NEW YORK – (Staff Report from Official News Release) – Seton Hall has been selected to win the 2019-20 BIG EAST regular-season crown by the narrowest of margins in the BIG EAST Preseason Coaches’ Poll. The Pirates, with four starters returning from a 20-14 season that included an NCAA Tournament berth, finished ahead of defending regular-season and tournament champion Villanova by one point in the voting. Both teams received five first-place votes. Coaches do not place their own teams on their ballots.
The selection of the Pirates as the favorite ends a five-year streak of Villanova leading the poll. Seton Hall is first in the poll for only the second time in BIG EAST history. The Pirates also were tabbed as preseason favorites in 1992-93. This season, the Pirates will be led by senior guard Myles Powell, who ranked second in the BIG EAST in scoring with a 23.1 average. He was a unanimous All-BIG EAST First Team member. The other starters back are: junior wing Myles Cale, who averaged 10.2 points, senior guard Quincy McKnight, who averaged 9.4 points, and 6-11 junior forward Sandro Mamukeliashvili, who posted marks of 8.9 points and 7.8 boards.
Villanova finished 26-10 overall and grabbed the league regular-season crown with a 13-5 record. The Wildcats also defeated Seton Hall 74-72 in the BIG EAST Tournament championship game. Villanova has won five of the last six regular-season titles and a record three straight tournament crowns. This year, the Wildcats return three starters including guard Collin Gillespie and forward Jermaine Samuels, a pair of juniors, who look to take on more expansive roles. Gillespie averaged 10.9 points. Samuels finished the season strong, averaging 13.5 points and 8.5 rebounds in his last seven games. Forward Saddiq Bey made the BIG EAST All-Freshman Team.
The teams from third place through seventh place in the poll are separated by only seven points.
Xavier was picked for third place with 52 points. After a 3-8 start in conference play last year, the Musketeers ended with a 6-1 run to finish 9-9. Four starters from last season’s 19-16 squad return to give Xavier plenty of reasons for optimism. Junior forward Naji Marshall led the team in scoring with a 14.7 average and pulled down 7.2 rebounds. The backcourt of junior Paul Scruggs and senior Quentin Goodin also returns. Scruggs averaged 12.3 points and 1.2 steals while Goodin ran the point and averaged 11.0 points. Tyrique Jones patrolled the low post with averages of 13.7 points and 7.7 boards.
Marquette and Providence tied for fourth place with 50 points.
Marquette took second place last season with a 12-6 mark and finished 24-10 overall, earning an NCAA Tournament bid. The Golden Eagles again will build around Markus Howard. The senior guard was named BIG EAST Player of the Year last season after leading all BIG EAST players in scoring with a 25.0 average. He connected on a conference-high 120 3-pointers and broke his own BIG EAST single-game scoring record with 53 points. Howard is supported by senior forward Sacar Anim, a quality defender who averaged 8.3 points. Center Theo John was effective in the paint with a league-high 70 blocked shots and averages of 5.5 points and 4.9 rebounds. Forwards Ed Morrow and Brandan Bailey were effective off the bench.
Providence made the NIT last season with an 18-16 record after five straight trips to the NCAA Tournament. With six of the top seven scorers returning, the Friars want something better than last year’s 7-11 league mark. Alpha Diallo, the versatile senior guard, is a cornerstone. He averaged 16.0 points, 8.1 rebounds and 1.6 steals. Junior center Nate Watson averaged 11.7 points and 5.2 boards. Sophomore guard David Duke averaged 7.1 points and senior guard Maliek White owned a 6.7 scoring mark. A.J. Reeves showed great scoring promise as a freshman, averaging 9.8 points, but was slowed by injuries. Graduate transfer point guard Luwane Pipkins could give the offense a jolt.
Georgetown finished just one point behind Marquette and Providence in the poll in sixth place. Last year, the Hoyas were 19-14 overall and 9-9 in the BIG EAST. They had three first-year players who made the BIG EAST All-Freshmen Team. One of those rookies, James Akinjo, also was named BIG EAST Freshman of the Year. He averaged 13.4 points and a league-leading 5.2 assists. Guard Mac McClung averaged 13.1 points and forward Josh LeBlanc recorded marks of 9.1 points and 7.3 rebounds. Omer Yurtseven, a 7-0 center transfer from N.C. State, averaged 13.5 points and 6.7 rebounds in 2017-18. Other experienced veterans include forward Jamorko Pickett and guard Jagan Mosely.
