The Big East is a Beast

Though+not+considered+a+power+five+conference%2C+the+Big+East+is+still+one+of+the+most+storied+conferences+%28courtesy+of+Twitter%29

Though not considered a power five conference, the Big East is still one of the most storied conferences (courtesy of Twitter)

Thomas Aiello, Assistant Sports Editor

The legendary Big East conference is one of the most storied traditions in all of college hoops.  From Patrick Ewing at Georgetown University, Ray Allen at the University of Connecticut, Felipe Lopez at St. John’s University and Jalen Brunson at Villanova University, the list of memorable names goes on and on. Not even considered a power five conference, the Big East remains as an honorary guest in that noble steed.  

Part two of my College Basketball series is here, and it’s time to review the beasts of the Big East.

The Providence Friars Must be Taken Serious.

As I have been saying for a few weeks now, everyone needs to take the Providence Friars seriously. Head coach Ed Cooley has transformed the Friars back into a perennial Big East contender once again even with losing David Duke Jr. to the NBA. The Friars are currently ranked 15th in the most recent AP Top 25.  

At his disposal is one of the best frontcourt duos in the Big East in AJ Reeves and Nate Watson.  Watson is once again on pace for an All-Big East selection, averaging 14.1 points per contest and second on his team in rebounds with 6.2 boards per contest. Watson is the prototypical big man: an efficient scorer around the rim, a good rebounder and an above-average defender.  

Reeves has been a nice compliment to Watson standing at 6’6”. His ability to play both inside and out adds another element to the Friars’ offense. Reeves is able to play defense, rebound and score at proficient levels, but as the season goes on he will take the next step. He sits at 10.7 PPG now, but you can expect that number to slightly uptick.   

Sprinkle in Aljami Durham who is second on the team in scoring, sharpshooter Noah Horchler (43% from three-point range) and a host of very good role players, the Friars can run the table come March and will for sure be dancing.  

Cooley’s team might rank second to last in the Big East in scoring (70.4 PPG), but their elite defense ranks second in the league as they only allow 64.1 PPG. The Friars resume also backs their NCAA tournament case. They are currently 16–2 with their only losses coming to Virginia and Marquette University. On top of that, this is a senior-heavy team. Experience goes a long way in college basketball, and the Friars have plenty of that.  

The Villanova Wildcats have Outsmarted Everyone… Again.

Villanova lost some very important pieces over the end of last season. Jeremiah Robinson-Earl is currently on the Oklahoma City Thunder, and Kyle Neptune is the head coach at Fordham University. Last year’s top player and the top assistant coach are gone, but head coach Jay Wright has once again outsmarted everyone after a 3–2 start to the season.

Collin Gillespe has taken the reins once again as the team leader and the best player. He is throwing up 17.3 points per game, the highest of his college career and leading the team in assists with 3.2 per contest. Junior guard Justin Moore has been a steady scoring option for the Wildcats since his arrival, now sitting at 15.9 points per contest on 43% shooting from the field and 39% from range. Sprinkle in Jermaine Samuels who has multiple edges he can sharpen, and the Wildcats have got themselves a trio to carry the load.

Wright’s club currently ranks 74th in defensive rating and 16th in offensive efficiency in Division 1. They allow just 60 points per game, are tied for the second best free throw percentage in the Big East and top the league in free throw percentage. Though Wright’s teams are known to be trigger happy, he constructs an offense that works to find the best quality look possible. Also aiding the process is Wright’s regular rotation being composed of juniors and seniors. Experience is always a good factor in this case.

Villanova currently sits at the 14th spot in the AP poll. Though the Wildcats dropped three spots from last week, they are still a team to be reckoned with come March. The Big East is as unpredictable as it has ever been in quite some time with so many great teams this year. This conference could have five or maybe even six teams come March. Villanova is for sure in the best position possible to claim a spot and be the regular season champions, as well as having a good chance at the Big East tournament title.

The Marquette Golden Eagles’ Future is Now.

Shaka Smart has once again made an appearance, but this time to discuss his current project rather than his past success. Following his time at the University of Texas, Smart has relocated to Marquette which has, so far, been a smart move. 

Smart is generating the exact same defensive culture in this Marquette program he did when he took the VCU job in 2009. This time he inherited Justin Lewis; a Steve Wojciechowski recruit who has excelled under Smart in his second season at Marquette. The 6’7” swingman has doubled his overall output from his up and down 2020–21 campaign. Lewis is en route to an All-Big East selection and maybe even a most improved award.

Smart’s system of defense requires a guard/wing-heavy roster, and I count three rostered players currently 6’9” or taller. So far, his 2023 recruiting class has few guards according to 247sports.com.

Smart and the Golden Eagles have finally hit the AP rankings at the #24 spot this week, while maintaining a top five offense in the Big East. Smart’s regular rotation is freshman heavy, with the only exceptions being graduate transfer Darryl Morsell and fourth-year junior Greg Elliot. 

Though freshman heavy right now, the continued growth of Justin Lewis and company can turn Marquette into a sustainable three year product as early as next year. For now, the Eagles are in position to make serious noise come the Big East tournament with their sights simultaneously set on March Madness.

The UConn Huskies are a Dan Hurley Masterclass.

Following James Bouknight’s departure via the NBA draft, head coach Dan Hurley has renovated the Huskies program into a perennial Big East powerhouse. Stepping in for the departed Bouknight has been senior guards RJ Cole and Tyrese Martin, both of whom are averaging 15.6 and 14.1 points per game. Also in this guard rotation is sophomore Andre Jackson who has taken a small leap this season as a full time starter.

The real prize of this Husky unit is none other than Adama Sanogo, the 6’9” sophomore big man who has become a destructive beast on offense and defense. Last season’s All-Freshman selection wasn’t just for fun, Sanogo has made a legit case for being one of the best big men in the Big East and maybe even the country. The human mountain averages 2.4 blocks per contest, and understands help defense and the overall defensive principles.

With Sanogo, Cole and Martin all en route to All-Big East teams this year, the Huskies have a formidable group that is deep, talented and well coached overall. The Huskies currently stand 22nd in defensive rating and 32nd in offensive rating in the nation, one of the best two way teams in the Big East. 

Dan Hurley has a track record of success that really began at the University of Rhode Island. Hurley took what was a four win program in URI and turned them into a consistent A-10 threat in six seasons at the helm (this included two NCAA tournament appearances and an A-10 tournament win). There he recruited E.C. Matthews, Hassan Martin, Fatts Russell, Jared Terrell and future NBA player Jeff Dowtin. Hurley had such an impact that Tyrese Martin even came from URI to play with Hurley at UConn despite Hurley never coaching Martin at URI.

Hurley has followed the same format at UConn, taking the Huskies to the tournament in season three. A year quicker than what he was able to do with URI, perhaps with a better team, but the methods have remained the same. Recruiting, development and good strategy is how Hurley drives his programs with no doubt that UConn can make the tournament this season. The firepower guard rotation of Jackson, Cole and Martin, coupled with Sanogo in the paint plus Dan Hurley producing the show? Don’t tread on this Husky team.