Gone are Myles Powell, Markus Howard and Kamar Baldwin. For coaches Kevin Willard, Steve Wojciechowski and LaVall Jordan respectively, that’s a sobering thought. For the eight other coaches in the BIG EAST, it’s a relief that they don’t have to gameplan anymore for those all-time greats.
That said, programs in the conference have showed that they are more than capable of reloading. It’s a reason why the BIG EAST has sent an average of five or more teams to the NCAA Tournament per season.
Here’s a look at five players who likely will lead the star power in the BIG EAST heading into the 2020-21 season.
Marcus Zegarowski, Creighton
Bluejay head coach Greg McDermott has called his point guard the “heart and soul of the team.” Entering his junior year at Creighton, Marcus Zegarowski will continue to be just that, and one of the best point guards in America. An AP All-America Honorable Mention selection as a sophomore, Zegarowski averaged 16.1 points and 5.0 assists per game in the 2019-20 campaign. In McDermott’s high-octane offensive system, point guard play is vital. Zegarowski’s ability to balance scoring with distribution makes him the perfect fit for Creighton. Expect the Bluejays’ junior to be a candidate for BIG EAST Player of the Year.
Collin Gillespie, Villanova
Speaking of point guards, Jay Wright will have a senior running the one-position as Collin Gillespie embarks on his final campaign. First it was Ryan Arcidiacono. Then it was Jalen Brunson. Now, Gillespie has taken the torch and showed in his junior season that he was more than capable of being that type of lead guard for the Wildcats. Averaging 15.1 points and 4.5 assists per game this past season, Gillespie said in an interview last week that he believed he can continue to grow as a decision-maker as a senior. With the Wildcats returning the majority of their experience and Gillespie at the forefront, Villanova can be a team with Final Four aspirations.
David Duke, Providence
Ed Cooley will look to a hometown kid to take over the leadership reigns of the Friars as a six-member senior class graduates this spring. There’s reason to believe rising junior David Duke will be ready for just that, after the sophomore showed improvement in his second season. Duke was already a high-level defender for the Friars, and will continue to be that in his third year. The encouraging factor for him was shooting 42 percent from beyond the three-point arc while averaging 12.0 points and 3.1 assists per game. If Duke can keep that perimeter shooting in a good place, look for the scoring to spike even more and for Duke to be a candidate for All-BIG EAST First Team this upcoming season.
LJ Figueroa, St. John’s
At 6-6, Figueroa is a matchup nightmare. If he returns for his senior season in Queens after testing the NBA Draft waters, he’s got the skill set of an All-BIG EAST First Team caliber performer. Not only did he lead St. John’s in scoring at 14.5 points per game this past season, but Figueroa was the perfect fit for Mike Anderson’s system. He led the conference with nearly two steals per game, and his ability to space the floor made for good results in his junior season. Figueroa can attack and beat you from the perimeter consistently, having hit 72 triples this past season, good for third on the program’s single-season record list. Think of what Anderson did in his first season in the player development area. With a second year under him, Figueroa could continue to blossom into an NBA player, and be the leader for an NCAA Tournament team in 2021.
Sandro Mamukelashvili, Seton Hall
If the senior returns for his final season with the Pirates, the 6-11 Seton Hall star poses a very unique matchup challenge for opposing defenses. Mamukelashvili showed at the end of this past season that he was ready to take the lead role for The Hall, averaging 15.1 points and 7.7 rebounds per game in the final eight contests of the season. At his length, Mamukelashvili can stretch the floor from beyond the arc, put the ball on the floor, attack the rim and back down defenders as well. His improvement handling the ball in transition were really on display down the stretch this season, which included a 20-and-10 performance against Villanova on March 4. Mamukelashvili is the latest product of Seton Hall’s talent development pedigree.
KyKy Tandy, Xavier
The Musketeers lose their top two scorers in Naji Marshall (NBA Draft) and Tyrique Jones (graduating), while point guard Quentin Goodin graduates as well. That means Xavier has an open door for a player to take on an increased role and shine. Tandy has a “dark horse” feel to him heading into his second season. As a freshman, he came on at the end of the 2019-20 season, scoring in double-figures in seven of the Musketeers’ final 11 games. Xavier went 5-2 in that final stretch when Tandy reached 10 points. Keep in mind as well that the four-star freshman missed the first month of last season with a foot injury. Head coach Travis Steele said last season that Tandy can give this program “a different dimension.” Provided he stays healthy, Tandy is going to have the opportunity to turn those words into results.