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Today’s U 2016-17 Big East basketball preview

Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire

Villanova winning last season’s NCAA championship was certainly a national needle pusher. The windfall from the Wildcats winning it all will have a profound impact on the Big East moving forward.

While some said the conference would implode after Syracuse, Louisville, Pittsburgh, and Connecticut all departed, all the conference has done since is thrive.

It wasn’t just Villanova which shined last season.

Xavier was a mainstay in the top 10 all season. Seton Hall, led by a sensational sophomore class, beat Villanova in a classic Big East Tournament championship game en route to making its first NCAA Tournament in 10 years. Providence, which was headlined by the exploits of Kris Dunn and Ben Bentil, were a sheer joy to watch. Marquette stud freshman Henry Ellenson was also the real deal.

In all, the Big East is coming off a tremendous season in which more than half the league made it to the NCAA Tournament.

The follow-up figures to be just as enjoyable.

With the college basketball season set to commence this Friday, let’s take a look at the Big East with some predictions, superlatives and other things to watch for in the 2016-’17 season.

1. Villanova – While coach Jay Wright loses Ryan Arcidiacono and Daniel Ochefu, he clearly has his team’s eyes on the prize. With as good a senior duo as there is in college basketball — Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins — a repeat title is certainly attainable.

2. Xavier – With a great guard corps led by Edmond Sumner, Trevon Bluiett and J.P. Macura, the Musketeers have the makeup of a team that can go far next March. After being stunned by Wisconsin in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, there is a deep hunger among the Musketeers to do even better this season.

3. Creighton – Led by the supremely talented backcourt of Maurice Watson and Marcus Foster, as well as role players Cole Huff and Isaiah Zierden plus a solid recruiting class to boot, Bluejay head coach Greg McDermott has all he needs to get back to the NCAA Tournament after a two-year hiatusand do damage once there.

4. Seton Hall – Although the loss of Isaiah Whitehead is not ideal, the chemistry the junior class has forged is admirable and tough to ignore. Don’t expect a huge stumble from the Pirates. They should be in contention for an NCAA bid all season.

5. Georgetown – The Hoyas’ struggles last season (head coach John Thompson III’s first losing season ever) were an aberration. Georgetown is more focused this season and is still extremely talented. The Hoyas have the roster construction and variables to get back to the Big Dance.

6. Butler – While the loss of Kellen Dunham and Roosevelt Jones hurts, the emergence of Kelan Martin is something to rally around. Plus, head coach Chris Holtmann has great complementary players in Andrew Chrabascz, Avery Woodson and Kethan Savage to make this season a successful one yet again.

7. Marquette – The loss of Henry Ellenson will of course sting, but the Golden Eagles have a wealth of gifted guards that can make this an interesting season. Marquette can make the NCAA tournament if all breaks right and it gets solid play up front.

8. Providence – No team lost as much as Ed Cooley’s club. Superstars Kris Dunn and Ben Bentil took their games to the NBA. It will be a season of transition for the Friars, but Cooley does have formidable weapons in Rodney Bullock and Kyron Cartwright.

9. St. John’s – Red Storm head coach Chris Mullin learned the hard way what coaching major college basketball was all about last season. His team mustered only eight wins (one in Big East play). That said, Mullin was given a barren roster. He has since reshuffled it and has vastly upgraded the talent in Queens. Look for newcomers Shamorie Ponds, Marcus LoVett and Bashir Ahmed to make an impact.

10. DePaul – For DePaul it’s all about making incremental progress. With the Blue Demons set to open a new arena next season and recruiting starting to pick up, DePaul would get a big boost if it can at least eclipse 12 wins (its most wins in the last 10 seasons) and get the program moving in the right direction. Billy Garrett Jr. and Eli Cain are an underrated duo in the Big East to watch.

Player of the Year: Josh Hart, Villanova

Why Hart? Check out this testimonial. For the cliff notes version, Hart has the skill set, hunger, attitude and experience to make his senior season a truly memorable one.

Freshman of the Year: Shamorie Ponds, St. John’s

Ponds is an exciting combo guard who is both flashy and skillful. The local product (he hails from Brooklyn) brings in a lot of hype, and if St. John’s is to get back to its winning ways, Ponds will be a major reason why.

Coach of the Year: Jay Wright, Villanova

Once again, a lot of pressure will be on Wright and his Wildcats. However, Wright has handled pressure before and he’ll have his team super focused. If the Wildcats win the Big East again, there is a good chance Wright will bring home more hardware. Greg McDermott is also a worthy early candidate.

Team nobody is really talking about: Providence

Granted, the Friars do lose Dunn and Bentil, but Cooley is a master motivator and molder of talent. While most of the team is young and unproven, Cooley is the perfect coach to extract every last ounce of talent out of this group.

Player nobody is really talking about: Isaac Copeland, Georgetown

Copeland has been a fine player in his first two years at Georgetown, but his time to shine is now. With the Hoyas losing program stalwart D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera, Copeland has a terrific chance to break out and not only be a star in this conference, but on the national level as well.

Overlooked freshman: Joey Brunk, Butler

Butler has been missing the services of a polished, true low-post presence for years. Brunk may be the answer. While he’ll have his ups and downs, Brunk brings a much-needed dimension to the Bulldogs. He is a dark-horse candidate for Big East Freshman of the Year.

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