The Big East is expanding to 16 teams for the 2021-22 season and will be divided into two divisions of eight.
The big east conference football is a popular college football conference. It was formed in 1979 and has been one of the most successful conferences in the country since then.
The countdown to the start of the 2021-22 college basketball season on November 9 begins, and ESPN.com’s panel of experts is making predictions for all of the country’s major leagues. We continue this week with the Big East Conference after looking at Gonzaga and the top teams from the mid-major leagues (Atlantic 10, C-USA, Ivy, MAC, Missouri Valley, Mountain West, SoCon, Sun Belt, and WCC), followed by Memphis, Houston, and the AAC.
The Villanova Wildcats, whose dreams of winning a fourth national championship were dashed when Collin Gillespie went down with a season-ending knee injury late last season, are back with Gillespie in tow, and Jay Wright and company are once again dreaming big. However, the rest of the league may be closing in on them. In March, UConn made the NCAA tournament for the first time under Dan Hurley, Creighton was a second-weekend team for the first time in school history, and other teams like as St. John’s, Seton Hall, and Providence are going in with high hopes after a disappointing finish last season.
With that in mind, Myron Medcalf, Jeff Borzello, John Gasaway, and Joe Lunardi of ESPN.com made their forecasts and discussed all of the conference’s major problems.
Superlatives | Roundtable | Picks | Superlatives
Superlatives for the Big East in 2021-22
Athlete of the Year
Collin Gillespie, Villanova, Medcalf Collin Gillespie, Villanova, Borzello Lunardi: Collin Gillespie, Villanova Gasaway: Julian Champagnie, St. John’s
Newcomer of the Year is a prestigious award given to a newcomer
Aminu Mohammed, Georgetown Medcalf Aminu Mohammed, Georgetown, Borzello: Aminu Mohammed, Georgetown, Aminu Mohammed, Georgetown, Aminu Mohammed, Georgetown, Aminu Mohammed Aminu Mohammed, Georgetown, Lunardi
Writers’ roundtable for the Big East in 2021-22
Villanova is once again the Big East’s team to beat, and on paper, it has the greatest squad in the league. Is it too ambitious to dream of another national title? What is your main concern about the Cats?
Collin Gillespie is back, healthy, and ready to end his Villanova career on a high note. Icon Sportswire/Zach Bolinger photo
Medcalf: I don’t believe a national championship is a lofty a goal for a team that advanced to the Sweet 16 last season despite losing starting point guard Collin Gillespie to a ruptured MCL and losing to the eventual national champion. Most programs are derailed as a result of these injuries. Villanova, on the other hand, was still a second-weekend team. The Wildcats were also 6-1 in their last seven games of the disappointing 2019-2020 season. Who knows what occurred in those two years, but they had a chance. Villanova has now reintroduced Gillespie and Jermaine Samuels, as well as the supporting cast, to back up the predictions that the Wildcats will reach the Final Four. It’s never a good idea to put your faith in Jay Wright.
Jeremiah Robinson-departure Earl’s concerns me. Jay Wright follows the “next guy up” philosophy at Villanova. The following group always manages to fill in the gaps. Robinson-Earl, on the other hand, had a big influence on the players around him. Last season, with Robinson-Earl on the court, Villanova shot 54 percent from inside the arc and limited opponents to 95 points per 100 possessions, according to hooplens.com. When Robinson-Earl was on the floor during the NCAA tournament without Gillespie, Villanova committed turnovers on 14% of possessions. Yes, this group has a lot of talent. However, replacing a 6-foot-8 athlete with Robinson-skill Earl’s set will be tough.
Borzello: In the perspective of history, winning three national championships in seven seasons may seem excessively ambitious, but winning two national titles in three seasons is just as demanding — so no, I don’t think placing the Wildcats in the Monday night conversation is overly bold. Jay Wright gets the greatest results from players who have been in his program for many years, and he’s bringing back an older bunch this season, with four starters returning from last season. Gillespie has the potential to be one of the greatest point guards in the nation, while Samuels improved significantly past season. With Brandon Slater creating some good preseason hype, they’ll need some role players to step up.
The inside is where I’m most concerned. Last season, Robinson-Earl was named Big East Player of the Year, although he is no longer with the team. Villanova’s perimeter groupings typically carry the club, but the Wildcats have always featured strong big men on their greatest teams (i.e. Omari Spellman, Daniel Ochefu, etc.) They were also a poor defensive squad last season, finishing tenth in both 2-point and 3-point percentage defense in the Big East. Eric Dixon, a returnee, and Nnanna Njoku, a rookie, will be responsible for a lot.
Gasaway: A fourth national championship for Villanova would be a huge accomplishment. It would put the Wildcats ahead of Kansas all-time, and it would give the program three championships in seven seasons, as Jeff pointed out. That’s fascinating stuff, but based on what we know today, it seems to be much too ambitious for this group.
