2013-14 Conference Previews: Big East
First up is the new Big East conference, made up of the non-FBS football schools from the old Big East, as well as mid-major powers Butler, Creighton and Xavier. The loss of Syracuse, UConn, Louisville, and Notre Dame may have taken away a good deal of star power, but this will still be one of the most competitive conferences in the country.
Calling this a transition season for the Bulldogs may be a major understatement. Not only has Butler joined the new version of the Big East, but Head Coach Brad Stevens was tabbed to take over the rebuilding Boston Celtics. On top of that, Roosevelt Jones, who was expected to be the leader of the team, broke his wrist during Butler’s Australia tour and will miss the season.
So where does this leave Butler? The options may be few, but they are there. The frontcourt of Khyle Marshall and Kameron Woods don’t have the size to replace the graduated Andrew Smith, but they are both athletic and tough defenders. Alex Barlow played some big minutes last year as a sophomore and he is capable of running the Bulldogs’ offense. Kellen Dunham is a talented wing, though he had some of the normal freshman inconsistencies last season, but expect him to likely be the team’s go-to scorer.
What to Watch For – Though Brad Stevens is gone, new coach Brandon Miller is a former Butler player and assistant coach. Still, heading into a new league without your best player is a tough way to start your career. On top of that, the early season schedule has some tough games. How will the team handle this transition and a possible bottom half of the league finish?
Another Big East newcomer, the Bluejays are in a much better position to handle the transition, and should be in competition for the top spot. Led by one of the top scorers in the country in Doug McDermott, Creighton possesses one of the most efficient offenses in the country. McDermott is capable of scoring from any spot on the floor, Avery Dingman and Ethan Wragge provide good size and shooting from the wings, and Grant Gibbs know show to get his guys the ball in perfect spots to make a play. Guards Jahenns Manigat and Austin Chatman are also both capable scorers and distributors. The defense doesn’t take many chances, but they play very good team defense and don’t leave teams a lot of space to get good shots off.
What to Watch For – Though the team doesn’t rely on having a classic big man in their schemes, Gregory Echenique provided them a rim protector who could bang bodies with other bigs. Will Artino got some playing time last year, but still isn’t very experienced. Freshman Zach Hanson may see himself thrown into the mix early, and it will be worth watching to see how quickly he adjusts to a prominent role.
Oliver Purnell’s tenure at DePaul hasn’t been very smooth so far, but there may be some reasons for optimism this year. Forward Cleveland Melvin and guard Brandon Young have been the Blue Demons’ leading scorers the past 3 seasons and there is no reason why that should not meet, or exceed, their senior year expectations. Guards Jamee Crocket and Charles McKinney are experienced and both play well in the open floor. Purdue transfer Sandi Marcius will give DePaul a strong big man who will help one of the worst rebounding teams in the league.
What to Watch For – Purnell is bringing in one of the best freshmen classes in his tenure and they will be expected to play big minutes quickly. Local star Billy Garrett Jr. is capable of handling many hats on the offensive end and should provide some flexibility when he is on the floor. DeJuan Marrero and R.J. Curington will provide depth on the wings, and Tommy Hamilton Jr. is a skilled wide body who could find consistent frontcourt rotation minutes. How they handle big responsibility early in their careers could dictate how this season goes for the Blue Devils.
The Hoyas lost 1 player from last season’s 25 win team, but it doesn’t get much more important than Otto Porter. Still, John Thompson III has a system that works and minimal adjustments will need to be made to keep the team near the top of the Big East. The backcourt of Markel Starks and D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera are both capable of big scoring games, and Starks is the kind of experienced point guard the Hoyas have relied on the past few years. Mikael Hopkins, Moses Ayegba and Nate Lubick aren’t flashy in any way, but they handle their roles well, while Jabril Trawick will need to find a way to increase his production with a bigger role. Sophomore Stephen Domingo didn’t show much last year, but he is a capable scorer, and freshman Reggie Cameron has a game that fits well with the Hoyas’ style of play.
What to Watch For – UCLA transfer Josh Smith is scheduled to be eligible for the start of the 2nd semester, though there is still a chance that he may play sooner. As soon as he can play, Smith could be a game-changer for the Hoyas. A skilled offensive player, Smith will add another element to the offense, but the thing to watch for with him, as always, is his conditioning. He needs to be in shape, and this is likely his last chance, so he needs to make it work.
Buzz Williams will be without his 3 leading scorers from last season’s Elite Eight team, but he will still have a team that will capable of making a similar run this season. A lot of it has to do with what has become known as Marquette’s style of play – hard-nosed defense combined with a structured offense which doesn’t rely on stereotypical player roles. The wings will be the strength of this team with Jamil Wilson, Steve Taylor, Jr., and Todd Mayo, all able to score from different spots on the floor. Chris Otule and Davante Gardner have different styles of play, but combined give the Golden Eagles strong play on both ends of the floor. Derrick Wilson will be tabbed to take over from Junior Cadougan at the point, but he hasn’t proved yet what he is capable of. Freshmen JaJuan Johnson, Deonte Burton, and Duane Wilson, as well as JUCO transfer Jameel McKay will give the team some depth.
What to Watch For – As detailed above, there are a lot of options for Williams to go to here, and the style of play will sustain the team even through off nights. The big question though will be who is going to be the go-to player; the guy the team will turn to when it needs to make a play. Last year it was Vander Blue. The likely candidate is Wilson, though Mayo has a bit of swagger to his game, for good and bad. It will be interesting to see who Williams turns to in Marquette’s first close game.