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Villanova no shoo-in as race to top figures to be wide open | Big East preview

Villanova is the preseason pick, but Marquette, Providence and St. John's are ready to contend for the regular-season championship.

Shamorie Ponds is the Big East preseason player of the year, and he and Chris Mullin (left) are trying to bring St. John's to the top of the conference in 2018-19.
Shamorie Ponds is the Big East preseason player of the year, and he and Chris Mullin (left) are trying to bring St. John's to the top of the conference in 2018-19.Read moreKathy Willens / AP

After five seasons of domination by Villanova, the Big East regular season figures to be a wide-open race, with Marquette, Providence, and St. John's, and perhaps even Butler, taking a run at a championship that the Wildcats have won four times since the conference was reconfigured.

Marquette is one of the best shooting teams in the nation, with guard Markus Howard, a preseason all-Big East selection, and forward Sam Hauser able to hit from anywhere on the court. The Golden Eagles are fortified by two transfers – guard Joseph Chartouny (Fordham) and forward Ed Morrow (Minnesota).

Providence, which has made five consecutive NCAA Tournaments, returns versatile 6-foot-7 guard Alpha Diallo, one of the most improved players in the league last season and a preseason all-conference pick. Freshman guard David Duke was voted conference preseason co-rookie of the year.

St. John's, which hasn't done much in hometown hero Chris Mullin's first three seasons  as coach, is expected to be among the league's best. Guard Shamorie Ponds is the preseason player of the year, and he's joined by holdovers Justin Simon and Marvin Clark II, plus impact transfer Mustapha Heron from Auburn.

>> READ MORE: Kelly Jekot won three state titles and wants to win trophies at Villanova

Guard Kamar Baldwin, who averaged 15.7 points last season, is the top returning player for Butler, which is one of only eight programs in the nation to win an NCAA Tournament game in each of the last four years.

The rest of the conference features teams with the talent to post a surprise or two – or more – against the contenders.

Xavier, the 2017-18 regular-season champion, lost its two best scorers but returns point guard Quentin Goodin and forward Naji Marshall. Patrick Ewing's second season as Georgetown coach is highlighted by the return of 6-10 senior center Jessie Govan, who flirted with the NBA draft after last season.

More than 60 percent of Seton Hall's scoring last season was lost through graduation, but guard Myles Powell gives them one of the league's best three-point shooters. Creighton welcomes back 6-9 forward Martin Krampelj, who tore his anterior cruciate ligament last January. DePaul has only nine Big East wins in the last three years but boasts two of the league's better players in forward Max Strus and guard Eli Cain.

>> READ MORE: Eric Paschall's job is to help things stay the same at Villanova