A mere four games into the Big East season, we took a look at how the conference was shaking down. A lot has changed since then. How young we were! How naïve!
Anyway, we're older and wiser now, almost a month deeper into the season. UConn's perch atop the league has been destroyed, and the vacuum they left behind has been assailed by a handful of contenders. Here's how I'm breaking it down.
My least favorite favorite: Marquette
I can see why they'd be a neutral's favorite: they score a lot, they play fast, people like Shaka Smart for some reason. According to KenPom, they've played the 2nd hardest league schedule so far, and according to Bart Torvik they have a 63.7% chance of taking home at least a share of the league title.
They're currently 9-2 in league play, with their only losses being at Providence and at Xavier. They've already won the return leg against the Friars, but they still have to take on UConn and Creighton on the road. With 5 home games left and half their roadies being Georgetown and Butler, it's no surprise they're sitting in the driver's seat according to most projections.
The other lead dog: Xavier
That's right, it's the site's home team! Like Marquette, X only has 2 losses, but unlike Marquette, one is against DePaul. Xavier has tough home games against Providence and St. John's still on the docket, plus the road leg at Marquette and trips to Seton Hall and Providence.
Xavier has looked less than convincing at times on the road, but that's where their season will be decided. If they can rise to the challenge and win in a hostile environment against a top tier team, they'll jump back into the conversation for a solo league title. Bart Torvik gives them a 37% chance of taking a share of the championship and just and 18% shot of winning it outright.
The charging dark horses: Providence and Creighton
Each of these teams had about a 6% chance of taking even a share of the league according to Torvik when we last did this; they're up to 21% and 15%, respectively, now.
Creighton was a favorite at the start of the year, and they're playing like one now. They've ripped off four straight, grabbing wins over Providence and Xavier on the way. They've got just 4 home games left though, and they've got a brutal stretch of 6 KenPom A games in the middle of it before finishing with Georgetown and at DePaul. If they take even part of the title, they'll have earned it.
The Friars are 9-2 in the league, same as Marquette and Xavier. While Marquette and X have played the 2nd and 3rd hardest league schedules according to KenPom, Providence is 5th. They still have 2 left against X, the home leg of their Creighton matchup, and a road trip to UConn. They've also got 2 against Georgetown to balance things out. It's going to take some lifting if they want to get a Big East crown without an asterisk for Ed Cooley.
The crossing ships: UConn
What happened, boys? The Huskies went from undefeated superstars to the charity program of the league, handing out Q1s for resumes in need. After sitting at 14-0 (3-0), they've gone 2-6 winning only at home to Creighton and Butler. It would take a miracle to get them to the league title that once looked like it was theirs to lose.
Seton Hall is heading in the other direction. After being 1-3 in the league, they've gone 5-2 to charge above the .500 mark. Aside from beating UConn, none of their wins have been sensational, but they swept Butler and picked up a road win at DePaul, which is apparently less straightforward than you'd assume.
Neither of these teams is going to win the league, but they're duking it out to be best of the rest. Seton Hall has 5 homes games left to UConn's 4, but UConn plays host when the two teams meet in a matchup looking more pivotal than you'd have though a few weeks back. These teams are both approaching the bubble but from opposite directions; their matchups early in the Big East Tournament might decide their respective fates.
The wrong coaches*: St. John's and Villanova
*according to the loudest segments of their fanbases
A Posh Alexander injury popped up at the wrong time for St. John's. They gave away a home game against Nova with him struggling, then got clobbered by Creighton and needed a last-second three to beat Georgetown. Aside from a road trip to Georgetown, every game left is at best a coin toss according to KenPom. These guys are going nowhere fast this season.
Villanova is in the same boat, except with fewer Posh Alexanders. It's Kyle Neptune's first year in the had chair at Nova in contrast to Mike Anderson's fourth at St. John's, so it makes sense to cut him some slack, but Nova fans have questioned everything from his strategy to his rotations as the Wildcats have staggered around the .500 mark all season.
It's about to get worse. Despite having 5 home games left, they don't have a schedule advantage. They still have to host Creighton and UConn, and they have road games against Marquette, Creighton, Providence, and Xavier. Those are the games the Jay Wright teams would go an win; it seems unlikely with this permutation of the team.
Ultimately, these teams aren't going anywhere. Their fight is to avoid playing in the first day of the Big East Tournament and trying to catch lightning in a bottle at MSG.
It's hard to care: DePaul, Georgetown, Butler
I know WAB isn't everyone's jam, but just know that these teams combine for -17.2. They could not be more dead and buried in terms of at-large consideration if they were transitioning from D2.
In league play, DePaul is 10th in both offense and defense. Georgetown is a respectable 6th in offense but dead last in defense. Butler is 9th in defense and so far in last place in offense that the league should vacate 11th and put these guys in 12th. You could lock this team unopposed in a gym overnight and come back to about 11 points at breakfast time. It's bad.
These teams will all be playing on the first day of the Big East Tournament unless something absolutely incredible happens. They've all been just catastrophic.
The league race has evolved in unpredictable ways even since the last time I did one of these. I'm sure we'll all look back and have a good chuckle at my expense when it's all done and dusted. Without the benefit of that hindsight though, that's how I see things at the moment.