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Conference Catchup: Who will join Villanova in the Big East title hunt?

By Chip Patterson | College Football/Basketball Writer

Villanova returns four starters to defend its Big East regular season title. (USATSI)
Villanova returns four starters to defend its Big East regular season title. (USATSI)

More Big East: Xavier, Auburn agree to series | Villanova No. 13 in preseason Top 25

Things are now mostly settled in college basketball. We basically know who will be coaching where. We basically know who will be playing where. So this seems like as good of a time as any to reset everything and get caught up on all of the notable leagues.

That's the idea behind the CBSSports.com Conference Catchups.

We'll post one every other day over a four-week span. We've covered the ACC, and the American Athletic Conference and the Atlantic 10 already. Today, we look at the Big East.

FOUR OFFSEASON HEADLINES

1. Buzz Williams' surprise exit opens the door for Steve Wojciechowski at Marquette: Buzz Williams jumped to Virginia Tech in March, opening the door for Wojciechowski to take on his first head coaching job. Wojo had been an assistant on Mike Krzyzewski's staff since 1999, serving as associate head coach since 2008, and now he inherits a program with eight NCAA Tournament appearances in the last decade. The Golden Eagles suffered some player attrition since Williams' departure, but adding BYU transfer Matt Carlino to pair with Todd Mayo should give Marquette a formidable backcourt for 2014-15.

Wojciechowski's move to a head coaching position was not a matter of if, but when and where. Once known as a floor-slapping guard with lockdown defense, the longtime Coach K protoge beefed up his coaching resume by instructing the post players at Duke and working with Team USA Basketball. He joins Mike Brey (Notre Dame), Chris Collins (Northwestern), Johnny Dawkins (Stanford) and Tommy Amaker (Harvard) as former Coach K assistants currently leading teams in Division I.

2. Big East, Big Ten announce the Gavitt Tipoff Series: In early May the two leagues announced an annual series of eight games -- four hosted by Big East teams, four hosted by Big Ten teams -- between the conferences to be held in the first week of the regular season. The series won't start until 2015-16, but it is scheduled to run until 2020. The series, named for Big East founder Dave Gavitt, promises national exposure early in the season with ESPN and Fox Sports 1 handling the mid-week broadcasts. The Gavitt Tipoff Series isn't the only future matchup headline of the offseason so far: DePaul and Northwestern agreed to a five-year series beginning in 2015-16, Cincinnati and Xavier will spend the next 10 years playing in each other's on-campus arenas and Butler agreed to a home-and-home series with Tennessee for 2014 and 2015.

3. Chris Mack stays put, signs extension through 2019-20: Mack was mentioned as a potential candidate for head coaching jobs at California, Wake Forest, and Tennessee, but the 44-year-old coach opted to sign an extension with Xavier that runs through the 2019-20 season. The Musketeers have been to the NCAA Tournament four times in five years under Mack, who has a 111-57 record since being promoted to head coach following Sean Miller's exit in 2009. Xavier will be without Semaj Christon next season, but still have a strong enough core to challenge Villanova for a conference title in 2014-15.

4. Georgetown expects to have Josh Smith for 2014-15: Hoyas coach John Thompson III told CBSSports.com in late April that he expects to have the 6-10, 350-pound big man, who arrived at Georgetown via UCLA in 2013, back in the lineup for the fall and winter. Smith played just 13 games last season before being ruled academically ineligible, averaging 11.5 points and 3.4 rebounds. Smith's return, along with the arrival of three top-ranked freshman, gives Georgetown a fresh start in the new-look Big East after a disappointing 8-10 finish in conference play.

BIG QUESTION THAT REMAINS

Can Creighton and Butler continue the sustained success they enjoyed as mid-majors in the Big East? Opportunity knocked at the right time for both mid-major powers, as the Catholic 7 needed basketball-first programs to round out the new-look Big East. Doug McDermott led Creighton into the new league smoothly, earning National Player of the Year honors and leading the Bluejays to a third straight NCAA Tournament. Can Greg McDermott keep the team in the tournament conversation on an annual basis?

Butler, on the other hand, not only had to battle through a conference change (the Bulldogs' third league in three years) but also a coaching change. The first year of Big East play resulted in Butler's first losing season since 2005, and while the Bulldogs should improve in Brandon Miller's second year, the NCAA Tournament is far from a lock. College basketball fans rallied behind these programs for their mid-major dominance and ability to threaten traditional powers in the NCAA Tournament, but if Creighton and Butler cannot escape the Big East they will risk falling from the national scene.

