A year ago, Villanova, Providence and Big East newcomers Creighton and Xavier earned bids to the NCAA tournament, while the Hoyas finished a disappointing seventh in the conference. After the graduation of Creighton all-time leading scorer Doug McDermott, and the departure of Marquette’s core contributors, the title race is likely down to the top-three teams in the Big East Preseason Coaches Poll: Villanova, Georgetown and St. John’s.

P20_ReggieCameronvsVillanova_ChrisBien1. Villanova

Jay Wright’s Wildcats look to build off last year’s 29-win season that led to a Big East regular-season title but ended in defeat at the hands of Shabazz Napier and the Connecticut Huskies in the third round of the NCAA tournament. Senior forward JayVaughn Pinkston, a Big East Player of the Year contender, leads an experienced and talented group, which loses leading scorer James Bell but returns its next seven highest-scoring players. Sophomore guard Josh Hart will be called upon to fill the void left by Bell’s departure, and if he can put up similar numbers, the Wildcats will be positioned to make another deep run in March this year.

2. Georgetown

See the men’s basketball season preview.

3. St. John’s

Led by first-team reseason all-Big East selection senior guard D’Angelo Harrison and junior center Chris Obekpa, St. John’s will look to take the next step toward reliving its past glory under Head Coach Steve Lavin. After finishing fifth in the Big East last season, many expect the Red Storm to make a jump into the elite portion of the conference. Obekpa, though undersized for a center at  6 feet 9 inches, already holds the school record for career blocks, and will be called upon to anchor the defense.

4. Xavier

After finishing the regular season tied for fourth in the Big East and losing to N.C. State in the opening round of the NCAA tournament, Head Coach Chris Mack and the Musketeers hope to mesh veteran leadership with a primarily young team. Xavier welcomes six freshmen from a highly regarded recruiting class. After losing its top two scorers in Semaj Christon and Justin Martin, Xavier will have to look for a new set of offensive weapons who can carry the team if it is to get back to the NCAA tournament.

P20_HopkinsvsButler_ChrisBien5. Providence

Friars Head Coach Ed Cooley has steadily built up the Providence program, which reached the NCAA tournament last year and the NIT the year before. Now, the team looks to turn more heads in the postseason. Depth is one of the strengths for this team, and redshirt sophomore Kris Dunn and freshman forward Jalen Lindsey will be called upon to provide key minutes for the team. The Friars are a young but talented team, and with a strong head coach in Cooley —  they could be a dark horse in the conference this year.

6. Seton Hall

The key for Seton Hall this season is consistency. After losing 10 games by five points or fewer and using 20 different starting lineups due to injuries, Head Coach Kevin Willard, entering his fifth season, will need a better showing this year in order to avoid the hot seat. Luckily, unlike past years, he has an elite recruiting class, ranked 12th by ESPN, which will bring a needed influx of top-notch talent. Headlined by ESPN Top-20 prospect Isaiah Whitehead and premier power forward Angel Delgado, the Pirates will look to shock their Big East rivals this season with depth, talent and good coaching.

7. Butler*

Two days before fall practice began, Head Coach Brandon Miller was granted a medical leave of absence, and Assistant Coach Chris Holtmann was named interim coach. After returning four of five starters from last season, and four of its top-six scorers from 2013-2014, Holtmann will have the benefit of taking over an experienced, mature team commandeered by leading scorer Kellen Dunham and leading rebounder Kameron Woods. The biggest hurdle for the Bulldogs at this point will be overcoming the void left by Miller’s departure.

7. Marquette*

After Head Coach Buzz William’s departure to Virginia Tech, Steve Wojciechowski takes over after serving as associate head coach under famed Duke Head Coach Mike Krzyzewski. Senior starters Derrick Wilson and Juan Anderson return for their final season, and are joined by 2013-2014 Big East all-Rookie team selection Deonte Burton and BYU transfer Matt Carlino. Like Butler, a major challenge for the Golden Eagles will be smoothing the transition to a new coach.

9. CreightonP21_TrawickvsCreighton_ChrisBien

The Blue Jays figure to take a major step back after star forward Doug McDermott’s graduation and subsequent move to the NBA. In his son’s absence, Head Coach Greg McDermott will need to look for another main source of offense. Creighton did not have any representatives on the preseason all-conference team for the first time since 2007-08. Forward Leon Gilmore, an incoming freshman recruit, will be called upon to provide dependable play at the power forward position.

10. DePaul

Head Coach Oliver Purnell enters his fifth season already on the hot seat, with an overall record of 42-77. DePaul lost a lot of talent from last year, as forward Cleveland Melvin left the program, guard Charles McKinney was dismissed from the team, and guard Brandon Young graduated along with center Sandi Marcus. Purnell will lean heavily on sophomore duo point guard Billy Garrett Jr. and center Tommy Hamilton to try and salvage what already looks like a bleak season. It is hard to see the Blue Demons improving on last year’s 12-21 overall record, and Purnell’s job looks to be in jeopardy.

*Butler and Marquette tied for seventh in the Big East Coaches Poll.

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