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Big East media day report

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Big East Coast Bias was at Big East Media Day on Tuesday. Here’s what we heard from a few players and coaches.

Villanova v Xavier Photo by Alex Trautwig/Getty Images

We were unfortunately not able to fetch quotes from neither Georgetown nor St. John’s. For more on the Johnnies, head over to Rumble in the Garden as they put together two quality posts on the St. John’s side of media day.


Butler

The Bulldogs head into the season boasting the Big East’s leading returning scorer in Kelan Martin. When asked if he felt any sort of pressure going into the season, Martin replied, “I feel like there’s no pressure for me. I mean, we’ve got a lot of older guys and a bunch of younger guys so getting mixed up, I mean, it’s good. I mean, Andrew [Chrabascz], he was one of the top leading scorers last year as well so I mean, no pressure for me whatsoever. As a team, we just want to finish well in the Big East and Big East play.”

Martin and the Bulldogs certainly finished well last season, going 9-2 in their final 11 Big East games. However, this season, the Bulldogs are without Kellen Dunham and Roosevelt Jones, both of whom graduated. Martin and the Bulldogs don’t seem too worried about the loss, though, as he said, “Not really [on the court], but we really do miss their presence. You know being known on the court and in the locker room, but I mean, we have a bunch of guys that could fill that leadership role this year in the locker room and on the court. So I mean, we’ve got six seniors and two transfers as seniors that’s playing this year. I think we are fine, we’ll be fine.”

In Chris Holtmann’s tenure at Butler, the Bulldogs have been one of the best teams in the country at not turning the ball over. Martin notes that it’s very important to Holtmann, saying, “We just know how to take care of the ball. Coach is big on that. He doesn’t like turnovers as much, like we run for turnovers in practice. So, I mean, we’ve got a bunch of good guys that can handle the ball and that are calm and not out of control.”

Butler is one of the conference’s more experienced teams (even with the losses of Jones and Dunham), however, winning a Big East Tournament game and making a deep NCAA Tournament run has eluded them. Martin is focused on righting that this year, noting, “I’ll say as a team, we obviously want to finish first or second in the Big East. We want to win a Big East Tournament game cause we haven’t won one in three years. We want to get as far as we can get and then just going into the NCAA Tournament and getting further than the round of 32, you know, we’re good.”


Creighton

It was a big year for Boston U transfer Maurice Watson Jr. last year. Watson burst onto the scene and wowed many Big East fans and pundits, ourselves included of course. But Watson believes there’s still plenty of work to be done heading into his final season of college basketball.

“I really think I just scratched the surface last year,” Watson told BECB. “Not knowing what to expect each game. Not knowing how to deal with Big East scouting reporting. Just being at the high-major level. I really think I have a lot of room to improve on my jump shot, which I put in an uncounted amount of hours this summer. I’ve been shooting it well all summer.”

So what’s Watson also working on? “I’ve been working on my step-back and my floater. My defense. Not being in foul trouble. Keeping defenders out of the lane,” Watson said. “So that’s about five aspects right there that I named that I really need to improve. I put a lot of time into my leadership and my defense and to my jumpshot and now I want to put in the time to getting my team game ready.”

Watson’s coach, Greg McDermott, was very impressed with what he saw from the former Terrier-turned-Bluejay.

“He’s got incredible vision, and I’ve challenged him to try and lead the country in assists this year,” McDermott told a sea of reporters on Tuesday. “And I think he has an opportunity to do that. He’s improved as a leader each year he’s been in our program, his work ethic has been incredible, and I hope he’s going to have a great senior year.”

A big storyline hovering around Omaha is the addition of Kansas State transfer Marcus Foster. As a former transfer himself, Watson knows all about how the adjustment process goes, and he went on to express as much.

“The good thing for him is that me and him are close and I went through it a year before him,” Watson said. “So I was able to give him advice on how to push through.”

Watson told BECB that he’s done a lot for Foster in keeping him humble and hungry and assist with his reputation. “Getting him to the gym, being here on time,” Watson noted about his main priorities for guiding Foster along. “Not going through the stuff he went through at K-State.”

Foster had been dismissed from the Wildcats program back in March 2015 by head coach Bruce Weber. When talking to Watson about Foster and guiding him along, it seemed apparent that he truly cares about him.

