Hello, fans of football! Your season is well and truly over now, with the NCAA championship done like a month ago and one team beating the other in last night’s Super Bowl. If you’ve been preoccupied with football for the last six months, maybe you’ve missed some of the fun developments in college hoops. I’m here to get you caught up.
- Villanova is awesome again. They’re actually only okay on defense, but their offense is so good it just hasn’t mattered. They’re currently on pace to be the best offense since Ken Pomeroy started tracking efficiency in 2002.
- Basketball in Ohio is on a roll. Xavier is second in the RPI, which for some reason still matters. Cincinnati ripped through the 304th-toughest non-conference schedule in D1 basketball and has only lost twice. Most remarkably, coach Chris Holtmann and a healthy Keita Bates-Diop have OSU at 20-5 and 12th in the KenPom. There’s an outside chance Ohio could host the champions of two major conferences and the AAC.
- ESPN has planted a tracking chip in Oklahoma freshman Trae Young and offers a 24/7 updating stream on his location. This is hyperbole, but only just.
- What Villanova is to offense, Virginia is to defense. They’re defending at an unbelievable level from the per-possession. Combine their obscene 82.2 adjusted defensive efficiency with a pace under 60 possessions per game and you’re looking at historic rates of bucket suppression. Some people don’t appreciate it.
- Word is going around that there are no elite teams this year. Don’t believe them. Villanova’s adjusted efficiency margin of 33.24 leads the NCAA. In the last 15 years, only 2008 Kansas (35.21), 2010 Duke (33.29), 2011 OSU (33.47), and 2015 UK (36.91) have led D1 with better efficiency margins. In other words, a grand total of 2 teams in 15 years have been meaningfully better than Nova is right now; that’s elite, even if you don’t play your games on the network pundits get paid to pimp.
Enough items of national interest; let’s talk Big East for a moment.
- St. John’s hasn’t won a single league game this year. They’ve been struggling so mightily that they had to schedule a cupcake from outside of the conference just to pick up a win. Chris Mullin’s coaching has been called into question by a good many reputable weblogs.
- Villanova has been very good, but they’ve proven they’re vulnerable to anyone capable of shooting 15-22 from behind the arc. Complete that simple task and you can take the champs down.
- The middle of the league is a mess, with Providence, Butler, Seton Hall, and Creighton all sitting on exactly four losses. These four will likely be duking it out the rest of the way and on into the first round of the conference tournament. They’ve all put themselves solidly into the tournament field barring a collapse, though, which is more than we can say for...
- Marquette. I’m conflicted on this one, because on one hand, Store Brand JP Macura is an obnoxious antagonist without panache or nuance, but on the other hand, the people at Anonymous Eagle provide great coverage and are a lot of fun on Twitter and I’d hate to see them hurt. Four straight losses have dropped them to the wrong side of the bubble; they may need to play some defense at some point.
- Georgetown and DePaul will need the league’s auto-bid, flat out. St. John’s is an interesting case. They’re 0-11 in conference and have no hope of getting an at-large, but they’ve been close in half a dozen league games only to be scuttled by an inability to close. In my heart, I hope they go 0-18 in conference play and lose in the first round of the Big East tournament. That would have them closing on a 1-19 streak with the only win being against Duke, which would be delicious.
Finally, since this is a Xavier website, let’s talk about the Muskies.
- Xavier’s only non-conference loss came against an Arizona State team that at the time looked like it couldn’t be beaten. ASU has since cooled just a bit, dropping from 3rd to 25th in the polls.
- Where are you in your educational journey? If you’re just getting ready to hit kindergarten, you’ve seen Xavier win 4 of 5 Crosstown Shootouts. If you’re getting ready for junior high, it’s 8 of 11, and if you’re just wrapping up college, it’s 15 of 22. It was no different this year, as Xavier roared out to a 2-15 lead 11 possessions into the game and cruised home with another comprehensive win.
- Also, Mick Cronin tried to fight JP Macura.
- Xavier has gone 9-2 in conference play, with losses at Providence and at Nova the only blemish. X is a game back of Nova but, with the home game with the Wildcats still ahead, controls its own destiny in terms of being able to claim at least a share of the regular season title. Just gotta win out in an unquestionably top three conference.
- Let’s get you caught up on personnel: Seankerique O’Jonter is this year’s multi-headed center. Quentin Goodin is what he was last year, except better and with a jump shot. JP Macura keeps on making friends. Naji Marshall is a burgeoning JP. Kaiser Gates is the consummate 3 and D guy. Paul Scruggs is continually growing into what we were hoping he’d be this year; his ORtg in conference play is right there with Q’s.
- Finally, Tre Bluiett continues to be an absolute killer. Saddled with the kind of expectation Tu Holloway and David West had for their senior years, all he’s done is post his best year ever, dropping a game line of 19.2/5.6/2.7 on .456/.424/.817 shooting and a career-best ORtg of 119.4.
That’s more or less where things stand now. The next two weeks will be pivotal for a Xavier team within touching distance of the program’s first ever one seed. X goes to Butler and Creighton this week and then hosts Seton Hall and Nova the week after. The stretch run of at Georgetown, Providence, at DePaul is comparatively relaxed, but Fordham and Duquesne aren’t walking through that door.
The Muskies have the firepower to do something special this year. If you’ve been distracted by football this whole time, you’ve missed a lot of really good stuff. Hopefully the best is still to come.