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Catching up with The Conference

The Big East once again resides amongst the best conferences in the nation because of excellence in depth.

NCAA Basketball: Villanova at Temple Derik Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Big East conference play kicks off this week. It’s not with the usual New Year’s Eve kickoff marathon, but with some midweek matchups to whet the appetite. The conference is loaded top to almost bottom yet again. While Xavier has been powering their way to 12-1 and racking up impressive wins, here’s what the rest of the Big East has been up to.

The number before each team will be their KenPom ranking.

1. Villanova (12-0)

The Wildcats haven’t lost and haven’t really come close yet. Their best win is over #19 Tennessee, which is also their closest game, a nine point win. Jalen Brunson is making good on his promise and making a compelling case to be the national player of the year. Mikal Bridges would be garnering all the most teams, but here his insane shooting from deep (46%) is actually obscured by Brunson’s (53%). These guys are loaded once again and rank in the top ten in both offensive and defensive efficiency.

16. Xavier (12-1)

21. Seton Hall (11-2)

The Pirates are 24th in both offense and defense. That balance is led by their three seniors, Angel Delgado, Desi Rodriguez, and Khadeen Carrington. Kevin Willard leans on Rodriguez to score, Delgado to be a monster, and Carrington to keep it all going. Unlike other coaches, he’s not been running them into the ground. The Hall has lost in two very fast paced games to Rhode Island and Rutgers, but wins over Texas Tech and Adidas at Lousiville show they are a force to be reckoned with.

29. Creighton (10-2)

No team in the nation shoots the ball better inside the arc than the Blue Jays. Any suggestion that Greg McDermott was simply a creation of the talents of his son has long since been banished as the Jays have slowly begun to enter the ranks of the consistently good. Their best win came over a UCLA team that beat UK and their worst loss comes against a very good Baylor squad. As per the norm, not a single player on the team sports an offensive efficiency under 110.

44. Butler (10-3)

Losing Chris Holtmann was supposed to be the death knell for the Bulldogs. Instead, and somewhat annoyingly, they just keep plugging along. Their win over Holtmann’s OSU squad stands as their best, but their losses (Purdue, Texas, Maryland) aren’t bad. One thing this team doesn’t do well is shoot the ball. What they do is turn you over, dominate the defensive glass, and hope Tyler Wideman and Kelan Martin can keep the offense going.

47. St. John’s (10-2)

The record is gaudy, but the Red Storm have beaten only two teams ranked in Ken Pomeroy’s top 100. Their two losses have come against good teams in Missouri and the blistering hot Arizona State, but it’s hard to tell just how good Chris Mullin’s team is yet. Where they aren’t good is on offense, where they still shoot too many jumpers and miss a lot of them. Shamorie Ponds is a great passing point guard though, and the defense is a shot blocking, turnover causing menace that may very well be the best in the Big East.

49. Marquette (9-3)

The Golden Eagles have played a solid schedule, with challenge games against Purdue, Wichita State (both losses), and Wisconsin (a win) interspersed with games they apparently let Mick Cronin schedule for them. Their thing is to lift from deep, where basically half their attempts come from, and why shouldn’t it be? They’re shooting 40% from behind the arc as a team. Guards Andrew Rowsey and Markus Howard and forward Sam Hauser have combined to make 125 of the 139 threes the team has hit this year; when those guys are splashing, Marquette can score with anyone. Only a mediocre defense stands between Coach Woojahooski’s team and something really special.

65. Providence (9-4)

Ed Cooley’s squad has played four games that KenPom rates as A or B level games - basically games the selection committee might count as good wins - and lost them all. Their best win is a home W over Boston College on the Saturday after Thanksgiving; beyond (and probably even including) that, they’ve done nothing of note so far. Rodney Bullock is putting up good numbers in the paint and Kyron Cartwright is distributing well, but this team is basically good but not great on both ends of the floor. They’ll need to step up in Big East play.

96. Georgetown (10-1)

This is one place the Pomeroy formula must be glitching, because how can a team that is UNDEFEATED IN REGULATION be just barely inside the top 100? Patrick Ewing has Jesse Govan averaging 19 and 12 and is getting a 69% (nice) EFG% out of someone called Kaleb Johnson. Unless the Big East proves to be a sterner test than the #351 schedule in the nation, I don’t see any way these guys don’t take the conference crown by at least a couple of games.

107. DePaul (7-5)

Chicago is a big market, which is probably good for the Big East to be in. They could hardly have a worse representative of the conference in the city, though; DePaul’s best win is against KenPom #214 UIC. Former Xavier target Max Strus is putting up 17 a game on a solid .442/.354/.833 shooting, so I’m happy for him. Eli Cain has seen his 3P% go from .425 to .345 to .290 from his freshman year to present day, so he’ll probably hit a couple of big ones against X.

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The conference is, once again, looking solid. By tiers, I see Nova, Xavier, and Seton Hall as solidly in the tournament at this point. Creighton needs to hold serve and pick up a couple good ones along the way, but they should be in. St. John’s and Butler are both probably right there in terms of the bubble. Marquette is, in my mind, the last team with a realistic shot at an at-large bid.

That leaves Providence, Georgetown, and DePaul needing an auto bid to get in. This is kind of a fool’s errand to write about the day after Christmas, but we spend the whole year looking forward to March anyway. Since X joined up, the Big East has been sending at least half of the conference to the tournament each season. I see no reason that should change this year.