleb Murphy and Umoja Gibson. These two will pair with rising junior Jalen Terry, who will need to a big leap in the backcourt this season. Nick Ongenda withdrawing from the NBA Draft process aids DePaul’s frontcourt. The Blue Demons won six conference games in Tony Stubblefield’s first year; it was just the program’s third time winning at least six league games over the last 14 seasons in the Big East.
9. Marquette: Only two players averaged more than 7.5 points per game for Marquette last season and both are now gone. While there is a lot to like about the Golden Eagles’ young talent, their overall roster inexperience could be challenging to overcome. Olivier-Max Prosper should be viewed as one of the brightest breakout candidates in the conference. Tyler Kolek rediscovering his shooting form in addition to his blossoming playmaking would be huge. Shaka Smart exceeded expectations in Year 1 with Marquette. Perhaps he deserves more of the benefit of the doubt here, but MU lacks experience.
8. Butler: Three-time Big Ten Coach of the Year Thad Matta is back on the sidelines in Hinkle Fieldhouse. In addition to retaining Butler’s solid young core, he also thrived in the transfer market. NC State transfer Manny Bates provides rim protection that has been sorely lacking for Butler. Eric Hunter Jr. and Ali Ali are proven scorers and defenders with experience. With a more talented core around him, back-to-back leading scorer Chuck Harris could take a leap as a junior. Simas Lukosius and Jayden Taylor both have sophomore breakout potential. The Dawgs can contend for an NCAA Tournament bid.
7. St. John’s: St. John’s missed the NCAA Tournament last season and lost Julian Champagnie to the pros this offseason. Head coach Mike Anderson navigated the transfer portal well, though, acquiring reinforcements to contend for a bid in 2023. His most notable addition was DePaul transfer David Jones. The Red Storm also landed Illinois transfer Andre Curbelo to pair with returners Posh Alexander and Dylan Addae-Wusu in the backcourt. Can these pieces work cohesively and will there be enough shooting? Those are the big questions.
6. Seton Hall: Shaheen Holloway, fresh off a deep NCAA Tournament at Saint Peter’s, is the new head coach at Seton Hall. Kadary Richmond, Tyrese Samuel, Jamir Harris and Tray Jackson are key returners, but the rest of the projected rotation is filled with new faces. High-major transfers Al-Amir Dawes and Femi Odukale are among the most notable additions. Holloway also landed the Davis brothers from Louisville and brought KC Ndefo with him from the Peacocks. Seton Hall will be a defensive-oriented group this season.
5. Xavier: Xavier is bringing back Sean Miller to the sidelines this season and he has a strong collection of talent on the roster. The frontcourt duo of Jack Nunge and Zach Freemantle is back, as is sharpshooting guard Adam Kunkel. Adding UTEP transfer Souley Boum should help offset the departure of Paul Scruggs. The big breakout candidate for the Musketeers is Colby Jones, who could be an All-Conference performer. Freshman Kam Craft should add more shot-making. Fifth feels low, but the conference is loaded. Xavier can contend at the top, though.
4. Providence: The Friars excelled last season behind an excellent transfer class, and are set to do so again this year. Jared Bynum is back as the team’s playmaker, but head coach Ed Cooley traversed the transfer portal for reinforcements. High-major transfers Noah Locke, Devin Carter and Bryce Hopkins will all be big-time additions. Clifton Moore also adds size to the frontcourt. Ed Croswell, who posted excellent finishing, shot-blocking and rebounding numbers in limited minutes last year, is a prime breakout candidate.
3. UConn: The Huskies lost RJ Cole, their top guard, this offseason but reloaded via the transfer market. Eastern Carolina transfer Tristen Newton, an All-AAC performer last season, is an excellent fit who provides size and scoring to the team. Nahiem Alleyne and Hassan Diarra were also strong additions. In terms of returners, Adama Sanogo is not only arguably the best big man in the Big East but also a strong contender for preseason Player of the Year. Andre Jackson could take another leap in his second season as a starter, which would be huge given the significant loss of Tyrese Martin.