“I hate reading the things that people say about him,” Watson said. “Because he’s a great person. Loves his family, friends his team. He’s laid back. But you have a couple situations that don’t go your way. He saw how quick that life can go downhill for him. Now this is his second chance. And he has not been wasting it. That’s the great thing about him.”

A few things about Foster’s game have stuck out in particular to the Creighton point guard.

“On defense. How aggressive he is. He doesn’t care who you are,” Watson said. “On offense, he can really move without the ball. A lot of guys that can score as well as he scores like to spot up and have the ball in their hands and demand it. He’s one to do a back cut to give up a shot for himself. Do a curl to pop back out for another screen and do another back cut. He keeps our offense flowing.”

Coach McDermott added his thoughts on Foster, and like Watson, the report was glowing.

“Last year, as games were being decided, everyone in the building, including the other bench, knew who had to try and make a play. It was Maurice. I think Marcus can take some of that pressure off with his ability to create shots for himself and other people,” McDermott said.

“Marcus is very powerful in getting to the basket. He’s got a step-back jumpshot that is very difficult to defend, so I’m hopeful Marcus will be able to take some of that pressure off Maurice, and also Marcus is a good enough defender and he’s strong enough where he can guard a couple different positions, so we may be able to spell Maurice a little bit on defense and put him on a little bit of weaker offensive player once in a while because of Marcus’ ability to defend.”

Watson had made mention of the fact that he believed that he and Foster were the best backcourt in the country. McDermott, unsurprised, would go on to acknowledge it.

“I’m not surprised that either one of them would say that. They work hard and they’re really good friends and on the same page. Obviously it’s a very talented backcourt, and when you consider it’s Marcus’ fourth year in college and Maurice’s fifth year in college, the guys have been around and seen a lot of things and played a lot of basketball and understand how to work. I don’t know if they’re the best backcourt in college basketball, but I know I don’t want to trade them for any other.”

The Bluejays haven’t made the NCAA Tournament in either of the last two seasons. From talking with Watson as well as Bluejays forward Cole Huff, that appears to be the goal in mind.

“[Making the] NCAA Tournament,” Huff said. “I really don’t have personal goals. I want to be better than I was last year, because that’s the point of the offseason. But, I know I haven’t been to the NCAA Tournament, so that’s number one on my list. I want to get there and make some noise.”

What are the keys to getting there?

“Defense,” Watson bluntly stated. “We’re a transition team. we need to get out and run. in games that we got out and run and got our transition going we had a lot of success.”

“In games where we didn’t get stops, we don’t have an opportunity to run. Teams score a lot on us, and we want to put so much pressure on teams, and we can only do that by getting stops and running. So, defense is our key.”

Coach McDermott has another key in getting back to the top of the Big East standings.

“So you have to beat Villanova,” McDermott said. “Sometimes teams have an off game, but very seldom does Villanova make more mistakes than the team they’re playing. When you can do that, you’ve got a great chance to win. There’s a few pieces gone. Certainly [Ryan] Arcidiacono was a big part of their leadership core, but Jay’s done such a good job of getting other guys to step up.”

“Josh Hart is terrific and Jalen Brunson, I think, has a chance to be a great player in this league. It’s not going to be easy, but someone has to figure out a way to go in there and win, because they’re so dominant on their home floor.”


DePaul

Eli Cain was one of the Big East’s breakout freshmen last season, and one of the few bright spots for the nine-win Blue Demons. Cain pinpointed a few things that he did well on the court last year, mentioning, ““I shot the ball from three pretty well, I got to the rim pretty well, drew a lot of fouls, free throws are another thing I worked a lot on this summer. I think I got to the line a lot last year but I left a lot of points at the line, I didn’t have the best free throw percentage, but I think that’ll definitely change this year.”

However, like any good athlete, Cain knows there is also room for improvement. When asked what sort of things he worked on in the offseason, he said, “Becoming more of a vocal leader. Last season as a freshman, Coach [Leitao] put a lot of responsibility on me to be a leader, so I try to lead by example as much as I can, but this year I have to be more of a vocal leader. We have a lot of new guys coming in, so more of a vocal leader. Skills-wise, more mid-range and rebounding and being more versatile.”

