Big East men’s basketball should be set for another exciting season after Georgetown shocked the college basketball world by winning the 2020 Big East Tournament.
Patrick Ewing’s Hoyas will be welcoming back a majority of their starters from their championship season, so they’ll definitely be one of the conference’s top teams, something that hasn’t been the case in a long time. But Villanova will be the favorites going into the 2021-22 season, though it’ll be without its best player, Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, the 2021 Big East Co-Player of the Year, who left for the NBA.
Another surprising team will be St. John’s, which saw one of its best season’s in years last time around. The Johnnies head coach Mike Anderson, who won Big East Coach of the Year in 2021, will aim to improve on the 16-11 record overall and a 10-9 mark in conference in 2020-21. UConn will also be entering its third season back in the Big East, and after a successful season finishing third, the Huskies have 2021 Co-Defensive Player of the Year Isaiah Whaley again for a fifth year.
BIG EAST MEN’S BASKETBALL PREVIEW 2021-22: Anyone’s race
FAVORITES: Villanova, UConn, St. John’s
Head coach: Jay Wright (21st season)
2020-21 record: 18-7 (11-4 in Big East)
Conference finish: 1st
Villanova is coming off another Big East men’s basketball regular season championship with head coach Jay Wright. The Wildcats had a lot of success with Co-Player of the Year Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, who averaged 15.7 ppg, 8.5 rpg, and 16 blocks, but he opted to leave for the NBA after his sophomore year.
Returning to Villanova are graduate students Collin Gillepsie and Jermaine Samuels and junior Justin Moore. Gillespie was second on the team in scoring last season, averaging 14 ppg, shooting 33 percent from the field, and assisting 92 times, while Samuels averaged 12 ppg, 6.4 rpg and shot 83 percent from the free-throw line. Moore had a great season as a sophomore, putting up 12.9 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 16 steals, and nine blocks in the campaign. The Wildcats will also be welcoming four freshmen, including top-50 recruit Trey Patterson.
Villanova will be set for another championship and tournament run this season.
Head coach: Dan Hurley (4th season)
2020-21 record: 15-8 (11-6 in Big East)
Conference finish: 3rd
UConn is heading into its third season back in the Big East, and behind head coach Dan Hurley, will be set to be Villanova’s biggest challenger this season. The Huskies will be returning four of their top-five scorers, including Co-Defensive Player of the Year Isaiah Whaley. Whaley averaged 8 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 60 blocks and 22 steals in a huge senior year last season. Whaley will most likely be the most dangerous player for UConn.
The Huskies can also expect big seasons from graduate students R.J. Cole and Tyler Polly. Cole averaged 12.2 ppg, shot 39 percent from the field, and assisted 99 times last season. Polly averaged 7.5, shot 35 percent from the 3-point line, and only committed six turnovers in 22 games.
UConn has a solid group of guys who can play on both sides of the court and have experience. They should be set up for a great season.
Head coach: Mike Anderson (3rd season)
2020-21 record: 16-11 (10-9 in Big East)
Conference finish: 4th
The Red Storm had one of their best seasons in a while behind head coach and Big East Coach of the Year Mike Anderson. St. John’s will be one of the top teams in the Big East conference with the amount of talent it’s bringing back – the Johnnies’ two-top scores in Julian Champagnie and Alexander Posh are returning this season. Champagnie averaged 19.8 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 25 blocks and shot 88 percent from the free-throw line and Posh led the team in assists and steals with 107 and 65 as well as averaging 10.9 ppg.
St. John’s will also be welcoming two graduate transfers in Stef Smith and Tareq Coburn. Smith graduated from Vermont with success, averaging 13.6 points on 40.3 percent shooting, including a 36.0 percent mark from beyond the arc and had three 20-point games. Coburn hails from Hofstra, where he started in 21 games, averaging 15.1 ppg, shot 43.8 percent from the floor, including a 39.6 percent effort from beyond the arc, and made 82 percent of his free throws.
Contenders: Xavier, Creighton, Seton Hall
Head coach: Travis Steele (4th season)
2020-21 record: 13-8 (6-7 in Big East)
Conference finish: 7th
Xavier was set for a great season last year, and its overall record shows that. But it struggled against Big East basketball opponents like Seton Hall and St. John’s. This season, the Musketeers should be fighting for one of the top spots in the conference.
