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2015-16 Big East Season Preview Roundtable

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As conference play is set to get going, we reached out to writers covering all 10 Big East sites to take the pulse of their teams heading into BIG EAST competition.

Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

The nonconference slate has came and went, and there are many surprises, normalities, and storylines as we head into Big East play.

While we here at Big East Coast Bias have a great perspective of the conference as a whole, we reached out to 10 writers from team-specific Big East sites to tell us what they think of their team's season so far, and going forward.

Eight of the 10 we reached out to responded to us. Those seven are listed below.

Providence: Mike Hopkins, PCBB1917

DePaul: Ed, Under The El

Villanova: Brian Ewart, VU Hoops

Creighton: Patrick Marshall, White and Blue Review

Marquette: Brewtown Andy, Anonymous Eagle

Seton Hall: Sean Saint Jacques, WSOU Radio and The Setonian

St. John's: Norman Rose, Rumble in the Garden

Butler: Max Gabovitch, The Butler Collegian

What was the biggest nonconference surprise for your team?

Mike Hopkins: Ben Bentil. Bentil has been one of the most improved players in the country during the nonconference portion of the 2015-16 schedule. The native of Ghana has jumped his production from 6.4 PPG and 4.9 RPG during his freshman season, all the way up to 18.8 PPG and 8.0 RPG. He leads the Big East in scoring and is sixth in rebounding. Bentil also carried the team when Kris Dunn missed time in games with foul trouble and also due to an illness that kept him out of games against Bryant and Rider.

Under The El: Going into last week the answer would have been different, but given the upset DePaul provided against #20 George Washington, it has to be the biggest surprise. Coming off poor performances against Little Rock, Stanford, and Northwestern, DePaul not only beat GW but did so in a convincing matter.

Brian Ewart: Watching the Wildcats get steamrolled by Oklahoma in Pearl Harbor was probably the biggest surprise. We were sure that the game would be a challenge, but they didn't look like the team we had seen up to that point, or that we expected for the season.

Patrick Marshall: I think the biggest surprise is how Creighton appeared to grow throughout the non-conference part of the season. There were a lot of new faces on this team heading into the season. While fans thought everything would just come together right away, the reality is that they had to have time to get things together.

If you look at the beginning of the season when Creighton was faceplanted by Indiana to just over a week ago against an undefeated Oklahoma team, the Bluejays have evolved. The Oklahoma game was a battle up until about the final four minutes where Creighton had a lapse in the final four minutes of the game and the Sooners survived. The way Maurice Watson played against the Sooners vs. the Hoosiers was a big sign there that he had evolved and the Bluejays did the same thing around him.

Brewtown Andy: It's either getting massacred by Iowa or going undefeated against LSU/Arizona State/Wisconsin, and really, it's a combination of both, if you think about it.


Given what Iowa was returning from last season, I had already accepted the likely possibility that Marquette was going to lose that game. I was not prepared for MU to get completely blasted out of the building.

The performance that Marquette had against Iowa was going to lead to losses all over the place, and that was a bad sign for the rest of the season if that kept up going forward. Since then, though, they've ironed out a lot of problems, and they've won every game since, including two showcase games in Brooklyn and an always hard to come by victory in the Kohl Center.

There's still stuff to work on, but the bounce back from the Iowa fiasco has been fun to watch.

Sean Saint Jacques: For Seton Hall, beating a Wichita State team with Fred VanVleet healthy and Ron Baker playing strong was impressive. If the Shockers play well, that will become a big win on the Pirates' resume.

As far as a player is concerned, Ismael Sanogo really improved this past offseason and played extremely well defensively during the nonconference schedule.

Norman Rose: The biggest surprise, game wise, was the win over Syracuse on December 13. Syracuse isn't great, and they shot poorly outside of the arc and rarely pressed the press-averse Red Storm, but it was a great win for the fans and the team's pride. Along with that is the ability of the team to scratch out wins when things really aren't going right - going down big to Rutgers, barely able to score against Niagara, for example.

