Oct. 16, 2013
by Sean Brennan
NEW YORK - BIG EAST Commissioner Val Ackerman stood on stage before conference members and gathered media and held her new jersey aloft, one with her name and her number - "2013-14" - inscribed on the back. And with Xavier, Butler and Creighton taking their places at the table at Wednesday's media day, BIG EAST basketball's new era officially tipped off at Chelsea Piers in Manhattan.
The new basketball-centric, 10-team league is perhaps missing some of the marquee names of the past, but that will not present a problem in the new BIG EAST establishing its own identity.
"We kind of lost some sexy names," Villanova coach Jay Wright said. "But I think we're bringing in some teams that fit the heart and soul of what the BIG EAST is about. Tough, hard-nosed basketball teams."
Marquette, which rolled to a 26-9 mark a season ago in reaching the Elite Eight, was picked first in the Preseason Coaches' poll with 74 points with Georgetown placing a close second with 70 points. And while Marquette coach Buzz Williams put little credence in being selected first, he was quick to sing the praises of the new conference makeup.
"This league started as an all basketball league back in the day so it's a league that will survive," Williams said. "We'll have great success in this league. This is still one of the best if not the best basketball conferences in the country."
Georgetown coach John Thompson III echoed those sentiments.
"We've lost some teams but we've brought in three quality teams with great traditions," Thompson III said. "We've gone from unquestionably the best basketball conference to arguably the best basketball conference. We're still in the conversation."
Newcomer Creighton, led by BIG EAST Preseason Player of the Year Doug McDermott, finished third in the poll with Villanova and St. John's rounding out the top five.
"I think we can surprise people," Red Storm coach Steve Lavin said. "Our goal is to make the NCAA tournament but we don't put a lot of stock in being picked fifth or sixth or seventh or first. You got to play the games." The Storm is also expected to get an offensive boost from highly-touted freshman Rysheed Jordan. "They're a group that wants to do something special. They're a hungry group."
Providence, which reached the postseason for the first time since 2009 and won two postseason games in the NIT for the first time since 2003, placed sixth in the poll and at least one coach sees big things in store for coach Ed Cooley's Friars.
"They very well could win the league," Wright said.
Another newcomer, Xavier, finished seventh in the poll with Seton Hall taking eighth place, Butler placing ninth and DePaul, with its high-scoring tandem of Cleveland Melvin and Brandon Young finishing in 10th place.
Five different schools were represented on the conference's All-BIG EAST First Team led by Georgetown's Markel Starks. Joining the Hoya senior guard are Marquette's Davante Gardner, Bryce Cotton of Providence, D'Angelo Harrison of St. John's and Xavier super sophomore Semaj Christon.
Villanova placed a pair on the Second Team with JayVaughn Pinkston and Ryan Arcidiacono. The Wildcats' pair is accompanied by JaKarr Sampson of St. John's, Cleveland Melvin of DePaul, Jamil Wilson of Marquette and Seton Hall's Fuquan Edwin.
Providence's Kadeem Batts and Chris Obekpa of St. John's earned All-BIG EAST Honorable Mention.
"I care really deeply about the game of basketball," Ackerman said. "I'm telling you, we're going to do everything (former BIG EAST commissioner) Dave Gavitt set out to do when he brought this league into being in 1979. We're going to make this basketball conference a force."