St. John's was the shining star of the BIG EAST last year, winning the conference and taking Arkansas to the final out in the Stillwater Regional. It's been a while since we've talked about baseball, but luckily the BIG EAST decided to release their preseason rankings a few months before the season starts. Too early? Bah! No way! Here's what the coaches thought of the teams this year:
St. John's first? Why not. They lost their ace in Ryan McCormick to graduation but bring back hard-hitting superstar Alex Caruso and dynamite closer Tommy Hackimer. The Red Storm's schedule looks pretty rough until mid-March, but the challenges abound with teams like Nevada, Florida State and Cal-Bakersfield will be their ultimate test. With the talents of Robbie Knightes and Tony Brocato in the fold, the Red Storm offense will be splendid. The rest of the roster features a lot of unknowns as they navigate the troubled waters with a great deal of sophomores and freshman. Can the Red Storm repeat as champions? Perhaps, but they'll surely go through growing pains.
Creighton returns a wealth of phenoms, including Reagan Fowler, Nicky Lopez, and Harrison Crawford. The bullpen for the Jays gained a lot more depth with three freshman pitchers coming into the program to bolster the back end of Ethan Decaster and Nick Highberger. Rollie Lacy, Matt Warren and Keith Rogalla will be the featured starters for the Jays, adding a solid front-end of the rotation to get the ballclub to the latter half of games. The most intriguing matchup on the schedule is a late non-con game in Wichita against the Shockers on May 10th.
The rest of the field? A complete crapshoot. Seton Hall returns Zach Prendergast and Shane McCarthy - two of the more dominant pitchers in the conference - yet lost the talents of Sal Annunziata. Their offense was pretty shaky last year, with an inability to score enough runs to notch a win late in games. It'll be interesting to see if the bullpen can carry on without closer Joe Dibenedetto.
Georgetown lost a lot of offensive production when Nick Collins and AC Carter graduated. It's going to be a difficult battle for the Hoyas to make a name for themselves at all in the 2015-2016 season with ta chunk of their offense missing, yet the one bright spot is Matt Smith who will attempt to pitch the Hoyas to salvation. There are too many question marks for a very young team to properly evaluate them, but with a pretty soft schedule they should be able to stick around.
Butler was a bizarro team last year, leading the conference in offensive production yet falling to dead last in team ERA. For as many runs they scored, it always seemed like their opponent would score twice that. A volatile bullpen mixed with some questionable starting pitching doomed the Bulldogs from the start, but with another year of experience with Pobereyko and Jeff Schank and a class full of juniors and seniors, this may be the year Butler can put something together and make a run at the BIG EAST tournament.
Villanova still features Max Beerman. They should win every game based solely on that. The Wildcats damn near squeaked their way into the BIG EAST conference tournament last year, but fell short on the final weekend to cement their place in the final 3 on the outside looking in. The Wildcats are pretty balanced with decent pitching and a moderately consistent offense, but feature an incredibly weak schedule and an even poorer defense. There are too many holes on the Wildcat squad to consider them a contender, but weirder things have happened.
Now we get to the Xavier Musketeers. The BIG EAST coaches ranked them fourth, to which I reply:
My lord was Xavier awful last year. Their starting rotation completely imploded, their defense allowed can of corn flyballs to become mazes of impossibility and the offense was so bad that it was like watching a little league team hit against Clayton Kershaw. I can't believe the Big East coaches ranked them that high, though I imagine Xavier's head coach Steve Googins had a trick up his sleeve during this holiday weekend. From an anonymous source (also known as the recesses of my imagination), I heard that Googins went with a classic ploy to get better over the offseason with this classic trope:
After workouts, Scott Googins decided to take the entire team to the mall. The players were excited to get a giant cookie and an Orange Julius but Googins had other plans. As they pushed past preteens and middle class families, the Musketeers arrived at the front gates to the Santa Claus display. "Alright guys, this is our only hope. Go tell Santy Claus what you really want for Xmas," Googins demanded. The players shuffled their feet with their hands in their pockets. "Aw man coach, do we hafta?" Brad Kirschner asked. "You're god damn right you do. I'll go first," Googins replied.
The middle-aged Googins hopped upon the elderly man's lap. "Hi Santa!" Googins exclaimed excitedly.
"Hello young man, what would you like for Christmas?"