It can be hard for a second-year player to become a leader, but Cain seems to be taking the role to heart. He mentioned some of the ways he has worked both intrinsically and with others to become a leader, saying, “As soon as the new guys got in, actually, before they got in, I was talking to Brandon Cyrus who was playing in a high school tournament, I was texting him basically every day. He’s my roommate now, so I’m taking him under my wing. [DePaul freshmen] Devin Gage, Levi Cook, Al [Eichelberger], all the young guys, just taking them under my wing. This is my second year under Coach Leitao and their first, so I have a better understanding what he wants from guys day in and day out, what to do and what not to do and just being like their big brother and being there for them.”


Marquette

Two big questions have loomed large for Marquette this offseason. How are they going to replace Henry Ellenson’s impact on both ends of the court, and will the smaller, guard-heavy roster be successful. Steve Wojciechowski answered both for us.

“You don’t replace him with another player. You have to figure out how the team can make up for what his departure leaves us with. I believe on the offensive end we can make up for his 18 points per game, maybe even more efficiently. The biggest hole he left for us was rebounding and protecting the rim, and we’re going to have to figure out a way to replace those rebounds and protect the rim although in a different way that his departure leaves us with.”

- On replacing Henry Ellenson.

“I think we have a lot of interchangeable parts. I think in my short time at Marquette, this will be our most balanced team and our most skilled team offensively. Where we do lack in some size, we can make up with some skill and shooting on the offensive end. We can have a team that has great balance offensively. Defensively, we have a chance to be a disruptive defensive team and hopefully create some offense with our defense. We have to figure out a way to protect our basket and rebound the ball.”

- On the versatility of the roster.

If this truly is the Golden Eagles’ best offensive roster, that should strike fear in the rest of the Big East. Marquette finished right in the middle of the conference in both points per game and offensive efficiency last season. If they can continue to score, but do such more efficiently as Wojo noted, the Golden Eagles might be headed back to the NCAA Tournament.


Providence

There are a lot of new faces on the Providence Friars this year. One might wonder how they’re adjusting to life in Friartown. Big East Coast Bias decided to inquire about that, as we talked to Kyron Cartwright and George Mason transfer Isaiah Jackson.

“My biggest adjustment [between George Mason and Providence] was my strength.” Jackson told us. He understands the difference in styles in the Big East and Atlantic 10, saying, “[I focused on] just getting stronger and faster and building up stamina to be able to play in the Big East. It’s a big adjustment from the A-10, but being able to sit out and watch how the Big East is played was a big help for me.”

Part of Jackson’s year of sitting out included watching Kris Dunn and Ben Bentil, from the weight room to the practice floor to the court. Jackson said, “Seeing how those guys worked daily inspired me to do the same thing. Sitting and watching them and the team in general, how Dunn and Kyron [Cartwright] helped run the show at the point guard position, how Ben would find ways to score each and every night, how Rodney [Bullock] would find ways to balance out the offense was a very big help to my learning experience.”

“I think they’’re adjusting pretty well so far,” Cartwright told BECB. But Cartwright made sure to ensure that just because they were the new kids on the block, they wouldn’t be receiving any preferential treatment.

“But we don’t play that freshman card at our institution,” Cartwright said. “Just because they’re young ... we don’t make mistakes for each other. We hold them accountable just like we hold the older guys accountable. Once they get up to speed, we expect a lot from them. We know what they can do. We know what they’re capable of.”

Cartwright did express confidence in the new guys, both young and old. “I think the young guys and new guys will surprise a lot of people this year.”

That surprise factor will likely be looming large for a team that was surprisingly picked to finish ninth in the Big East standings this year. That didn’t sit well with Jackson, who said, “We’re going to shock a lot of people. This team is better than what people expect and I’m just ready to show everyone.”


Seton Hall

The mindset going into the 2015-16 season was that the Seton Hall Pirates needed to turn over a new leaf. They had been mired by sluggish finishes after hot starts over the past few years, especially so in the re-upped version of the Big East Conference.

Any and all doubt that they would do that was erased last season. The Pirates of course won 25 games, picked up a Big East Tournament Championship and made it back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 10 years.

One might think that after accomplishing this feat, the pressure might be off The Hall now that the monkey is off their backs.

