Big East: The Top Three Opening Weekend Matchups

Mar 2, 2014; Villanova, PA, USA; Marquette Golden Eagles guard Deonte Burton (30) during the second half against the Villanova Wildcats at the Wells Fargo Center. Villanova defeated Marquette 73-56. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 2, 2014; Villanova, PA, USA; Marquette Golden Eagles guard Deonte Burton (30) during the second half against the Villanova Wildcats at the Wells Fargo Center. Villanova defeated Marquette 73-56. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports /

The Big East Conference will open up its second basketball season, as it is currently formed, this weekend (Nov. 14-16).

St. John’s and Xavier will kick off nine games that that involves conference teams this weekend — the Big East will host all nine games though Villanova is playing on a neutral court. St. John’s will host NJIT and Xavier will welcome Northern Arizona on Friday with both games starting at 7 p.m.

Four other conference teams will be play on Friday including Villanova (Lehigh), Creighton (Central Arkansas), Marquette (UT-Martin) and DePaul (UIC). Saturday’s action includes St. Francis (N.Y.) at Georgetown, Maine at Butler and Albany at Providence. The weekend concludes on Sunday with Mercer at Seton Hall and Chicago State at Creighton .

The following will examine the top three Big East games this weekend.

1. Mercer at Seton Hall (Sunday):

Seton Hall starts its season at the Prudential Center against Mercer. The Pirates lost to the NCAA-bound Bears on the road last year 77-74 in double overtime.

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Seton Hall is expecting bigger things this year after bringing in a fantastic recruiting class led by Isaiah Whitehead and Angel Delgado. Junior guard Sterling Gibbs and senior Brandon Mobley lead the upperclassmen.

Mercer was picked to finish fourth in the Southern Conference by the conference’s coaches. Veterans Darious Moten, T.J. Hallice and Jibri Bryan lead the way for the Bears.

Players to watch: Seton Hall: Angel Delgado. While eyes will likely be on Whitehead, Delgado has the potential to make the biggest impact early on. The 6’9” consensus top-50 recruit tallied 14 points, on 7-of-10 shooting, and grabbed seven rebounds in the Pirates’ exhibition victory over Caldwell.

Mercer: Sophomore guard Ike Nwamu posted 14 double-digit scoring performances off the bench last year, which includes a 24-point outburst versus Ole Miss. He averaged 8.3 points a game last year.

Prediction: Mercer lost a lot from their NCAA tournament team. But it won’t be easy for the Pirates, who will sneak out a victory.

2. Albany at Providence (Saturday):

Providence hosts two-time America East champion Albany at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center. The Friars will celebrate a Rhode Island Champions Night, unveiling the men’s basketball team’s 2014 Big East Championship banner.

Providence will be led by forward s LaDontae Henton and Tyler Harris this year. The Friars, who lost three starters from last year, will also count heavily on several newcomers including Cleveland State transfer Junior Lomomba along with freshmen Ben Bentil, Kyron Cartwright and Jalen Lindsay.

Albany lost several key members of their NCAA tournament team. However, the Great Danes still have junior guard Peter Hooley and senior forward Sam Rowley.

Players to watch: Providence: Henton, a second team preseason all-conference selection, has 26 career double-doubles. He ranks 20th all-time in school history in scoring with 1,390 points and ninth all-time in rebounding with 832. Henton scored 16 points and had four thefts in an exhibition victory over Stonehill.

Albany: Hooley is an excellent three-point shooter and scorer. He was named the America East Tournament Most Outstanding Player after averaging 23.7 points per game, while shooting 48.9 percent from the field and 52.2 percent from beyond the arc.

Prediction: This is the first meeting between the two squads in modern times, the programs met in 1928. The Friars are 33-3 all-time versus America East squads. Look for Providence to sneak out a victory in a grind out game.

3. Villanova vs. Lehigh in Allentown, PA (Friday):

The No. 12 ranked Villanova Wildcats will host Lehigh of the Patriot League at the PPL Center in Allentown, PA.

Villanova won the Big East outright in the 2013-14 regular season and were a unanimous pick by the league coaches to win it again this year. The Wildcats have a strong starting unit that features five upperclassmen led Seniors Darrun Hilliard and JayVaughn Pinkston along with 6’11” junior Daniel Ochefu. Depth could be an issue for the Wildcats but sophomore Josh Hart and freshmen Phil Booth and Mikal Bridges are very talented.

Lehigh finished 14-18 last year and were picked to finish seventh in the Patriot League this year by the media. The Mountain Hawks are talented but very young and are led by sophomores Tim Kempton and Austin Price.

Players to watch: Villanova: Ochefu was fabulous in the Wildcats two exhibition victories over Northwood and Nyack. He posted double-doubles in both games, averaging 11.0 points, 16.0 rebounds and 3.5 blocks a game. Ochefu had 11 points and 20 rebounds to go along with four blocks against Nyack.

Lehigh: Kempton was named the Patriot League’s rookie of the year last season, averaging 13.0 points and a team-high 7.1 rebounds per game last season. He was also selected as a preseason all-league selection this year.

Prediction: Expect Villanova to improve to 13-1 in season openers under head coach Jay Wright. The Wildcats are 9-4 all-time versus the Mountain Hawks.

Next: College Basketball Rankings: Preseason Top 25 for 2014-15 Season