Five questions as the Big East regular season begins

The Big East season begins Wednesday night with St. John’s hosting DePaul in their first league game. With the non-conference portion of the season almost over, let’s take a look at five questions as the conference year begins:

Can St. John’s finish in the top half of the league and make the NCAA Tournament?

The Johnnies are off to an 8-0 start against a soft schedule before being hosted by No. 20 Iowa State on Sunday. There’s talent here — the top four of Joel Soriano, Posh Alexander, Andre Curbelo and David Jones is as good as any in the league after Creighton and Connecticut — but if these flubs continue, the Hurricanes will catch up. The lack of shooting should also be watched, as St. John’s shot 24.6 percent from 3-point range against four of its quality foes — Syracuse, Temple, Nebraska and Iowa State. Sophomore Rafael Pinzon, who scored 13 points in the loss to Iowa State, is a candidate to make an appearance.

Alexander the Great of St. John
Alexander the Great of St. John
Corey Sipkin for the NY POST

Is UConn the team to beat?

The Huskies are multi-dimensional, still an elite defensive and rebounding team, but much improved on the offensive end. Versatility was lacking, more depth in attack for the forwards. They already have double-digit wins over Alabama, Oregon, Iowa and Oklahoma State and are the only team ranked in the top 10 in the nation in both offense and defense. UConn is only as good as its No. 5 seed.

Can Villanova find itself after a rough start under Kyle Neptune?

The Wildcats have a NET rating of 165, which is as impressive as seeing them with five losses. Villanova got elite freshman Cam Whitmore back in a much-needed home win over Oklahoma on Saturday, and there is hope that big star Justin Moore (torn Achilles) will return at some point as well. This team will be better, but the lack of real points is noticeable. As a group, the Wildcats are shooting just 32.2 percent from the arc and are still adjusting after the Neptunes acquired the legendary Jay Wright. Villanova will take a long time to get into the NCAA Tournament picture.

Villanova's Kyle Neptune
Villanova’s Kyle Neptune

Is there a big eastern black horse?

Marquette has already proven better than projected, blowing out No. 12 Baylor and losing three games to No. 4 Purdue, No. 23 Mississippi State and Wisconsin by 11 points. Sophomore guard Cam Jones is a name to remember. He is averaging more than 15 points per game and has improved his all-around game after a decent freshman year. The Golden Eagles, ranked No. 37 in the NET, won’t finish ninth, as the league’s coaches predicted at media day.

Is Seton Hall taking a step back under Shaheen Holloway?

That was always a possible scenario, except for the fact that Seton Hall lost Jared Rhoden, Ike Obiagu and Myles Caleda from last year’s NCAA Tournament team. The summer and fall seasons only added to the challenge when so many players were injured and unable to start.

That was a big part of why I predicted the team would reach the NIT, not the tournament. Alexis Yetna’s knee injury, which has kept him out of action until now, has been a major blow. At the same time, this team will be difficult to play against because of how hard they are competing. You can’t rule out a top-six pick, especially if the Pirates’ most talented player, Kadari Richmond, can find some consistency and play more like he did against Kansas. Remember, this group played a very tough non-conference schedule, contributing to a 4-4 start.

St. John’s forward O’Mar Stanley (foot) will be a game-time decision against DePaul on Wednesday, a source said. He missed Sunday’s game against Iowa State with the injury and practiced on a limited basis this week. Guard Dylan Addae-Wusu also returns after missing the game. His absence was a “coach’s decision”.


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