Assessing the Big East Heading Into Conference Play
With Big East play set to kick off this week, let’s take a moment to analyze the conference both internally and against the rest of the college basketball world.
Compared to the other five major conferences, the Big East’s combined winning percentage of .813 ranks second behind only the Big 12 (.864). The Big East currently has four teams ranked in the top 25, trailing only the Big 12 (6) and the ACC (5), and is the only conference to have two teams in the top six. The Big East joins the Big 10 and the Big 12 as the only conferences without a member with a losing record. The Big East also ranks second in conference RPI, just behind the Big 12.
Nationally, the Big East is currently neck-and-neck with the Big 12 in the race for best conference in the country. Depending on who’s bracketology you look at, the Big East is projected to get anywhere from five to eight teams into the Big Dance.
Now that we’ve seen that the conference has acquitted itself well nationally, let’s take a look at each team’s status heading into conference play.
The Wildcats have continued to be the flag-bearer for the conference as they look for their fifth-straight regular season title. ‘Nova is at the top of an impressive list of metrics (BPI, KenPom, Sagarin) in addition to holding the top spot in both polls. Villanova remains the favorite to win the conference.
The Musketeers are 12-1 and have risen to 6 in the latest AP Poll. Their lone loss came to the Arizona State squad that has taken the college hoops world by storm. Xavier holds solid wins over Baylor, Cincinnati, and Northern Iowa. Trevon Bluiett and J.P. Macura have met expectations, while at total of eight Musketeers contribute at least seven points per game. Xavier has emerged as the primary threat to unseat Villanova as conference champs, and look to be a legitimate threat nationally as well.
The Hoyas 10-1 record isn’t as impressive as it looks. Four of those wins have come against teams from the MEAC, a conference that doesn’t have a single member sitting above .500. Georgetown has decent numbers across the board, from points for and points against to rebounds and assists, but again it’s hard to know how much of that is a result of who has been on the schedule. Regardless, first-year head coach Patrick Ewing deserves credit for getting anything positive out the current situation at his alma mater. That being said, it remains to be seen how the Hoyas will fare in Big East play, and they faltered in their only true test at Syracuse. Outside of Syracuse, the Hoyas haven’t played a team ranked higher than 228 by Ken Pom, and have the worst strength of schedule in the country. Georgetown hasn’t shown enough to be taken seriously in the Big East just yet.
Seton Hall (11-2)
It’s been kind of a strange non-conference season for the Pirates. The 11-2 record is solid, and they hold nice wins over Louisville and Texas Tech. A disappointing loss to Rutgers has left a stain on the that non-conference ledger, and it just feels like Seton Hall hasn’t been playing the way it was expected to. The quartet of Desi Rodriguez, Myles Powell, Angel Delgado, and Khadeen Carrington has produced, but the Pirates haven’t gotten much from anyone else. They haven’t excelled at anything. They remain a dangerous team and squarely in the mix in the Big East, but something just feels off with Seton Hall right now.
Unlike Seton Hall, Creighton has been pretty impressive and is slightly ahead of projections. The Bluejays two best wins, over No. 23 UCLA and No. 20 Northwestern, don’t look as impressive as they did at the time, but the Big East will provide plenty of opportunities for signature wins. Their only losses are to Baylor and Gonzaga. Creighton has been excellent offensively, scoring 92.3 points per game. Marcus Foster and Khyri Thomas have met expectations, while Martin Krampelj has taken a big leap forward. The Bluejays also do a great job moving the ball, averaging 20 assists per game and having eight players contribute at least six points a night. They look to be a serious challenger to Seton Hall in the second tier of the Big East.
St. John’s (10-2)
The Johnnies have been a pleasant surprise, notching 10 wins before conference play. One of the losses came to Arizona State. The biggest surprise is the improvement on the defensive end. St. John’s is surrendering just 62.8 points per game, good for 22nd in the country, after being one of the worst defensive teams in college basketball a year ago. The Red Storm is ranked 11th defensively by Ken Pom. They have done a much better job contesting jump shots, they are forcing steals to the tune of nine per game, and are doing an excellent job defending the rim, swatting seven blocks per game. There are still question marks, particularly offensively and how they will respond to a step up in competition, but the rapid improvement defensively is encouraging, and St. John’s appears to be ahead of schedule in its rebuild.
Things have been a bit unsteady for Butler so far this season, but that is to be expected with a new head coach and significant roster attrition. The Bulldogs have stumbled against their toughest competition, losing to Maryland, Texas, and Purdue. Their best win to date is over Ohio State. Butler hasn’t been able to establish an identity yet, finding itself in the middle of the pack in most statistical categories. However, Kelan Martin and Kamar Baldwin have been excellent, and it’s never wise to count out a Butler team. The Bulldogs remain a factor in the middle of the Big East.
Like Butler, Marquette has come up small against its best competition. The three losses have come against Purdue, Wichita State, and Georgia. Nothing to be ashamed of, but it leaves them without a signature win in the non-conference and a lot of work to do in conference. The Golden Eagles have been good offensively, led by Markus Howard and Andrew Rowsey, who each average 20+ points per game. Sam Hauser has taken a nice step forward in his sophomore season, chipping in 15.2 points per game. Marquette has struggled defensively and on the glass. Marquette’s failures in its three losses has hurt its at-large hopes, but an impressive run in the Big East could send them to the Big Dance.
Providence has been the biggest disappointment in the Big East so far this season. The Friars returned one of the best cores in the league and added an impressive freshman to the mix. Rodney Bullock has met expectations, and Alpha Diallo has taken a step forward in his sophomore season. But there has been slight regression from Jalen Lindsey and Kyron Cartwright, and like a few other teams in the conference, the Friars haven’t established something they excel at and can lean on. A loss to UMass hurt, and while losses to Minnesota, Rhode Island, and Houston are respectable, they have left the Friars to point to Boston College as their best win so far. That’s not going to get it done for an at-large bid. The talent is there, and there will be opportunity for Providence to play its way into the tournament, but there is a lot of work to do.
DePaul has played a relatively tough schedule, with losses to Notre Dame, Michigan State, Oregon, and Northwestern. The Blue Demons are simply trying to produce some semblance of progress that they can build on going forward.
The Big East continues to prove itself as one of the best conferences in the country, despite an ongoing lack of attention from the national media. The conference schedule should produce plenty of drama, with important matchups on a near-nightly basis. It should be a fun ride, and any Big East teams that go dancing in March will certainly be battle tested.