The non-conference schedule has wrapped up for the Butler Bulldogs. The Bulldogs nearly came out unscathed, but thanks to two thrillers in Orlando, they head into their inaugural Big East season with a 10-2 record.
The entire Big East tips off its first season on New Year’s Eve after “The Catholic 7″ realigned and added three mid-majors. All 10 teams will play five straight games on the new TV carrier of Big East basketball, Fox Sports 1, beginning at noon and going until midnight.
Butler opens its “new journey” with the only ranked team in the Big East – Villanova. The Wildcats come in at 11-1, ranked 8th in the country. Coming off a loss against former Big East rival Syracuse, the Wildcats feature wins against No. 2 Kansas and No. 23 Iowa.
While junior forward JayVaughn Pinkston received much of the hype for Villanova coming into this season, he’s not the only one making noise. Senior guard James Bell is leading the way for the Wildcats with 16.2 points per game and 6.3 rebounds per game. Pinkston is putting up 15.3 and 5.0, respectively, while Darrun Hilliard is scoring 13.6 points, grabbing 4.6 boards per game and dishing out 3.3 assists per game.
Butler is led by sophomore guard Kellen Dunham and senior forward Khyle Marshall. Dunham is putting up 18.1 points per game and Marshall is averaging 17 points and 6.7 rebounds.
The Butler defense is anchored by Marshall, junior forward Kameron Woods and scrappy junior guard Alex Barlow. As Barlow has been getting into some foul trouble throughout the year, that could be a problem moving forward, especially with the increased athleticism and talent levels they’ll be seeing in the new conference.
Last year the Bulldogs overachieved in their first and only year in the Atlantic 10. Projected to finish near the bottom, the Bulldogs finished 5th in the conference and lost in the conference tournament semifinals.
They’ll be looking to do more of the same this year, as they enter their third conference in three years. Here, we take a look at my predictions for the Big East season, a true double-round robin, 18-game schedule for all 10 teams.
Projected Big East Standings
1. Villanova (16-2) - They’re the only ranked team in the conference, as of right now, and they’re the clear favorites to take the conference.
2. Creighton (14-4) - All-American Doug McDermott leads the Bluejays into their first season in the conference, already averaging 24.8 points per game and shooting over 40 percent from three-point range.
3. Marquette (14-4) - Look for the Golden Eagles to put early season struggles (such as a 52-35 home loss against Ohio State) behind them and hit their stride in the new year, behind big man Davante Gardner.
4. Georgetown (13-5) - The Hoyas have had their ups and downs early on. Up = beating No. 10 VCU. Down = losing to Northeastern.
5. Butler (11-5) - In his first year, head coach Brandon Miller has his team playing pretty solid basketball, only losing by two points each against Oklahoma State and LSU. They’ll need to step the physicality, but the potential is definitely there.
6. St. John’s (11-5) - Their only losses of the year are No. 20 Wisconsin, Penn St. (OT), and No. 2 Syracuse – all close games. But they’ve also struggled with teams like Bucknell, Monmouth, Youngstown State and Columbia.
7. Xavier (8-10) - The Musketeers will struggle the most out of the new teams, but will still hold their own. With Semaj Christon, this is the type of team that has potential to make a run in the conference tournament.
8. Providence (7-11) - Much like Xavier, Providence will be in a lot of games – mainly because of Bryce Cotton (19.5 PPG) – but will falter. They, too could make a run at the Garden in March.
9. Seton Hall (5-13) - Sterling Gibbs and Fuquan Edwin are good, but there’s just not enough there for the Pirates. They’ll pull an upset or two in conference play, but they’ll also have some big struggles.
10. DePaul (3-15) - The Blue Demons have size. A lot of size. But they lack in guard play, especially from the free throw and three point lines.
First Team Honors
G - Kellen Dunham, Butler - If he keeps his high average up through conference play, he’ll be the clear leader of the Bulldogs, and it’ll also be enough to throw him into consideration for this spot.
G - James Bell, Villanova - Being the best guard on the best team in the conference puts him here.
F - Doug McDermott, Creighton - He’s all but a lock to be an All-American, which means he should get all-conference honors.
F - Davante Gardner, Marquette - As a senior, he is one of the premiere big guys in the country. He should be banging bodies around in the Big East.
C - Joshua Smith, Georgetown - Smith is one of the biggest players in the conference at 6-10, 350 lbs. His size will be tough to tackle for most of the conference.
The Big East will be a big step up for the Butler Bulldogs, but they are definitely equipped to hold their own and finish near the middle-top of the conference. As for right now, the focus is on James, Pinkston and the Wildcats when they pay a visit to the Old Cathedral on Tuesday. Tip off is slated for 7:30 p.m. at Hinkle, the fourth game of the day’s five.