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Big East Conference Preview

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Villanova leads the way when conference play kicks off tomorrow. Xavier, Georgetown, and St. John's lurk not too far back, with other teams still in the NCAA hunt.

Jim O'Connor-USA TODAY Sports

Tomorrow all the preliminaries are dispensed with, the Abilene Christian's of the world fade away, and conference basketball starts. For just the second time, that means Xavier is tipping off in the Big East. At 10pm tomorrow, the Georgetown Hoyas visit the Cintas Center to get things under way. One team will jump to the top of the conference, the other to the bottom. That's tomorrow, though, for now, it's time to take a look away from the Musketeers and out to see how the rest of the conference stacks up to start 2015.

1. Villanova (12-0, 7th KenPom, 7th BPI, #6 AP)

What we thought: Villanova was slated to be the cream of the crop coming in, prohibitive favorites to walk away with another Big East title.

What we think: Still that.

Best win: A 77-53 shellacking of a very good VCU squad.

Worst loss: There hasn't been one.

The Wildcats are getting great play from JayVaughn Pinkston (6.3 rpg), Dylan Ennis (11.8 ppg), and Darrun Hilliard (12.6 ppg). Ryan Arcidiacono has an assist to turnover ratio over over three, and they currently sport the ninth best offense and 16th best defense in terms of efficiency. The Big East is good, but there's a gap between the rest of the conference and Villanova at the top.

For Villanova coverage: VU Hoops

2. St. John's (11-1, 17th, 27th, #15)

What we thought: Talented and inconsistent. Could either break out, or land in the NIT for a second straight year. In other words, typical St. John's.

What we think: Overrated by the AP, but they've played a good schedule and are worth this spot.

Best win: Beat Syracuse at Syracuse, 69-57.

Worst loss: Losing to Gonzaga is not at all a bad loss, but it's their only one.

The Red Storm are an interesting team. D'Angelo Harrison (19 ppg) leads the offense with Rysheed Jordan (14.3 ppg, 3.1 apg) not far behind. However, Jordan has only a 91 ORtg and the offense is lagging down in the 130s in the nation. That's probably because the mid-range fetish that overcame the Red Storm last year has them again taking 41%  their shots there. That's not good, but the defense is fourth in the nation. So, once again, St. John's is only going as far as the defense is taking them.

For St John's coverage: Rumble in the Garden

Xavier would slot in here at third.

4. Georgetown (8-3, 29th, 25th, #25)

What we thought: Probably the second best team in the conference. Very comparable to Xavier in terms of season aspiration.

What we think: The Hoyas sit almost even with the Musketeers in most meaningful rankings and enter Big East play looking solid for an NCAA bid.

Best win: 66-65 over Florida on a neutral court.

Worst loss: Butler. The Hoyas have three losses, none to a team below 40 in the KenPom.

D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera (14.7 ppg, 3.8 apg) makes the team tick and he hasn't really hit stride yet. Josh Smith (12.8ppg, 6.5 rpg) continues to negate his skill by being fat and lazy, but he's a beast on his day. Georgetown is 23rd in offense and 66th in defense. The Hoyas, Xavier, and St' John's are going to be battling for the second spot in the conference all season long.

For Georgetown coverage: Casual Hoya

5. Butler (10-3, 36th, 37th, N/A)

What we thought: Not a good team, too reliant on Kellen Dunham (16.6 ppg, 45.7% 3PT), probably battling to stay out ahead of DePaul.

What we think: While the Bulldogs never deserved to be ranked, they are a lot better than most people had them picked at the start of the year. Their schedule hasn't been tough but for one stretch, so we'll see if they last.

Best win: 74-66 over UNC on a neutral court. That was a shocker.

Worst loss: A 12 point defeat at the hands of #95 Tennessee.

Dunham is finally playing like people thought he would last year and getting about a third of the publicity. Roosevelt Jones (11.2 ppg) is somehow still only a junior and is second on the team in scoring after his injury last year. Kameron Woods (9 rpg) dominates the glass, but refuses to learn how to score. Butler's offense is nearly as bad as St. John's, but the defense is 10th in the nation. Can they keep that up against consistently good competition? Probably not well enough to stay ahead of Seton Hall.

