On Thursday, October 25th, the BIG EAST Conference kicked off the upcoming season with its annual Media Day, held at Madison Square Garden.
Big East Coast Bias caught up with your favorite coaches and players to get the scoop on all things 2018-19 SZN.
Fresh off the heels of their latest National Championship victory, the Villanova Wildcats are far from rushing into a bid for an attempted third national title in four years. In losing key players to the NBA, Jay Wright’s squad has swapped out tested experience for fresh faces. In the words of Coach Wright, “because of losing four guys, we can’t even think about repeating again. We’ve got to get this team together so that we could be a team that could compete for a Big East championship, win a Big East championship. We’re not there yet, but I think we could be by the end of the year.”
Leading the charge for the ‘Nova will be seniors Eric Paschall and Phil Booth. Paschall, who noted that he keeps in close, daily communication with his now-NBA former teammates, applauded the efforts of the younger Wildcats in this transitional time for the team. While crowds may be initially dazzled by the debut of McDonald’s All American and Co-BIG EAST Preseason Freshman of the Year Jahvon Quinerly, Paschall commented on the preseason prowess of freshman Saddiq Bey. Dropping 23 points in Villanova’s recent scrimmage against UNC, Paschall expressed that Bey has “done a great job of getting all of our concepts and playing hard.”
Premiering in second-place in the BIG EAST Preseason Coaches’ Poll, the highest rank for the Golden Eagles since the 2013-2014 season, Marquette has been garnering increased national attention for their packed roster. While other BIG EAST teams may be struggling to fulfill the vacuums left by graduating senior talent, Marquette doubles down on star power through juniors Markus Howard and Sam Hauser. Howard, who notably shot over 40% of three-pointers last season, was also a unanimous selection for the 2018-19 Preseason All-BIG EAST First Team.
When contemplating whether this is the strongest Marquette squad under his tenure, Coach Steve Wojciechowski affirmed that “certainly on paper we have that potential . . . I Iike our balance, I like our depth, I like our versatility. We have a good mix of experienced guys who have delivered on a high level and newcomers who add something different to our roster. We have a chance to be very good.”
Coach Woj also highlighted the fact that the Golden Eagles need to get better on the defensive side of the ball, stating that “we have worked very hard in the off-season to make adjustments. We are much more athletic and use that to our advantage . . . and schematically once games begin we will try to do things a bit different.” He is also excited about a few players who will be making their debuts for the Marquette this season, most notably Brendan Bailey, whom Coach Woj noted is back after being two years away on a Mormon mission.
Overall, Coach Woj likes the chance of Marquette this season, remarking that the ultimate goal is to win the Big East and that his team will be putting in the work to have a shot.
Nabbing third-place in the BIG EAST Preseason Coaches’ Poll, the highest rank for Providence since conference realignment, Ed Cooley remains ready to coach his pants off for another season. For the Friars, 4-star recruit and incoming freshman David Duke is already making waves as the Co-BIG EAST Preseason Freshman of the Year, sharing the honors with Villanova’s Jahvon Quinerly.
Beyond individual accolades, the Friars as a whole are operating with increased team unity. Sophomore Nate Watson expressed that the team’s summer trip to Italy was a large contributing factor to the squad’s cohesiveness. “Having different roommates every trip, traveling, eating together. That allowed us to get closer together. Now it’s more like a brotherhood,” Watson stated. Watson further expressed that the team’s closeness has directly impacted preseason practices, remarking “practices are a lot smoother. Even though we lack experience, it feels like we’ve known each other a long time.”
There is a great amount of hype for St. John’s heading into this season. With three quality returning starters and some interesting players coming into the mix, this might be the season for the Johnnies to emerge as a bright spot in the conference this season. The BIG EAST’s Preseason Coaches’ Poll has the Red Storm at fourth in the conference, to go along with the news of Shamorie Ponds being named Preseason Player of the Year, an honor that a Red Storm player has not taken home since Malik Sealy in 1991 when he shared the award with Georgetown’s Alonzo Mourning.
When asked about his team, Chris Mullin opened his remarks “I think this time of year everyone has got a positive outlook and I think the one thing that we have got is our experience. Guys are returning, guys who have played minutes together . . . you know who have a bunch of adversity and some nice wins together. We are looking forward more of a consistent winning team.” When asked about the run at the end of the season, Coach Mullin followed up with “you know after a tough January, I thought it was really impressive that our guys were able to maintain their focus and not letting losing distract them from working each day . . . giving themselves a chance for that to happen. It was something that our guys looking back will go you we dealt with that before. It was another experience although one that was not enjoyable it was a lesson learned.”
