The Golden Eagles got the epitome of the Shaka Smart experience last year, winning championships in the regular season and conference tournament, only to bow out of the NCAAs in the second round. Fueled by the disappointing end to what otherwise was the greatest season in Marquette history, the reigning Big East champions bring back nearly every major contributor from last year. At the head of the revenge tour will be reigning conference player of the year, Tyler Kolek, whose 7.5 assists per game in 2022 established him as one of the nation’s premier point guards. The main beneficiaries of Kolek’s elite ball distribution will be the team’s top scorer from last year, guard Kam Jones, not to mention two-way standout Oso Ighadaro inside the arc. Another year of David Joplin down low and Stevie Mitchell on the perimeter rounds out a rock-solid starting five, and if last year was any indication, the Golden Eagles will be able to score with anyone in their pursuit of another Big East title and a later stay on the dance floor afterward.
Like most reigning national champions, UConn will look considerably different than the team that stormed through the 2023 NCAA Tournament virtually unchallenged, but that doesn’t mean they won’t still be in the conversation for the first repeat championship since Billy Donovan’s Florida Gators. Three key returners will pull the sled in the back-to-back quest, including Tristen Newton in his second year as the do-it-all point guard, with talented underclassmen Alex Karaban and Donovan Clingan down low. Considering their impacts as freshmen, Karaban’s point-forward archetype and Clingan’s dominant paint presence should anchor the league’s best frontcourt with all-conference potential in their own rights. Adding the 3&D skillset of Cam Spencer on the wing may be one of the conference’s most impactful transfers to complete a solid nucleus of college basketball experience. To supplement the loss of three starters, Dan Hurley brings in five-star recruit Stephon Castle to sure up on athleticism in the starting five, while heralded freshmen Solomon Ball, Jayden Ross, and Jaylin Stewart will need to perform in order to replace the crucial bench play that propelled the Huskies throughout their title run. Most of UConn’s success under Hurley has come when they’ve been overlooked, but the spotlight will be on the defending champs from the jump to see if they can live up to their preseason billing.
The national perception of the Blue Jays is that last year was their best chance to win a championship under Greg McDermott, but Creighton only got as far as the Elite Eight before a heartbreaking loss to San Diego State. The losses of Ryan Nembhard and Arthur Kaluma to the transfer portal will hurt, but bringing back all-conference big man Ryan Kalkbrenner lightens the blow. The 7-footer’s paint dominance on both ends of the floor is second-to-none in the Big East, much like Baylor Scheiremann’s guard-like skills at 6-foot-7. His ability to score efficiently from three levels could be the main propeller of this offense. Trey Alexander and Utah State transfer Steven Ashworth form a strong offensive backcourt and a balanced starting five, but a questionable bench unit could be the decider in whether or not Creighton can finally break through to the school’s first Big East title, let alone a Final Four appearance.
The first year of the Kyle Neptune era went about as south as it could, as the usual perennial contenders scratched their way to a measly 17-17 record in 2023. Still, the Wildcats rounded into form as the season went on and key players returned from injury. One of those was Justin Moore, who was arguably Villanova’s top threat in their 2022 Final Four run. A full season out of the now senior guard should pay dividends on both ends, as should the play of Eric Dixon in the paint. As the two main holdovers from the Jay Wright era, Moore and Dixon is the conference’s most experienced duo in a year where much of the Big East is dealing with sweeping changes. The tides haven’t bypassed Philadelphia in a good way, as Neptune brought in TJ Bamba, Hakim Hart, and Tyler Burton in one of the best transfer portal hauls in the country. A promising freshman season out of guard Mark Armstrong has given the program high hopes as the primary ball-handler, and with him mixed in with the bounty of experience ‘Nova has on its roster, it’s hard to think they won’t be right back in the thick of the Big East race as well as a strong chance to return to the NCAA Tournament.
It’s been a long time since the Johnnies were a preseason Top 25 team. But when you hire Rick Pitino and bring in a multitude of impact newcomers, expectations are going to skyrocket, regardless of the NYC market. While so much is new in Queens, Joel Soriano is still the center (figuratively and literally) of this team. The senior big man averaged 15 points and 12 boards (fourth in Division 1) a year ago and now has some help in the backcourt. Jordan Dingle, Daniss Jenkins, and Naheim Alleyne are all starting-caliber guards who can run the offense as ball-handlers and scorers while being active enough to disrupt the perimeter. With nearly an entirely new roster, it’s hard to get a read on what this team’s ceiling is. But with an all-conference star in Soriano and a legend in Pitino at the helm, anything short of the NCAA Tournament will be a failure for the Red Storm.
No Ed Cooley, no problem? We’ll see about that one, but Kim English’s Friars look quite formidable on paper. The heart and soul of this team will be former Kentucky Wildcat Bryce Hopkins, who averaged 16 points and 8.5 rebounds a night, all but carrying Providence to the tournament last year. Devin Carter returns to run the point and will be key in taking the offensive pressure off Hopkins. Garwey Dual has a lot of freshman upside, while English’s star player at George Mason, Josh Oduro, hopes to hold down the paint against the talented bigs of the conference. On paper, PC has the go-to star and necessary supporting cast to compete in the Big East and have a stress-free Selection Sunday. The only question is, can Kim English coach at this level in order to get them further?
Xavier would be a shoo-in tournament team if it weren’t for their horrible string of luck. Jack Nunge, Colby Jones, Souley Boum, and Adam Kunkel are all out of town, while neither Zach Freemantle nor Jerome Hunter is expected to be available this season. If this were nearly any other program that lost its six best players, they’d have been left for dead already. However, this is Sean Miller, who has been known to get the best out of his guys. Even with his reputation, one has to wonder if his seven freshmen (tied for the most on a P6 team) or bounty of transfers can help the Musketeers stay afloat.
The Pirates showed flashes of what they could’ve been last year in its victories over Memphis, UConn, and Providence but could never translate it into consistent success. In year two under Shaheen Holloway, not many know if Seton Hall can improve into a surefire tournament team. Kadary Richmond is a great two-way player on the wing with length, but can he take the leap on offense as the team’s go-to scorer? Al-Amir Dawes will need to step up as a facilitator offensively in that case. The perimeter depth looks solid, but Jaden Bediako is unproven down low, and his progression could be the tipping point for the Pirates in 2024.
Ed Cooley is no stranger to surprising people. Having led multiple outmatched Providence teams to the dance, he’ll now be taking his talents to DC in hopes of reviving the once-legendary Hoyas. Even so, even Cooley admitted this rebuild might take a while. It’s certainly off to a good start, with Ish Missoud, Jayden Epps, and Dontrez Styles coming from Power Six programs. With a good core of experienced talent, as well as his own reputation, it’s hard to write Georgetown off from the NCAA Tournament picture totally, but a lot will need to go right for them to get there in 2024.
Conference Player of the Year: Ryan Kalkbrenner, Creighton
Conference Rookie of the Year: Stephon Castle, UConn
Conference Most Improved Player: Donovan Clingan, UConn
All-Conference First Team:
G Tyler Kolek, Marquette
G Justin Moore, Villanova
F Baylor Scheiremann, Creighton
F Bryce Hopkins, Providence
C Ryan Kalkbrenner, Creighton