“Five questions as the Big East regular season begins”
The Big East league season begins Wednesday night, with St. John’s hosting DePaul in the first league matchup. With the non-conference portion of the season almost complete, let’s take a look at five questions as the conference year gets underway:
Can St. John’s finish in the top half of the league and make the NCAA Tournament?
The Johnnies started 8-0 against a soft schedule, then were manhandled by No. 20 Iowa State on Sunday. There is talent here — the top four of Joel Soriano, Posh Alexander, Andre Curbelo and David Jones is as good as any in the league after Creighton and Connecticut — but these shaky starts will catch up to the Storm if they continue. The lack of shooting is also something to monitor, as St. John’s has shot 24.6 percent from 3-point-range against their four quality foes — Syracuse, Temple, Nebraska and Iowa State. Sophomore Rafael Pinzon, who scored 13 points in the loss to Iowa State, is a candidate to emerge.
Is UConn the team to beat?
The Huskies are multidimensional, still an elite defensive and rebounding team, but also much improved on the offensive end. There is versatility that has been lacking, more depth at the offensive end in terms of shot-makers. They already own double-digit wins over Alabama, Oregon, Iowa State and Oklahoma State, and are the only team in the country ranked in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency. UConn is every bit as good as its No. 5 ranking.
Can Villanova find itself after a rough start under Kyle Neptune?
The Wildcats’ NET rating is a dismal 165, almost as stunning as seeing them already with five losses. Villanova did get back elite freshman Cam Whitmore in Saturday’s much-needed home win over Oklahoma, and there is hope star senior Justin Moore (torn Achilles) will return at some point as well. This team will get better, but the lack of a true point guard has been glaring. As a group the Wildcats are shooting just 32.2 percent from beyond the arc and Neptune is still adjusting after taking over for the legendary Jay Wright. It will take a lot for Villanova just to get into the NCAA Tournament picture.
Is there a Big East dark horse?
Marquette already has proven to be better than projections, destroying No. 12 Baylor and losing three games to No. 4 Purdue, No. 23 Mississippi State and Wisconsin by a combined 11 points. Sophomore guard Kam Jones is a name to remember. He’s averaging more than 15 points per game, and has improved his all-around game after a decent freshman year. The Golden Eagles, owning a quality NET ranking of 37, won’t finish ninth, as the league’s coaches predicted at media day.
Is Seton Hall taking a step back under Shaheen Holloway?
This was always a likely scenario, just because of what Seton Hall lost from last year’s NCAA Tournament team in Jared Rhoden, Ike Obiagu and Myles Cale. A summer and fall when so many players were injured and unable to get work in only raised the degree of difficulty.
It was a big part of why I predicted this team to reach the NIT and not the tournament. Alexis Yetna’s knee injury, which has kept the graduate forward from playing so far, has been a major blow. With that said, this team will be a pain to play against, because of how hard it competes. You can’t rule out a finish in the top six, particularly if Kadary Richmond, the Pirates’ most talented player, can find some consistency and perform more like he did in the loss to Kansas. Remember, this group played a very tough non-conference schedule, contributing to the 4-4 start.
St. John’s forward O’Mar Stanley (foot) will be a game-time decision on Wednesday against DePaul, a source said. He missed the loss to Iowa State on Sunday due to the injury and has practiced this week on a limited basis. Guard Dylan Addae-Wusu will return after missing the game as well. His absence was a “coach’s decision.”
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