The team has seven seniors returning, including Paul Scruggs, Nate Johnson, and Adam Kunkel. Scruggs and Johnson scored in double figures in 2020-21, with Scruggs chipping in 5.7 assists per outing and Johnson connecting on 45 percent of his triples. Kunkel transferred from a championship Belmont team in 2020, had a few big games for Xavier last season, and will be one of the top Xavier players to watch.
But the best returner will be junior Zach Freemantle, who led the team in scoring, averaging 16.1 ppg and 8.9 rpg with 18 total blocks. Freemantle will be the leader of the team and will most likely be a favorite for Player of the Year.
Head coach: Greg McDermott (12 season)
2020-21 record: 22-9 (14-6 in Big East)
Conference finish: 2nd
Creighton finished the season ranked No. 14 with one of the best seasons in recent years, finishing second in the conference and making it to the Big East Tournament Final. This season will be quite different from the Bluejays as they’ve lost almost all of their top scorers.
Returning this season are seniors Alex O’Connell and Shereef Mitchell and freshman Ryan Kalkbrenner. None of these players played many minutes nor scored a lot in 2020-21. O’Connell averaged 3.4 ppg, Mitchell averaged 3.3 ppg, and Kalkbrenner averaged 5.9 ppg and 3.5 rpg. Creighton will have a lot of work to do this year, but with a coach like Greg McDermott and 11 freshmen, this team has potential to compete at a high level.
Head coach: Kevin Willard (12th season)
2020-21 record: 14-13 (10-9 in Big East)
Conference finish: 5th
The Pirates are coming off a relatively successful year after seeing immense success with Myles Powell the previous two seasons. But being led by Big East Co-Player of the Year Sando Mamukelashvili, Seton Hall performed well. This season, it will be without Mamu and others, but with a coach like Kevin Willard, it will be in the conversation for one of the top spots.
Returning this season will be graduate students Myles Cale and Ike Obiagu. Cale averaged 11.6 ppg, shot 45 percent from the field and had 27 total steals, while Obiagu played in 27 games, starting in 26 of them, and averaged 4.9 ppg but had an astounding 77 blocked shots. The Pirates have graduate transfer Jamir Harris from American University, who averaged 20.5 ppg and shot 41.3 percent from the three-point line in 2020-21.
Seton Hall will be competing at a high level this season and have an incredibly difficult non-conference schedule. Willard will be looking for nothing but success from this year’s squad.
Purgatory: Georgetown, Providence, Butler
Head coach: Patrick Ewing (5th season)
2020-21 record: 13-13 (7-9 in Big East)
Conference finish: 8th
Georgetown had a magical end to its 2020-21 season by winning the Big East men’s basketball tournament for the first time since 2007 by beating No.17 Creighton, 73-48. Sadly, the Hoyas lost four of their best players, three of whom left for the NBA and one who transferred. Returning this season will be sophomore Dante Harris, who had a great freshman year where he averaged 8 ppg and 3.4 rpg, plus had 82 assists and 30 steals.
Transferring into Georgetown this season is EKU grad transfer Tre King, who was named First Team All-OVC last season and averaged 14.9 ppg and 6.2 rpg, scoring 20-or-more points in six games. Coach Ewing will have some work to do after losing so many players, but he has laid a solid foundation for the Hoyas this season.
Head coach: Ed Cooley (11th season)
2020-21 record: 13-13 (9-10 in Big East)
Conference finish: 6th
Providence has always been able to put together a really solid team every year, stealing wins from Big East men’s basketball favorites and trying to sneak into the NCAA Tournament. This season will be no different as the Friars, led by coach ED Cooley, will be returning their top scorers, including five graduate students and two seniors. Providence will be welcoming back top scorer Nate Johnson, who averaged 16.9 ppg and 6.7 rpg with 26 blocks in 2020-21.
The team will also see A.J. Reeves and Noah Horchler back on the team this season. Reeves averaged 9.6 ppg, had 25 steals, and shot 32 percent from the three-point line, while Horchler averaged 6.7 ppg and 5.7 rpg with 12 total blocks. The Friars have a lot of experience on the team, which will help them in close, gritty games against Seton Hall and UConn.
