Friars' Big East schedule, league poll announced


Finally, there are games on the schedule.

But will they stay where originally planned?  That’s a large part of the preseason scenario laid out by the Big East Wednesday during their league Media Day – held virtually due to the ongoing pandemic.

Last we saw in this league, Madison Square Garden shut down at halftime of the Thursday quarterfinal tournament game between Creighton and St. John’s in March, just before Providence could take the floor against Butler.

And we’ve had near-radio silence since then.

“The challenges we’ve been facing have been daunting.  As it pertains to basketball planning, our focus has been on travel and venue preparation, and understanding the health and safety of our athletes is paramount,” Big East Commissioner Val Ackerman said.  “Our task has been complicated by the uncertainty of the pandemic, and we’re resigned to the fact certain factors are beyond our control.”

What they can control – for now – is the early portion of the schedule.  Under a mutual agreement with the Big 10, the 2020 Gavitt Games Challenge will not take place and the two leagues will renew the event in 2021.  The package of games with the Big 12 will continue, pending any pandemic difficulties.

Providence will open its’ 2020-21 schedule with a home game against Ed Cooley’s former team, Fairfield, on Nov. 25th…before departing for Asheville, NC and the relocated Maui Invitational against Indiana on the 30th.  In total, PC has six non-conference games planned (up to seven are allowed) and worked into a scheduling matrix that has been a tough one to figure out.

Do teams bubble up and try to play like in the NBA?  That’s still on the table for later in the season, perhaps sometime in January or February, and with Providence’s Dunkin Donuts Center a candidate to host potential bubble games.  But initially, it’ll be as close to normal as possible with games played on home floors throughout the conference in December.  And that is Plan A going forward for the season.

Alumni Hall is presently scheduled to host PC’s November and December games.  The Friars will open Big East play with a home game against Xavier on Dec. 12th.

Will fans be allowed?  That will be up to the individual jurisdictions to decide.  There won’t be a conference policy that will keep some schools, as allowed by local protocols, from hosting fans.

“This is the way we’re doing life.  We’re excited, at least, that we’re in the gym,” PC’s Ed Cooley said.  “We’re developing slowly.  But I’m optimistic about this season.  We have some new faces that we’re trying to blend in yet overall, I like our team.  We’ve been competitive, and excited for conference and non-conference play.”

As for the preseason poll, as voted on by the league coaches, the Friars are highly thought of as the season starts with PC picked for 3rd out of the 11 teams.  Villanova is #1, with four starters back from a 24-7 team, followed by Creighton at #2 – the Blue Jays’ highest preseason ranking since joining the conference in 2013.

Creighton’s 6-2 junior guard Markus Zegarowski, from Hamilton, MA, is the preseason pick for Big East Player of the Year.  PC junior guard David Duke, a Providence native, is a preseason pick for First Team all-Big East, while senior center Nate Watson earned a selection on the preseason 2nd team.

“In preseason everybody’s got an opinion on who’s going to do well,” Duke said.  “We’re hoping to win the regular season title and BE championship.”

“It was tough riding by the Ruane Center every day before we could get access,” Duke added.  “I ran around the neighborhood, onto the track and got in wherever I could with a constant chip on my shoulder.  Whoever took advantage of this was going to get better.”

“I think this is going to be a great year for us, we have a lot of talent on this squad and I’m excited to play and ready to go,” was Watson’s response to his and his teams’ selections.

Buried within the scheduling shuffle, UConn’s debut as a new-again Big East member (after a seven-year absence) has the Huskies selected for 4th in the coaches’ poll.  UConn will open in the Big East Dec. 11th at home against St. John’s.  Guard James Bouknight joins the Friars’ Nate Watson on the preseason 2nd team.

Providence schedule (through December)

*Big East games

25                     FAIRFIELD 
30        vs.        Indiana (Maui Inv.)

1          vs.        Texas or Davidson (Maui Inv.)
2          vs.        TBD (Maui Inv.)
5                       FAIRLEIGH DICKINSON 
9          at         TCU (Big East-Big 12 Battle)  
12                    XAVIER* 
17                    CONNECTICUT* 

20        at         Seton Hall* 
23        at         Butler*

Preseason Coaches’ Poll

1. Villanova

2. Creighton

3. Providence

4. UConn

5. Seton Hall

6. Marquette

7. Xavier

8. Butler

9. St. John's

10. DePaul

11. Georgetown

BIG EAST Preseason Player of the Year

Marcus Zegarowski, Creighton, G, Jr., 6-2, 180, Hamilton, Mass.

BIG EAST Preseason Freshman of the Year

Dawson Garcia, Marquette, F, Fr., 6-11, 230, Prior Lake, Minn.

Preseason All-BIG EAST First Team

Charlie Moore, DePaul, G, Sr., 5-11, 180, Chicago, Ill.

David Duke, Providence, G, Jr., 6-5, 205, Providence, R.I.

Sandro Mamukelashvili, Seton Hall, F, Sr., 6-11, 240, Tbilisi, Georgia*

Collin Gillespie, Villanova, G, Sr., 6-3, 191, Huntingdon Valley, Pa.*

Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, Villanova, F, So., 6-9, 232, Kansas City, Kan.

Preseason All-BIG EAST Second Team^

Bryce Nze, Butler, F, Sr., 6-7, 235, Hartland, Wis.

James Bouknight, Connecticut, G, So., 6-5, 190, Brooklyn, N.Y.

Mitch Ballock, Creighton, G, Sr., 6-5, 205, Eudora, Kan.

Nate Watson, Providence, C, Sr., 6-10, 260, Portsmouth, Va.

Justin Moore, Villanova, G, So., 6-4, 210, Fort Washington, Md.

Paul Scruggs, Xavier, G, Sr., 6-4, 196, Indianapolis, Ind.

Preseason All-BIG EAST Honorable Mention

D.J. Carton, Marquette, G, So., 6-2, 195, Bettendorf, Iowa

Bryce Aiken, Seton Hall, G, Sr., 6-0, 180, Randolph, N.J.