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2016-17 Big East Post-Mortem

June 20, 2017 Conference Notes No Comments

The Big East has evolved into a conference dominated by Villanova. After the Wildcats, whose seniors completed an amazing run but fell short in the NCAA Tournament, it’s a wide open race for who carries the flag on anything resembling a consistent basis, though a couple of teams may be emerging through some ups and downs.

Xavier struggled in February this year, but the Musketeers rebounded in time to make the Big East semifinals once again and then reach the Elite Eight. Xavier has reached the semifinals in the conference tournament every year they have been a member, and their run to the Elite Eight without injured guard Edmond Sumner reminded many that this is a program that has done a lot of winning over the years.

The Musketeers have some company in Providence. While the Friars have as much tradition as anyone in New England, that came to be forgotten a bit in recent times. But Ed Cooley has changed that, bringing this Friars team to the NCAA Tournament for the fourth year in a row, which is the first time that has happened in program history. Providence also did not have a senior in the rotation, and they picked up an elite point guard in the spring, so they are in a very good place right now.

Butler has also been very good, for the most part, and through a lot of adversity. The Bulldogs won 25 games and reached the Sweet 16 this year, and since entering the Big East they have done well save for an injury-riddled entrance in 2013-14, when they went 14-17. The one thing that continues to bedevil the Bulldogs is the conference tournament, where they have yet to win a game. This year, they fell victim to Xavier, a team that has made the semifinals of the conference tournament every year they have been members.

Creighton bounced back this year, though the Bluejays were never the same after Mo Watson went down for the season with a torn ACL. Marquette quietly had a nice year, while Seton Hall needed a late surge to get into the NCAA Tournament.

The big questions going forward involve two of the Big East’s old powers, St. John’s and Georgetown, as well as a one-time powerhouse long before their Big East days. All three have seen better days, with the Blue Demons struggling for a while now, the Red Storm trying to get better and the Hoyas trending downward recently. The lone coaching change in the conference for a lot of the off-season involved one of those three, as Georgetown fired John Thompson III in late March. The Hoyas, like the Red Storm, turned to a star from their glory days in the 80s, hiring Patrick Ewing to lead the way. The other coaching change came as a result of Ohio State’s surprise firing of Thad Matta in June, as Chris Holtmann left Butler to succeed Matta and will be replaced in Indianapolis by LaVall Jordan.

Villanova, meanwhile, has been on a tremendous run the last few years. There was no repeat of the national championship, as the Wildcats were knocked off in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, but they continue to rule the Big East. And although they lose significant pieces with their senior class this season, they will still be the team to beat next season.

Final Standings

Big East
Seton Hall
St. John’s

Conference Tournament

In the first round, No. 8 St. John’s edged No. 9 Georgetown – yes, you read that right, this was a first round game – 74-73, then No. 7 Xavier continued their dominance of No. 10 DePaul on the season by beating the Blue Demons 75-64.

The quarterfinals were a split in terms of which seed came out on top. No. 1 Villanova annihilated St. John’s 108-67 to start the day, then Xavier kept No. 2 Butler winless in Big East Tournament play by taking out the Bulldogs 62-57. No. 6 Creighton knocked off No. 3 Providence 70-58, then No. 5 Seton Hall pulled out an 82-76 win over No. 4 Marquette to close the day.

The semifinals were great basketball. In a rematch of the championship game from last year, Villanova edged Seton Hall 55-53, then Creighton held off Xavier 75-72.

That set up the championship game, one which might have been a real dandy if not for prior injuries. Villanova ended up coasting to a 74-60 win to take home the championship.