Max Gabovitch: I thought Butler's win over Purdue on was very surprising, not because the Bulldogs won, but because of how they did it. The Boilermakers were at a major size advantage and Butler has struggled defensively so far this season. However, the Bulldogs held Purdue's 7-foot 2-inch center Isaac Haas to just 4 points while his team shot just 41 percent. On the other end of the floor, Butler shot under 40 percent and leading scorer Kellen Dunham went 0-of-12 from the floor, finishing with 2 points. Still, Butler handed Purdue their first and only loss of the season to this point, 74-68. To me, that's the biggest surprise of the non-conference season for Butler.

What is your team's biggest strength heading into conference play?

Mike Hopkins: Team chemistry. This is something that Ed Cooley has talked about frequently, both in postgame press conferences and on his radio show hosted by John Rooke. Last year's team got along well, but word out of Friartown is that this year's group gets an A+ in chemistry. Beyond Dunn and Bentil, the rest of the team amounts to role players and the amped up chemistry will help the rest of the players fit into and accept their roles.

Under The El: Guard play. Billy Garrett Jr. continues to get fouled and convert at a ridiculous rate. Senior Aaron Simpson has picked up his play and is shooting near 50% from 3. Freshman guard Eli Cain is crafty around the bucket and has great size.

Brian Ewart: Defense. Yes, I know that Jay Wright used the Big East conference call to downplay the team's defense, but statistics really don't lie, and even applying the eye-test, the Wildcats' defense has been the most consistent area for them this season. They can smother weak offenses and keep a lot of the stronger ones at bay.

Patrick Marshall: Scoring is up. The Bluejays averaged 87.3 points a game during the nonconference season compared to last year where they only averaged 72.1, One of the staples to Greg McDermott's teams at Creighton is the ability to score the basketball.


To go with that scoring is the balance between the team. 4 of the 5 starters average over 11.4 to 12.5 points a game. The fifth starter averages almost 10 points a game. Three others contribute over 7 points a game. It could be any number of players that could have the hot hand which will make opponents think twice on how to cover Creighton on defense.

Brewtown Andy: This might sound a little silly, but I think it's their youth.


Stick with me for a moment here: Marquette starts three freshmen. Wednesday night against Seton Hall is going to be their first Big East game. Saturday against Georgetown is going to be their first Big East road game.

It stands to reason that the more you do something, the better you get at it, right? So, as the league slate progresses, Marquette's going to gain experience at playing Big East games pretty rapidly. Odds are that they're going to be better in March than they are right now. And they're already pretty good.

Sean Saint Jacques: Scoring and defending in the paint are huge strengths for Seton Hall. Whether it is from Isaiah Whitehead or Khadeen Carrington driving and scoring or passing to set someone up, they make things happen in the paint. Angel Delgado and Michael Nzei have contributed to Seton Hall scoring many of their points in the paint as well.


Defensively, Sanogo, Nzei, Delgado and others have done a nice job protecting the paint, contesting shots and making it tough on opposing guards. Believe it or not, Seton Hall's biggest strength is likely the frontcourt depth.

Norman Rose: Interior defense, it seems. The team has an excellent shot blocker in Yankuba Sima and some interior players who play hard like Kassoum Yakwe; the Johnnies have only allowed 43% shooting on two-pointers to Division I opponents. Strength of schedule plays a part, for sure, but there's something there.

Max Gabovitch: During the nonconference portion of the season, Butler proved they can score the ball as well as any team in the country. They are averaging 89.9 points per game (second nationally) and are shooting 51.2 percent from the field (seventh nationally). They scored a school-record 144 points in a season-opening win over The Citadel, and have gone over the 90-point mark four other times.

What is your team's biggest weakness heading into conference play?

Mike Hopkins: Lack of size is Providence's biggest weakness. The Friars have shown that they can overcome being without Dunn for stretches should he get into foul trouble, but the place that Providence will struggle with more during conference play is that they lack size up front. While there aren't Joshua Smith's and Matt Stainbrook's in the league this season, there are still teams with size that could limit Providence's frontcourt and hurt them on the glass.

Under The El: Cohesiveness. The team has shown signs of being able to compete in the Big East, such as the win vs GW, but has yet to put together any other complete games. Players are starting to figure out their roles and the system new/old Coach Dave Leitao is trying to instill but it may not be soon enough.

