Big East basketball preview: Can Creighton finally knock off Villanova in the post-Jay Wright era?
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Villanova’s run atop the Big East may be over.
After nearly a decade of dominance in the conference, longtime coach Jay Wright retired at the end of last season — which opens the door for a new leader in one of the best conferences in the country.
That should absolutely be Creighton, which has perhaps its best team in recent memory this fall. Xavier and Sean Miller could also make a run, and Shaheen Holloway will take over at Seton Hall after leading Saint Peter's on their miraculous run in the NCAA tournament last season.
Oh, and Kyle Neptune’s team at Villanova could easily lead the Wildcats to yet another conference title. He’s picking up right where Wright left off.
Here’s everything you need to know about the Big East:
Ranked Big East Teams
For the full Associated Press preseason Top 25 poll, click here.
No. 9. Creighton
No. 16. Villanova
Others receiving votes: UConn (101), Xavier (29)
Preseason Coaches’ Poll
This poll was conducted by the Big East. Coaches could not vote for their own team.
6. St. John’s
7. Seton Hall
Notable national championship odds, via BetMGM
Gonzaga is the preseason favorite at +900.
It’s finally time for McDermott, Creighton
It’s time for Greg McDermott to finally get it done in Omaha.
His Creighton squad is not only capable of claiming its first solo Big East title, but making a deep run in the NCAA tournament. If things go well, a Final Four is absolutely a possibility.
The Blue Jays are that good.
Creighton brings back three key starters from last season’s team — which fell in the second round in the tournament despite going toe-to-toe with eventual national champion Kansas — starting with 7-foot center Ryan Kalkbrenner. The first-team all-conference selection and reigning Big East Defensive Player of the Year averaged 13.1 points, 7.7 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per game last season. Trey Alexander, Ryan Nembhard and Arthur Kaluma are all back, too.
They will be joined by South Dakota State transfer Baylor Scheierman, who was the reigning Summit League Player of the Year and averaged an impressive 16.2 points and 7.8 rebounds while shooting nearly 47% from behind the arc last season.
While Creighton and McDermott have struggled in the postseason in the past — their first weekend streak is finally over — and the team both had a terrible turnover rate and struggled from behind the arc last season, the expectations here are extremely high.
With this group, there’s no reason why the Blue Jays can’t finally take over the Big East and successfully make a deep tournament run. A top-seed in March is absolutely within range.
Kyle Neptune mimicking Jay Wright’s success
The Jay Wright era is over.
The longtime Villanova coach retired after last season, ending an impressive 28-year coaching run that included a pair of national titles for the Wildcats.
So, it’s now Kyle Neptune’s team in Philadelphia — and his first group looks like the Villanova of old, which is kind of by design.
“I never focused on not being him,” Neptune said of Wright, who he worked with as an assistant for years, via The Associated Press. “He’s a Hall of Famer. To me, the best coach in college basketball in the last 10 years. I would like to be a lot like him.”
Villanova will eventually be run around star freshman Cam Whitmore, though just not right away. The five-star Rivals.com recruit, who is widely expected to be a top-10 pick in the draft in April, underwent surgery to fix his right thumb last month. It’s unclear when he’ll be able to return.
Justin Moore, who averaged 14.8 points last season during Villanova’s run to the Final Four, will make his return eventually, too. He’s still recovering from a torn Achilles.
Neptune will have several veterans back in Eric Dixon, Brandon Slater and Caleb Daniels, who should help ease the transition and hold it down until Whitmore and Moore are able to play.
Villanova will undoubtedly be in the mix to win a Big East title for a 10th consecutive season this spring.
Can Sean Miller get Xavier back to the NCAA tournament?
Sean Miller is back in Cincinnati after his tumultuous ending in Arizona.
And while Xavier has struggled in recent years — the program hasn’t been to the NCAA tournament since 2018 — Miller has the pieces to finally break that streak to kick off his second stint with the Musketeers.
"You can always sense when a team is hungry,” Miller said at media day, via The Enquirer. “We haven't been to the tournament in four years and this is a group that's really hungry to change that.”
Miller has ex-Iowa forward Jack Nunge back to lead his group. Nunge put up a career-best 13.4 points and 7.4 rebounds last season with the Musketeers while helping them win the NIT championship. He’s joined by fellow big-man Zach Freemantle, who put up 10.4 points and 5.8 rebounds in his junior year, and guard Colby Jones.
Though he comes with plenty of baggage, Miller is undoubtedly one of the best coaches in the country. If he can get this group working together — they’ll match up with No. 13 Indiana in their fourth game of the season, which will be a great first test — Xavier’s dry streak in March should come to an end.
Notable early games
No. 13 Indiana at Xavier | Nov. 18
No. 16 Villanova at Michigan State | Nov. 18
No. 25 Texas Tech at No. 9 Creighton * | Nov. 21