In a carryover from the early spring, the Big East could be the most interesting conference in college basketball this season. UConn is the reigning champion, having won a fifth national title in men's basketball since 1999 — after one of the most statistically dominant NCAA Tournament marches in history.
Beyond that, the league got gusts of buzz with spicy coaching movement. Ed Cooley abandoned Providence to remain in-league and head down to the District, where he'll try to restore some luster at Georgetown. Cooley's controversial decision sparked a passion from within Providence's fan base that burn so long as Cooley is leading the Hoyas. His replacement is former George Mason coach Kim English, who is regarded as one of the up-and-coming young coaches in the game.
The biggest hire of all, of course, was St. John's bringing Rick Pitino back to New York City and coaching at Madison Square Garden. Pitino, 71, flipped almost the entire Red Storm roster and already has SJU more relevant than it's been in years — at least heading into the season.
And oh: Marquette swept both titles in this league last season, brought back almost its entire roster and is favored to repeat. Should be an awesome next five-plus months for this conference. Let's take a look around, and we'll start with none other than Marquette.
Preseason Player of the Year
Tyler Kolek | PG | Marquette
Flashback to 12 months ago. The scene: Big East Media Day in New York. The preseason poll comes out, and Marquette is picked ninth. Kolek, at this point, is projected to be a quality starter for the Golden Eagles but nobody views him as a league MVP. He's asked about where his team is picked, and fires an off-the-cuff, insta-legendary response.
The quote of the day.— Matt St. Jean (@mattstdream) October 18, 2022
When asked how he felt about Marquette being picked to finish 9th in the Big East, Tyler Kolek only had two words:
It would become a rallying cry for MU, which went on to win the Big East regular-season and postseason championships. Kolek became one of the best guards in the nation (12.9 points, 7.5 assists, 4.1 rebounds, 1.8 steals, 39.8 3-point%). In a league well-stocked with high-end talent, it's only fair and proper to give the conference's reigning player of the year the same designation for the preseason. Kolek will try to build out an NBA draft profile this season as he operates as the head of the snake on a Final Four contender.
Four more players to watch
Ryan Kalkbrenner | C | Creighton: A steadfast defender, if he makes another big stride as an all-around big, Kalkbrenner will be a threat to win player of the year in this league. He averaged 15.9 points, 6.1 rebounds and 2.1 blocks as a junior. I expect all those numbers to increase.
Donovan Clingan | C | UConn: He's hopefully on track to be able to play to start the season, but Clingan is missing preseason action due to a foot strain, according to the school. After coming off the bench last season to give relief to Adama Sanogo, a lot is expected of the loping 7-2 NBA prospect.
Justin Moore | CG | Villanova: The heart of a Villanova program that is looking to shake off last season's iffy vibes. Moore has a chance to put up a huge season and earn his spot next to some of the best guards in that school's history.
Bryce Hopkins | SF | Providence: Here is your dark-horse pick to win Big East POY. Hopkins (15.8 ppg, 8.5 rpg) is a do-it-all player for a team that will need him on a nightly basis in order to keep the pace in chasing an NCAA Tournament bid.
Preseason Freshman of the Year
Stephon Castle | CG | UConn
The Huskies are expected to start the 6-6 wing from Day 1. He'll be sure to dazzle thanks to his athletic gifts combined with unselfish tendencies. Castle is the prized recruit in a very good UConn freshman group. The Covington, Georgia, native was ranked ninth overall in the class by 247Sports. His dynamism with his size makes him an easy prospect to tap as a potential one-and-done, but before we can get to that, we expect to see him emerge as the most impactful first-year player in the Big East.
