Nine times over the last decade, the Big East has managed to rate out as a top-three college basketball conference in KenPom's ever-trusty metrics. And for as much uncertainty as 2020 has thrown our way, this upcoming season is likely to be no different.
The league is stacked at the top with two top-10 teams in the CBS Sports Top 25 And 1, led by No. 3 Villanova and No. 9 Creighton. Jay Wright's Wildcats -- who lose star player Saddiq Bey to the NBA -- get back virtually everyone else from a team that finished tied for first in the conference's regular-season race. They should pick up where they left off the season after winning seven of their last eight games before the postseason-that-wasn't.
Creighton, the second-highest ranked team in our preseason predictions, finds itself in a similar spot after losing Ty-Shon Alexander to the draft. However, the Bluejays, like Villanova, return most everyone else of importance -- chief among them the best returning player in the conference in Marcus Zegarowski, the CBS Sports 2020-21 Preseason Big East Player of the Year.
We've compiled preseason predictions from our panel to sort how we think the league unfolds this season, which you'll find below, and our consensus falls in line with the most up-to-date Top 25 And 1. Villanova and Creighton enter the season as the clear-cut top dogs in the league, but both have stiff competition on their tails. As for how we see the rest of the league shaking out, hit that scroll button and scoot on down to see where we landed.
Itching for more college hoops analysis? Listen below and subscribe to the Eye on College Basketball podcast where we take you beyond the hardwood with insider information and instant reactions.
Big East Preseason Player of the Year
Marcus Zegarowski, Creighton
There's a void of starpower at the top of the league this season with Markus Howard, Myles Powell, Ty-Shon Alexander, Naji Marshall, Kamar Baldwin and Saddiq Bey all either graduating or hopping off early for the NBA. Zegarowski figures to step right in seamlessly into the spotlight. The league's highest-scoring returning player, Zegarowski was painfully overlooked last season as one of the conference's most effective and efficient scorers. Those days are over. He averaged 16.1 points per game as the co-star in Creighton's backcourt last season, and now he'll get his due as the no-doubt-about-it top option on a team capable of making a Final Four run.
Big East Preseason Coach of the Year
Jay Wright, Villanova
Villanova this season can do what only one program -- UCLA -- has ever accomplished: winning three championships in the span of six seasons. (UCLA, it should be noted, won 10 championships between 1964 and 1975. You could say John Wooden is something of a legend and you'd be correct.) That Villanova is even in the position to be mentioned in the same sentence as UCLA in that regard is enough to throw Jay Wright's name as the frontrunner to win Coach of the Year honors. The system he's built consistently churns out All-Conference caliber players regardless of their pedigree, and this season he'll have a blend of highly-touted youngsters and proven vets that are plenty capable of winning the league for the seventh time since 2014 ... and potentially winning a whole lot more.
Big East Preseason Freshman of the Year
Dawson Garcia, Marquette
Marquette's frontcourt should be something to be feared this season. Eagles coach Steve Wojciechowski not only returns Theo John but he's added to the mix a future star in 6-foot-11 forward Dawson Garcia, a former top-40 national prospect who picked the Golden Eagles over the likes of Memphis, Baylor and Indiana last fall. Garcia's long and skilled and should figure to be a disruptive force despite his youth because of the big opportunity he has ahead of him. His smooth left-handed stroke and top-notch skills should land him among the most impactful newcomers within the league this season.
Predicted order of finish
|Despite losing leading scorer Saddiq Bey, the Wildcats return four players who averaged double figures in scoring last season and they should be considered the prohibitive frontrunner because of the continuity in a program that runs on continuity. This team will be geared around its guard play with Collin Gillespie and Justin Moore, yet they should be able to strike a respectable balance, too, with a respectable frontcourt led by Jeremiah Robinson-Earl and Jermaine Samuels. However they attack the season from a roster standpoint, you can be sure this team's offense -- which has rated inside the top-20 in efficiency each of the last six seasons -- will be a huge reason why they're more likely than not to be the league's top dog.|
|Creighton should be able to pick up where it left off last season, when it won 11 of its final 13 games before the shutdown, thanks in large part to the return of Marcus Zegarowski. He was the 1B to 1A Ty-Shon Alexander of the Creighton offense that finished third nationally in adjusted efficiency. Zegarowski returns this season as the most lethal 3-point shooter in the conference. By his side, backcourt mates Mitch Ballock and Denzel Mahoney should see an uptick in production and opportunity with Alexander gone. If there's a concern it's with experience and size in the frontcourt. But, ultimately, this offense might just be potent enough to make up the deficit they'll likely face frequently on the boards and in the paint. They'll have to try and get quality production from 7-footer Jacob Epperson, who missed last season, or perhaps from freshman 7-footer and former four-star recruit Ryan Kalkbrenner. Should one of their lesser-experienced bigs step up this figures to be a pretty complete roster from top to bottom.|