Not so much.

“I think it’s a little bit of the complete opposite,” Seton Hall head coach Kevin Willard told Big East Coast Bias on the Garden floor on Tuesday. “There’s a little more pressure on us to kind of continue what we did last year.”

So is that pressure a good thing or a bad thing?

“I think that’s a good pressure,” Willard said. “I think they understand that. They wanna get back to that championship. They want to have that feeling again.”

Seton Hall junior forward Desi Rodriguez, who finished his sophomore season averaging 12.4 points and 5.0 rebounds per game while finishing with very high efficiency numbers, corroborated that thought process and seemed to indicate that they would walk in with unfinished business on their minds.

“Finish off what we started,” Rodriguez said to BECB about the mindset of his team. “Just playing with a chip on our shoulder. We won the Big East Championship last year. That was big for our program. That was big for us. We’ve got a veteran group, we’re kind of excited and confident at the same time going into the season.”

In addition to that, one of the big topics for the Pirates going forward is how they’re going to try and replace the production of guard Isaiah Whitehead. Whitehead, who won the 2016 Big East Tournament MVP award, is now in the NBA with his hometown Brooklyn Nets, and was indisputably a big contributor and a big reason why the Pirates were so successful a season ago.

“I don’t think that he can be replaced,” Rodriguez said of Whitehead. “But we can work towards replacing him. We’re filling spots and getting a lot of guys shots. I think coach is gonna go deeper in the bench. So a lot of guys have to step up and a veteran group has to step up more, too.”

BECB asked Seton Hall’s head coach about whether he would go deeper into the bench as Desi indicated.

“We’re a little deeper than we were last year,” Willard said. “Veer Singh’s now a sophomore. Mike Nzei’s now a sophomore. I think we have some more experience and we can go a little deeper. We’re looking to go 11 and 12 deep this year.”

So, expect to see a lot of faces, both old and new, for the Pirates when they take the floor next month.

With that aforementioned pressure mounted on Seton Hall this year, BECB asked both Rodriguez and Willard what the key will be for them to make it back to the NCAA Tournament.

“Our core of the team of me, Khadeen and Angel, it starts with us,” Desi said. “We have to lead our guys. We have a lot of young players. We have to just play together and things will come along real well.”

“I think our guys need to understand how we got there,” Willard said. “And that was our defensive mentality. We have to have that same defensive mentality.”


Villanova

Last season, Villanova won the National Championship. You knew that. Everyone knows that. Here’s the video of Kris Jenkins hitting the shot to win it. Jay Wright gave some insight on how things have been for him and his team since April, saying, “It’s been crazy. Your life changes; I think the players’ life changes. I watch Kris Jenkins everywhere he goes, everybody knows who he is. Even the President of the United States walked into the room and said ‘Hey Kris, big shot!’”

“You know, I think he’s handling it really well. But it’s a challenge, it’s a challenge—it’s not a negative challenge; I would never trade it. But I could definitely say we’re all excited to start a new basketball season where we’re back to chasing something rather than talking about what we did. I wouldn’t give it, I would never give it back. I’ve loved every minute of it.”

Darryl Reynolds echoed Wright’s sentiments about being thankful for a fresh start, telling BECB, “We understand this is a new season, 0-0.”

Naturally, one would assume the Wildcats now have a target on their backs. Wright doesn’t necessarily agree, though, as he notes, “I feel like in the Big East we’ve been ‘the hunted’ before and I can’t see being the National Champion making it that much different. I mean, it’s been tough in our conference everywhere we go. These teams come after us. We’ve lost to these teams ... anywhere we go on the road in this conference, it’s just bedlam. I can’t see it being any worse. I think the teams are a whole lot better. We know we gotta be prepared for that.”

Reynolds doesn’t feel like there’s added pressure either, as he discussed, “It is what it is. You know, the media is gonna do their job, which is they’re gonna talk. As far as pressure to repeat, one way or another, is something that we’ve dealt with every year since freshman year. The question of ‘Can we do it again?’ ... We just have to make sure that our focus is to continue to improve. Keep proving it to each other that we’re doing it for each other, and not anything on the outside. I think everybody on this team is going to surpass their expectations. I think everybody is a way better player than what they were last year. The hope is that you can mesh that and become a better team.”