2. Villanova: The Wildcats are entering a new era following Jay Wright’s retirement and Collin Gillespie’s graduation. New head coach Kyle Neptune still has a lot of talent to build around, though. Brandon Slater and Eric Dixon are key returners who could take further leaps this season. Caleb Daniels is a proven contributor and shooter on the wing. The big additions are star recruits Cam Whitmore and Mark Armstrong; if they can live up to the hype, Villanova can contend for the Big East title as a top-10 team. Justin Moore‘s recovery timeline from his Achilles injury will also play a huge role.
1. Creighton: The Bluejays were a pleasant surprise as an extremely young team last year. Now, the expectations are sky-high. Head coach Greg McDermott returns a tremendous young core including returning Big East All-Freshmen selections Ryan Nembhard, Trey Alexander and Arthur Kaluma. Creighton excelled defensively last season and rim-protecting big Ryan Kalkbrenner’s breakout was the biggest contributor of that shift. That core alone would have set Creighton up beautifully, but adding South Dakota State transfer Baylor Scheierman raised the ceiling to a potential preseason top-5 team in the nation.
Butler: Butler was one of the biggest winners of the offseason nationwide. The Dawgs hired a proven, highly successful head coach in Thad Matta who immediately improved the roster. First and foremost, he brought back the key trio of Chuck Harris, Jayden Taylor and Simas Lukosius. He also boosted the roster around them via the transfer market with a proven high-major guard (Eric Hunter Jr.), a versatile two-way wing (Ali Ali), and a pair of stellar shot-blockers (Manny Bates and Jalen Thomas). If Butler is able to find enough perimeter shooting, it could experience a resurgent year behind rising underclassmen and quality transfer additions.
Breakout player to watch
Colby Jones, Xavier: You could make an argument that Xavier’s Colby Jones experienced a breakout last season. The 6-5 guard substantially improved his numbers across the board while starting all 35 games for the Musketeers. And while his ’21-22 season was quite strong in many areas, Jones’ performances over the final few weeks of the year indicated another leap might be coming. He averaged 14.7 points, 6.7 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 1.6 steals per game while shooting 53.0 percent from the field over Xavier’s last 11 contests and was named NIT MVP.
Cam Whitmore, Villanova: Cam Whitmore’s reaffirmation of his commitment to Villanova was Kyle Neptune’s biggest win since taking over the program. The five-star recruit is the third-highest-rated player to ever commit to the Wildcats and he should instantly fill a starring role on the wing. Whitmore boasts a physical 6-6 frame and possesses elite-level athleticism. He was also a strong contributor in major spring showcase events, posting 19 points in both the Nike Hoop Summit and McDonald’s All-America games. Whitmore is a two-way player with a physically prepared body for college; he should be one of the top players in the Big East.
Best transfer addition
Baylor Scheierman, Creighton: Baylor Scheierman was one of the top mid-major players in the country last season, averaging 16.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game. He won Summit League Player of the Year while guiding South Dakota State to the NCAA Tournament. The jump to the Big East is significant and Scheierman probably won’t dominate the same way, but he brings a tremendous offensive skill level to a team that is already strong defensively. Scheierman is a knockdown shooter (46.9 percent from three last season) who also provides excellent secondary playmaking. He can be the piece that takes Creighton from very good to elite.
Player of the Year prediction
Adama Sanogo, UConn: Six players are named to the All-Big East First Team every year. UConn big man Adama Sanogo is the only returner from last season’s honorees. He averaged 14.8 points and 8.8 rebounds per game while guiding the Huskies to the NCAA Tournament. A physically imposing interior force, Sanogo will be a constant double-double threat as a junior. Sanogo is the top returner in the league and will lead one of the projected top teams.
It is worth noting, though, that a guard has won the last six outright Big East POY awards and nine of the last 11 in total. If that trend continues, watch for one of these to experience a breakout season: Jared Bynum, Kadary Richmond, Cam Whitmore, Colby Jones, Caleb Daniels, Chuck Harris, Ryan Nembhard or Posh Alexander.