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Big East college basketball teams, ranked for the 2019-2020 season

The name on top is a familiar one, but the Big East should be anything but predictable in 2019-20.

Due largely to the lofty standards the league had set for itself in recent seasons, 2018-19 felt like a small, but noticeable step back for the Big East. It never felt like the league had a true national title contender, the middle of the conference was softer than usual, and when the dust settled on the 2019 NCAA tournament, the league had produced a record of 1-4.

If the conference fails to send at least one team to the tournament’s second weekend — or fails to produce fewer than two total victories — in 2020, it will be nothing short of stunning. While the top of the league might not be quite as strong as it was three or four years ago, you still have multiple teams that appear fully capable of seeing their seasons end in Atlanta next spring. You also have two players destined to be on everyone’s preseason All-American team, and a handful of exciting young talent that should make league clashes appointment viewing throughout the winter.

The real step forward for the league should be in the belly of the conference, where the quality of teams 3-7 should be significantly better than it was a year ago. The question then becomes how do you organize that middle group of teams, which on paper appear to be extremely similar?

Let’s give it a shot.

10. DEPAUL BLUE DEMONS

2018-19 Record: (19-17, 7-11)

2018-19 Big East Finish: T-8th

DePaul has finished last or tied for the last in the final Big East standings in each of the last three years and nine of the last 11. With that in mind, placing them anywhere but the bottom would have felt too much like a classic summer hot take.

The loss of do-everything leading scorer Max Strus (20.1 ppg) looms large, but Dave Leitao does return a double figure scorer in Paul Reed (12.3). Reed also led the Demons in rebounding last season at 8.5 per game. The real intrigue with DePaul lies in a solid freshman class headlined by four-star forward Romeo Weems. Transfers Darious Hall (Arkansas) and Carte’Are Gordon (Saint Louis) should also help in the effort to replace Strus’ production.

9. ST. JOHN’S RED STORM

2018-19 Record: (21-13, 8-10)

2018-19 Big East Finish: 7th

The Red Storm snuck into the NCAA tournament last season, falling to Arizona State in a First Four game. Then all hell broke loose.

Chris Mullin stepped down as head coach, Shamorie Ponds and Big East Defensive Player of the Year Justin Simon both bolted for the NBA, and then an embarrassing coaching search came to a merciful end with the hiring of ex-Arkansas head coach Mike Anderson. Having Mustapha Heron (14.6 ppg) and LJ Figueroa (14.4 ppg) back is nice, but this feels like a classic transitional year for the Red Storm.

8. BUTLER BULLDOGS

2018-19 Record: (16-17, 7-11)

2018-19 Big East Finish: T-8th

This is the spot where, on paper at least, the league sees its first significant drop-off.

Butler was the only team in the conference last season to finish with an overall record below .500, just the program’s second losing season since 2005. Kamar Baldwin is fantastic, but the question is whether or not the Bulldogs will have better pieces around him than they did a year ago. If that question is answered in the affirmative, it will likely be due in large part to the help of Valpo grad transfer Derrik Smits (the son of former NBA player Rik Smits) or top 100 recruit Khalif Battle.

7. PROVIDENCE FRIARS

2018-19 Record: (18-16, 7-11)

2018-19 Big East Finish: T-8th

The No. 7 spot feels too low for a team that is as complete on paper as this Friar squad appears to be, but hey, someone has to go here.

Head coach Ed Cooley flirted with the Michigan job for a short stretch in May before announcing that he would be returning to Providence for a ninth season. Eight days after Cooley’s announcement, Alpha Diallo — the team’s leading scorer last season and arguably the best defensive player in the Big East — announced that he would be back for his senior season. The return of Diallo plus the addition of high-scoring UMass transfer Luwane Pipkins could have the Friars back in the NCAA tournament after a one-year hiatus.

6. GEORGETOWN HOYAS

2018-19 Record: (19-14, 9-9)

2018-19 Big East Finish: T-3rd

Year three for Georgetown under Patrick Ewing has the potential to be the most exciting yet. The Hoyas lose leading scorer Jessie Govan, but return an exciting nucleus of young talent. James Akinjo, Josh LeBlanc and Mac McClung all made the Big East’s All-Freshman team last season, with Akinjo and McClung both averaging double figures in points.

Ewing hopes that the answer for Govan’s departure lies in the massive form of NC State transfer Omer Yurtseven. The 7-footer was inconsistent at times during his two seasons in Raleigh, but at his best, he was one of the premiere frontcourt players in the ACC.

