The college basketball season is less than two weeks away and the buzz is palpable.
The Big East will get things started on November 11, when six teams from the conference hold their openers, with three other teams having their games played the following Saturday and Sunday.
For any team to succeed, it must get production from its stars. That’s a captain obvious statement if there ever was one. Equally obvious is that every team needs a player to outperform modest projections to get to a new level.
With the season about to tip, here is a player from each Big East team who needs to step up. Again, the following players are likely not the first (or sometimes second or third) options, but their roles are vitally important to any success their teams may have.
Butler: Tyler Lewis
After an accomplished high school career, a lot was expected out of Lewis, who started his career at North Carolina State and is in his second and final year at Butler. After an up and down junior campaign, a lot of responsibility will fall on his shoulders this season.
While not a gifted scorer, Lewis is great at finding the open man. If he can improve on his mediocre numbers from last season (2.8 assists per game), the Bulldogs will be a lot better off. He’ll have two good scorers flanking him in Kelan Martin and Andrew Chrabascz.
Creighton: Cole Huff
Although his knee is not 100 percent after offseason surgery, Huff is expected to be a key piece to the Bluejays’ puzzle nonetheless.
After an inconsistent first season at Creighton following his transfer from Nevada, Huff is trying to make his last season as a Bluejay a smash hit. Huff can get hot at a moment’s notice (recall him going for 35 points in Creighton’s loss to Seton Hall in the first round of the Big East Tournament), and if he can put it all together and stay healthy, he will give head coach Greg McDermott a reliable scorer from the wing.
DePaul: Tre’Darius McCallum
Usually, teams wouldn’t pin so much hope on a newcomer, but DePaul is severely thin up front after losing Myke Henry, Tommy Hamilton and Rashaun Stimage from last season.
The junior college transfer has impressed DePaul’s coaches with his ability to play inside and out. McCallum won’t be defined by a one position and he’ll get a lot of run at both forward spots and even center in some lineups. With established scorers beside him — Billy Garrett Jr. and Eli Cain — McCallum may go overlooked on scouting reports. He needs to make opposing teams pay.
Georgetown: Marcus Derrickson/Jessie Govan
A lot of candidates (namely point guard Tre Campbell) should have a critical role in helping Georgetown return to its winning ways after last season’s struggles, but for the purpose of this exercise, the maturation of sophomore big men Derrickson and Govan could prove to be more pivotal.
Derrickson and Govan are interchangeable big men who can do a little bit of everything. Georgetown head coach John Thompson III told Today’s U that both had “typical freshmen” seasons and are progressing nicely.
With more polish, Derrickson and Govan can give the Hoyas a much-needed boost in the frontcourt.
— CollegeBasketbllTalk (@CBTonNBC) October 24, 2016
Marquette: Matt Heldt
One reliable aspect of Marquette this season should be its guard play.
However, the play in the post outside of Luke Fischer is very suspect. Enter Matt Heldt, a promising 6-10, 245-pound sophomore center.
After an up-and-down season (0.7 points and 0.9 rebounds per game) in which he battled inconsistency and injury, Marquette coach Steve Wojciechowski is expecting more from Heldt. If he can offer some protection for Fischer down low and dramatically improve his rebounding numbers, Marquette’s chances for a solid season will increase.
Providence: Kyron Cartwright
With the loss of Kris Dunn and Ben Bentil, the Friars need multiple players to elevate their games, but the one who needs to step up the most is the new table-setter, Kyron Cartwright, who possesses a great skill set for a lead guard.
Friars head coach Ed Cooley is expecting great things from the junior guard. Cooley was so optimistic that he thought Cartwright could “triple” his offensive production and lead the Big East in assists.
Although that may be a tad ambitious, there is a great chance for Cartwright to truly break out this season. Don’t be surprised if the Friars once again yield the conference’s most improved player after Bentil won the award last season.
St. John’s: Federico Mussini
Mussini was more or less thrust into having to be the Red Storm’s point guard last season. While he is a capable ball-handler, Mussini’s main strength is shooting.
While his percentages don’t back that up (33.9 percent from the field and 30.4 percent from three-point range), the added responsibilities he shouldered last season harmed his shooting numbers. With St. John’s bringing in two ball-handling guards, redshirt freshman Marcus LoVett and four-star freshman Shamorie Ponds, expect Mussini to excel as he looks more for his own shot.
Seton Hall: Desi Rodriguez
With Isaiah Whitehead no longer around, Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard will need everyone to step up their game.
While Khadeen Carrington is the one everyone is predicting to pick up the slack the most, Rodriguez is another player with a chance to greatly improve.
Although he’s wrestled with inconsistency and had his share of disagreements with Willard, Rodriguez is a gifted athlete who can slash with the best of them in the Big East. If Rodriguez’s head is on straight he could be in line for a special season.
Desi Rodriguez on people sleeping on SHU: "That happens every year. It happened when Isaiah was here last year." #shbb
— A Daly Dose Of Hoops (@DalyDoseOfHoops) October 28, 2016
Villanova: Darryl Reynolds
In light of Villanova losing the services of five-star freshman center Omari Spellman, the play of Reynolds takes on more significance for the Wildcats this Big East season.
While not the most established scorer, Reynolds plays his role to perfection. He always gives 100 percent. If he can rebound and play defense well, he will have done his job.
As an experienced vet, Reynolds knows what to expect and he will fill VU’s hole up front.
Xavier: Kaiser Gates
Currently overcoming a knee injury of his own, Gates should be relatively healthy by the end of the month. In any event, his breakout may not come until the latter portion of the Big East season.
If he gets past his knee problems, Gates could serve an important role for the Musketeers this season. He showed glimpses of potential last season, and as Xavier coach Chris Mack puts more trust in him, Gates will play with more confidence. Anticipate Gates to reach his full potential and give the frontcourt a big lift with his ability to defend in the paint and knock down jumpers.