Moving into the new Big East will be a time of different faces and different teams that most Butler fans are unfamiliar with up to this point. In order to help smooth the process a bit, we thought it would be a good idea to bring in a writer from Fansided’s Big East site, PlayForTheGarden.com. Here, we asked him several questions about the shape of the Big East and what to expect moving forward. Thanks again to Frank O’Brien for taking time to do this.
Collin O’Connor: Have you seen any changes in recruiting from the schools that are coming from smaller conferences? Is that a necessity?
Frank O’Brien: So far, recruiting appears to be business as usual for Butler, Creighton and Xavier. The Bulldogs and Bluejays, just like in years past, have focused on recruiting the Midwest while the Musketeers are primarily scouting the Midwest, Northeast, and Mid-Atlantic. Also, all three schools seem to be going after the same level of talent as previous years; if you thought these schools would all of a sudden go after a bunch of 5-star recruits just because they’re in the Big East, you’d be quite mistaken. Take Butler for example. Across multiple scouting services, the majority of Butler’s targets are either 3-star prospects or lower (with Trey Lyles being a notable exception.) From my perspective, the new members are staying the course for the time being.
And can you blame them? After all, each school has honed a plan that brought them this far, to the premier basketball-centric conference in America. I think what you’ll see is after a season of getting used to the new opponents and style of play, each coaching staff will reassess what they’re looking for in players and adjust who they recruit accordingly. Plus, being showcased in different timeslots and TV markets may open up a new pipeline or two. However, I don’t think recruiting tactics will change dramatically for any of the members for at least a few years.
CO: Who would you label as the top tier teams heading into next season?
FO: Next season will be a very unique one, and not just because it will be the inaugural season for the new conference. I believe, outside of DePaul and Seton Hall, each team is capable of grabbing a ticket to the big dance. While there is a bit of uncertainty surrounding the league, I think you’ll see some familiar names rise to the top:
- Marquette: I haven’t gone on the record in saying who I think will win the conference next season, but I might as well now. I think Marquette is the best team in the Big East. My affinity for Buzz Williams has been documented before, and Davante Gardner is a player that can dominate this conference like he dominated the second half of last season. This is a team that is underappreciated and forgotten by national sports media pundits, yet they’ve made three Sweet Sixteen appearances in a row (sore subject, I know), including a trip to the Elite Eight in March. Buzz is a guy that knows how to win in the regular season as well as the postseason.
- Villanova: Jay Wright is entering his 13th season as the Wildcats head coach. In the past nine years, his teams have made the NCAA tournament eight times. That’s the sort of consistency that catches your eye. If Ryan Arcidiacono and JayVaughn Pinkston can perform at the same level they did last year, this will be a team that will compete for the conference championship.
- Georgetown: Yes, Otto Porter will be in the NBA next year. Yes, Greg Whittington will most likely miss the entire season (for more info, check out this article by fellow Play For The Garden blogger Shane McCarthy). However, I will not be fooled into thinking Georgetown is already out of it for next year. Too many times has John Thompson III taken a team with low expectations and excelled in the regular season. While winning NCAA tournament games is a whole other story, the Hoyas will win plenty of Big East games this year.
Who are some players that are going to be in the running for First-Team All-Conference?
I’ve already mentioned Gardner, Arcidiancono, and Pinkston. All three are worthy candidates to make First Team All-Conference. Of course the most obvious candidate is Doug McDermott (Creighton). He averaged over 23 points a game last year, has racked up a slew of Missouri Valley Conference awards, and was a Consensus All-American the past two years. It will be interesting to see how “Dougie McBuckets”, in his senior year, handles more difficult competition as well as much more physical style of play that we will probably see in the new conference.
The only player who made the First Team last year that’s competing in the Big East this year is Providence guard Bryce Cotton, another worthy candidate. The rising senior averaged 19.7 points per game, most of the time playing on a torn meniscus. Kris Dunn (Providence), Jakarr Sampson (St. John’s), Semaj Christon (Xavier), and Butler’s very own Roosevelt Jones will also vie for a First Team spot.
Who are some freshmen you expect to come in and make an immediate impact?
I think the door is wide open for Providence combo guard Brandon Austin to make a splash. I profiled him earlier this year; this kid is lightning quick and will allow head coach Ed Cooley to play an up-tempo style that’s he’s been trying to implement for 2+ years now.
The most highly prized recruit of this class of Big East freshman has to be Rysheed Jordan (PG, St John’s). A 5-star athlete, Jordan is yet another example of just how good a recruiter Steve Lavin is and the turnaround he’s performed in Jamaica, Queens. Jordan will certainly contribute. You should also keep your eye on JaJuan Johnson (Marquette) and Reggie Cameron (Georgetown). Also, pay attention to Jaren Sina (Seton Hall) and Billy Garrett (DePaul). Why? Because these two players will have ample opportunity to shine on teams that don’t have as much talent as the rest of the conference.
Where does Butler fit into the overall picture for the conference this season and moving forward? Can they be an elite contender?
As I said before, there is still some uncertainty in the new Big East. One thing we do not know for sure is how conference games will be officiated. Will it be more like the physical style of the Big East of yesteryear, or will the conference try and adopt a new, offense-first identity? My guess would be the former. If that’s the case, you’re damn right Butler can quickly become an elite contender. One can certainly make the case the Bulldogs have the best head coach, and their style of offense is more similar to a typical Big East member than, say, Creighton.
Will it be this year? That’s a tough task. Butler lost a lot of scoring when Rotnei Clark and Andrew Smith, their top two scorers, graduated. I love Roosevelt Jones and think he will fit right in the Big East, but the question remains where will Brad Stevens get those points? Will Kellen Dunham and Khyle Marshall be that source on a consistent basis? That’s what will determine whether Butler is elite this year or not.
Is there any more recent news on the commissioner search?
Good God I wish there was. I happened to write about this a little while ago too. So here’s the deal. Since I wrote that, ESPN’s Andy Katz published this article saying Val Ackerman, the former president of the WNBA and USA Basketball, has emerged as the favorite to land the job. She is more than qualified for it, and I would be happy if she’s the pick. However, that doesn’t change the fact that the inefficiency of the selection process is very worrisome. I totally understand making sure you hire the right person, but it shouldn’t take over three months to complete. That’s just nonsense. We’re less than a week away from starting the conference. I, and I’m sure the curators of this fine blog would agree, want the new Big East to be a pleasant experience. Taking this long to hire a commish? Well, as Lucille Bluth would say, this does not bode well.
You can read more of Frank’s content at PlayForTheGarden.com. And if you’re still not sick of him, you can follow him on twitter (@fobbywobby).