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Full Court Press: The Big East

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Is it the best basketball conference?

Thanks to the amazing success of Jay Wright and his Villanova Wildcats, the Big East can legitimately stand side-by-side with the so-called Power 5 basketball conferences.

Since the breakup of Dave Gavitt’s original Big East, the reconfigured basketball-only conference has toiled in the shadows of the dollar-driven, football-first Power 5 elites.

But when ‘Nova knocked off the Carolina Blue-Bloods in last year’s NCAA championship game, the Big East had taken on a new role as a conference to be reckoned with.

Not only does money talk, but it is what you do on the hardwood that really counts.

This year promises to be more of the same for the Big East as eight of the ten teams have post-season hopes.

Villanova is joined by Xavier, Seton Hall, Creighton, Butler and perhaps Providence, Georgetown and Marquette, all with legitimate shots at the conference title, but also realistic dreams of a Cinderella run in March.

Villanova, Creighton, Butler and Xavier are off to fast starts and currently sport 7-0 records.

However, Xavier will have a huge road test on Dec. 3 when they face No. 9 Baylor in Waco, Texas.

Providence, Marquette and Seton Hall are close behind at 5-2, with Georgetown trailing at 4-4.

The Seton Hall Pirates seem to show no ill effects when Jerome Whitehead opted for the NBA.

After a brief scare from Columbia on Dec. 1 Seton Hall coasted to a 95-71 win over the Lions in Newark.

Seton Hall has received balance scoring from Desi Rodriguez, Angel Delgado, Khadeen Carrington and Myles Powell in their first seven games.

Delgado, Rodriguez and Ismael Sandogo give the Pirates plenty of depth on the boards.

The Pirates are good and if they can play lock down team defense, hit the boards and share the basketball, they can be very good.

Chris Mullin is slowly but surely building a winning program at St. John’s (3-5), but they are a year or two away from emerging as a serious challenger.

The Red Storm could prove to be a spoiler this year after a promising 95-75 road win on Dec. 2 over Tulane.

A once prominent DePaul program will continue to struggle near the Big East basement, even though they have started the season at 4-1.

As a conference, the Big East has opened the 2016/17 season with a 54-16 mark (.771).

Chairman of the Boards

Hofstra University’s Rokas Gustys has emerged as one of the country’s top rebounders in the early going.

Gustys, a 2015/16 CAA All Conference first team selection and the league’s top rebounder, has picked up just where he left off last year.

The 6-9 junior from Lithuania leads the country in rebounding with a 13.9 average in the Prides (5-3) first eight games.

Gustys best performance was a 26-rebound gem as he led Hofstra to a 65-57 win over South Dakota on Nov. 23.

Gustys 26 boards were an NCAA-best this season and sixth best in Hofstra program history.

In addition to dominating the boards, Gustys recently received a nomination for the 2017 Allstate NABC Good Works Team.

The award is given annually to an outstanding group of student-athletes who represent the sport’s in the areas of community service and leadership.

Whether it’s on or off the basketball court, the future is a bright one for Gustys.

Rutgers on the move

Coach Steve Pickiell has the Rutgers basketball program headed in the right direction.

Pickiell, who worked wonders with the Stony Brook basketball fortunes, has Rutgers off to their best start (6-1) in recent memory.

The Scarlets Knights sole loss this season was a 73-61 road loss to Jim Larranaga’s Miami Hurricanes on Nov. 30, in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.

The contest was a major test for Rutgers as it was by far there most formidable opponent they have face in the early season.

The Scarlet Knights proved that they could be competitive against the ‘Canes, but to win at the elite level they may be a year or two away.

It is tough enough rebuilding a program in any conference these days, but to rebuild in a Power 5 conference against the likes of Michigan State, Ohio State, Indiana, Wisconsin and Maryland is a tall order.

Buzz Williams has had some success at Virginia Tech and ditto Chris Collins at Northwestern, but just ask Boston College’s Jim Christian or Penn State’s Pat Chambers how daunting the task can be.

Pickiell has a great pedigree having played for Hall of Famer Jim Calhoun at UConn and with his track record at Stony Brook.

If anyone is capable it is Pickiell, however patience will be required and a bunch of 6-9 thoroughbreds to boot.

This ‘n that

New Jersey Institute of Technology’s Damon Lynn has excelled from beyond the arc in the last two seasons. Lynn has 350 3-point attempts in the books which is an NCAA best. He is launching an eye-popping 10.3 attempts from long range. No wonder Lynn was on the court for nearly 95 per cent of the time.

Monmouth’s Justin Robinson is one of the best under 6-foot guards in the country. Robinson was the 2015/16 MAAC Player of the Year.

The Hawks opened their MAAC season with a 91-72 win over Quinnipiac on Dec. 1.

They host Canisius College at home on Dec. 4.

For my money, Hall of Famer Calvin Murphy was the best under 6-footer to ever play the game. I have first-hand knowledge – I played against him!

Who said women’s hoop would be dead in Storrs?

Keep shooting…. see you next week…

Follow Bob on Twitter for all the latest in college hoop happenings, game highlights, features and more: @WhitneyBob

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Bob Whitney

Bob is a college basketball columnist here at He also covers Yale football and the Connecticut Sun of the WNBA.
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