We have 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 2015-16 campaign.
In keeping with the spirit of the season, it's time to begin our series of brief rundowns of what each conference looks like after all the moving and shaking that has happened since Duke cut down the nets in Indianapolis. We started things off with looks at the West Coast, Mountain West and Atlantic 10 conferences, and continue now with the Big East.
THREE BIGGEST STORYLINES
1. Is it still possible for this to be a top-tier conference?
It's still hard to put a definitive label on the "new" Big East after the first two seasons of its existence, although I think its fair to say that even the league's most staunch defenders would have a hard time qualifying the short stint as wildly successful.
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.
Four months ago, Villanova again did nothing to silence its critics, becoming the first No. 1 seed bounced out of the tournament when they fell victim to NC State in the round of 32. The Big East saw five of its six teams in the dance go down before the tournament's second weekend, with Xavier -- which put up a good fight against Arizona -- being the only team from the conference to taste the Sweet 16.
If the Big East wants to avoid an onslaught of "we need to stop calling it the Big East" columns in summers to come, it needs its flagship programs to step up. 'Nova needs to shed the stigma that has become more attached to it than any other, Georgetown, Xavier and Marquette need to remain (or re-emerge, in Marquette's case) in the national picture, and teams playing above their program profile 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. A conference that sends more than half of its squads to the big dance is certainly one worthy of praise, but that praise is unlikely to come until at least one of them makes a legitimate run at a national title.
2. Chris Mullin in for Steve Lavin at St. John's
After a five-year stint that was defined by unpredictability more than anything else, Steve Lavin and St. John's mutually agreed to part ways on March 27. The marriage began swimmingly in 2010-11, with the former UCLA coach guiding the Red Storm to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2002. That would turn out to be as good as it got. Lavin coached just four games during his second season while battling prostate cancer, and wound up leading the Johnnies to just two postseason wins -- one in the Big East Tournament and one in the NIT -- and two big dance appearances in five seasons.
The latest man tasked with restoring the glory of St. John's just so happens to be the player who likely played the largest role in creating it. Chris Mullin was hired by now former Red Storm AD Chris Monasch on April 1, and has been a busy man ever since.
Mullin and his assistants, Matt Abdelmassih and Barry "Slice" Rohrssen, have landed six quality prospects, and are still in the mix to land highly-touted forward Maverick Rowan, who is attempting to reclassify to the 2015 class. High-level success might not come immediately in 2015-16, especially with Mullin's inability to convince either Chris Obekpa or Rysheed Jordan to stick around. Still, there's a positive buzz back around the New York program that had been supplanted by controversy in recent years.
3. Can anyone unseat Villanova?
The Wildcats figure to be the overwhelming preseason pick to win the conference once again, but this doesn't appear to be the national title contender (the title fits even with the early exits) that Jay Wright's last two squads were. 'Nova returns a pair of key players in Ryan Arcidiacono and Daniel Ochefu, and adds a player who might be one of the best freshman guards in the country in Jalen Brunson. Unfortunately, that liklely won't be enough to totally offset the loss of three starters, including unanimous first team All-Big East selection Darrun Hillard.
Wright's losses could be a massive gain for one of the teams that have been chasing the Wildcats during the new Big East's infant stage. Georgetown righted the ship from its disastrous 2013-14 campaign last season and figures to be young and talented, Xavier and Butler both have the pieces necessary to win this conference, and don't be surprised if Steve Wojciechowski and Marquette pull off one of the biggest turnaround jobs in the country.
Eric Paschall (Fordham)
Kethan Savage (George Washington)
Austin Etherington (Indiana)
Durand Johnson (Pittsburgh)
Ron Mvouika (Missouri State)
Tariq Owens (Tennessee)
RaShid Gaston (Norfolk State)
Derrick Gordon (UMass)
Jevon Thomas (Kansas State)
Braeden Anderson (Fresno State)
Marcus Foster (Kansas State)
Andrew Rosey (UNC Asheville)
Dylan Ennis (Oregon)
Paschal Chukwu (Syracuse)
Tyler Harris (Auburn)
Jay Henderson (Louisville)
Joey De La Rosa
Adonis De La Rosa (Williston State)
Brandon Randolph (Utah Valley)
Sterling Gibbs (Connecticut)
Jaren Sina (George Washington)
Durrell McDonald (Mercyhurst)
Charles McKinney (USC Aiken)
Leon Gilmore III (Trinity Valley JC)
Steve Taylor (Toledo)
MEANINGLESS SUMMER POWER RANKINGS WITH ONE SENTENCE TWITTER-ESQUE SUMMARIES
1. Villanova - 'Nova will once again have one of the best backcourts in the country, but everyone associated with the program is fully aware of the stigma that only success in the NCAA Tournament will shed.
2. Butler - Notre Dame coming so close to upsetting Kentucky sort of made everyone forget how close Butler was to knocking off the Irish. They'll return three double-figure scorers in Kellen Dunham, Roosevelt Jones and Andrew Chrabascz, in addition to a potential breakout star in rising sophomore Kelan Martin. N.C. State transfer Tyler Lewis will also be brought in to run the point.
3. Xavier - If the Musketeers can get a couple of guards to step up and prove themselves as capable, they'll be right back in the mix for another year.
4. Georgetown - "Young and talented" isn't the typical description of a JT III team, but he'll find a way to make it work and be back in the dance.
5. Marquette- After a 13-19 debut season, Wojo brings in a top five recruiting class that has the Golden Eagle fan base totally rejuvenated. This is easily the most intriguing team in the conference.
6. Creighton - This might be something of a stretch, but Creighton doesn't lose much, in fact, 2014-15 was the program's first losing season in 19 years. Don't be surprised if Greg McDermott surprises everyone this year.
7. Seton Hall - Losing Sterling Gibbs feels like a massive blow, but maybe -- given the rumored rift between the Gibbs faction and the Isaiah Whitehead faction -- it will prove to be a necessary one. Kevin Willard, who is entering what is undoubtedly a make-or-break season, had better hope so.
8. Providence - Kris Dunn will be tremendous, but he needs some of the pieces around him to be merely satisfactory for the Friars to have a shot.
9. St. John's - The buzz may be back in New York, but I'm not sure Mullin's debut season will end with the Red Storm making it back to the big dance.
10. DePaul - Should have hired me.