|The losses of Myles Powell and Quincy McKnight, among others, are going to be difficult to replace for coach Kevin Willard --- but not totally impossible. So that's why we're actually quite bullish on the Pirates. Sandro Mamukelashvili should be the anchor in the paint and in the Powell role, Harvard transfer Bryce Aiken, who averaged 16.8 points per game in four seasons with the Crimson, is capable of producing right away as he returns to his home state to play for the home town team. It's a feel-good story and, more than that, it's a great fit for both sides. With Jared Rhoden and Myles Cale back, Aiken's supporting cast is dynamic and deep.|
|UConn is returning to its roots this season in rejoining the Big East, the conference where Jim Calhoun once transformed the Huskies into a national power. Fittingly, coach Dan Hurley has perhaps his best team since taking over the program as they enter a new era. Sophomore James Bouknight is a huge reason we're optimistic about this team's prospects, and with transfer RJ Cole joining him, the star power in this backcourt could wind up being special. Tons of athleticism and scoring potency on this roster.|
|Ed Cooley's Friars got off to a sluggish start last season in league play before turning things around late with six-straight wins to end the season. But they're starting from scratch at several positions entering this year having lost three starters, leaving us with some obvious concerns about how this team responds. Shouldering the brunt of the new load will be juniors David Duke and A.J. Reeves for Cooley in a new-look backcourt. Replacing Alpha Diallo and Luwane Pipkins won't be easy, but health willing, this team's secondary stars showed enough promise last season that they should be prepared to take on bigger roles and keep Providence in the mix for contending in the top half of the league.|
|How do you replace a player like Markus Howard, who led all of college basketball in scoring last season? (Spoiler alert: You don't.) Marquette won't be able to replace him entirely. But waiting in the wings for the Golden Eagles are seniors Koby McEwen and Theo John, as well as newcomers Dawson Garcia, a freshman, and Ohio State transfer D.J. Carton. Marquette might not have the same scoring punch without Howard, but Carton should help lead the charge of a more balanced offensive attack in 2020.|
|Butler loses three of its top four leading scorers from last season, including top dog Kamar Baldwin, making the prospects of 2020 for LaVall Jordan quite daunting. And yet there's still a lot to like about Butler that suggests you shouldn't discount what they can accomplish. With steady-handed senior guard Aaron Thompson back for one more round and the double dosage of Bryce's -- Nze and Golden -- several key pieces of a tournament-caliber club remains intact. Add incoming transfers Jair Bolden and Bo Hodges to the mix, and you've got a nice mix of experienced vets primed to help offset some of those key losses.|
|With its top two scorers gone, Xavier hit the transfer market hard -- and hit it well. The Musketeers are bringing in Belmont transfer Adam Kunkel to help address the team's struggles from the 3-point line, and they've also secured a transfer from Gardner-Webb guard Nate Johnson for an additional scoring threat. Together, with returning guard Paul Scruggs, they have a nice nucleus to upgrade an offense that stagnated frequently last season. If Kunkel and Johnson both shoot above 39% from 3-point range, as they did last season, this offense should be much more dynamic and aesthetically pleasing than it was a season ago.|
| Mike Anderson and Co. are once again in a rebuild and reboot mode with the task at hand to replace the program's leading scorer for a second consecutive season after L.J. Figueroa opted to transfer. And with Mustapha Heron gone, that job is all the more challenging. They'll likely look to turn the reins over to senior Rasheem Dunn and rising sophomore Julian Champagnie to help replace those voids in terms of scoring. But another question looms: who steps up in the front court? Getting quality production in the paint will be critical, and size for the Red Storm remains a concern. Arnaldo Toro , a 6-9 George Washington transfer and Champagnie should figure to be X-factors to help plug some holes, but rebounding and lack of size may once again be a huge issue for this team.|
|DePaul opened last season with a 12-1 record. It then went 4-15 to end the season. Not great! And with Paul Reed and Jalen Coleman-Lands gone, it's not likely to get markedly better. But the Blue Demons have hope: leading scorer Charlie Moore is back. Senior Jaylen Butz and sophomore NBA prospect Romeo Weems, too. This is a pretty versatile roster on the whole, and Blue Demons coach Dave Leitao has enough to work with to make us look silly pegging this team at No. 10 in our preseason projections.|
|It's been a tumultuous few years for Patrick Ewing at Georgetown, and turning around his alma mater seems more difficult than ever. In addition to several in-season departures last year, he's now tasked with replacing star guard Mac McClung, who transferred this offseason to Texas Tech, and Omer Yurtseven, the 7-foot big who forfeited his college eligibility and entered the NBA Draft. Ewing has some talented options on the roster to turn to including a pair of seniors who averaged double figures in scoring last season, Jahvon Blair and Jamorko Pickett, but it could be tough sledding once again as the Hoyas rebuild on the fly.|