If there's one thing for certain in the new Big East, it's that Villanova is going to win it. That's not looking to change this year, as Jay Wright replaced what he lost (Darrun Hilliard and JayVaughn Pinkston) with Jalen Brunson and one of the best recruiting classes in the conference. The Wildcats remain the team to beat and, until someone does, they'll stay at the top. March failings aside, 'Nova is the new Big East bully.
Behind them, though, there is a complete log jam of teams. Using the KenPom rankings there are three Big East teams in the separated by only five spots. Georgetown sits at 27th, Butler at 29th, and Xavier at 31st. There are, of course, the usual caveats about preseason rankings, but those numbers illustrate how close the the second tier of the Big East is. After that, there's a fall off to Marquette at 54th, Providence at 62nd, and Seton Hall at 84th. In short, KenPom sees the top four as having separated a bit from the rest of the league.
Last year those top four were Villanova (6th in KenPom, 1 seed), Butler (20th, 6), Xavier (22nd, 6), and Georgetown (24th, 4). Providence (30th, 6) was the next in the rankings and landed right in the area where Pomeroy sees the top four Big East teams this year. The big gap in the Pomeroy rankings leaves the conference with a clear cream at the top, a second group that also includes Creighton, and then DePaul and St. John's way at the back. While KenPom may see the Big East as a close run race near the top, the coaches differ.
Where the coaches see the drop off is between Villanova and everyone else, and then again between Georgetown and Butler and a Xavier team that rails farther back in fourth. In fact, the coaches seem to think the Musketeers are more likely to finish sixth than they are to finish third. After that sixth position (held by Marquette), the coaches project a massive drop from there down to Creighton, DePaul, and St. John's.
So which is it likely to be? Will there be eight teams in the top 100 of the KenPom or will Creighton plunge down to the depths occupied by DePaul and St. John's? No matter who you'd like to consult, there are some gaps in the conference. The teams at the bottom are still lagging behind a group that is beginning to separate at the top. For what it is worth, here's how I see the Big East breaking down this year:
Does this really matter? Probably not. The drop off in talent between the top four and the rest of the league probably isn't permanent and isn't so vast that teams like Fordham and Duquesne become top five in the league. Marquette and Providence could both close the gap this year, and Seton Hall could be just about anywhere. Still, the league right now is still in flux from the grand shakeup of two years ago. That means that the Big Four sit a cut above a league that hasn't quite settled yet.