As we continue our weeklong look at the new-look conferences in college basketball, Myron Medcalf and Jason King zone in on the new 10-team Big East by picking who they think should be the preseason favorite in year No. 1.
Myron Medcalf's pick: Creighton
In recent years, Doug McDermott has been judged by his pro potential or lack thereof. Whether he’s capable of accruing buckets in the NBA with the same ease he has had as an elite scorer on the collegiate level is unknown at this point. But his return to the Creighton program for his senior season -- before he enters the 2014 NBA draft and we find out -- means the Bluejays will enter the new Big East as a legit contender for the crown.
Actually, they should be the favorites. Last season, McDermott (23.2 PPG, 49 percent from beyond the arc) led an offense that was ranked ninth in adjusted offensive efficiency per Ken Pomeroy. And the Bluejays finished 59th in adjusted defensive efficiency, a dramatic improvement from their porous D in 2011-12 (178th).
The loss of big man Gregory Echenique hurts. But the return of Grant Gibbs -- made possible when the NCAA granted the veteran a sixth year and McDermott agreed to give up his scholarship -- should help Creighton continue its recent trend of success in a new league.
It won’t be easy, though. Butler has a new coach, but multiple key players from last season’s NCAA tourney team will return. Georgetown’s Greg Whittington recently suffered a torn ACL, so the Hoyas are a question mark for 2013-14 unless he returns. But they still bring back three starters from last season’s squad, and former UCLA center Josh Smith will join the team after the first semester. And St. John’s has a lot of young talent, too.
Marquette appears to be Creighton’s biggest threat for the inaugural crown of the new Big East. But the Golden Eagles have to replace Junior Cadougan, Vander Blue and Trent Lockett. Davante Gardner returns, and Buzz Williams has a strong recruiting class. So Marquette will be tough, too.
But Creighton has continuity and one of America’s top offensive units. Plus, it's led by a preseason national player of the year candidate (favorite?). So I’m going with the Jays.
Jason King's pick: Marquette
The first season of the new Big East will conclude much like the final edition of the old one -- with Marquette on top. The Golden Eagles shared the 2013 regular-season title with Louisville (which is no longer in the conference) and Georgetown. But this season Buzz Williams’ squad will have the crown all to itself.
I know, I know: Marquette took a major hit when Vander Blue lost his mind and entered the NBA draft unexpectedly (and then went undrafted). But almost every other key piece of last season’s squad returns. That includes second-leading scorer Davante Gardner (11.5 PPG), glue guy Jamil Wilson (9.7 PPG) and rising junior Todd Mayo, who is due for a breakthrough season.
Marquette also adds the Class of 2013’s No. 3-ranked shooting guard in Memphis native JaJuan Johnson, who should make an immediate impact. The main reason I like MU, however, is because of its coach. I’m not sure any team in America exudes as much defensive effort as the Golden Eagles, and that is a credit to Williams. His teams apply constant pressure and are as mentally tough as any unit you will find.
Creighton has some nice parts -- most notably two-time first-team All-American Doug McDermott -- and great chemistry. But I think Marquette’s athleticism and defense will be the difference-maker when the Bluejays and Golden Eagles go head-to-head. And for the record, I would have seriously considered Georgetown if forward Greg Whittington had not torn his ACL last month.