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Big East Men’s Basketball Preview: The Basement

While the rest of the league fights for relevancy, these three teams will likely find themselves at the bottom of the conference at year’s end.

Big East Men’s Basketball Tournament - First Round Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

Marquette Golden Eagles

Head Coach: Shaka Smart (1st season)

2020-21 KenPom Rankings: 83rd overall

2020-21 record: 13-14 (8-11)

KenPom Preseason rank: 87th | Preseason Coaches’ Poll ranking: 9th (of 11)

2020-2021 in review

The Steve Wojceichowski experiment ended abruptly after seven ineffective years at the helm, to give you an idea of how last year went for Marquette. While it wasn’t supposed to be a serious contender last year, the team fell well short of expectations.

They were picked to finish sixth in the conference, with some analysts tabbing them as a sleeper pick to break into the top four. These semi-lofty expectations were mainly due to the transfer of former four-star point guard DJ Carton from Ohio State, as well as the talent of incoming McDonald’s All-American forward Dawson Garcia.

The Golden Eagles looked like a force to be reckoned with early on. They started 5-2, and beat two top ten teams in No. 4 Wisconsin and at No. 9 Creighton. Just when they seemed to be picking up steam, they hit a three-game Big East skid and never recovered, the competition and physicality of the Big East seemed to be too much for them.

2021-22 outlook

Shaka Smart returns to his native Wisconsin, where he takes over a struggling Marquette program desperate to be back in the spotlight. However, with a brand new head coach and just about every key piece gone from a disappointing season, Marquette’s prospects for success in 2021-22 are not great.

The most promising newcomer to the program is former Big Ten defensive player of the year Darryl Morsell, who UConn fans know gave James Bouknight fits in the NCAA tournament loss to Maryland this past year. Forward Justin Lewis (7.8 points, 5.4 rebounds) returns, but Dawson Garcia, arguably the most promising Marquette player since Markus Howard, left for UNC. DJ Carton also left for the NBA.

Marquette brings in a five-man recruiting class, headlined by top-100 point guard Stevie Mitchell, who is known as a crafty guard with a high basketball IQ that can create for others but is also a reliable scorer. He will likely be relied on early and often to lead the show for Smart, along with four-star guard Emarion Ellis, who followed Smart from Texas to Marquette when the coach changed schools. Ellis is an uber-athletic combo guard that is thought to have a very high ceiling but is a bit raw. He and Mitchell should get a lot of playing time, and if they can develop some chemistry and grow into Smart’s system, the first-year head coach may have a promising backcourt for year two.

Guard Kameron Jones, center Keeyan Itejere, and power forward David Joplin round out the class and will also likely get early minutes. If there’s one thing that is certain about this Marquette team, it is not going to be a deep one. Smart will have his work cut out for him during his first season in Milwaukee.

Georgetown Hoyas

Head Coach: Patrick Ewing (5th season)

2020-21 KenPom Rankings: 63rd overall

2020-21 record: 13-13 (7-9)

Kenpom Preseason rank: 76th | Preseason Coaches’ Poll ranking: 10th (of 11)

2020-21 in review

Last season was a roller-coaster for head coach Patrick Ewing and his scrappy Hoya squad. After being picked to finish last in the preseason coaches poll, Georgetown was fulfilling this destiny almost to a tee, sitting at 9-12 (7-9) and coming into the Big East tournament as the No. 8 seed. There was wide speculation that Ewing was already on the hot seat, and was an inevitable flame out in the Big East tournament away from losing his job.

The Hoyas then proceeded to pull off the most stunning Big East tournament run since Cardiac Kemba took UConn to the championship in 2011, likely tacking on another year or two to coach Ewing’s tenure.

Georgetown won four games in four days, blowing past the reeling Marquette, barely edging out Villanova, handling a skilled Seton Hall squad, and then completely obliterating Creighton in the championship game by 23 points. After receiving an automatic bid for winning the conference tournament, Georgetown’s magic ran out as they were blown out in the NCAA tournament by a red-hot Colorado team.

2021-22 outlook

Georgetown returns the reigning Big East tournament MVP in sophomore guard Dante Harris, but this roster has been gutted. Georgetown loses a ton of high-level contributors from last season’s squad. Senior leader and do-it-all point guard Jhavon Blair (15.4 points, 3.6 assists) and skilled forward Jamorko Pickett (12.2 points, 7.2 rebounds) are gone, along with Qudus Wahab (12.7 points, 8.2 rebounds) who transferred to Maryland. Wahab was top three in the conference in rebounds, blocks, and field goal percentage, and made a massive jump from his freshman to sophomore year under the tutelage of Ewing. His departure leaves a massive hole for Georgetown down low on both ends of the floor.

