Can Creighton dethrone a post-Jay Wright Villanova at the top?

Can Creighton dethrone a post-Jay Wright Villanova at the top?

As the 2022-23 men’s college basketball season draws closer, ESPN.com’s panel of experts is predicting the order of finish for the nation’s top conferences. Having already looked at the mid-majors, the American and the Pac-12, the focus now shifts to the Big East.

During the offseason, surprising news sent shockwaves throughout the entire college basketball landscape when Jay Wright announced he would retire and Kyle Neptune, a former Villanova assistant who had a one-year stint as Fordham’s head coach, would succeed him. Villanova’s pedigree under Wright changed the national perception of the Big East, which is one of college basketball’s perennial leaders each season.

But what does Wright’s absence mean? Can Villanova stay on top without him? Or will a team such as Creighton become the new leader of the pack? The Bluejays are the favorites to win the Big East for the first time since joining the league.

Elsewhere, two familiar faces are back at the programs where they first established their head-coaching credentials: Thad Matta returns to Butler, and Sean Miller takes over at Xavier. Meanwhile, Shaheen Holloway returns to Seton Hall, where he starred as a player, after leading Saint Peter’s on a historic Elite Eight run.

Find more preseason analysis here.


Big East 2022-23 superlatives

Player of the Year

Medcalf: Adama Sanogo, UConn
Borzello: Adama Sanogo, UConn
Gasaway: Adama Sanogo, UConn
Monday: Adama Sanogo, UConn

Newcomer of the Year

Medcalf: Cam Whitmore, Villanova
Borzello: Cam Whitmore, Villanova
Gasaway: Cam Whitmore, Villanova
Monday: Cam Whitmore, Villanova


Big East 2022-23 round table

Villanova has won at least one game in every NCAA tournament since 2014 — and the title twice in that stretch. Can Kyle Neptune keep Jay Wright’s streak going?

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Villanova commit, Cam Whitmore makes a nice move for a bucket in the McDonald’s All-American game.

Gasaway: While the possibility of an upset in the round of 64 is of course ever present, yes, Neptune does figure to have one of the best 32 teams in the nation this season, with room to spare. Eric Dixon, Brandon Slater and Caleb Daniels are back and they’re joined by potential 2023 lottery pick and (more importantly!) Jeff Borzello’s fantasy draft selection Cam Whitmore. The question with the Wildcats, however, is health. Whitmore may miss the start of the season due to thumb surgery, and Justin Moore is still rehabbing a torn Achilles.

Borzello: I agree. Whitmore’s long-term health is less of a concern than Moore’s, who suffered the Achilles injury in the final minute of last season’s Elite Eight win over Houston. There’s hope he can be back for the latter part of the season, but will he return to last year’s All-Big East form right away? Still, Neptune has the veterans, and I’ve always been a fan of freshman point guard Mark Armstrong.

Medcalf: Wright said he’d been thinking about retirement for a few years, which means he’d been thinking about next steps for some time, too. I don’t think he’d put Neptune in this spot unless he believed he could sustain a comparable level of success. Easier said than done, but Moore should be healthy in time for the NCAA tournament. And, the Wildcats could look like a second-weekend squad even before he is healthy. This isn’t Lincoln Riley going to USC and taking all of the top talent at Oklahoma with him. Wright put Neptune in a good position to excel and keep the streak going in his first year.

Monday: I run into Villanova fans constantly (an occupational hazard, if you will). The obvious question I get is, “Is Kyle as good as Jay?” The only intelligent answer, it seems to me, is that it’s extremely unlikely. This is no knock on Neptune. It’s a matter of probability. Jay Wright was the John Wooden of the post-realignment era. In one five-year span, Villanova was a No. 1 seed three times, a No. 2 seed twice and, of course, won two national championships. For good measure, the Wildcats never lost two games in a row during that time. In the “off” years, Wright collected a fourth 1-seed and two more Final Four appearances. It’s a genuinely incredibly summary for a non-FBS school in the modern era.

Villanova will surely continue to win NCAA tournament games, including this season. But it’s inhuman to expect any decade of any program to match what Wright leaves behind on the Main Line.


Creighton seems to have the talent for another NCAA tournament run in 2023, returning Ryan Nembhard, Ryan Kalkbrenner and Trey Alexander, and adding South Dakota State transfer Baylor Scheierman. What are your expectations for the Bluejays?

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With Baylor Scheierman transferring to Creighton, relive some of his best plays from last season.

Medcalf: In his 20-plus years as a Division I head coach, McDermott has two conference championships (one in the Missouri Valley Conference, one in the Big East) and one second-weekend appearance in the NCAA tournament (2021). When a team adds a player like Scheierman, the expectations make sense. Creighton has what it needs to win the Big East — which it should — and make a Final Four run. If McDermott fails to lead this team to its ceiling, however, a streak of underachievement in the postseason will continue for the longtime head coach.

Gasaway: Creighton posted far and away the league’s worst turnover rate (21%) in Big East play and, oh by the way, this offense couldn’t make 3s (31%). Yet somehow this same team went toe-to-toe with Kansas for 40 minutes in the round of 32, despite missing two starters. This is a tough group that defends the paint and denies 3-point looks. Speaking of those looks, last season Schelerman drained 46% with the Jackrabbits.

