Everybody wants to win the regular season conference title. Everyone also wants to win the conference tournament title and the NCAA tournament title, but it’s the first week of February right now and only one of those is on offer. Just about every team starts out with fairly similar odds when they’re 0-0 - especially in the Big East, with a true double round robin - but that’s history now, and the bulk of the nation is playing for at-large odds and conference tournament seeding.
Not so with the four teams we’re about to look at in the Big East. We’ve got a preseason favorite, a couple of purported mid-table teams playing above their rank in the preseason coaches poll, and Marquette. We’ll set them all up by the odds Bart Torvik currently gives them of taking the title, then break down their game-by-game KenPom projections. Let’s get into it.
Torvik title odds: 35.6% solo/61.5% share, KenPom exact win total: 15.98
Remaining games: @ UConn, @ Georgetown, Xavier, @ Creighton, DePaul, @ Butler, St. John’s
The Golden Eagles were picked to finish 9th in the league per the preseason coaches poll. It’s not turning out that way. Their only losses are @ Xavier and @ Providence, in games they were trailing by a total of 4 points at the end of regulation.
They’re projected to go 5-2 the rest of the way, and there’s not that many potential landmines in there. UConn has been inconsistent but is still a top-ten team in the KenPom. Having to go to both there and Creighton gives them a couple of really challenging road games still ahead. If they take care of business against the bottom of the league and drop those two tough roadies, that home game against Xavier might well be for the regular season title.
Torvik title odds: 26.4%/50.5%, KenPom exact win total: 15.51
Remaining games: @ Butler, @ Marquette, DePaul, Villanova, @ Seton Hall, @ Providence, Butler
Since the end of November, no team has accumulated more wins above bubble than Xavier has. That’s not super pertinent in the context of the league title race, but it is a fun fact. The Muskies laid an egg on the road against DePaul, which has them behind the game a little bit here. Their road win against UConn is huge; even with the Huskies falling out of the top of the Big East, they’ve been a tough out at home.
Four road games left on the docket, and only the one at Butler should be a perfunctory win (though one might have said the same about at DePaul). Villanova is playing better of late, and they’ve taken some tough teams to the wire. It would be a really Villanova thing of them to do to finally get over the hump against X. Road games against Providence and Marquette are going to be big asks, and their presence on the schedule puts a lot of pressure on tricky fixtures like hosting Nova and heading to Seton Hall.
Torvik title odds: 15.4%/4.4%, KenPom exact win total: 14.26
Remaining games: @ Seton Hall, UConn, @ Providence, @ St. John’s, Marquette, @ Villanova, Georgetown, @ DePaul
It’s a big ask here, no doubt. Having played 12 games instead of 13 has limited Creighton’s chances to bank wins, and a slow start to conference play with Ryan Kalkbrenner feeling unwell left a bit of an uphill climb for the Bluejays. If you’re looking for good news, it’s that their losses have been @ Marquette, @ UConn, and @ Xavier; they haven’t given anything away.
Having already split with Xavier, Creighton still holds games against the other two contenders for the crown in their bag. If they want the league, they’ve got a chance to nearly go and win it on the court. If they can win both those games and avoid stumbling in tricky fixtures like away to Seton Hall and Nova and home to UConn, they’ll have put themselves right in the conversation. If it falls their way, they’ll have earned it.
Torvik title odds: 10.8%/2.6%, KenPom exact win total: 14.22
Remaining games: Georgetown, @ St. John’s, Creighton, Villanova, @ UConn, @ Georgetown, Xavier, Seton Hall
Providence is in the same spot as Creighton, with no bad losses (all on the road, to Creighton, Marquette, and Xavier) and only 12 games played. They’ve ridden their luck a bit, which is more or less the norm for an Ed Cooley team. It doesn’t hurt to have two against Georgetown still ahead, either.
What also doesn’t hurt is having five home games yet to play. Providence is tough to beat at their place, with the home whistle helping their free throw line-reliant offense and the holes in the roof providing extra timeouts. UConn is their only tough road game left; their league hopes will come down to how they handle the gauntlet of Creighton, resurgent Nova, Xavier, and Seton Hall coming through their home court. Their Valentine’s Day matchup with Creighton is one to circle; it may well determine which of those teams falls out of the conference fight.
The top 4 offenses in the league are the ones left with a meaningful shot at the league title. Xavier plays fast and shoots the eyes out of the ball. Marquette limits turnovers and dominates inside the arc. Providence coughs it up a ton, but makes it up by limiting the tempo and getting to the glass really well. Creighton executes really well in the paint and at the line.
Defensively, it’s Creighton head and shoulders above the rest of the league. Marquette and Providence are in lockstep some six points of efficiency back, and Xavier’s defensive plan is apparently to allow two and score three.
There’s a lot in play. The odds favor the top two, but the odds change every time a game is played. Xavier is well-positioned but shorthanded; they’ve got a month to rise to the challenge heading into postseason play.