Creighton is also part of the bunched middle of the poll, only four points behind Georgetown in seventh place. Last year, the Bluejays, 20-15 overall, were part of the four-team logjam that finished 9-9 in the BIG EAST standings. Guard Ty-Shon Alexander, one of four returning starters, leads the strong Bluejay perimeter game. The junior averaged a team-leading 15.7 points and connected on 97 3-pointers while making All-BIG EAST Honorable Mention. Guard Davion Mintz averaged 9.7 points and guard Marcus Zegarowski made the BIG EAST All-Freshman Team after averaging 10.4 points and making 42.6 percent from beyond the arc. Wing Damien Jefferson added 6.2 points. Jacob Epperson, a 6-11 sophomore, will be an important figure after missing last year as a medical redshirt.
Butler is slotted for eighth place. The Bulldogs made the NIT last year and bring back three players who did not miss a start last year: guards Kamar Baldwin and Aaron Thompson along with wing Sean McDermott. Baldwin averaged 17.0 points and earned All-BIG EAST Second Team honors. Thompson averaged 6.3 points and 4.3 assists. McDermott averaged 9.5 points and shot 40.6 percent from 3-point range. Duke transfer Jordan Tucker became eligible in December and showed offensive prowess with a 9.7 scoring average. Newcomer Derrik Smits, a graduate transfer center, is expected to help immediately along with freshman guard Khalif Battle as Butler works on improving last year’s 7-11 league mark.
St. John’s, with new coach Mike Anderson, was tabbed for ninth place. The Red Storm, who made the NCAA Tournament last year for the first time since 2015, have two excellent starting pieces with senior guard Mustafa Heron and junior wing L.J. Figueroa. Heron was the team’s second-leading scorer last year with a 14.6 average and Figueroa averaged 14.4 points and 6.4 rebounds. Both are solid 3-point shooters. A supporting cast for the duo needs to be identified. Some returning candidates are guard Greg Williams Jr., forward Josh Roberts and forward Marcellus Earlington. Some talented transfers and newcomers will also get long looks as Anderson implements his pressing style of play.
DePaul is 10th in the poll. The Blue Demons are coming off a 19-17 season and a runner-up finish in the CBI. The overall win total and league mark of 7-11 was the most since 2006-07. There is a capable collection of returnees, but the Blue Demons will have to replace the production and leadership of Max Strus and Eli Cain. Forward Paul Reed won BIG EAST Most Improved Player honors after averaging 12.3 points and 8.5 rebounds as a sophomore. Junior forward Jaylen Butz adds strength to the frontcourt after averaging 6.9 points and 5.7 boards. Starting point guard Devin Gage, who averaged 9.1 points, also returns. Some newcomers who may help right away include 6-7 Arkansas transfer Darious Hall and 6-7 freshman Romeo Weems.
BIG EAST Preseason Player of the Year
Myles Powell, Seton Hall, G, Sr., 6-2, 195, Trenton, N.J.
BIG EAST Preseason Freshman of the Year
Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, Villanova F, Fr., 6-9, 232, Overland Park, Kan.
BIG EAST Preseason All-BIG EAST First Team
Kamar Baldwin, Butler, G, Sr., 6-1, 190, Winder, Ga.
Ty-Shon Alexander, Creighton, G, Jr., 6-4, 195, Charlotte, N.C.
Markus Howard, Marquette, G, Sr., 5-11, 175, Chandler, Ariz.*
Alpha Diallo, Providence, G, Sr., 6-7, 210, New York, N.Y.*
Naji Marshall, Xavier, F, Jr., 6-7, 220, Atlantic City, N.J.*
BIG EAST Preseason All-BIG EAST Second Team^
Paul Reed, DePaul, F, Jr., 6-9, 215, Orlando, Fla.
James Akinjo, Georgetown, G, So., 6-0, 180, Oakland, Cal.
LJ Figueroa, St. John’s, G-F, Jr., 6-6, 195, Lawrence, Mass.
Mustapha Heron, St. John’s, G, Sr., 6-5, 210, Waterbury, Conn.
Collin Gillespie, Villanova, G, Jr., 6-3, 191, Huntingdon Valley, Pa.
Jermaine Samuels, Villanova, F, Jr., 6-7, 222, Franklin, Mass.
Preseason All-BIG EAST Honorable Mention
Omer Yurtseven, Georgetown, C, Jr., 7-0, 275, Istanbul, Turkey
Paul Scruggs, Xavier, G, Jr., 6-4, 196, Indianapolis, Ind.
^Tie in the voting allowed for an additional honoree
2019-20 Preseason Coaches’ Poll
- Seton Hall (5) 77
- Villanova (5) 76
- Xavier 52
- Marquette 50
6 Georgetown 49
- Creighton 45
- Butler 21
- St. John’s 19
- DePaul 11
First-place votes in parentheses.