The basketball offseason is the best time of the year for some fan bases.
Gone are the days of tangible disappointment. In the place of heartache, tears and sorrow is the hope for a better tomorrow. Whether through a coaching change, a top-notch recruiting class, or key returnees, the offseason provides all fans with something the actual season rarely does: hope.
With hope comes an unrealistic set of expectations and other aspects of what makes a fan a true fanatic. Still, that hope lends fandom its deliciously fun quality, especially if you root for a team that sits near the bottom of its conference each season.
For the Big East Conference, which is fresh off the Villanova Wildcats winning the entire thing, we all know the top dogs. The teams that matter most when the season starts are usually the same ones who wil matter when March hits. Unlike a lot of other power conferences, however, the Big East’s ability to keep all its fan bases rabid — yes, even DePaul — depends on a relatively small rate of roster disruption.
While Duke and Kentucky rely heavily upon freshmen for success, most members of the Big East, with obvious exceptions, build in a way that more closely resembles how mid-major darlings create their foundations of success. While John Calipari turns to one-and-dones, the mids need cohesive returning players. The Big East is generally closer to the latter dynamic than the former one.
Sure, a TON more goes into it, but for today we will specifically focus on three of those meaningful returning players from the Big East. Each of them can shift a program’s fortunes from cloudy to limitless.
Edmond Sumner – Xavier Musketeers
Chris Mack always gets the most out of his players. It is why it wouldn’t be any surprise to see Sumner make an even bigger jump in production next season.
Last season, Sumner averaged 11 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 4.6 assists per game. Unfortunately, he did shoot below 40 percent from the floor and 30 percent behind the arc. That’s a rather inefficient way of getting buckets.
The good news here is twofold: Sumner is a big point guard (6-5) and has real experience under his belt. When you couple that with the fact he’ll play alongside a more polished bucket-making marvel in Trevon Bluiett, the sky is the limit with Sumner.
He’ll also be asked to do more in 2016-’17. If you’re in a rare college basketball fantasy league — one that focuses on counting stats only — he will fill up box scores this season.
Yankuba Sima – St. John’s Red Storm
Who has two thumbs, is 6-11, and is literally fresh off helping Spain win the U20 FIBA European Championship? If you guessed Yankuba Sima, give yourself a dollar… and get yourself a hobby.
Anyway, Sima had an up-and-down freshman campaign with the Johnnies last season. Between figuring out the college game and learning how to use his wiry body, growing pains were more than expected when he joined the fold. Still, despite the Red Storm’s struggles in 2015-’16, Sima showed enough promise that it would be silly of anyone to give up on him.
While he was a non-factor in the FIBA U20 title game, making only one of his seven field goal attempts, he improved during the full tournament and continued to show flashes of brilliance that can make a St. John’s fan’s belly all warm and tingly on the inside.
He still might be a full season away from “figuring it out,” but he gained invaluable experience last year and this offseason. A large jump in production and — as Red Storm fans are hoping — victories can be expected.
Marcus Foster – Creighton Bluejays
Foster is a weird player to discuss. Formerly a member of the Kansas State program, early reports were that the talented guard came to Omaha with a body fat level of 14 percent — which, skinny people tell me, isn’t ideal. Supposedly, that number is all the way down to single digits this offseason. Not too bad for a guy who didn’t even play — transfer rules(!) — last year.
If he is anywhere close to the player he was for Kansas State before the transfer, Greg McDermott got himself a gosh-slam dandy. A 6-3 combo guard, Foster averaged 14 points per game during his two years with the Wildcats.
Without getting too hyperbolic, especially since he will need to find a specific role when the season begins, Foster has the type of talent that can make him an All-Big East selection by season’s end. He is that special.
Foster can carry the freight for Creighton.