NBA DRAFT REPORT

Could've gone and did: Semaj Christon (Xavier), JaKarr Sampson (St. John's)

Could've gone but stayed: Chris Obekpa (St. John's)

TRANSFERS

Coming: Chier Ajou (Northwestern to Seton Hall), Matt Carlino (BYU to Marquette), Austin Etherington (Indiana to Butler), Luke Fischer (Indiana to Marquette), Cole Huff (Nevada to Creighton), Ricky Kreklow (Cal to Creighton), Tyler Lewis (NC State to Butler), Maurice Watson (Boston to Creighton)

Going: Brandon Austin (Providence to Oregon), Moses Ayegba (Georgetown to Nebraska), Nolan Berry (Butler to TBD), Elijah Brown (Butler to New Mexico), Mislav Brzoja (Villanova to Evansville), Rene Castro (Butler to Duquesne), Stephen Domingo (Georgetown to Cal), Josh Fortune (Providence to TBD), Darian Harris (Creighton to Oral Roberts), Hakeem Harris (Seton Hall to TBD), Max Hooper (St. John's to Oakland), Brice Kofane (Providence to Monmouth), Justin Martin (Xavier to SMU), Jameel McKay (Marquette to Iowa State), Devontae Morgan (Butler to TBD), Kamall Richards (Xavier to TBD), Andrew Smeathers (Butler to Mount Saint Mary's), Michael Volovic (Butler to TBD), Greg Whittington (Georgetown to NBDL)

TEAM COMMENTARY IN 140 CHARACTERS OR LESS

Butler - Departing transfers make the return of Roosevelt Jones (wrist) even more important for the Bulldogs to bounce back in 2014-15.

Creighton - McDermott's exit, along with Ethan Wragge and two other senior starters, sets Creighton back. With transfers sitting out, it's time to rebuild.

DePaul - Purnell has not come close to a .500 season and recorded only nine conference wins in four years. It's win now time in Chicago for the Blue Demons.

Georgetown - The return of Josh Smith and addition of three top-ranked freshman should propel the Hoyas back to the NCAA Tournament.

Marquette - Wojo and his staff will work to replace the defections from Buzz Williams recruiting class while Mayo and Carlino restore order on the court.

Providence - Ed Cooley and the Friars gave us one of March's great stories. Now can they continue that success without Bryce Cotton?

Seton Hall - Isaiah Whitehead could be the most exciting freshman in the league. Sterling Gibbs will lead the way, but the young Pirates might ball.

St. John's - If star guard D'Angelo Harrison can avoid Steve Lavin's dog house, the Johnnies could be dancing for the first time since 2011.

Villanova - Fanfare for a regular season title was silenced by quick exits in postseason play. Villanova can win it again, but have work to do in March.

Xavier - Chris Mack is back (for a while) and, even with Christon's exit, the Musketeers have enough returning to threaten Villanova for the crown.

EARLY GUESS AT TOP 5 IN THE LEAGUE
  1. Villanova
  2. Xavier
  3. Georgetown
  4. Providence
  5. Seton Hall

EARLY GUESS AT ALL-CONFERENCE TEAM

  • G: D'Angelo Harrison, St. John's
  • G: Kellen Dunham, Butler
  • G: D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera, Georgetown
  • F: JayVaughn Pinkston, Villanova
  • F: Matt Stainbrook, Xavier

Final Thought: Can a star-studded freshman class get Georgetown back on track? A one year slip, particularly considering injuries and academic issues is understandable. But the make-up of this new Big East suggests, at least traditionally, that the Hoyas should be be in the conference title conversation year in and year out. 2014-15 is not a make or break year, but with this latest infusion of talent -- Isaac Copeland, Paul White and L.J. Peak are all Top 100 prospects -- fans will be expecting results soon and the Big East is there for the taking.

"We just had so much adversity last year," Thompson told CBS Sports' Jon Rothstein in late April. "If you look at us last year at this time, you would think that both Greg Whittington and Josh Smith would be a big part of what we were going to be. Then in the Big East, neither of those guys played." "Then Jabril Trawick broke his jaw. It was one thing after the other. Next year we'll have Jabril back with D'Vauntes [Smith-Rivera] along with Aaron Bowen, Josh [Smith], and also Mikael Hopkins. We've also got several freshman that are going to play right away. Those four first-year guys --- Isaac Copeland, Paul White, L.J. Peak, and Tre Campbell --- are going to be thrown into the fire quickly."

Getting back to the tournament might not be a problem for the Hoyas, if healthy, but will this young group be the first Georgetown team to make it out of the first weekend since 2007?

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