Big East preview: Newcomer Creighton leads charge

Lindy's Sports, special to The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

For 33 years, Big East basketball looked pretty much the same.
The Big East began on the hardwood, and no matter how hard the league tried to become relevant as a football conference, it was always way in the background.
So it is appropriate that, in its latest iteration, the Big East is all about hoops.
And though long-time stalwarts Pittsburgh, Syracuse and Connecticut are gone - to the ACC in the two-year rush for football TV money - the seven schools that stayed are capable of carrying on the spirit, if not the full power, of the Big East at its peak.
"The Catholic 7" of DePaul, Georgetown, Marquette, Providence, St. John's, Seton Hall and Villanova includes five longtime Big East denizens and a pair of well-suited interlopers. The decision to add Xavier, Creighton and Butler - with Saint Louis and Dayton jumping aboard next year - was a sound one and strengthens the league. The Fox Sports 1 TV deal is a solid move as well and guarantees the Big East a marquee spot on a network that aims to do big things.
It's about as good an outcome as there could have been, considering how much the football schools wanted a place of their own. The Catholic institutions and their new brethren kept the name, the history and the records, while everybody else scattered or huddled together in the American Athletic Conference - which nobody will ever mistake for the Big East, even on the venerable conference's worst day.
It's up to the new Big East to approach the standards of its predecessor. That won't be easy, given the big-time defections. And it will be interesting to see if a league that doesn't have the cachet of big-time football can be a dominant hoops confederation, no matter how counterintuitive that may seem.
The most important thing going forward is whether the league will be able to have the same kind of at-the-top leadership as its predecessor.
While schools such as Georgetown, Marquette and Villanova have enjoyed tremendous results over the past few decades - and Xavier has been an Atlantic 10 powerhouse - the other schools in the league have had spotty records. It is imperative they step up to give the Big East balance and win big when the more traditionally strong schools falter.
For now, the "new" Big East is open for business and trying to make its way by following an old model. Whether that can work in today's climate remains to be seen.

1. Creighton
Good News: The return of Doug McDermott is huge, but so is the sixth year granted to guard Grant Gibbs.
Bad News: The Blue Jays lack interior heft, so they will need to come ready to battle.
Our Call: You surprised? This team succeeds in any conference, anywhere.

2. Marquette
Good News: The front line should be strong, with Davante Gardner and Chris Otule able to bang with anybody.
Bad News: The losses of Vander Blue and Junior Cadougan will hurt, and there is a question at point guard.
Our Call: The Golden Eagles have some work to do, but they remain the class of the reconfigured league.

3. Butler
Good News: The Bulldogs have talent in Roosevelt Jones and Khyle Marshall, and Kellen Dunham can hit the long ball.
Bad News: The loss of Brad Stevens to the Boston Celtics in July would have lesser programs reeling.
Our Call: Stevens left the party, but stocked the fridge full of goodies. This predicted finish could even be too low.

4. Georgetown
Good News: The Hoyas will have the league's best backcourt, and UCLA transfer Josh Smith could be a true force in the middle.
Bad News: The departure of Otto Porter and the loss of Greg Whittington will hurt the team's offensive output.
Our Call: The Hoyas aren't a perfect team, but they have enough to challenge for the title.

5. Villanova
Good News: The Wildcats have a strong perimeter game, led by Ryan Arcidiacono and JayVaughn Pinkston.
Bad News: Must improve their perimeter defense and get some rebounding help inside.
Our Call: The Wildcats have enough to get back to the NCAA Tournament and are contenders here.

6. Xavier
Good News: There's strength at the point - thanks to Semaj Christon - and solid weapons in Dee Davis and Isaiah Philmore.
Bad News: Glaring need for additional scoring help.
Our Call: Should be improved upon last year's 17 wins, but still not ready for title contention.

7. Providence
Good News: There's a solid core of starters, led by high-scoring guard Bryce Cotton.
Bad News: Need big contributions from new faces, or their depth will be almost nonexistent.
Our Call: Coach Ed Cooley has the team going in the right direction, but the Friars are still a year away.

8. St. John's
Good News: There's plenty of talent, beginning with scorers D'Angelo Harrison and JaKarr Sampson.
Bad News: Still too young to make a big move and must play more consistently.
Our Call: Will look great on some nights and not so hot on others, but they are moving in the right direction.

9. Seton Hall
Good News: Fuquan Edwin is a very good scorer, and Sterling Gibbs - a transfer from Texas - will help out.
Bad News: There's not much else good news and they lack the punch to hang every night.
Our Call: If you want to vote for the coach on the hot seat in this league, it's Kevin Willard.

10. DePaul
Good News: Brandon Young and Cleveland Melvin are solid scorers.
Bad News: DePaul doesn't have enough to go with them, even if freshman guard Billy Garrett Jr. is as advertised.
Our Call: Oliver Purnell's job hasn't gotten any easier.

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