The Big East is coming off, statistically, its weakest season since, well, maybe the 1990s. It’s not just the barely acceptable four bids to the NCAA Tournament (matching lowest the league’s had in three-plus decades). Beyond that, if you go by KenPom.com’s algorithmic evaluation, the Big East ranked No. 6 in 2020-21, matching its lowest standing dating back to the 2001-02 season, when the then-14-team, two-division conference at least sent six teams dancing.
Are we in for another four-bid run? History suggests no. Since realigning with the Catholic 7 in 2013, the league averages 5.3 NCAA bids, and it’s been the fourth-best league on average in that span. We’ll see. The good news is Villanova should still be elite, giving the conference a bona fide national title contender yet again. In fact, here are my top five Big East storylines heading into the season.
Jay Wright, fresh off his Hall of Fame induction, aims for eighth league title in nine-year spanXavier and UConn vying for No. 2 statusGeorgetown’s curious follow-up to magical Big East Tournament titleShaka Smart tries to reboot Marquette — and his careerExpansion on the horizon with Gonzaga? Wichita State?
That last one would be a biggie if it came to pass during this season. No indication the league definitely will expand (and you can make the argument it shouldn’t), but it’s at least earnestly considering that as an option as we speak. Now let’s get to the awards and predictions.
Big East Preseason Player of the Year
Collin Gillespie, Villanova
The super senior has 118 games, 1,264 points, 361 assists, 304 rebounds, 115 steals, five kinds of league titles and a national championship on his Villanova résumé. He’s heady, yet pugnacious when the situation calls for it. As the undisputed leader of the preseason favorite, Gillespie is the only practical choice for this award heading into November. Teammate Justin Moore might eventually prove as critical, while St. John’s Julian Champagnie and Xavier’s Paul Scruggs will also be in the conversation later in the year. But Gillespie — coming off an MCL injury that ended his season in March — is a big-stage point guard with consistent two-way ability, a reliable jumper and the poise to run the show for one of the very best programs in the sport.
Big East Preseason Coach of the Year
Jay Wright, Villanova
Xavier’s Travis Steele and UConn’s Dan Hurley finished right behind Wright for this, but who else are we supposed to award this to prior to the regular season? If you have the overwhelming preseason favorite despite losing a first round NBA Draft pick, then go ahead and take the fake hardware. Wright, 59, was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in September. He has won 72% of his games at VU (490-189) and should have the Wildcats comfortably successful and easily good enough to be an NCAA Tournament team for a 10th consecutive season.
Big East Preseason Freshman of the Year
Aminu Mohammed, Georgetown
Was the first five-star commitment of Patrick Ewing’s coaching tenure going to be the next prestigious big man in Georgetown lore? Not exactly. Mohammed is a two-guard and someone who will likely be a stat stuffer immediately for the Hoyas. He was ranked 23rd in his class, No. 3 among shooting guards nationally. Critically, was a local prospect out of Washington, D.C. (Before he played in Missouri later in his high school career.) For Ewing to get someone from inside the District to stay home and play for Georgetown is huge. The Hoyas are undergoing another year of roster reconstruction, but you’ll want to see Mohammed play often.
Predicted order of finish
Most overrated team
Butler will not be overrated on a national level; we are only discussing this in the context of our league preview and where we as a collective are projecting each team. So I will fade the Bulldogs, who I don’t think are finishing in the top half of the league. Personal prediction: Seventh place and 19 wins at season’s end.
I’m not saying Ed Cooley’s team is a guarantee to make the Big Dance. But with Nate Watson firmly in the conversation as one of the five best players in the Big East, the Friars are being too collectively doubted by my colleagues above in the eight hole. Personal prediction: Sixth place, PC finishes the season with 23 wins and makes the NIT.