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Sports Illustrated
Sports Illustrated
Kevin Sweeney

Men’s College Hoops Preview: The Big East Is Loaded

As part of its 2023–24 men’s basketball preseason coverage, Sports Illustrated is rolling out previews for each of the six high-major conferences. Next up is the Big East.

There may not be a more exciting conference on paper than the Big East, thanks to a recent influx of coaching talent that will produce headline-generating matchups all season long. From Rick Pitino at St. John’s to Ed Cooley stabilizing Georgetown and other recent hires like Shaka Smart at Marquette and Sean Miller at Xavier, no league boasts a deeper coaching roster than this one. It also features the defending national champion UConn Huskies, who are among the group of teams at the top of these projected standings with legitimate title aspirations in 2023–24. Buckle up, this should be fun.

More CBB Previews: The Big 12 Gets a New LookCan the ACC Bounce Back? | Top 20 Newcomers | Caitlin Clark’s Amazing Iowa Journey Continues

SI’s picks for …

Player of the Year: Tyler Kolek, Marquette

Newcomer of the Year: Cam Spencer, UConn

Dark-Horse Team: Providence

First-Team All-Conference:

  • Tyler Kolek, Marquette
  • Bryce Hopkins, Providence
  • Oso Ighodaro, Marquette
  • Ryan Kalkbrenner, Creighton
  • Donovan Clingan, UConn

SI’s predicted order of finish:

1. UConn

  • PG Tristen Newton
  • SG Cam Spencer
  • SF Stephon Castle
  • PF Alex Karaban
  • C Donovan Clingan

As expected, the Huskies sustained heavy losses from last year’s national championship team. Final Four Most Outstanding Player Adama Sanogo, first-rounder Jordan Hawkins and elite glue guy Andre Jackson all turned pro, but don’t expect a huge drop-off. Center Donovan Clingan seems poised to explode after biding his time behind Sanogo a season ago, and the veteran backcourt duo of Tristen Newton and Cam Spencer should be a stabilizing force. If freshman Stephon Castle is as good as advertised, repeating is not out of the question.

UConn lost plenty from last year’s title team, but still enters the season as the Big East front-runner.

Robert Deutsch/USA TODAY Sports

2. Marquette

  • PG Tyler Kolek
  • SG Stevie Mitchell
  • SF Kam Jones
  • PF David Joplin
  • C Oso Ighodaro

Marquette won both the Big East’s regular season and tournament crown over UConn a season ago and brings back four starters. With Bob Cousy Award contender Tyler Kolek and elite passing big Oso Ighodaro back, the impeccable ball movement that made this offense nearly impossible to stop shouldn’t miss a beat. There isn’t a surefire NBA player on this roster, and replacing O-Max Prosper at power forward won’t be easy, but the Golden Eagles are a safe bet to be a top-10 team.

3. Creighton

  • PG Steven Ashworth
  • SG Trey Alexander
  • SF Baylor Scheierman
  • PF Mason Miller
  • C Ryan Kalkbrenner

A pair of starters hit the portal after last year’s run to the Elite Eight, but Creighton seems well positioned to make noise in March again thanks to the return of its top three scorers. The biggest returner (literally and figuratively) is rim-protecting big Ryan Kalkbrenner, whose two-way impact is nearly unmatched in college basketball. Shooting guard Trey Alexander spurned NBA interest for a third year in Omaha, and Utah State transfer Steven Ashworth is the perfect addition at point guard to replace Ryan Nembhard after leading an elite offense at USU.

4. Villanova

  • PG Justin Moore
  • SG TJ Bamba
  • SF Tyler Burton
  • PF Hakim Hart
  • C Eric Dixon

Kyle Neptune may have had a rough first year on the floor, but Jay Wright’s successor had a monster offseason. Bringing back Justin Moore gives the Wildcats an elite scorer in the backcourt, and the Wildcats added three proven wings to upgrade the talent level on this roster. Neptune seems particularly excited about Washington State transfer TJ Bamba, who averaged nearly 16 points per game in the Pac-12 a season ago. If Moore fully returns to form after his March 2022 Achilles tear, this group has Final Four upside.

