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2017 Big East men's soccer preview

Article Written by Will Parchman
Published: August 21, 2017

Big East

2016 Conference Awards
Co-Offensive Players of the Year: David Goldsmith (Butler) & Julian Gressel (Providence)
Midfielder of the Year: Ricardo Perez, Creighton
Defensive Player of the Year: Cory Brown, Xavier
Co-Goalkeepers of the Year: Alex Kapp (Creighton) & Colin Miller (Providence)
Freshman of the Year: Luka Prpa, Marquette

2016 Conference Standings
Providence (15-7, 7-2)
Butler (13-5-2, 6-3)
Creighton (13-7-3, 5-3-1)
Villanova (10-8-3, 5-3-1)
Xavier (8-8-3, 4-4-1)
DePaul (9-7-3, 4-5)
Georgetown (6-9-2, 3-4-2)
St. John's (6-7-4, 2-5-2)
Marquette (5-7-4, 2-5-2)
Seton Hall (4-11-2, 2-6-1)

There’s no question that as a whole, the Big East was down last year. Georgetown’s rocket back to earth after an incredible couple years alongside traditional contender Marquette’s slide watered this conference down a bit in 2016. Six conferences managed higher NCAA tourney seeds than the Big East’s highest, surprise package Butler at No. 15. And the Bulldogs lost their only tourney game.

That said, Providence and Creighton both put in quality runs in the dance, the Friars especially with their manic unseeded run to the quarters. And Villanova made history by qualifying for its first ever NCAA tourney. If last year proved anything, it’s that the traditional ideas about this conference are probably not worth much.

The conference’s locus of power seems to revolve around the Friars yet again this year. Providence, a unanimous choice by league coaches to win the Big East, brings back Hermann Trophy contender Mac Steeves, who missed most of last year with an injury. He has a chance to be Providence’s all-time points leader soon, which they’ll need to compensate for the loss of MLS Rookie of the Year contender Julian Gressel. If the Friars were a bit of an unknown before last year, they’re the hunted now.

Georgetown, Creighton and Butler all seem to be in a crush to give chase. The Hoyas were a disappointment last year after almost their entire defensive core left for MLS. Georgetown missed the league tourney last year but do return a couple pieces worthy of note. James Marcinkowski might just be the best keeper in college soccer, and Chris Lema is capable of carrying the load in the midfield. That said, there are just four seniors on this roster, and it’s perhaps premature to start talking College Cup runs with this crew yet.

MORE: 2017 Men's DI preview content

Creighton’s a bonafide sleeper. The Bluejays bring back striker Ricardo Lopez-Espin for his senior season, and there’s little question he’s one of the country’s five best strikers. If the midfield, led by guys like Lucas Stauffer, can coalesce around him, this team can win the Big East. Butler should be right there. Nobody in the league loses a player as individually integral to their success as David Goldsmith was for Butler, but much of their youthful core from a year ago is back. This is a difficult league to call at the top.

Villanova might have a hand to play in the race as well. The Wildcats were a tough out last season, and their recruiting classes continue to reflect the changing culture there. Nova brings back enough to trouble the league’s best, and another quality freshman class led by intriguing German addition Yusuf Cueceoglu should add even more attacking punch.

Marquette should be significantly improved over a disappointing 2016, so expect the race to catch up to the top dogs to be tighter than it was a year ago. The return of Big East Freshman of the Year Luka Prpa means the Golden Eagles have verve in the middle, they just need to provide him more outlets in order to crank up the scoring over last year. Xavier once again appears to be in their way. The Musketeers are defense-driven of late, and the return of New Zealand international Cory Brown, the league’s best defender and perhaps a top 10 draft pick next year, will do nothing to dim those ambitions. But Xavier needs more from its front line, and it won’t make the NCAA tourney without more consistency in the final third.

St. John's, DePaul and Seton Hall were all picked to finish in the bottom three and seem to need a bit more depth before they can consider themselves true Big East contenders. St. John’s will be encouraged by the twin returns of Harry Cooksley and Filippo Ricupati, who combined to score 11 of the team’s 17 goals and get seven of its 11 assists. That’s all to the good, but the Red Storm need more contributions from elsewhere, even if the defense was largely in good shape; a goal a game isn’t enough.

DePaul is in turnover mode after losing an involved senior class that helped the team to a respectable nine-win season a year ago. Seventeen goals split between three major players walked out the door in the offseason, and it’s hard to imagine the Blue Demons not taking a step back as they integrate a new attacking core. As for Seton Hall, the Pirates are still looking for stability in the post-Manny Schellscheidt era. They’re just 22-54-10 since 2012, which includes a winless 2015 and a four-win season last year. They have a few encouraging returners, and a soft nonconference schedule should stoke hopes of creeping up toward .500 for the first time since 2006.

 
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