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Five men’s basketball takeaways from Big East media day

With just under three weeks until the Seton Hall men’s basketball team starts their 2021-22 regular season, all 11 head coaches and several players from across the Big East gathered in Madison Square Garden for the first Big East media day since October 2019.

For Seton Hall, head coach Kevin Willard, graduate students Ike Obiagu and Myles Cale, senior Jared Rhoden, and junior Tyrese Samuel were in the building to talk Pirates and Big East basketball.

Here were five takeaways the Setonian took from this year’s Big East media day.

The Big East is adjusting to an ever-changing landscape

In her opening remarks, Big East commissioner Val Ackerman discussed the state of the conference post-COVID-19 shutdowns. Ackerman went into the logistics of hosting crowds at games, even saying that the conference expects “no capacity limitations.” Further, COVID-19 protocols are to be discussed at a meeting of the conference’s presidents in New York City on Nov. 4.

She continued, talking about the conference’s television deal with FOX, where the network will now host 20 nationally televised conference games, including some on CBS.

Ackerman also brought up the idea of expansion, an idea that has been brought up often recently thanks to the SEC’s expansion efforts.

“I think we have to be open to maybe a 12th [school] or more,” Ackerman said.

Gonzaga, a perennial Final Four contender, was the highest profile name said to currently be in the discussion over this potential 12th Big East team. Due to traveling distance, Gonzaga’s inclusion in the Big East may likely be as a basketball-only member, but the uptick in quality the Bulldogs would add to an already stacked Big East could be worth the move.

No one knows what the NIL rules will bring

Back in July, the NCAA Division I Board of Directors approved a policy that would allow college athletes to profit from their name, image, and likeness (NIL). However, there is still a lack of clarity as to what to expect from this new policy from a player or program perspective.

“I always talk to the guys at the end of their [college] career about when they’re in the NBA about taking care of their money,” Villanova head coach Jay Wright said. “Now I’m talking to them when they’re freshman.”

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He said he’s not yet worried about the divide these changes might cause in the locker room, but that he’s “monitoring daily.”

Georgetown head coach Patrick Ewing said that the changes to come with the NIL policy depend on the players maintaining their level of performance on the court.

“I think the best way to have a great NIL is to perform on your court,” Ewing said. “The more productive you are as an athlete, the more opportunities you’re going to have… Keep the main thing the main thing.”

Villanova tops 2021-22 Big East preseason coaches poll

Prior to the day’s events, Villanova graduate guard Collin Gillespie was named Big East Preseason Player of the Year just months after being awarded co-Big East Player of the Year with his teammate Jeremiah Robinson-Earl and Seton Hall’s Sandro Mamukelashvili.

With the other two winners moving on to the NBA, Big East Player of the Year is a title for Gillespie to lose.

Graduate student Jermaine Samuels is another name to keep an eye on for all those around the Big East. After testing the NBA Draft waters this past summer, he elected to use his extra year of eligibility to make a splash in the conference.

“A big motivator [to return to Villanova] was just being around the program, being around people who love you and want the best for you,” Samuels said. “At the same time, Villanova is a very special place to me, so having the ability to have one more year and spend with people you love and people who love you, it just doesn’t get much better than that.”

Samuels said he feels “rejuvenated” headed into this year coming off a season where he averaged 15.5 points per game, collected an All-Big East honorable mention, and became one of Villanova’s most important players down the stretch after Gillespie got injured.

Seton Hall has one of the deepest teams in the conference

Last season was a breakout year for Jared Rhoden. The senior averaged nearly 15 points and seven rebounds per game as one of Seton Hall’s top performers day-in and day-out. He got rewarded for his top-tier play with a preseason All-Big East First Team honor.

He’s not the only leader the Pirates will have, though, with the returning faces of Cale, Obiagu, and Bryce Aiken also establishing a strong core of veterans in the Pirates’ locker room.

With the additions of transfers Jamir Harris from American University, Kadary Richardson from Syracuse, and Alexis Yetna from University of South Florida, Seton Hall’s depth has filled up quite nicely. Harris was named the top returning shooter in the country for the upcoming season, and Richardson and Yetna have far exceeded expectations in practice.

Willard’s staff have also brought in a top-30 recruitment class that features Ryan Conway, Tyler Powell, and 82nd-ranked Brandon Weston..

Despite the No. 5 preseason conference ranking, the Pirates could be the biggest sleeper in the conference.

First-year coaches have something to prove

After both programs had disappointing seasons last year, Marquette and DePaul felt change was needed as head coaches Steve Wojchiechowski and Dave Leitao were let go, respectively.

Marquette filled their head coach role with Shaka Smart of the Texas Longhorns. In Smart’s six years with the Longhorns, he led them to three NCAA Tournament appearances, an NIT win in 2018-19, and a BIG 12 championship in 2020-21.

As a new head coach, Shaka has prioritized establishing relationships with his players as well as improving the on-court performances.

“I think building relationships is a challenge for any team that’s new,” Shaka said. “We’ve got a lot of guys that are new to each other, new to us. So I think really coming together and building camaraderie is one of the big challenges.”

Smart became known for having a fast-paced, “havoc” defensive scheme during his time at VCU, so team chemistry is important in making sure his ambitious coaching tactics come to fruition.

Meanwhile, DePaul looked to Tony Stubblefield of Oregon to change the Blue Devils’ fortunes after six seasons under Leitao.

Stubblefield spent 12 years with the Ducks, where they made the Final Four once in their seven appearances in the NCAA Tournament during his tenure. 

“If I had to guess right now, I would say the Big East is probably a more physical league than what the PAC-12 is, and that’s just based on my experience,” Stubblefield said. “When I was at Cincinnati before I came to Oregon and what I’ve seen so far watching film, it’s just a more physical league than what the PAC-12 was.”

There will likely be an extended adjustment period for both Smart and Stubblefield, but if there is anything the Big East has shown in its four-decade existence, it is that surprises are more common than the chalk.

Brendan Balsamo can be reached at brendan.balsamo@student.shu.edu.

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