Last season, the Big East had little trouble hitting shots against this unit, as Nova’s defense placed dead last in the conference in terms of opponent effective FG %. That’s hardly the usual profile for a squad coming off a national championship. To be fair, the Wildcats were 11-4 in the Big East this season, and I think they’ll win it in 2022. We know that players like Gillespie, Samuels, and Justin Moore will be the driving force behind what will most likely be a minuscule team-wide turnover rate. Still, until this defense forces some mistakes, taking down the nets in April will be a difficult task.
“This isn’t an exceptional Villanova squad,” Lunardi says. Raise your hand if you’ve ever eaten anything like that in the last ten years. Nonetheless, this does not seem to be a top-tier Villanova squad. Yes, it’s excellent. Probably the best in the Big East. But is it better to win the Final Four or the National Championship? I don’t think so.
Last March, the Wildcats made it to the Sweet 16, but they benefited from a fortunate schedule that included Winthrop and North Texas. Gillespie has returned, but his injury was not minor. The frontcourt is devoid of superstars. I don’t see the next Saddiq Bey or Jeremiah Robinson-Earl approaching Adam Silver for a handshake.
To put it another way, we’re in for another Jay Wright spectacular. For Villanova, the whole will once again be greater than the sum of its parts. The Wildcats will win the Big East regular-season championship once again. However, until (until?) a genuine NBA-level player develops, the Cats are best described as a second-weekend club.
Under Dan Hurley, UConn has made progress, but their return to the NCAA tournament last year was disappointing. Is this the year the Huskies reclaim their status as a genuine brand name in college basketball? Is this squad capable of posing a serious challenge to Villanova?
Although UConn was defeated in the first round of the NCAA tournament by Maryland, Isaiah Whaley is one of the Huskies’ outstanding returning players. via USA TODAY Sports/Nikolas Frazier/Indy Star
Borzello: I believe there is a gap between No. 1 and No. 2 in the Big East this season, but if Villanova falters due to any of the issues listed above, UConn is in the greatest position to overtake the Wildcats at the top. For most of the summer, I was on the fence regarding the Huskies, owing to their struggles last season while James Bouknight was sidelined and the fact that Bouknight is now with the Charlotte Hornets. But I’ve re-joined the bandwagon.
Except for Bouknight, UConn returns the majority of its roster, the Huskies will be one of the top defensive teams in the nation, and they will have four ESPN 100 rookies. It won’t be easy to replace Bouknight’s scoring, but R.J. Cole has shown he can score, Andre Jackson should improve now that he’s healthy, and freshman Jordan Hawkins has allegedly looked very well in early workouts. Hurley is going to figure it out.
Gasaway: In the grand scheme of things, UConn is in its prime. The Huskies have returned to the Big East after a brief run in the NCAA tournament, and they are rated in the Associated Press preseason top 25 for the first time in five years. So, although replacing Bouknight will be difficult, the job is being approached in the context of positive news and strong defense. Cole should have carried a little more of the offensive burden last season after coming in from Howard, in my opinion. Instead, the assault was centered on Bouknight, who was compared to Kemba Walker. Cole will undoubtedly get the chance to demonstrate his abilities as a senior.
Lunardi: I’m not sure I’d call UConn’s return to the NCAA tournament a letdown. Since its previous national title in 2014, the program has only made one additional appearance, amidst a lot of turmoil off the field. The Huskies did fall in the first round against Maryland, but it was a 50/50 game and far from humiliating.
Returning to the Big East in third place (11-6) sounds fairly excellent to me, and the Huskies are still climbing the ladder. Another NCAA bid is virtually likely, and it seems that UConn will ultimately dethrone Villanova — maybe this season, perhaps not.
Medcalf: Despite the early playoff departure, I believe UConn made progress past season. But it’s hard to see UConn as a national brand until it’s a regular threat in the Big East once again. If the Huskies can compete with Villanova for the top position this season, we’ll hear a lot of “UConn is back” rhetoric. The Big East’s floor, on the other hand, is usually so low. Only one club has won the league championship by more than two games since the 2014-15 season: Villanova in 2016-17. Because of the conference’s depth, there is always the possibility of falling short of expectations. Still, if Cole and Tyrese Martin can improve on last season’s effort — which must involve Martin having a more consistent season — this is a squad that can compete with Villanova.
Shaka Smart takes over at Marquette, where he’ll try to win over a skeptical fan base and put an end to a shaky stint at Texas. Will Smart’s presence in Milwaukee be a good fit?
Shaka Smart had his ups and downs in Texas, but he’s now back in Wisconsin. Eric Gay/AP Photo
Gasaway: Is it OK for me to claim this was a good hiring even if I predict the new coach’s club will finish second-to-last in the league this season? Yes, Smart should be a good match for Marquette. “Difficult-to-please” fan groups are also ecstatic when their club does well, which the new coach may achieve in due time. While the ball didn’t bounce his way in the NCAA tournament, he did earn Texas the highest seed in the program’s 13-year history. If you’re the Jesuits in Milwaukee, Smart’s Wisconsin credentials and track record as a top-level recruiter make him a no-brainer choice. Not to add that the coach was born only days after Marquette won the national championship in 1977. Perhaps it’s destiny.