As for his players, incoming transfer Mustapha Heron has certainly draw more buzz to St. John’s for this season as he will be pairing up in the back court with Shamorie Ponds. On the subject of Heron and what he brings to the team, Coach Mullin highlighted “that as a player he is a really gifted offensive player . . . great shooter . . . very fundamentally sound . . . can play one on one, in the post. Defensively he can play post defense, you can switch with him and he has great experience and had two great years at Auburn. That experience is a great asset something you can’t teach and can’t coach.”
There was also an air of confidence for this season from the players as Marvin Clark noted “I definitely feel like this will be a season where we make a lot of noise especially with the experience coming back . . . it is definitely a team that was constructed to be special this year.” He also followed up with “last year was a great experience in setting up for this season in learning how to win . . . and no moment is too big for our team.” Clark also was excited by the prospect of Sedee Keita coming into the fold this season, highlighting his athletic prowess and giving St. John’s someone to get the ball to down low—something that has been missing from the Red Storm’s game plans.
Year 1 of head coaching for LaVall Jordan ended with a run in the NCAA Tournament, and he undoubtedly would like year two to follow suit. With the loss of Kelan Martin and Tyler Wideman, the Bulldogs are focusing on fostering the emerging leadership within the team. “It opens the door for opportunity for new leadership. That’s been the fun part in preseason practice here, watching two seniors, Paul Jorgensen and Nate Fowler. Hearing their voices more in the practice court, in the locker room. Kamar Baldwin and Aaron Thompson in the backcourt. Watching those guys emerge as vocal leaders, trying to uphold what Tyler and Kelan left.”
Fowler noted that having a large number of returning teammates eases the blow losing veteran experience, and reiterated coach Jordan’s affirmation of his growing leadership presence on the squad. Positive preseason impact isn’t limited to solely the Bulldog’s new leaders. “Jerald [Gillens-Butler], Sean [McDermott], Kamar [Baldwin], Paul [Jorgensen]—everyone has had their day in practice,” Fowler stated.
The Xavier Musketeers are experiencing the standard levels of veteran turnover from last season, but also have had to deal with a higher-profile exit: (now former) coach Chris Mack’s departure to Louisville. Now, Travis Steele, a longtime member of Xavier’s coaching staff, has taken the reigns.
Waves of rising young leadership, from both the coaching and player standpoints, affects the ease of preseason practice, but the Musketeers are working to sail above any ripples. Junior Quentin Goodin commented that the marquee senior names like J.P. Macura and Trevon Blueitt leaving may have affected preseason development, but players are stepping up to fill those gaps. “You got guys like me and [Tyrique Jones], we just as loud as J.P. and Tre in practice—probably have more a voice, to be honest. That makes things a little bit easier to help people get through practice without it being too hectic.”
Steele spoke with a lot of enthusiasm on his upcoming season as head coach of the Musketeers. When speaking with Steele, he first remarked “that it is great to be here at a university that I am passionate about,” also jokingly adding, “that it is a move that did not require a change of location.” His knowledge of the program also will come in handy as he also remarked that the culture of the program is already in place.
As for his team, Steele highlighted, “that we have a chance to be really good this season and to see how we grow as a team. We have a great group of guys on this team and a chance to do some great things.” As for the X’s and O’s, Steele remarked “I think we will be really aggressive defensively. I think we got to pressure the ball a lot more than we have . . . create more offense off our defense . . . and we are not going to look the same as far as shooting but still be just as effective. We have got to get the ball into the paint, offensive rebounds, and put pressure on the rim.”
Lastly, he is excited by the prospect of his first game against Cincinnati as a head coach stating that “it is as good of a game as you will ever play in college basketball. Its a players game and the best team does not always win, its about the toughest team. I am super excited about coaching in this game.”
It is a new and exciting time for the Musketeers.
Coach Patrick Ewing also begins year 2 of his tenure with the Hoyas. More than many of their BIG EAST counterparts, Georgetown’s roster has weathered through multiple influxes of departures and transfers. The steady, consistent force in the sea of such team change? Jessie Govan. A unanimous vote to the Preseason All-BIG EAST First Team, Govan is expected to continue his lead of the Hoyas.
While Govan may have averaged double-doubles last season, Ewing insists “he can get a lot better.” “He is the staple of our team. We have some very great guards, but if we’re going to do anything in the BIG EAST, he’s going to have to step up and play the way he is capable of playing,” Ewing stated.
