COLUMN: Big East on its way back to national prominence


Patrick Sloan-Turner

Junior forward Da’Sean Nelson dribbles past Villanova junior Eric Dixon in DePaul’s home win against the Wildcats on Jan. 10.

The Big East has recently proved to be one of the premier conferences in men’s basketball, thanks in a large part to perennial powerhouse Villanova. From 2016-2018, the Wildcats won two national championships and just a year ago made it to the Final Four. But with head coach Jay Wright’s surprising retirement this off-season, the Big East’s power had presumably been crippled.

Entering this season, expectations were uncharacteristically low for the conference, with No. 11 Creighton and No. 18 Villanova named to the preseason top 25. But with a little less than a month left in the regular season, the Big East is once again reminding the basketball world who they are.  

Currently, the Big East boasts five teams ranked in the Top 25: No. 10 Marquette, No. 13 Xavier, No. 20 Providence, No. 21 UConn and No. 23 Creighton. Only the Big 12 has more ranked teams with six.

Shockingly, Villanova has been one of the worst teams in the conference. Kyle Neptune, who spent eight years as Wright’s assistant, has struggled after his promotion to head coach.

Villanova isn’t the only team that entered this season with a new coach. Xavier (Sean Miller), Butler (Thad Maata) and Seton Hall (Shahaeen Holloway) all made changes. Miller previously coached Xavier from 2004-2009 before becoming the head coach of Arizona for 12 seasons. Currently, the Musketeers are second in the conference, sitting at 11-3.

With Shaka Smart at the helm, Marquette has been one of the biggest surprises in Big East play. Predicted to finish ninth in the league, the Golden Eagles are 11-3 in the conference and hold a half-game lead over Xavier. Five of Marquette’s six losses have been by two or fewer possessions.

Creighton has been a roller coaster all year long. The Bluejays started the season 6-0 but then lost the next six. However, the team got back on track, winning 10 of its last 12. 

A significant part of their resurgence is due to center Ryan Kalkbrenner. During the Bluejay’s six-game losing streak, the junior missed three of those games due to an illness. but since Kalkbrenner’s return, his team has only lost twice. On the season, he is averaging 15.1 points and 6.8 rebounds.

UConn is having a similar season to Creighton. The Huskies started the year 14-0 and were ranked No. 2 in the nation. Then, the Huskies lost six of the next eight but are currently on a three-game win streak which includes a dominating win over Marquette.

Once a consistent contender in the conference, Georgetown is now dead last, for the second-straight season. The Hoyas have only one conference win dating back to the end of the 2020-2021 season. 

Head coach and NBA Hall of Famer Patrick Ewing is on the hot seat and it would not be a surprise if he is let go after the season ends. In his sixth season at the helm, the Hoyas have a conference record of 27-76, with one NCAA tournament appearance.

St. Johns is another team that could look to make a coaching change after the season ends. Mike Anderson is in his fourth year leading the Red Storm but has yet to produce any results. Under his leadership, St. Johns is 27-43 in the Big East and hasn’t made it to the NCAA tournament under his tenure.

After its stunning upset victory over No. 8 Xavier, DePaul has yet to win a game. Currently, the Blue Demons are only above Georgetown in the conference standings.

As of now, the conference is projected to have five teams make the NCAA tournament – Marquette, Xavier, UConn, Creighton, and Providence. Seton Hall is on the bubble, but will need a few more key wins or a deep conference tournament run to cement their case.