This move does pave the way for four-star big man Ryan Mutombo, son of NBA shot-blocking legend Dikembe Mutombo, to immediately step in and play huge minutes early. The real gem of this recruiting class, though, is Aminu Mohammed, a McDonald’s All-American from Springfield, MO, who is already physically ready to compete in the Big East from day one at 6-5, 190lbs. He is not known as a consistent long-range threat, but will immediately be able to bully wing defenders with his size and athleticism.

Ewing also brought in four-star guard Jordan Riley, a former Hurley recruiting target, who could also start alongside Harris and Mohammed.

Expectations are not high once again for Ewing in his fifth year. If he can’t get this new-look team to gel early, another disappointing season could be in the books for the Hoya faithful. The main things to look out for are the backcourt, which will be captained by Harris in his second season. This will be his team. If Aminu Mohammed can challenge for Big East rookie of the year honors and Mutombo can replicate some of what Wahab brought to this team on the offensive and defensive end, the Hoyas could see some big upset wins this year and maybe make another splash in the conference tournament.

DePaul Blue Demons

Head Coach: Tony Stubblefield (1st season)

2020-21 KenPom Rankings: 141th overall

2020-21 record: 5-14 (2-13)

Kenpom Preseason rank: 140th | Preseason Coaches’ Poll ranking: 11th (of 11)

2020-21 in review

Not much to say that isn’t new about the Blue Demons. Having more games canceled (7) than total wins on the year (5) was not ideal. Senior lead-guard Charlie Moore (15.5 points, 6.1 assists) and athletic forward Paul Reed (15.1 points, 10.7 rebounds), two of the better players in the conference, could not get enough help from the rest of their teammates to be at all competitive. Not playing a single game until December 23rd due to COVID issues could have something to do with it, but at the end of the day, no one expected DePaul to be competitive anyway. This was yet another last-place Big East finish for DePaul, their fifth in as many years.

2021-22 outlook

The hiring of a new coach usually brings some optimism to a program, but Tony Stubblefield has quite the uphill battle to fight in order to claw this program out of the conference’s basement. Stubblefield, a former Oregon assistant under Dana Altman for ten seasons, takes over for Dave Leitao, who was in the midst of his second stint as the Blue Demons head coach when he was fired at the end of last year.

Depaul’s best player the past two seasons - Charlie Moore - transferred to Miami this offseason, and is now trying out for his fourth team in five years. This loss definitely stings for DePaul, as they will not have a dependable leader on the floor to help them through the coaching change.

Javon Freeman-Liberty (14.4 points, 5.3 rebounds) flashed at times last year and proved he can be a reliable scorer when needed. Without Moore running the show and keeping defenses honest, it will be interesting to see if Freeman-Liberty can improve his efficiency and shot volume (43% FG on 13 shots per game).

Stubblefield was able to make an early splash in the transfer market, nabbing a commitment from former #1 ranked JUCO player Tyon-Foster Grant, who most recently played at Kansas. Foster-Grant is a lanky and athletic 6’7” guard who can lock down defensively and use his wingspan to challenge shots at the rim and clog passing lanes. In the limited minutes he played at Kansas, he was a poor shooter (39% FG and 13% 3FG), but it is hard to get into any sort of rhythm averaging 8 minutes per game. He will get a lot more opportunities to score the ball on this DePaul team.

Two former top-100 guard recruits — Jalen Terry and Ahamad Bynum — will step into the starting lineup and immediately be asked to lead this team, along with Freeman-Liberty. Terry was most recently at Oregon with Stubblefield and decided to join his former assistant coach in Chicago and Bynum comes out of the heralded Simeon Academy that produced the likes of Derrick Rose, Jabari Parker, and Kendrick Nunn. Brandon Johnson, a redshirt fifth-year senior, comes over from Minnesota and should provide some toughness down low, along with center Nick Ongenda to round out the starting five.

The offense has been the weakness for DePaul over the past few seasons. They have ranked 165th and 259th in adjusted offensive efficiency per KenPom the past two years, by far last in the conference. If Stubblefield can implement more of a fast-paced spread attack that is employed at Oregon under Altman, it could help generate some more points for this team. A total offensive overhaul is needed for this DePaul team, and this won’t happen with the snap of a finger. Significant change likely won’t be realized in year one or year two, but any progress is all that this fanbase is looking for right now. If they can break their streak of finishing last in the conference, fans should be happy about that given how bad this program has been over the last half-decade.