We've officially reached that awkward point in the college hoops offseason where the dust has mostly settled from all the transfer/coaching carousel madness, but it's still far too early to start any serious previewing of the 2014-15 season.
In keeping with the spirit of the season, it's time to continue our series of brief rundowns of what each conference looks like after all the moving and shaking that has happened since Connecticut cut down the nets in Dallas. Today we look at a Big East Conference desperate to prove that its rough 2013-14 debut was not a sign of things to come.
THREE BIGGEST STORYLINES
1. Can this be a top-tier conference?
It's hard to label year one of the "new" Big East as anything less than a disappointment. An exciting conference championship game inside Madison Square Garden between Providence and Creighton dredged up some positive emotions of the past, but the succeeding week was a brutal reminder of just how drastically things have changed.
The Big East sent four teams to the 2014 NCAA Tournament, and those four teams combined for exactly two victories and zero trips to the Sweet 16. Two seed Villanova and three seed Creighton did nothing to reward the confidence that the Selection Committee placed in both them and their conference by getting pasted in the Round of 32 by a combined 42 points.
If the Big East wants to avoid an onslaught of "we need to stop calling it the Big East" columns in the summer of 2015 or 2016, it needs its flagship programs to step up. Georgetown and Marquette simply cannot miss the NCAA Tournament, and teams with a respectable national profile -- like Villanova and Creighton last season -- need to cash in on their moment in the spotlight. The aura of the Big East name can only carry these 10 teams so far before the hoops world starts clamoring for results.
2. Buzz Williams bolts for Virginia Tech
Speaking of national perception, both the Big East's and Marquette's were dealt a huge blow when Buzz Williams shocked the college hoops landscape by making the (at best) lateral move to Virginia Tech.
Under Williams, Marquette was a mainstay in the NCAA Tournament and a familiar face in the Sweet 16. This fact made his decision to go to a program that has been to the big dance just twice since 1986 more than a tad perplexing. Williams himself broke down the decision (in a way that only he can) in an exhaustive piece by Gary Parrish of CBSSports.com.
Regardless of the how or why the Williams move came about, Steve Wojciechowski is the new man in Milwaukee, and Marquette fans seem to be pretty excited about that.
For a while it seemed like both Wojo and Chris Collins were going to spend their entire careers sitting next to Coach K on the bench inside Cameron Indoor, but now each has landed his very own head coaching gig at a program in a major conference. While Collins effectively provided hope for the future in his first season at Northwestern, Wojciechowski's task at Marquette is a bit different. The Golden Eagles had been to eight straight NCAA Tournaments before last season, and the fans of the program expect to be a year-in, year-out Final Four contender.
There's always going to be "lack of head coaching experience" concerns when a major program hires a lifelong assistant, and you can't just dismiss the fact that, other than a brief playing stint overseas, Wojciechowski hasn't worked or played anywhere outside of Duke since 1994. That said, there's probably not a better place for a future head coach to spend two decades, and the recent success of longtime Blue Devil assistants like Mike Brey and Tommy Amaker reinforces that notion.
Marquette's hire was about continuity, and now it's on Wojo to provide that and bolster both the program's and its conference's reputation.
3. The Dave Gavitt Tipoff Series
In early May, the Big East and the Big Ten announced that they were linking up to start an eight-game season tipoff series between teams from the conferences named in honor of Big East founder Dave Gavitt. The series, which will begin in 2015-16 and last for at least eight seasons, will be played on four consecutive days during the opening week of the college basketball season.
While keeping the conference tournament at Madison Square Garden was big for the league, the new Big East needs to find itself some equally new traditions, and linking up with a big five conference for an annual event is a great start. Computer rankings look at wins in November the same way they look at wins in March, and this series should afford some Big East squads the opportunity to notch a key resume win less than a week into the season. The only downside is that we're going to have to wait a year for this thing to get started.
Tyler Lewis (NC State)
Austin Etherington (Indiana)
Cole Huff (Nevada)
Ricky Kreklow (California)
Maurice Watson (Boston U)
Matt Carlino (BYU)
Luke Fischer (Indiana)
Chier Ajou (Northwestern)
Remy Abell (Indiana)
Nolan Berry (UC Davis)
Elijah Brown (New Mexico)
Rene Castro (Duquesne)
Devontae Morgan (James Madison)
Michael Volovic (Florida Southern)
Andrew Smeathers (Mount Saint Mary's)
Darian Harris (Oral Roberts)
Moses Ayegba (Nebraska)
Stephen Domingo (California)
Jameel McKay (Iowa State)
Brice Kofane (Monmouth)
Brandon Austin (Hutchinson Community College)
Max Hooper (Oakland)
Mislav Brzoja (Evansville)
Justin Martin (SMU)
MEANINGLESS SUMMER POWER RANKINGS WITH ONE SENTENCE TWITTER-ESQUE SUMMARIES
1. Georgetown - Josh Smith and D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera are back, a highly-touted freshman class is coming in, and JT III isn't going to allow another season like the last one.
2. Villanova - The more logical (and likely) choice for preseason favorite, the Wildcats return virtually everyone outside of James Bell and bring in a pair of four-star recruits (Phil Booth and Mikal Bridges).
3. Xavier - The Musketeers inking Chris Mack through 2020 may have been the league's most important offseason move.
4. Marquette - The addition of BYU gunner Matt Carlino should be a huge boost for year one of the Wojo era.
5. Seton Hall - This is a crucial season for Kevin Willard, who brings in a top 15 recruiting class to help out Sterling Gibbs.
6. Providence - For all the blue chip talent Ed Cooley has signed, it was the unheralded Bryce Cotton who finally carried the Friars to the NCAA Tournament, and now Cotton's gone.
7. St. John's - If D'Angelo Harrison and the Red Storm can regain some of the momentum they found during the last 1/4 of the 2013-14 season, then they could go dancing for the first time since 2011.
8. Butler - The Bulldogs need Roosevelt Jones to be sensational in order to avoid another finish near the cellar.
9. Creighton - This will be a rebuilding season personified for Greg McDermott.
10. DePaul - I'm not sure I could be more proud of myself for getting this far without making a joke at the expense of the Blue Demons, who have now finished at the bottom of the Big East standings in six consecutive seasons.