5. St. John’s

  • PG Daniss Jenkins
  • SG Jordan Dingle
  • SF RJ Luis
  • PF Chris Ledlum
  • C Joel Soriano

Excitement is sky-high in Queens about the Rick Pitino era, as the legendary coach makes his return to the highest level of college basketball with sights set on turning around a program that hasn’t won an NCAA tournament game in more than two decades. Pitino pulled off one of the most drastic roster overhauls in history, adding 12 new players (10 from the transfer portal) in one spring. Will it pay off? A pair of former Ivy League standouts in Jordan Dingle (Penn) and Chris Ledlum (Harvard) are headliners and should complement returning big man Joel Soriano well. Plus, I’ll take Pitino in virtually any head-to-head coaching battle.

After three years at Iona, Pitino is back in the Big East.

Wendell Cruz/USA TODAY Sports

6. Providence

  • PG Jayden Pierre
  • SG Garwey Dual
  • SF Devin Carter
  • PF Bryce Hopkins
  • C Josh Oduro

Longtime head coach Ed Cooley’s departure for Georgetown had Providence fans in their feelings, but the Friars stuck the landing by hiring rising star Kim English away from George Mason. English is off to a nice start, retaining star forward Bryce Hopkins and two-way wing Devin Carter, sealing the commitment of potential one-and-done Garwey Dual and bringing center Josh Oduro from George Mason. If sophomore Jayden Pierre runs the show effectively, this group should go dancing in English’s first season.

7. Xavier

  • PG Dayvion McKnight
  • SG Quincy Olivari
  • SF Desmond Claude
  • PF Lazar Djokovic
  • C Abou Ousmane

The Musketeers have had a rough offseason. Their top two returning players, forwards Zach Freemantle (foot) and Jerome Hunter (medical issue) aren’t expected to play this season, leaving Sean Miller lacking in the experience department. A trio of Conference USA transfers in Dayvion McKnight (Western Kentucky), Quincy Olivari (Rice) and Abou Ousmane (North Texas) will step into major roles right away, with McKnight a potential all-conference level guard. But it’s hard to envision this team contending for a conference title without Hunter or Freemantle.

8. Seton Hall

  • PG Kadary Richmond
  • SG Al-Amir Dawes
  • SF Dylan Addae-Wusu
  • PF Dre Davis
  • C Elijah Hutchins-Everett

Shaheen Holloway successfully established his hard-nosed defense-first style in his first year at Seton Hall, but the Pirates lacked the offensive firepower to seriously contend for an NCAA tournament berth. I see a similar reality this season, even with guards Kadary Richmond and Al-Amir Dawes returning. Shooting is a concern, as is the team’s ghastly 20.1% turnover rate from a season ago. If nothing else, the Pirates won’t be a fun team to play against.

Holloway enters his second season coaching at his alma mater after a 17–16 campaign in 2022–23.

Brad Penner/USA TODAY Sports

9. Butler

  • PG Posh Alexander
  • SG DJ Davis
  • SF Pierre Brooks
  • PF Jahmyl Telfort
  • C Jalen Thomas

Year 1 under Thad Matta was concerning at Butler given how noncompetitive the Bulldogs looked at times in Big East play. Matta has since cleaned house, adding six transfers this spring to reshape the roster. The Bulldogs’ talent level is still a problem compared to their Big East peers, though having veterans like Posh Alexander (St. John’s) and DJ Davis (UC Irvine) in the backcourt should help. Plus, watch out for talented young guards Landon Moore and Finley Bizjack as potential long-term contributors.

10. Georgetown

  • PG Jayden Epps
  • SG Jay Heath
  • SF Dontrez Styles
  • PF Ismael Massoud
  • C Supreme Cook

Hoyas fans should be thrilled to have Ed Cooley on board to rebuild the program after the disastrous Patrick Ewing years. Cooley has the coaching chops to return Georgetown to relevance and the personality to bring fans in the D.C. area back. This year, though, might be a struggle. The Hoyas are investing heavily in young guards like Jayden Epps (Illinois) and Rowan Brumbaugh (Texas), as well as North Carolina transfer Dontrez Styles on the wing. That group, combined with a big 2024 high school class, should get Georgetown back rising through the Big East ranks in the long term.

11. DePaul

  • PG Caleb Murphy
  • SG Chico Carter
  • SF Elijah Fisher
  • PF Jeremiah Oden
  • C Da'Sean Nelson

Tony Stubblefield has yet to turn things around at DePaul, and enters Year 3 needing to show progress after a 23-loss campaign. Getting out of the cellar will be a challenge, though. Stubblefield needs a big year from Texas Tech transfer Elijah Fisher, a former elite recruit who didn’t pan out in Lubbock. A healthy Caleb Murphy in the backcourt should also help. Still, I’m not sure this group moves the needle talent-wise with how strong the league looks on paper.

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