A season ago, Villanova went 16-2 in the Big East, which in any year is an outstanding feat.
But, the Big East in 2013-14 was a newly revamped conference without teams like Syracuse, Pittsburgh, Notre Dame and Louisville.
Still, winning 16 games against Big East regulars like Marquette, Georgetown, DePaul, Providence, St. John's and Seton Hall is very good for a team that was considered by many a ‘second-tier' team years prior.
That, along with returning four of the five starters from last year's team was enough to get them a unanimous first place vote in the preseason rankings.
Let's dive in and talk about what the preseason Big East Conference poll tells us about what's to come this season.
While Villanova had the best season of any team in the Big East last year, this could be Jay Wright's best year as a head coach. The Wildcats bring back JayVaughn Pinkston, who has been the face of the program arguably since he's stepped on campus. Pinkston averaged 12.4 points per game in his first three years with the program, to go along with his outstanding shooting percentage of 47 percent.
Darrun Hilliard returns to the program for his senior season as well, who averaged just over 14 points last season. Villanova brings back one of my favorite players to watch in Ryan Arcidiacano: the team's stud point guard who is poised to have a true breakout year. He came in being known as a 3-point specialist, but really developed his control of the ball and making sure to not force himself to take all the big shots.
This team's ceiling is very high, and in my opinion I think they can be a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, with a chance to reach the Final Four. It all depends on how they handle the nonconference teams.
For the Hoyas, last season is one to forget about. They finished 18-15, and were bounced in the first round of the Big East Tournament to DePaul.
It was obviously going to be tough for the Hoyas after losing one of the best scorers the program has ever seen in Otto Porter Jr. They had a solid top of their recruiting class in Reggie Cameron, who was a 4-star recruit out of Hudson Catholic, but he didn't see a big time role in the Hoyas offense.
They return Cameron, Joshua Smith and Big East Preseason Player of the Year D`Vauntes Smith-Rivera. Smith-Rivera is really flying under the radar of many NBA scouts, but could be in the running for National Player of the Year, as he averaged 17 points last season while having to share the load with Markel Starks.
They lose Starks this year, and I think Georgetown is predicted right where they should be. They'll win at least 12 games inside the Big East, and with even an average nonconference performance, the Hoyas should get at least a 7- or 8-seed in the NCAA Tournament without winning the conference outright.
The Red Storm finished in a three-way tie for 3rd place in the Big East last season, and did not really amaze anyone with their play in the nonconference portion of their schedule. St. John's fell in the first round of the Big East Tournament to Providence and lost their first game in the NIT to 8-seeded Robert Morris.
With the bad, comes the good, as the Red Storm bring back their three of their best scorers from last season in D`Angelo Harrison, Rysheed Jordan and Phil Greene IV. They have a very favorable non-conference schedule with the lone outlier being traveling upstate to take on Syracuse, which should be their only loss before Big East play.
My bold prediction is that Rysheed Jordan will be the best point guard in the conference this season, and help St. John's get into the NCAA Tournament.
Can they win the conference? Absolutely.
But the real question is how can this team perform when they are picked so high in the preseason poll? Only time will tell as St. John's looks to bring their program back to where it once was.
Xavier is one of those teams every year that doesn't look outstanding on paper and usually isn't picked in the top three in the preseason poll. Yet, somehow, they almost always sneak into the NCAA Tournament. For this year's squad, the Musketeers lose their top two scorers in Semaj Christon (17 PPG) & Justin Martin (11.7 PPG), yet bring back Matt Stainbrook, who was selected on the Preseason All-Big East First Team.
A season ago, they weren't a very good road team in the Big East, going just 3-6 away from the Cintas Center in conference.
For a team with six incoming freshmen, to be picked this high in the preseason poll after losing three of the top four scorers from 2013 is proof that so many people around the nation know what Chris Mack can do with just a little bit of experience. I ultimately think Xavier will get into the NCAA Tournament in a First Four game similar to last season, and if it goes it has before, the Musketeers could make a run to the Sweet 16.
It wasn't a complete surprise when Providence won the Big East tournament last season and got into the NCAA Tournament. They had Bryce Cotton leading the way, who really drew eyes to the Big East after the realignment as the conference's premier scorer. Cotton departed along with Kadeem Batts, who was the Friars' third leading scorer in 2013-14, which are two huge losses for a team that was very top heavy in terms of scoring.
They bring back LaDontae Henton, who logged about 1,300 minutes last season, was second in scoring with 14 points per game, and is widely regarded as the top wingman in the conference. Tyler Harris also returns to Ed Cooley's Friars this season, who is going to be a focal point down low along with Henton and Carson Desrosiers.
The one big question mark for this team is how Kris Dunn, who missed last season with a shoulder injury, will fare in the Big East. If he is the missing piece they need, Providence can be a legit threat to be a top three seed in the conference tournament. If not, the Friars will finish below 6th in the Big East, and miss the NCAA Tournament.
Seton Hall is picked pretty high in the Big East this season, mainly in part of how they finished last year. The Pirates reached the Big East semifinals as an 8-seed, and were really guided by returning guard Sterling Gibbs. Gibbs averaged just over 13 a game in 2013-14, and is going to be looked at as the focal point on offense again.
The problem is he's the only one of their top five scorers coming back this season.
Seton Hall is really banking on freshman guard Isaiah Whitehead, who is one of the best recruits the program has seen recently. Whitehead is one of eight players on the team playing in their first game with the program this season. With a very young team, Seton Hall can surprise some people, but they can also disappoint a lot of people.
Being picked sixth is very accurate for this team and is likely where they will finish, as they can pull a few upsets in the conference, and get upset a couple of times as well.
Once upon a time, Butler was America's Team, gaining a huge fan base in a two-year span with back-to-back National Championship appearances. This year, they are picked near the bottom of the conference, which I would not say is appropriate for a team with as much potential as the Butler Bulldogs.
They finally get Roosevelt Jones back from a wrist injury last year, along with Kellen Dunham, who was Second Team All-Big East last year. Their coaching issues with the loss of Brad Stevens, and now the temporary loss of Brandon Miller, do raise the eyebrows. Chris Holtmann will fill in for Miller while he's on a medical leave of absence, in only his second year with the Bulldogs program.
It'll be interesting to see how Butler fares in the Big East with who they bring back, but for now, I cannot see them making the NCAA Tournament, and possibly sneaking into the NIT if they perform well enough in conference.
In the old Big East, Marquette was always the sleeper team that was picked low that would pull a few upsets and get into the NCAA Tournament. This year, unfortunately, will not be one of those years. The Golden Eagles are just way too young and inexperienced to make any noise, and while they do bring back a pair of seniors in Juan Anderson and Derrick Wilson, those two alone cannot carry the load to bring them to the NIT.
I think this speaks for itself, but with Doug McDermott no longer in the program, Creighton is going into probably its biggest rebuilding stage ever. Austin Chatman is the lone starter returning to the team at the point guard position, and while their roster at the moment lists 17 players, they would all have to contribute substantially to make it to the NIT.
DePaul has a lot of potential on their roster right now, including two Big East All-Rookie Team members from 2013-14. Billy Garrett Jr., who took home Rookie of the Year honors a year ago, brings in his 12.4 points per game mark from last year and looks to bring some exposure back to this team, who surprised people in the last couple years. The Blue Demons could finish as high as 7th in my opinion, but is likely to finish in the bottom third of the Big East.