The Big East will have an old-school feel this season.
Chris Mullin and Patrick Ewing were rivals on the court in the Big East of the 1980s, and they’ll renew their rivalry this season as head coaches at their alma maters in the conference they helped make famous. Mullin begins his third season as St. John’s coach, while Ewing is set for his first season coaching Georgetown.
“It’s somewhat surreal, to tell you the truth,” Mullin said at Big East media day at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday when asked about Ewing now being his coaching rival. “It’s really kind of strange to be coaching college basketball. I never thought I would do that. And to have [Ewing] sitting here next to me, I never thought I would see that. It’s kind of cool.”
Mullin and Ewing were both All-Americans and among the Big East’s top stars in the 1980s, when the conference was arguably the best in the country. The St. John’s-Georgetown rivalry reached a peak in the 1984-85 season, when both schools shared time as the No. 1 team in the country and Georgetown beat St. John’s in the 1985 Final Four. Mullin and Ewing were later teammates on the Dream Team that won the gold medal at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.
Ewing spent a lot of time at the Garden as a player, battling Mullin and St. John’s in the Big East and then playing 15 seasons with the Knicks.
“This is one of the places I consider my home,” Ewing said. “I spent 15 years of my life playing here and giving my blood, sweat and tears and battling against guys like [Mullin]. It’s great to be back.”
St. John’s was picked to finish sixth out of 10 teams in a preseason poll of the league’s coaches. Georgetown was picked to finish ninth. Villanova was picked to finish first.
The Red Storm went 8-24, including just one win in the Big East, in Mullin’s first season in 2015-16, but improved to 14-19 last season, including a 7-11 record in the Big East.
The sophomore guard duo of Shamorie Ponds and Marcus LoVett were named to the preseason All-Big East second team. Ponds averaged 17.4 points per game last season, good for fifth in the Big East, and LoVett averaged 15.9, which was ninth in the Big East.
Mullin was asked if St. John’s is ready to take the next step.
“We feel we are,” Mullin said. “It’s going to be a tougher step. We set the bar pretty low the first year. Last year was somewhat easy as far as improvement. This year is going to be a tougher task for us. We have a lot of guys returning. Experience is huge.”
Villanova junior guard Jalen Brunson, who averaged 14.1 points and 4.1 assists last season, was picked as the preseason player of the year.
Marquette was picked to finish first in the women’s preseason poll, with St. John’s picked to finish seventh. Marquette junior guard Allazia Blockton was selected as the preseason women’s player of the year.