6. Seton Hall (10-2, 40th, 26th, N/A)

What we thought: Not quite on par with Xavier, Georgetown, and St. John's, the Pirates should lead the group of Big East bubble teams.

What we think: Still that, though the Pirates have missed a couple of good chances for resume building wins.

Best win: #38 George Washington (not a typo) at home.

Worst loss: Got blown out by #35 Georgia, at Georgia. Not crippling, but losing by 18 impresses no one.

Guard Sterling Gibbs (15.6 ppg, 50.7% 3PT) is both living up to his name and filling the shoes of Fuquan Edwin. As Gibbs goes, so goes the Pirates offense now that Isiah Whitehead (11.9 ppg) will miss some time with a broken foot. The Pirates are better defensively than they are offensively, but all that is in flux with Whitehead down.

For Seton Hall coverage: South Orange Juice

7. Providence (48th, 55th, N/A)

What we thought: The Friars would fight with Seton Hall in the third tier of the Big East and have an outside chance at an NCAA bid.

What we think: The Friars now look to be solidly behind the Hall and have put themselves on the trailing edge of the bubble.

Best win: 75-74 over Notre Dame.

Worst loss: A ten point loss to 218th ranked Brown at home. They don't come a lot worse for high major teams.

LaDontae Henton is gong for 20 points and five rebounds a game. Kris Dunn (13.3, 7 apg)) and Tyler Harris (12.2) both average double digit points per game, but after that the offense falls off and ends up ranked 52nd in the nation. The defense is 69th in the nation, but did manage to hold Kentucky to only 58 (Providence only scored 38 in that game). Still, the Friars have a bit of work to do to really solidify a bid. The Big East will offer those chances.

8. Creighton (9-4, 76th, 107th, N/A)

What we thought: The very definition of a rebuilding year. Not going dancing.

What we think: Surprising offense, still a rebuilding year. Not going dancing.

Best win: Took down #12 Oklahoma 65-63 at home.

Worst loss: A four point loss to #258 North Texas four days before Christmas.

Isiah Zierden is 30th in the nation in offensive efficiency and Austin Chatman is getting 13.9 points per game after being over shadowed last year.The offense is 45th in the nation, which isn't great, but is easily enough to be competitive. Unfortunately, the Blue Jays defense is even worse than Xavier's. That adds up to a long year in Omaha.

9. Marquette (8-4, 99th, 81st, N/A)

What we thought: If things break right they could jump up with Providence and Seton Hall at challenge for an at-large.

What we think: Things didn't break right.

Best win: #61 Arizona St. at home.

Worst loss: #225 Nebraska Omaha, also at home.

Five of Marquette's eight wins have come against teams in the bottom 200 of the KenPom rankings. None of the other three have come against a top 50 team. It's possible that the Golden Eagles could come up with some great play from somewhere, but nothing in their resume suggests it will happen. Missing Deonte Burton hasn't made the task any easier.

For Marquette coverage: Anonymous Eagle

10. DePaul (6-7, 206th, 201st, N/A)

What we thought: A terrible team about to have a terrible year. Could we get Dayton into the Big East instead?

What we think: These guys are, somehow, even worse than we thought they would be.

Best win: Somehow beat #39 Stanford.

Worst loss: #269 Loyola Marymount to cap the current 0-5 streak.

DePaul is in the Big East for reasons that have nothing to do with the ability to be competitive in basketball. Only 31 teams in the nation are worse at playing defense, which means the 98th ranked offense frequently has no chance. Illinois transfer Myke Henry has the highest usage rate on the team and turns that into a 14.5/5.4/1.3 line. Billy Garret (3.4 apg) and Tommy Hamilton IV (13.1 ppg and 7.4 rpg) are the only other bright spots. Maybe a nine team conference wouldn't be so bad.