Brian Ewart: Villanova loves to "shoot 'em up, sleep in the streets" (as Jay Wright says), and especially early on this season they have been launching shots from deep -- not always with a high success rate.

Patrick Marshall: The defense is a little suspect. Creighton has scored over 100 points three times already this season. However in each of those victories the opponents are scoring over 77 points a game. That may seem low if you are hitting the century mark, but overall, opponents are scoring 75.2 points a game. If Creighton is going to rely on outscoring their opponents versus stopping them on defense, then they will be playing with fire.


The other weakness is players getting into foul trouble. Maurice Watson and Cole Huff, who are two key players for the Bluejays, have had a tendency to get into early foul trouble. That causes some different lineups on the floor than McDermott would like, but also limits the depth available to keep opponents off balance. Creighton needs to keep the fouling to a minimum and work to get to the line themselves instead of the opponents.

Brewtown Andy: Oh my God, the turnovers. For those of you that don't have a KenPom subscription (and for the love of all that's natural in the world, go get one), good things are marked with green and bad things are marked with red. With 351 teams in the country, there's a sliding scale between red and green. Of Marquette's eight numbers in the Four Factors (offense and defense), the ONLY one that's even TINGED with red is Offensive Turnover Rate, where they're ranked #238 in the country.


Here's the thing, though: It's maybe not THAT bad. The turnover rate is at 19.6%. The national average is 18.7%. The top 100 is 17.4% and lower. They're not THAT far from being a decent team on this issue, but they need to get a lot better VERY quickly if they want to make the NCAA tournament.

Sean Saint Jacques: In the past, Seton Hall has scored many of their points from three pointers, but this season is quite the opposite. The Pirates only have two solid three point shooters in Whitehead and freshman Veer Singh who is just starting to show us how good of a shooter he can be at the college level. Seton Hall's shooting from deep has not been consistent. Coach Kevin Willard has said on a number of occasions that his team is not a three point shooting team this season.

Norman Rose: Guard play. Inexperience is a devil for this team, generally - they rush shots when down, lose their man on defense on the perimeter - but that's all over the roster. But the point guard situation is Federico Mussini and a bunch of players who are trying hard, but are inexperienced at running a team. Bringing the ball up against pressure has been a struggle, and finding good outside shots consistently has been as well.

Max Gabovitch: As good as Butler has been on offense, their defense has been suspect at best. As I mentioned earlier, they played well on that side of the ball against Purdue. Other than that, the Bulldogs have showed few signs of life on the defensive end. They allowed nearly 70 points per game during non-conference play, giving up 85 to Miami (FL) in their lone loss.


What is the best case scenario for your team?

Mike Hopkins: Providence's best case scenario in conference play is to win the whole damn thing! The Friars have the talent to compete for the top spot, both in the regular season and the Big East Tournament, and with how they looked against teams like Arizona and Michigan State on a neutral court I'm not sure too many people would be shocked at this point. As far as the postseason beyond the Big East Tournament, this team has the talent to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament, but they are still looking for their first NCAA Tourney win since the 1997 team made a run to the Elite 8.

Under The El: 8 conference wins. Last years team had 6 wins and this one is better. Problem is the rest of the Big East appears better too and 8 BE wins may not be enough for any postseason tourney.

Brian Ewart: I still think Villanova can go the distance in conference play and take home another Big East title. They will need to find some consistency on offense to go far in the postseason, however. They will face similar challenges in the tournament as they did last season.


In any case, they will need to get things started with a good performance at home on New Years.

Patrick Marshall: It is really hard to tell after watching the nonconference season. While there has been a lot of growth in this team, there are still some questions when it comes to quality opponents and closing out games just like it was last season. All of the quality opponents came out as a loss in the end--Indiana in the Gavitt Games was not pretty. Arizona State was a winnable game, but the Bluejays blew a nice lead in that one to lose at the end. That loss was a hangover against Loyola on the road (against the team that replaced the Bluejays in the MVC) and then the close but no cigar game at Oklahoma.