Marquette and Shaka Smart are a perfect match, according to Medcalf. I believe he sees this as a VCU-style Power 6 chance. He’s in a big city near a lot of recruiting hotspots throughout the Midwest. He’s in close proximity to his family (his mother still lives about 90 minutes west of Milwaukee). And he seems to be at ease there thus far. He is also exempt from having to deal with football. The myth regarding “football schools” is that they are uninterested in basketball. That is not the case. They just don’t want to be concerned with their basketball product since they are concentrating their efforts on the football field. People will leave you alone if you win and achieve the goal. When you can’t quite break through, like Smart failed to do at Texas, the tone shifts. Fast.
However, I believe that individuals should be aware that Marquette has similar expectations. Marquette has won a national championship. Texas is not one of them. Marquette supporters, I believe, will allow Smart time to make his mark on the program. But this isn’t a case of “we’re fortunate to have you.” Marquette is looking to win. They also want to win as quickly as possible.
Lunardi: Smart’s playing style is what I’m most interested in. Will he go all-out “Havoc” like VCU? Or will he have to tone it down a notch, like he did when Big 12-level opponents were up to the challenge? Whatever happens, it should be entertaining.
The Golden Eagles have been in desperate need of a new start for a long time. Smart gives the show a new lease of life. If he wins like the real Buzz (Williams), which I believe he will, college basketball will be a better place because Marquette is back on the stage.
Borzello: I believe it will be a good hire in the end, but it will take some time. Year one will be difficult due to the fact that just two players who played significant minutes last season are returning. Smart, on the other hand, is a skilled recruiter who had no trouble recruiting quality talents at Texas, and he’ll bring that experience to Marquette. I also believe the Marquette position’s characteristics are better for Smart; it’s a basketball job at a basketball school with a lot of resources, in a familiar community that supports and wants Marquette basketball to succeed. That sounds similar to VCU, but on a much larger scale. Smart will be free to concentrate on developing the roster, recruiting players who suit his style, and stamping his mark on the program.
What Big East club isn’t getting nearly enough attention heading into 2021-22?
This season, Paul Scruggs and Xavier are expected to return to the NCAA tournament. Katie Stratman is a sports reporter for USA TODAY.
Xavier made fewer than 29% of their 3-point attempts in Big East competition last season and still made the Bubble Watch list. In 2022, these players might look a lot better with just average perimeter shooting. When healthy, Zach Freemantle is one of the greatest big men in the Big East. Travis Steele returns his top seven scorers, Paul Scruggs is an outstanding scoring point guard, and Travis Steele returns his top seven scorers. Steele also brought in two Big Ten transfers, Iowa’s Jack Nunge and Indiana’s Jerome Hunter (Indiana). The Musketeers will be deeper and perhaps better than last season’s squad.
Lunardi: I have a sneaking feeling that we are undervaluing Providence once again. Ed Cooley led the Friars to five consecutive NCAA tournament appearances prior to the COVID-19 epidemic. This season, he’s reverting to the kind of ensemble cast that has worked him so well in the past. Despite the early departure of David Duke to the NBA, I envision Providence remaining in its usual position on the edge of the playoffs.
Medcalf: On paper, Butler’s finish last season does not inspire a lot of confidence for this season. However, it’s worth noting that last year’s volatility posed a lot of difficulties for a program that couldn’t seem to get off the ground. Assistant Jeff Meyer resigned immediately before the season began, expressing worries about the pandemic, and the program was forced to stop for three weeks due to COVID-19 soon after Butler’s nonconference schedule began. Butler had missed almost a month of preparation by the time they played Villanova on Dec. 16, 2020 (yet lost 85-66).
They’ve retained almost all of their top players from last season. Chuck Harris (12.9 points per game) is one of five double-figure scorers returning for LaVall Jordan, who will have one of the most seasoned teams in the nation in what will be a pivotal season for the club. Last season, Jordan’s team defeated Villanova and Creighton. A new start at Butler may be the spark for a stronger year and more quality victories.
Borzello: It’s Seton Hall, almost overwhelmingly among conference coaches. The Pirates had been to every NCAA tournament since 2015 before to last season, and although Sandro Mamukelashvili is gone, three starters are returning, and three important transfers are joining the team. Kadary Richmond, a talented Syracuse transfer, may play a key role for Kevin Willard this season, while Jared Rhoden is an underappreciated all-league player and Myles Cale has been a constant scoring threat. Seton Hall could return to the dance if Bryce Aiken stays healthy and the newcomers make an instant impact.
Order of finish for the Big East in 2021-22
1. Villanova University 2. Xavier 3. UConn Seton Hall is fourth, St. John’s is fifth, and Butler is sixth (tie) Providence is number six (tie) Creighton University (No. 8) Georgetown is number nine. 10. Marquette University DePaul University (#11)
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