While the Wildcats lost a couple veterans in Ryan Arcidiacono and Daniel Ochefu, they’re returning the bulk of their team while also gaining transfer Eric Paschall, who Wright spoke very highly of, noting, “We’re really excited about him. He really took advantage of his sit out year... worked extremely hard, changed his body. We’re really excited about Eric Paschall. I don’t want to put too much pressure on him early, because you know he’s gotta learn how to play in the Big East. I think this’ll be a good year for him, but I’m really excited about what he can become.”

Wright and the Wildcats were dealt a blow last month when the NCAA ruled top recruit Omari Spellman ineligible, but Wright isn’t going to let it bother him, as he mentioned, “[Losing Spellman] is a blow. Omari is a talent, and he was fitting in really well in the summer. But, you know, a lot of teams are dealing with it. Could be an injury, could be something else. We’re not having him for the year. He’ll take advantage of this year like Eric Paschall did and it just gives other opportunities for other guys to step up.”


Xavier

Last season, Xavier looked to be on the cusp of one of the most successful years in the program’s history. And make no mistake, the Musketeers were good. Damn good, even. They rolled to a second place finish in the conference, had taken down Villanova in their home court of Cintas Center and laid waste to in-state rivals Dayton and Cincinnati in the process.

All of that was snuffed out in St. Louis however after Bronson Koenig’s buzzer-beater splashed into the net at Scottrade Center. The Wisconsin Badgers were marching on to the Sweet 16 in Philadelphia, and Xavier, meanwhile, was forced to pack their bags and head back home to Cincy.

The painful loss has likely stuck with X all summer, and after talking to one Musketeer, it appears that the mindset going into this year is simple.

“Our mindset is just to finish,” Musketeers forward Trevon Bluiett told Big East Coast Bias. “We made a point of emphasis this year. When we break down huddles, attack and finish. Obviously our run fell short last year. We thought we had a pretty good team to make it pretty far. We don’t have a pretty bad team this year, either. We’re emphasizing trying to finish this year.”

On the topic of Xavier they don’t appear to have a bad team. That much is certain, and was evident in the Musketeers’ standing in the Big East preseason poll. X is slotted at second behind Villanova, and there’s no denying that the expectations for Bluiett are quite high as well. Last year, Xavier coach Chris Mack raved about Blueitt and expected him to have a terrific sophomore season. Bluiett did just that, and in the process was named as an honorable mention to the AP All-America team, was a member of the USA TODAY All-America team, and was a First-Team All-Big East selection as well.

So what will Bluiett need to do to make it happen in his junior year?

“In the offseason, I think I made a couple more strides than I did my sophomore year to hopefully where I Make that jump like I have the past two years,” Bluiett said. “All i Can really do is keep playing and try to win. My main focus when I step on the court is trying to win. All those individual accolades will follow after.”

Bluiett also took the time to remark about things he made a priority in the offseason. “Fine tuning my strengths and then improve my weaknesses,” Bluiett said. “Ball handling a little bit. Defense wise, try to be quicker laterally because I know that’s probably the biggest thing holding me back.”

Xavier has quite a lot of continuity going into the 2016-17 season but despite that, the Musketeers lost the likes of James Farr and Jalen Reynolds in the offseason. Trevon expressed his thoughts on their absences and what X will need to do to maintain good production.

“Losing two key centerpieces only requires us to play harder,” Bluiett said. “Those guys probably average 13-14 boards a game. So we gotta find our replacement. And I just think that means we gotta play harder than we did before.”

But does that aforementioned continuity give them an edge?

“I think we have a pretty big edge,” Bluiett said. “We’ve been together since freshman year, for about three years. I’m not sure if anybody that’s still in the Big East has that type of chemistry. ... The walk-ons, we’ve had pretty good chemistry with them as well. They feel like they’re part of the team. They feel that they can do whatever just to help us. I feel like that’s a pretty good edge.”


Stray Observations

  • Greg McDermott is built like an NFL linebacker.
  • The Big East is NEVER leaving Madison Square Garden.
  • Providence is going to play mad all year.
  • MSG is super nice.

Special thanks to BECB staff members Marisa Miller and Tehr Umar for their assistance in transcribing these interviews.