While the loss of senior stalwarts such as Angel Delgado and Khadeen Carrington may have weighed Seton Hall down, coach Kevin Willard touted that his squad is making strides to move faster than before. Remarking that the 2018-19 squad is “a little bit more athletic, a little bit more hot to shoot,” Willard additionally praised Myles Powell, voted as BIG EAST’s Most Improved Player, for his potential to become one of the best scorers in the league.
Sophomore Myles Cale echoed Willard’s excitement at the Pirates’ increased athleticism. “You see a lot more dunking. A lot more running the floor. A lot more rebounding and pushing it up. Seeing that, and seeing how we turned from a slower-paced team to a faster-paced team is really good. I’m actually a faster-paced player, so that fits my game a little better,” Cale stated.
Placing ninth in the BIG EAST Preseason Coaches’ Poll, the lowest ranking for the school since the 2015-16 season, Creighton is added to the list of teams that must reconfigure their roster identity after losing central, seasoned players like Marcus Foster and Khyri Thomas. The upswing to focusing on the development of burgeoning talent? Coach Greg McDermott remarked that there is a lot of “youthful energy and enthusiasm in practice.”
Junior Martin Krampelj is expected to lead the Bluejays this season, already racking up a Preseason All-BIG EAST Honorable Mention nod. Krampelj, on the the mend from his third ACL-related knee injury, will likely be joined by fellow junior Davion Mintz as leaders of the squad.
In the BIG EAST’s Preseason Coaches’ Poll, DePaul was once again posted at tenth in the conference but heading into this season there is an air of optimism for the Blue Demons. At the start of the day’s proceedings, coach Dave Leitao remarked that “you don’t beat good teams. You don’t be good players. You beat good programs.” Which while drawing some ire does have some validity especially as the Blue Demons came close but up short in a lot of games last season.
Coach Leitao still has an upbeat position for this season, remarking “I understand the Big East is the Big East . . . we know the road to victory is going to be difficult but I think we are ready both physically and mentally to take on that challenge.” Coach Leitao also noted earlier on, that he feels this season is the right time for DePaul to move up the later this season stating, “I think so . . . I think the people in our gym think so. You know its yet to be proven so I understand people’s view on not necessarily this team but our program . . . hopefully that means have a much better sense of urgency on a day to day basis and we are prepared.”
As for his players, last season Max Strus and Eli Cain were cornerstones on the court for DePaul with Cain averaging 11.7 points and 4.7 assists and Strus having a great breakout season averaging 16.8 points and 5.6 rebounds. This will be the senior season for both players. When asked about what both players have meant to DePaul, coach Leitao stated, “you know, two very different paths. One in Max who transferred in and this is our third year together but he has been a guy who has been associated with DePaul almost his whole life through family . . . it means a lot because of the pride that he has in wanting to do well. Eli is a guy you know represents the only remaining member of our team that has been with me from day one . . . he has a very special place in our heart and has meant a lot to our basketball program and his individual numbers speak for them self.”
Strus was a main point of interest due to his breakout last season. When asked about how he will go about this season and who coach Leitao will employ, he remarked “I think like a lot of players . . . you know he works so hard at his game expanding himself as a player and all the responsibilities of being a primary scorer and not just shoot the ball which he does extremely well . . . to make great decision . . . to put the ball on the floor and do things close to the basket as well as behind the three point line is something that he has worked on extremely hard at. So I think when you combine that with Eli at his natural position and you add Jalen Coleman-Lance and big guys inside . . . hopefully that means he will have less attention as good players get because he will be willing to share the basketball and get the ball to guys who will do something with it.”
BIG EAST Preseason Player of the Year
Shamorie Ponds, St. John’s, G, Jr.
BIG EAST Preseason Freshman of the Year
David Duke, Providence, G., Fr.
Jahvon Quinerly, Villanova, G. Fr.
Preseason All-BIG EAST First Team
Kamar Baldwin, Butler, G, Jr. *
Jessie Govan, Georgetown, C, Sr. *
Markus Howard, Marquette, G, Jr. *
Alpha Diallo, Providence, G, Jr.
Eric Paschall, Villanova, F, Sr. *
* Unanimous selection
Preseason All-BIG EAST Second Team
Max Strus, DePaul, F, Sr.
Sam Hauser, Marquette, F, Jr.
Justin Simon, St. John’s, G, Jr.
Phil Booth, Villanova, G, Sr.
Preseason All-BIG EAST Honorable Mention
Martin Krampelj, Creighton, F, Jr.
Naji Marshall, Xavier, F, So.