Predicted order of finish
|It's atypical for Marquette to be this highly regarded heading into a season, but Shaka Smart and his players have earned their position. Kolek will steer the ship, but the main reason MU is the pick to win the league is due to 85% of the team's minutes returning from last season. (H/T, BartTorvik.com.) The Golden Eagles lost Olivier-Maxence Prosper to the NBA, but otherwise every major contributor is back from a team that went 29-7. Kolek will be flanked in Marquette's three-man backcourt by Kam Jones and Stevie Mitchell. Oso Ighodaro (who is undervalued nationally) will be among the best forwards in the Big East. A basketbal renaissance is underway in Milwaukee, and the one silver lining to losing as a No. 2 seed in the second round of the NCAAs: It gives Smart's group a full plate of motivation to right those wrongs.
|Our collective pick to have the Huskies at No. 2 means that we think Clingan will recover from his foot issue and turn into a top-three player in the conference as Connecticut's starting center. Dan Hurley got Tristen Newton back; he set a program record last season by recording two triple-doubles in one year. Another returnee who will break out: forward Alex Karaban. Look for him to hit more than a few clutch shots this season. The Huskies also brought over Cam Spencer to handle the ball and play alongside Newton. That was not so quietly a fairly crucial transfer add for the reigning champs. Huskies fans will have fun watching Castle go to work, but this freshman class is dripping with potential. Look for Solo Ball, Jaylin Stewart and Jayden Ross to all have their moments at some point. Hurley's team thrived when it wasn't perceived as a favorite, then got more powerful once it was clear it had the best team in the NCAAs. Will this year's group be able to handle top-10 preseason hype?
|The Jays were a play away from making the Final Four. They could break through in 2024. Ryan Kalkbrenner has All-America potential as the man in the middle and one of the best defenders in the country. He's back alongside Baylor Scheierman and Trey Alexander. There's no stronger returning trio of starters in the Big East that that one. Greg McDermott lost Ryan Nembhard to Gonzaga, which is why Creighton is narrowly No. 3 here behind UConn. Utah State transfer Steven Ashworth is going to be a floor general; get to know him now. Expectations for Ashworth's production are high, and we think he'll meet them. The other starter is Mason Miller, a sophomore who is going to jump from nine minutes per game to about 25. The Bluejays have questions about their depth, but they'll once again easily win 20-plus games thanks to having one of the most dependable starting fives in the country.
|There are four teams that could conceivably win the Big East, and this is the last of them. Kyle Neptune's 17-17 debut season was rocky. Thanks to Justin Moore returning and Eric Dixon back to hammer home in the post, Nova should be an NCAA Tournament team. Neptune will also have sophomore Mark Armstrong, who is bound to make big strides and could be a projected top-five Big East player a year from now. The reason Nova is getting some buzz heading into November is the trio of transfers who came on in the spring. T.J. Bamba (Washington State) is a bouncy scoring guy at the 2. Tyler Burton (Richmond) averaged 19 points last season and will be a top-four scorer on this squad. Hakim Hart (Maryland) should fill in the holes and be a Nova-type glue guy. There's fair questions about VU's depth, but it would be a surprise if this team doesn't work its way into the polls again for multiple weeks this season.
|You hire Rick Pitino, you see your program get picked in the top five in his first season. It's only proper. Pitino has overhauled St. John's roster, and nobody truly knows how this will go, but history suggests he is going to get results and have this team moving in the right direction — with haste. Almost the entire roster was playing somewhere else seven months ago. The one returnee is big man Joel Soriano, who will be a Second Team All-League guy at worst if he repeats his 15-and-12 averages from a season ago. The transfers expected to have the most impact are Jordan Dingle (Penn), Daniss Jenkins (Iona), RJ Luis (UMass) and Chris Ledlum (Harvard). There's also former UConn Husky Naheim Alleyne in the mix. Freshman Simeon Wilcher will come on in the back half of the season, probably. It feels good to be excited about Johnnies hoops for the first time in a long time. We're projecting this team to make the NCAAs as a double-digit seed.
|Take a power-conference job for the first time and find yourself projected in the top half of the league? Nice gig if you can get it. That's what 35-year-old Kim English has before him in Providence. You read about Hopkins up top, but who else is in uniform here? Devin Carter is back to run the floor, and he'll be vital. His play may well determine if PC can break into the Big Dance. The best freshman in the conference not at UConn could prove to be wing Garwey Dual, who is a projected starter and should be a blast. But if you want the X factor, look at 6-9 small-ball 5 Josh Oduro, who followed English from George Mason and will likely thrive being labeled third or fourth down the list on scouting reports.
