Xavier is 7-2 and sitting second in the Big East halfway through the season. We're already done with DePaul and have yet to play Creighton. How do you feel about our position starting down the barrel of the second half of conference play?
Is elated too strong? I would have expected us to possibly drop one of Seton Hall, Providence, or Butler without really feeling too bad about the team. KenPom has us winning out. I don't see that happening, but even if we drop all four of the games he has in the 50-60% range (which I also don't see happening), we finish 12-6. I'd have taken that before the season started.
We have certainly set ourselves up with some wiggle room between where we are am where we expected to be at the beginning of the season. I think that 12-6 would be disappointing because of how well we have started, but realistically it would still be an incredible result for the regular season.
Pomeroy is ultimately projecting us as 13-5 at the end of the conference season thanks to three procedural losses. We've got a couple of home gimmes to start out the second half, then it's seven straight rough ones. If we grab the two this week and go 4-3 down the stretch, I'd be satisfied. Anything more than that and I'd be elated. At this time of year we're usually watching the bubble and waiting for a hot streak; I like parsing our chances of being a one seed a lot better. What has been your biggest surprise of the conference season so far? Mine has been Butler. They were 11-1 and ranked in the top 10 at dawn on New Year's Eve. Now they're 14-7 and probably on the wrong side of the bubble. I didn't think they were a top 10 team, but I didn't think they'd fall apart like this.
I would say the opposite about Providence, who I expected to fade away once conference play started, but have added a big resume win over Nova and only added Marquette as a bad loss.
As for our position, I feel fantastic about it. 7-2 in conference with a top 10 road win is great even for a top 10 team. Splitting with Providence and Villanova on the road is exactly what we needed to do to put ourselves in a position to win the conference and compete for a seed that allows us to make a deep run in March.
Butler and Providence are the two surprises that came to mind immediately, but how about Seton Hall? That program looked like a dumpster fire the 2nd half of last year, and they've surprisingly turned into a pretty solid team this year. They could realistically compete for 3rd place in the BE, which was unthinkable after the way they ended last year.
Seton Hall is a good one. There have been long stretches where it felt like Kevin Willard couldn't coach the Pirates to a conference title in most junior high leagues, but they've somehow kept their heads above water in the Big East. Their only even kind of bad loss in league play right now is home to Creighton, and they just got that back in grand fashion by dominating the Bluejays in Omaha. They have a favorable second half schedule, so a dozen or so Big East wins isn't out of the question. With that said, I still wouldn't be stunned to see them go 3-6 down the stretch and then lose in the first round of the conference tournament. I'd be really uncomfortable backing them at this point. Who knows who might get punched in any given practice?
Yeah I would probably vote Seton Hall most likely to implode down the stretch. While we're on the topic of surprises, do you have a biggest surprise for Xavier thus far? I have two. First would be JPs transformation into a more complete offensive player. If you buy into Kenpom, which we all obviously do, he's the most efficient offensive player on the team and Top 100 nationally. Second would be how quickly Sean OMara has developed. As a Xavier fan I'm used to seeing a lot of growing pains in the first few years of big men's careers but OMara doesn't have a lot of flaws to complain about. He may not be a huge part of this teams success but I'm really excited to see how his career progresses the next couple of years.
My surprise is that the rotation has stayed so deep. Coach Mack has had a tendency in years past to shorten up the bench as the season goes on, but this year we have seven guys who will get good burn every night plus three more guys who can play a role depending on what the game dictates. That's amazing.
Looking at the league as a whole now, we know Nova and Xavier are the top two and we know DePaul and St. John's will finish 9th and 10th. What do you do with the middle six teams? Gun to my head I might sort Providence to 3rd and Marquette to 7th, but is there really any differentiating between the projected second halves of Butler, Creighton, Georgetown, and Seton Hall right now?
I think you're right in that you have to put Providence 3rd due to beating Villanova in an away game and having arguably the two best players in the league. After that it's really anyone's guess as to who finishes 4-8. My gut says Georgetown and Butler are still two of the most talented teams in the league and have too much senior leadership to fold down the stretch, so I'd guess they finish 4th and 5th in no order. After seeing Seton Hall beat Creighton at Creighton by 10 I'll say Seton Hall finishes 6th, Creighton 7th, and Marquette 8th, although admittedly I haven't seen enough of any of those last 3 to feel strongly about that prediction.
Just for fun I went back and looked at how the staff voted the teams at the start of the year. St. John's, by the way, is on pace to be the worst Big East team in the KenPom era, Here's what we had compared to how it stands:
1. Villanova 1. Villanova (8-1)
2. Xavier 2. Xavier (7-2)
2. Georgetown 3. Providence (6-3)
4. Butler 4. Georgetown (6-3)
5. Providence 5. Seton Hall (5-4)
6. Marquette 6. Creighton (5-4)
7. Creighton 7. Marquette (4-5)
8. Seton Hall 8. Butler (3-6)
9. St. John's 9. DePaul (1-8)
10. DePaul 10. St. John's (0-9)