The Big East could potentially have as many as four teams who are preseason top 25 candidates and seven teams capable of making the 2018 NCAA Tournament.
What players are expected to make a leap during this upcoming campaign in order to launch their team into the tournament? Here are the top 10 talents to look out for:
10. Butler sophomore forward Joey Brunk
Brunk had a quiet freshman campaign, as he averaged just seven minutes and 3.1 points per night. However, Brunk, a former four-star recruit from Indiana, is set for a much larger role in year two with Andrew Chrabascz and Tyler Wideman out the door. Someone needs to step up inside and Brunk will likely be the man, alongside Nate Fowler.
9. St. John’s senior forward Bashir Ahmed
Ahmed was third on St. John’s in scoring last season, but the former JUCO prospect was occasionally wild with the basketball (forcing shots, making poor decisions and driving into traffic with tunnel vision) and got into foul trouble easily.
With an offseason of improvement, Ahmed will emerge as a key leader and a much more poised and efficient player on a St. John’s team that has the chance to reach their first NCAA Tournament under Chris Mullin.
8. Georgetown junior center Jessie Govan
While Govan upped his scoring average from 6.8 points in his freshman campaign to 10.1 points in his sophomore season, the big man is still searching for a true breakout year that will put NBA scouts on notice.
2017-18 could be the Queens Village native’s year, as the Hoyas will try to play through Govan and Marcus Derrickson in the first season under new head coach Patrick Ewing.
7. Xavier sophomore forward Tyrique Jones
Jones is massive, physical, tough, aggressive and powerful. You don’t want to be an opposing big man who matches up against this sophomore forward.
He will have to split time up front with Sean O’Mara, Karem Kanter and Kaiser Gates, but he should have a major impact on the glass and around the rim offensively.
6. Xavier sophomore guard Quentin Goodin
Goodin was thrust into the starting lineup late in Xavier’s 2016-17 season when star point guard Edmond Sumner went down with a torn ACL. The freshman didn’t just play well as a replacement, he helped guide the Musketeers to the Elite Eight before losing to Gonzaga.
The 6’4″ talent will be the team’s starting lead guard this season and will almost certainly improve upon the 5.1 points, 3.4 assists and 2.0 rebounds he averaged per night last year.
5. Marquette sophomore forward Sam Hauser
The gem of Marquette’s 2016 recruiting class was point guard and efficient sharpshooter Markus Howard. But Hauser could jump into Howard’s hemisphere in his sophomore season as the Golden Eagles try to overcome the losses of Luke Fischer, Katin Reinhardt and Jajaun Johnson.
Hauser stretches the defense as a small ball four, giving the Golden Eagles a different dimension, and can play on the wing in bigger lineups. Expect Hauser to average double figures in points and almost seven boards per game.
4. Seton Hall sophomore guard Myles Powell
With Angel Delgado, Khadeen Carrington, Desi Rodriguez and Ismael Sanogo back for their senior seasons, Myles Powell may not be the first player fans look to when they take a peek at Seton Hall’s roster or lineup.
But Powell will have a huge impact in year two as a confident, knock-down shooter who is also improving off the bounce. If Powell can find a way to complement his shooting ability by making plays in transition and attacking the rim, Hall will have enough depth and talent to make a run at a top-three finish in the Big East.
3. Creighton junior guard Khyri Thomas
You could argue that Khyri Thomas already broke out last season when he averaged the fourth most points on a Creighton team that reached the NCAA Tournament.
However, Thomas can be even better and is still not known as much as he should be nationally. The 6’3″ Omaha native is one of the best two-way players in the country and must provide Marcus Foster with help offensively after the Bluejays lost Maurice Watson Jr. and Justin Patton this offseason.
2. Providence sophomore guard Alpha Diallo
Diallo might get over-shined by Kyron Cartwright or Rodney Bullock, but this versatile sophomore guard is a star in the making. Diallo can guard numerous positions defensively, using his size, length and quickness to his advantage, and he is likely ready to be a drastically improved offensive player.
We already know Diallo can finish in transition and attack the rim with his athleticism, but he showed a smooth jumper in Providence’s exhibition against UConn at Mohegan Sun last week.
If that jumper remains consistent during the regular season, Diallo could be the key to Providence reaching their fifth straight NCAA Tournament under Ed Cooley.
1. Villanova sophomore guard Donte DiVincenzo
Josh Hart is gone.
So is the hero Kris Jenkins.
And Darryl Reynolds.
But Jalen Brunson, Mikal Bridges and a host of other players are back as Villanova is set to be a top 10 squad and the team to beat again in the Big East.
Don’t forget about Donte DiVincenzo though, who is projected to emerge as one of the most improved players in the entire country.
DiVincenzo can score in numerous different ways (in transition, by putting the ball on the floor, by knocking down threes) and can defend multiple different positions. He may not be the leader of the ‘Cats team just yet (that will not come until Brunson is in the NBA), but he has to emerge as Brunson’s sidekick if Villanova is going to win another Big East regular-season title.