A new era in the Big East began in 2013-14, and it was not hard to tell this was not your father’s Big East. The name was there, some familiar teams were as well, and the conference tournament was once again at Madison Square Garden. For that matter, the campaigning by coaches on behalf of the conference was the same.
But no matter how much it might look like the Big East we all knew, this was different.
For starters, three new teams joined the seven that split from the old Big East. Butler, Creighton and Xavier all left other conferences, and Creighton was a contender right away with a veteran team led by Doug McDermott. Xavier had its ups and downs but managed to reach the NCAA Tournament, while Butler had a depleted roster for new head coach Brandon Miller, in part from an injury to key guard Roosevelt Jones that cost him the season, and struggled.
The story of McDermott surpassing 3,000 points and being the national Player of the Year was a boost to the conference in another otherwise so-so year. While Villanova won the conference in the regular season, the Wildcats didn’t look like a powerhouse to many. Jay Wright had a team full of tough and competitive players that won 29 games, but they bowed out in the third round of the NCAA Tournament to eventual national champion and former Big East member Connecticut.
After Villanova and Creighton, there was an appreciable drop-off in the conference. This was reflected in the postseason, as all of the conference’s teams were done playing less than two weeks after Selection Sunday. Providence was right on the bubble until Ed Cooley’s team broke through to win the conference tournament by beating Creighton in the championship game, and they might not have made it without the automatic bid. Xavier bowed out to NC State in the First Four of the NCAA Tournament. Besides having just four teams in the NCAA Tournament, St. John’s and Georgetown were in the NIT. St. John’s lost to Robert Morris in the first round, while Florida State beat Georgetown in the second round.
Will that get better next year? It’s hard to tell. Villanova returns a lot of their team, while Creighton and Providence will both be hit hard by personnel losses. Xavier also loses their best player, as Semaj Christon declared for the NBA Draft. In all, only four of the conference’s 12 all-conference selections are expected to return next season. Marquette will have a new leader, as Buzz Williams left for Virginia Tech and longtime Duke assistant Steve Wojciechowski was hired to replace him.
The 32nd straight Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden opened up with a pair of games that came down to the wire. Seton Hall held on for a 51-50 win over Butler, then DePaul ended Georgetown’s slim hopes for an NCAA Tournament bid with a 60-56 win over the Hoyas.
The next day, Providence got everything going with a 79-74 win over St. John’s, which assured the Red Storm of an NIT bid at best. Seton Hall then stunned Villanova 64-63 on a buzzer-beating jumper by Sterling Gibbs. Creighton easily dispatched DePaul 84-62 behind 35 points from Doug McDermott, with a tournament record 27 in the first half. The day ended with Xavier ending any remote NCAA Tournament hopes Marquette still harbored with a 68-65 win in their first Big East Tournament game.
That set up semifinals that were a contrast in Big East history, with original members Providence and Seton Hall in one game and newcomers Creighton and Xavier in the other. Providence won the former 80-74 to reach the championship game for the first time in 20 years, while Creighton advanced with an 86-78 win in the latter.
In the championship game, Providence shocked everyone by going with a zone defense against a team that made headlines with its three-point shooting over the course of the season. Doug McDermott had 27 points on 10-19 shooting, but the Bluejays struggled shooting the ball from long range and Bryce Cotton’s 23 points led him to Most Oustanding Player honors as Providence won the conference’s automatic bid with a 65-58 win.
Player of the Year: Doug McDermott, Creighton
Rookie of the Year: Billy Garrett, Jr., DePaul
Coach of the Year: Jay Wright, Villanova
Defensive Player of the Year: Fuquan Edwin, Seton Hall
Most Improved Player: Darrun Hilliard and Daniel Echefu, Villanova
Sixth Man Award: Davante Gardner, Marquette
James Bell, Sr. G-F, Villanova
Semaj Christon, So. G, Xavier
Bryce Cotton, Sr. G, Providence
D’Angelo Harrison, Jr. G, St. John’s
Doug McDermott, Sr. F, Creighton
Markel Starks, Sr. G, Georgetown
- Doug McDermott finished his career as the fifth all-time leading scorer in NCAA Division I history after a stellar season.
- Villanova won the Battle 4 Atlantis in November, beating Kansas and Iowa along the way.
- They weren’t highlights for Villanova, but Creighton’s two wins over the Wildcats in the regular season were about as impressive as they get.
- Bryce Cotton did pretty much everything for injury-riddled Providence and was the best player not named Doug McDermott.
What we expected, and it happened: Doug McDermott and Creighton gave the Big East a nice boost for a season. McDermott proved he could thrive at this level.
What we expected, and it didn’t happen: Marquette was among the preseason favorites, but the Golden Eagles had a lackluster showing in non-conference play and didn’t get much momentum going until late in the season.
What we didn’t expect, and it happened: Villanova won the conference by two games in the regular season. The Wildcats weren’t loaded with talent, but they had a group of the right players for Jay Wright and it showed in the better results.
Team(s) on the rise: Villanova. After a slump, Jay Wright has his kind of players, and with a lot of returning talent the Wildcats are well-position for next season and beyond.
Team(s) on the decline: Creighton. The Bluejays aren’t going to do better than this season, and it’s not just because of McDermott’s departure as they had three more senior starters. Austin Chatman will be the lone returning starter.
2014-15 Conference Outlook
Villanova should be the clear class of the conference next season, as no team returns as much as the Wildcats do. After that, there isn’t a team without personnel questions. Everyone behind them loses at least a significant player or two. Creighton loses a great deal, as does Providence, and Xavier loses their best player and catalyst. St. John’s lost JaKarr Sampson and almost lost Chris Obekpa, while Marquette has a new coach.
Among teams finishing at the bottom in 2013-14, Butler should be better, while DePaul may be stuck there with some key departures from a team that struggled to begin with.
The conference will help open up college basketball’s season with the Big Ten in a recently announced move. That will help give the teams a chance to prove themselves early on and create some buzz. It will also give some new blood a chance to emerge early on – something that will need to happen with the production the conference is losing.