Head coach: LaVall Jordan (5th season)
2020-21 record: 10-15 (8-12 in Big East)
Conference finish: 10th
Butler struggled a lot last year, finishing 10th in the conference, but the Bulldogs are returning all their top scorers, which will put them in a great spot to get out of the basement of the Big East. The team welcomes back sophomore Chuck Harris and graduate students Bryce Nze and Jair Bolden. Harris averaged 12.9 ppg and 3 rpg, while Nze posted 11.4 ppg and 7.7 rpg with 13 blocks. Bolden put up 10.5 ppg and 3.5 rpg.
The biggest issue for Butler last season was assisting as no player on the team assisted more than 58 buckets. The Bulldogs had 308 assists while their opponents had 345. Butler is a great example of how competitive and exciting the Big East men’s basketball conference should be this season.
Basement: Marquette, DePaul
Head coach: Shaka Smart (1st season)
2020-21 record: 13-14 (8-11 in Big East)
Conference finish: 9th
Marquette had a very mediocre year after seeing success and the NCAA Tournament in prior seasons. This year, it will be led by first-year head coach Shaka Smart.
The Golden Eagles will not have much coming back this season, so they will most likely be rebuilding around coach Smart. The highest scorer the team will return is redshirt freshman Justin Lewis – he averaged 7.8 ppg and 5.4 rpg and blocked 14 shots. He will be a player the team will work around under the coach’s new system.
Another player to watch for on Marquette is redshirt junior Greg Elliott, who averaged 6.2 ppg, stole the ball 23 times, and played in 27 games last season. Marquette welcomes six freshmen and four redshirt freshmen, which gives Golden Eagle fans a bright future.
Head coach: Tony Stubblefield (1st season)
2020-21 record: 5-14 (2-13 in Big East)
Conference finish: 11th
DePaul had an abysmal year in 2020-21, winning only two Big East games. This season, it will be welcome back a nice handful of seniors but only one incoming freshman. If there is a year where the Blue Demons wanted to make some noise, this would be the year. DePaul will only be returning one of its top-four scorers, Javon Freeman-Liberty. Freeman-Liberty averaged 14.4 ppg and 5.3 rpg in 2020-21.
After that, the scoring talent drops off. The plus for this season’s team, is it has four transfer students coming in: Yor Anei from SMU, Tyon Grant-Foster from Kansas, Brandon Johnson from Minnesota (averaged 8.9 ppg, 6.3 rpg), and Shaheed Medlock from Georgia Tech. But besides Johnson, these transfers have yet to show their full potential.
2021-22 Big East Men’s Basketball Players to Watch
Isaiah Whaley – Forward – Grad Student – UConn
Whaley was named Co-Defensive Player of the Year in 2020-21 after tallying 60 blocks and 22 steals. He also scored 8 ppg and brought in 6.2 rpg to contribute elsewhere. He will most likely be the favorite to win the defensive honor again in 2021-22, and with another year under his belt, he can get his offensive numbers up. Surrounded by a great team and a great coach, Whaley can help lead his team past Villanova to win the Big East. Don’t be surprised if Whaley averages a double-double this upcoming season.
Myles Cale – Guard/Forward – Grad Student – Seton Hall
Cale played a lot under Romaro Gill, Mamu, and Myles Powell. He saw them lead both on and off the court, and he should be more than ready to do so himself as the leading scorer. Willard has done an amazing job building players up and pushing them onto the forefront where they can thrive. Cale averaged 11.6 ppg, shot 45 percent from the field, and had 27 steals last season, but those numbers will skyrocket now that Cale is the go-to guy. He will be in the Player of the Year debate.
Julian Campagnie – Guard/Forward – Junior – St. John’s
Champagnie had an unbelievable season last year and will only grow more this time around. He averaged 19.8 ppg and 7.4 rpg with 25 total blocks, plus shot 88 percent from the free-throw line. It will be no surprise when he begins averaging a double-double later in the season.
Champagnie will be a clear candidate for Player of the Year and even Defensive Player of the Year. After the Red Storm’s successful season, the needed confidence is there to make a run for it and knock off the top teams from the past seasons.
2021-22 Men’s & Women’s College Basketball Conference Previews
Learn more about the upcoming 2021-22 men’s and women’s college basketball seasons with Nothing But Nylon’s extensive conference previews, with a new conference covered every week before the campaign tips off in November.