Monday: For all of Creighton’s success under Greg McDermott, the postseason has not been kind during the school’s Big East years. But the Bluejays finally cracked their “first weekend jinx” in 2021, and are now 4-5 in the NCAA tournament and 0-4 in Big East tournament title game appearances. However, this is Creighton’s best team since Doug McDermott was national Player of the Year in the school’s Big East debut season. Anything less than a return to the Sweet 16 — and perhaps beyond — will, and should, be considered a disappointment.

Borzello: A Big East regular-season title. The Bluejays are a preseason top-10 team and, combined with Villanova’s coaching change and injuries, should be the preseason Big East favorite. Realizing those expectations will require a big jump from last season, when they finished 50th in the country in adjusted efficiency margin at KenPom and, in a stark contrast to past teams, really struggled offensively but played at a high level on the defensive end. But one of the youngest teams in the country is now a year older, and Scheierman adds significant pop as a shooter and passer. Don’t forget Arthur Kaluma, either; the sophomore is a projected NBA draft pick.


Providence enters 2022-23 without the five starters who won the Friars the league title last season. What does Ed Cooley have to do in the short and long term for a repeat?

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Jared Bynum scores 27 points, including the dagger 3-pointer in the third overtime as Providence tops Xavier.

Borzello: A repeat feels like a tall task, but the Friars were also picked seventh in the Big East last preseason. Cooley reloaded heavily via the transfer portal, adding Noah Locke (Louisville), Devin Carter (South Carolina), Moore, Bryce Hopkins (Kentucky) and Corey Floyd Jr. (UConn). At least three could start from day one, joining Jared Bynum — who is poised for a starring role. Short-term, Providence will inevitably take a step back, but long-term, Cooley has this program buzzing.

Medcalf: Last season, Providence exceeded expectations with that Big East title run. It also ended a remarkable streak for Cooley: it was the first time since 2014 that one of his Providence squads failed to finish top-five in defensive efficiency in league play. This matters here, because it shows that Cooley has managed to lead one of the Big East’s best defensive teams despite personnel changes through those years. Adding Clifton Moore (2.8 BPG last season at La Salle) should help with title aspirations once again. And Cooley’s reputation for molding veteran groups into grimy, competitive units will help him identify and attract those players in the transfer portal and help Providence thrive in the future.

Gasaway: Providence last year was perhaps the oldest team we’ve ever seen — in a good way. In terms of average age weighted by minutes, the Friars clocked in at a notably seasoned 23.3 years. Conversely, this year they have a slightly younger look even with 23-year-olds like Bynum, Locke and Moore. A repeat of the 2022 magic may not be in the offing, but Cooley has shown — and will long remember — how to build the ultimate in veteran rosters.

Monday: It seems as if we begin every season with Providence on the bubble, and here we are again. All summer and fall, the Friars have floated among our “Last Four In” and “First Four Out” groups. But I’ve learned not to bet against Ed Cooley. Providence isn’t winning the Big East regular-season race, but it can absolutely back-door an NCAA tournament bid with a restocked roster of veteran transfers. If I was a Providence fan, I’d be blocking off dates for the First Four in Dayton.


Who or what are we not talking nearly enough about in the Big East?

Gasaway: It’s a rare day when we’re not talking enough about Sean Miller, but, well, we’re not talking enough about Sean Miller. For starters we can’t call this his “first” season at Xavier. (It’s not Thad Matta’s first season at Butler either. Curious!) Whatever this season is termed, Miller inherits Jack Nunge, Zach Freemantle and Colby Jones. Yes, this team missed the NCAA tournament and yes, the previous coach is now at Miami OH. Still, as of early February, Xavier was 16-5 and being projected as a No. 5 seed. We could be hearing from Miller and the Musketeers in 2023.

Borzello: I’m assuming Gasaway read my Biggest Questions entering 2022-23 piece from last week, in which I pegged Xavier as a potential option to be this season’s Auburn or Arizona. Either way, I’m on board with the Musketeers. Miller proved himself to be one of the best coaches in the country during his time at Arizona and Xavier before that. And he’s inheriting a talented group that includes one of the best big-man duos in the country in Nunge and Freemantle, and a breakout candidate in Jones — plus an intriguing trio of backcourt newcomers. Miller produced a string of high-level defenses at his previous stops; if he can get this group to guard like those teams, Xavier can push near the top of the league.

Medcalf: Yeah, I think it’s Sean Miller, too. I’m curious how the narrative around him changes with the NCAA’s handling of his offenses cases. The IARP process seemingly exonerated Penny Hardaway. If the same process gives Miller a slap on the wrist for the alleged misconduct at Arizona, the storyline will go away — especially in a world where athletes are now signing multimillion-dollar NIL deals. With that cloud gone, it will be easy to see Miller has put together a strong squad with second-weekend potential, while positioning himself to return to the highs he enjoys during his first stint in Cincinnati. All of the NIT-winning squad’s veterans could have left when Miller arrived. They stayed. That means something.

Monday: Put me in Danny Hurley’s UConn camp. Since rejoining the Big East, I’ve always thought the Huskies would be the team to eventually dethrone Villanova. They’re arguably set up better for the long run than any other Big East school. UConn is 24-12 in its first two Big East seasons, with a pair of single-digit NCAA seeds. So if not this year, the breakthrough is coming soon, in both the conference race and in March. As long as Hurley stays out of his own way, he is the coach who can bring a fifth national (men’s) championship to Storrs.


Big East 2022-23 conference champion predictions

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