5. CREIGHTON BLUEJAYS

2018-19 Record: (20-15, 9-9)

2018-19 Big East Finish: T-3rd

Creighton was arguably the Big East’s greatest overachiever last season, winning 20 games and finishing tied for third in the league standings despite being picked to finish ninth at the start of the year. That wasn’t enough to get the Bluejays into the NCAA tournament, but it was enough to significantly raise expectations for 2019-20.

Greg McDermott returns the bulk of his offensive production from a season ago. At the top of that group is leading scorer Ty-Shon Alexander (15.7 ppg), who will be asked to produce even more as a junior now that Martin Krampelj (13.5 ppg, 6.9 rpg) has moved on. Mitch Ballock (11.1 ppg) and floor general Marcus Zegarowski (11.1 ppg, 3.2 apg) are also back after rock solid 2018-19 campaigns.

4. XAVIER MUSKETEERS

2018-19 Record: (19-16, 9-9)

2018-19 Big East Finish: T-3rd

Xavier was a quiet force down the stretch last season, winning seven of its final nine regular season games under first-year head coach Travis Steele. That run wasn’t enough to compensate for a 3-8 start in Big East play, but it was enough to get the team into the NIT and raise expectations significantly for 2019-20.

Four Musketeers starters explored their professional options during the offseason, and all four chose to return to school. Headlining that group is Second Team All-Big East selection Naji Marshall, who led Xavier in scoring (14.7 ppg) and rebounding (7.2 rpg) and was second in assists (3.4 apg) last season as a sophomore. Steele also brings in a five player top 25 recruiting class, and a pair of potential impact grad transfers in Jason Carter (Ohio) and Bryce Moore (Western Michigan).

3. MARQUETTE GOLDEN EAGLES

2018-19 Record: (24-10, 12-6)

2018-19 Big East Finish: 2nd

Marquette was receiving significant national top 10 love in the moments immediately following Markus Howard’s announcement that he would be returning to school for one more year. Then, shortly thereafter, the Hauser brothers announced their intentions to transfer. Now, there are some projecting that the Golden Eagles won’t even be a top five team in their own conference.

The way that people are talking about Howard and Marquette this summer reminds me a lot of the way people talked about Carsen Edwards and Purdue a year ago. I’m not guaranteeing that the Golden Eagles are going to be an Elite Eight team that comes within a shot of knocking off the eventual national champions, but I do believe there’s still enough around Howard — perhaps the most explosive scorer in college basketball — for this to be a legitimate top 25 team.

For starters, people should realize early on this winter just how good Koby McEwen is. The Utah State transfer averaged right around 15 points, five rebounds and three assists per game in his two seasons with the Aggies, and his game should serve as the perfect backcourt counterpart to Howard. Experienced forwards Sacar Anim and Theo John are both back in the fold and have the ability to flourish in expanded roles.

2. SETON HALL PIRATES

2018-19 Record: (20-14, 9-9)

2018-19 Big East Finish: T-3rd

First, Kevin Willard said “thanks but no thanks” to the Virginia Tech job. Then, All-American Myles Powell turned down the NBA in favor of returning to South Orange for his senior season. Those two decisions have Seton Hall in a position to make a run to the NCAA tournament’s second weekend for the first time since 2000.

Powell isn’t the only returning talent Willard will have at his disposal in 2019-20. Eight of the team’s top nine scorers from last season’s NCAA tournament squad are back (shoutout to Michael Nzei on making the quick transition from high-level hoops to high-level finance). If that weren’t enough, 7-foot big man Ike Obiagu is eligible and ready to shore up the inside after sitting out last season following his transfer in from Florida State.

1. VILLANOVA WILDCATS

2018-19 Record: (26-10, 13-5)

2018-19 Big East Finish: 1st

Leading scorers Phil Booth and Eric Paschall are gone, but there’s still reason to believe Villanova will be better in 2019-20 than they were this past season, a year which ended with the Wildcats claiming their fifth Big East regular season title in six seasons.

Returnees Collin Gillespie, Sadiq Bey, Jermaine Samuels and Dhamir Cosby-Rountree all played significant roles last season and should be expected to take steps forward. The biggest cause for optimism should reside with the top five recruiting class Jay Wright has brought in. That class is headlined by two five-star players — Jeremiah Robinson-Earl and Bryan Antoine — who should be good enough to start from day one.