Postseason Awards
Player of the Year: Josh Hart, Villanova
Rookie of the Year: Justin Patton, Creighton
Coach of the Year: Chris Holtmann, Butler
Defensive Players of the Year: Khyri Thomas, Creighton; Mikal Bridges, Villanova; Josh Hart, Villanova
Most Improved Player: Kyron Cartwright, Providence
Sixth Man of the Year: Andrew Rowsey, Marquette

All-Big East Team
Trevon Bluiett, Jr. G, Xavier
Jalen Brunson, So. G, Villanova
Andrew Chrabascz, Sr. F, Butler
Angel Delgado, Jr. C, Seton Hall
Marcus Foster, Jr. G, Creighton
Josh Hart, Sr. G, Villanova

Season Highlights

  • Seven Big East teams reached the NCAA Tournament, giving the conference the highest percentage of NCAA representation for any conference.
  • Seton Hall forward Angel Delgado led the nation in rebounding and broke the conference record for rebounding in conference play with 14.1 rebounds per game, one over the 14.0 by Jerome Lane in 1986-87.
  • Marquette guard Markus Howard led the nation in three-point field goal percentage.
  • Providence guard Kyron Cartwright was fourth in the nation in assists.

What we expected, and it happened: Villanova was the team to beat. The Wildcats won both the regular season and conference tournament title, continuing their dominance over the conference since the realignment. The conference tournament title is their second in three years, and that is one more than they won in the first 35 years of the conference.

What we expected, and it didn’t happen: Xavier was expected to give Villanova something resembling a push, but finished seventh and had to play on opening night of the conference tournament. The Musketeers had a good deal of adversity along the way, from Myles Davis’ suspension and departure to Edmond Sumner’s torn ACL, and for a stretch late in the season, the only team they beat was DePaul – three times. They regrouped, though, and found a way to reach the Elite Eight, a credit to the coaching of Chris Mack.

What we didn’t expect, and it happened: Providence was an NCAA Tournament team. Ed Cooley did a great job maximizing what he had and getting his team to grow from a couple of losses that came as their schedule got much tougher around the start of Big East play. The Friars didn’t have a senior in their rotation this season.

Team(s) on the rise: Providence. As noted, this team did not have a senior in their rotation this season. They clearly got better as the season went along, as they were one of the hottest teams by the end of the year, and then they got Makai Ashton-Langford, who had previously signed at UConn.

Team(s) on the decline: Georgetown. We could see this before the season, and the 2016-17 season did nothing to change that. The Patrick Ewing era now commences, and at first it will be a challenge with a depleted roster for 2017-18. The most important wins and losses he and his staff will get in the next year will not be on the floor, but rather, on the recruiting trail.


2017-18 Big East Outlook

Villanova should enter the season as the favorite, but they shouldn’t be prohibitive ones at that. They should get a good push from a couple of teams.

Providence comes first, as the Friars finished the season well, and will want more after losing their first game in the Big East Tournament and then blowing a lead against USC in the NCAA Tournament. Butler will miss the likes of Andrew Chrabascz, Tyler Lewis and Avery Woodson, but Kelan Martin returns and has help from Tyler Wideman and Kamar Baldwin. The coaching change should mean little at a school that has had plenty of those, not to mention far worse adversity to deal with. You could put Marquette in this discussion as well, as the Golden Eagles have some returning talent that should atone for losses like Luke Fischer, Katin Reinhardt and Jajuan Johnson.

If we’ve figured out nothing else about Xavier, it’s that the names and faces may change, but the winning stays the same. However, the Musketeers are losing a couple of serious pieces in Sumner and Rashid Gaston, though Trevon Bluiett opted to return for one last go-round.

There are questions with each team after that. If Seton Hall can make up for Angel Delgado’s inside presence, their perimeter led by Khadeen Carrington and Myles Powell can make them a threat to get back to the NCAA Tournament. Creighton needs to make up for the losses of Mo Watson and Justin Patton, though they return good pieces in Marcus Foster and Khyri Thomas.

St. John’s, Georgetown and DePaul all have more questions than answers, though St. John’s looks to be in the best shape with the young backcourt of Shamorie Ponds and Marcus Lovett. Patrick Ewing will be starting from square one at his alma mater, so patience will be a virtue from the fan base.

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