|This is a drop-off for Xavier after it made the Sweet 16 as a 3-seed last season in Sean Miller's first year back with the program. It might well be the only time in Miller's tenure moving forward that Xavier is projected seventh or worse in the preseason. A major part of this is the losses of Zach Freemantle (foot) and Jerome Hunter (injury not disclosed). Miller said recently he doesn't anticipate either will be available this season. Combine that with the departures of Souley Boum, Colby Jones, Jack Nunge and Adam Kunkel, and that's A LOT to lose. If any coach can overcome that, it's Miller. He'll be tasking sophomore guard Desmond Claude with being the star this season. Claude will be joined by Western Kentucky transfer/combo guard Dayvion McKnight (can he have Boum-like impact?) and Rice transfer Quincy Olivari. Beyond that, it's a whole lotta learnin': Xavier has seven freshmen on its roster, matching the most of any power-conference program.
|Probably the mystery team of the league for '23-24. Year 2 awaits for Shaheen Holloway, who will no doubt coach his team to a couple of big upsets at some point over the next five months. (The former St. Peter's coach knows a thing or two about that.) The Pirates are going to be a scouting headache in this league because of their veteran three-guard attack who will not take a night off. Kadary Richmond is back for another season, joined by returnee Al-Amir Dawes. They'll be helped by Dylan Addae-Wusu, who scooted south from St. John's to keep his name known in the Big East.
|I spoke at length with Ed Cooley earlier this offseason and, as is his style, Cooley was self-deprecating and honest about what Georgetown's facing in his first season on the bench. To paraphrase: He knows it's going to take a couple of years to get this program and its expectations to his level. To expect results and wishes granted in a matter of 4-8 months is to potentially set up for further failure. That said, our outlook is rosier than some other prognostications. The Hoyas hope to steal a few games thanks to power-conference transfers Ish Massoud (Kansas State), Dontrez Styles (North Carolina) and Jayden Epps (Illinois). The biggest factor to some success could be super-senior center transfer Supreme Cook, who comes by way of Fairfield U — the place Cooley began his head coaching career.
|Thad Matta has only twice won fewer than 20 games in a season — his two most recent ones (Ohio State 2016-17, and last season). The 2022-23 run was his only campaign to finish below .500, and as a result, almost the entire roster has been flippped. The Bulldogs will look to play spoiler as they try to keep footing in a Big East with some big bullies. They brought aboard in-league defensive specialist Posh Alexander (via St. John's), but Butler's going to need to make major strides on offense to outplay our projection here. UC Irvine transfer DJ Davis will try to keep his 3-point accuracy level (40% last season) as he bumps up a tier.
|Tony Stubblefield's team could well surprise and work its way to eighth or ninth in the pecking order, but with six transfers inbound after yet another forgetful season (10-23), the Blue Demons have a lot to prove for a sea of skeptics. The team is lacking in size and experience, so it needs to play like it has nothing to lose. Forward Da'Sean Nelson and transfer Elijah Fisher could combine to average 25 points this season.
Most overrated team
UConn: I guess? As things stand now, I don't think there's a truly overrated team in the league. Relative to buzz, maybe you can make the case for UConn, but only in this way: The Huskies are under consideration for preseason top-10 status nationally. That's not unreasonable, but given the amount of talent they lost and how good the top four/five should be in the Big East, it would not stun me if the follow-up campaign led to some ups and downs, with UConn needing some time to find its way with a batch of freshmen who should get plenty of playing time.
Most underrated team
Butler: Very little attention being paid to this team, but Thad Matta's a good coach and it's not inconceivable to see the Bulldogs rise and play spoiler in this league. Someone almost always subverts expectations in the Big East. Butler is my most likely candidate for '23-24.