However, there is a lot to look forward to. Creighton definitely won't finish 9th in the Big East as predicted in the preseason. If the Bluejays have evolved as much as it seems, they could be in the top half of the conference and at worse case be an NIT team. That being said, if they finish in the top 4 with the way the Big East is stacked up this season, the NCAA's could definitely be in sight.

Brewtown Andy: As optimistic about the whole thing as I am, I keep looking at KenPom and seeing a prediction for Marquette of 7-11. That tends to mute things in my head.


Getting through the Big East schedule is going to be a bear and a half. Even taking into account that Marquette is going to continue to get better and better as the season progresses, I can't mark best case as better than 10-8 and safely in the NCAA tournament.

Then again, my view on the whole season has always been "The goal is to make the NCAA tournament," so 10-8 would be fine by me.

Sean Saint Jacques: The NCAA Tournament is the best case scenario for Seton Hall, which means the goal for conference play should be to reach 9 or 10 wins. It is possible, but doing it is much more difficult.

Norman Rose: Realistically... I hate to say this, but a record that leaves the Johnnies two or so games under .500, with some late wins as the light goes on for the young players, and a Big East Tournament win. Maybe even enough for a .500 record, but at 7-6, that really is a long shot unless the team hits a hot streak.

Max Gabovitch: There is no question that Butler has enough talent to win the Big East and make a deep run in March. If the Bulldogs are playing even a little bit of defense and their offense is clicking as it did during the non-conference schedule, they are going to be a team that no one wants to see come tournament time.


What is the worst case scenario for your team?

Mike Hopkins: Providence's worst case scenario is they hit a skid and deal with more injuries than they can handle. Even if that happens, I still think their worst case scenario is a Big East record around 7-11 or 8-10, which still likely means a trip to the NCAA Tournament, or at least a spot on the bubble.

Under The El: They get steamrolled with a very tough first half of the BE schedule and stumble through with 4 wins or less

Brian Ewart: Their weaknesses are pretty well known at this point. If they aren't able to close some of those holes up, and the Big East teams take advantage, they could be looking at more of a battle than they've seen in the last two seasons to get into the Tournament.

Patrick Marshall: The worst case scenario is that the Bluejays completely bomb to start conference play like they did last season and fail to win the close games. As crazy as it sounds, the game at St. John's to kick off conference season is very important to win, especially with Villanova, Georgetown and Providence comes to Omaha very early in the Big East slate.


Getting off to a great start in conference play will be the key for the Bluejays. Anything less and they could drift towards the bottom again with a lot of questions still remaining. Personally, I don't see that happening, but after last season, you never know. There is better leadership this year and they will at worst case in my mind finish seventh.

Brewtown Andy: Spinning off of my last answer, worst case scenario is anything that doesn't end up with Marquette in the NCAA tournament.


Look, we all know that Steve Wojciechowski pulled off a massive roster overhaul between when he was hired and right now. But he brought in a top 10 recruiting class and is starting three of those recruits, and he's gotta show he knows what he's doing. I'm not asking for a deep March run. I'm not asking for a Big East title. Just make it into the field of 68. Even getting to Dayton would be okay by me.

Sean Saint Jacques: We see a repeat of last season and the Pirates finish in the bottom four after teasing us in nonconference play. Once again, Seton Hall picked up a quality win and they even did it before Big East play this time. However, if they don't show up in conference play it will not end well.

Norman Rose: Winless. I don't think that will happen; this isn't like the 2009 DePaul team, that combined fairly untalented freshmen/ sophomores with a decent role player and a shot jacker who kept everyone uninvolved. St. John's isn't bursting with talent but players seem to know their roles, and the youngsters all look like they belong in the Big East. That means something; Mussini, Sima, Yakwe and Malik Ellison look like solid pieces of the future, and Ron Mvouika and Christian Jones have some good games in them.

Max Gabovitch: If Butler's defense doesn't pick up, they will have a tough time against the other top teams in the Big East. That weakness could cause them to finish in the middle of the conference, depending on how they and others progress during the season. The Bulldogs offense will make them NCAA Tournament bound, but without defensive improvement it could be a short trip.