Big East CBB Preview
The ten-team Big East is not one of the “power five” conferences but when it comes to basketball there are few leagues better than this one. Entering conference play the Big East boasts two top ten teams in the polls, and with another two lurking in the top 20. KenPom has the conference currently ranked fifth in the country, just behind the Big Ten and Pac 12. The rankings flex every night, sometimes pushing the Big East up to number three, others dropping it down to number five. RPI rankings have the Big East ranked third behind only the Big 12 and the Pac 12. The Big East is good and there’s no way around it, however you evaluate college basketball conferences. Before we make any predictions lets take a look at the teams in play.
Identity: The Incumbent
Jay Wright’s squad boasts arguably more experience and talent than any other team in the conference. The Wildcats are the favorite in the Big East until someone else takes the crown. Their two non-conference losses were at the hands of Virginia and Oklahoma, two of the best teams in the country. This is a classic ‘Nova team that beats you with a different star player every night. This is a fantastic two-way team with few issues. Right now the Wildcats aren’t shooting the ball well from downtown (just 31.7%), but nearly 39% of their points come from the long ball. One of those things will change and if it’s a boost to the three-point percentage, look out Big East (look out anyway).
Identity: That girl in your grade who went from pretty cute to crazy hot over the summer before junior year
The Musketeers were the last Big East team standing in the big dance last year. Since their narrow loss to Arizona in the Sweet 16 it’s been 12 straight wins for Chris Mack and co. Xavier is a dynamic team with one of the best defenses in the country. Trevon Bluiett has developed into an animal in his second season and freshman Edmond Sumner filled the team’s biggest hole at point guard. Their campaign to overtake Villanova in the Big East launches on New Year’s Eve morning. Mark your calendars accordingly.
Identity: Dark horse that’s way to good to be a dark horse
The Bulldogs have one of the best offenses in the country. This comes as no surprise considering the variety of attacking options they have. A 6’4” bruising point guard, a dangerous sharpshooter at SF and three dynamic “bigs” to keep you on your toes. Chris Holtmann has been excellent since taking over last fall under the “interim” tag. Despite Kellan Dunham’s slow start (33.8%) Butler is 10-1 with a fantastic signature win over Purdue. The Bulldogs open Big East play by hosting Providence. They turn around and head to Xavier just two days later. Their place in the conference will be established immediately.
Identity: The one-man band that’s actually definitely not a one-man band
Kris Dunn is one of the best players in the country, if not the best. Fact. Providence is nothing without Kris Dunn. Myth. Certainly Dunn is the most important player on this team, but you don’t earn a top ten ranking in the country and wins over Arizona and strong mid-major teams like Evansville and Rhode Island without a good supporting cast. Ben Bentil and Rodney Bullock have been great in the frontcourt both scoring and on the glass. Junior Lomomba, Jalen Lindsey and Kyron Cartwright have all been useful as well. The one in 12-1 came in a neutral court loss to the number one team in the country. This is not a one-man team, it’s a good team with one man who is absolutely stellar. Don’t sleep on the Friars.
The Second Tier
Identity: Young, talent-laden sleeper 1.0
The Pirates can trot out one of the best all sophomore lineups in the country. Last season was rocky to say the least, but the talent was there. Star player Isiah Whitehead is one of the best second year players in the conference, but his teammate Angel Delgado took home the bacon as the conference’s top rookie last season. Delgado is an animal on the boards, grabbing 24.5% of the opponents misses when he’s on the floor – good for 66th in the country in that category. Desi Rodriguez, another stellar sophomore, has been incredibly efficient shooting the ball this season. Khadeen Carrington is second on the team in scoring at just under 14 points per game. Big man Ismael Sanogo rounds out the stellar group of sophomores for Seton hall that are all playing more than 25 minutes a night, slotting in at the four. Kevin Willard’s crew is strong on both sides of the ball but they have some turnover problems and they struggle at the free throw line. This team has plenty of maturation left to do but if that process happens quickly this team could shoot up the standings in a strong Big East conference quickly and quietly. A great test is in store against Marquette on day one of conference play.
Identity: Underperforming giant
When the season began the Hoyas were a reasonable pick as the top Big East team to threaten Villanova’s bid for a third straight conference title. So far, that prediction has been a big whiff. Georgetown has two losses to teams outside the KenPom top 100 and just three wins against teams inside of it, on of which is over UNC Wilmington who just barely makes the cut at number 99. But there is hope despite their miserable start. Senior guard D’Vauntes Smith Rivera is one of the most dangerous players in the league. Sophomores LJ Peak and Isaac Copeland have been solid but certainly have more to give. Freshman Marcus Derrickson has been good. The headline player of this year’s recruiting class, Jessie Govan, has yet to live up to the hype, but part of that is due to a net positive. Career benchwarmer Bradley Hayes has been stellar for G-Town averaging 10 and 8 with effective shooting and he’s taking away the minutes that Govan was expected to play. If the Hoyas can improve there awful turnover numbers and get the train back on track there’s no reason to believe this team can’t finish in the top half of the Big East.
Identity: Bubble bubble team
The Bluejays have lacked an identity since Doug McDermott, the NCAA’s 5th leading scorer, graduated. Junior point guard Maurice Watson leads the team in points and assists. Geoffrey Groselle, Cole Huff and Isaiah Zierden all average double digits and Khyri Thomas is close with 9.8 points per game. Creighton plays at a rapid pace – their average possession lasts just over 15 seconds. They shoot the ball well and they don’t rely on one player, which has led to pretty consistent results. Despite all that good news, the Bluejays do have one bad loss, on the road to Loyola Chicago, and no KenPom top 100 wins. The competition is tough in the Big East and Creighton has a lot to prove. The fighting McDermotts are on the bubble of being on the bubble, but that status is likely to swing shortly after Big East play begins. This team has tournament potential but the season could go south in no time with a bad loss or two.
Identity: Young, talent-laden sleeper 2.0
The Golden Eagles are less of a sleeper than Seton Hall considering the attention that soon-to-be lottery pick Henry Ellenson has drawn since his commitment to MU. Coach Steve Wojciechowski’s first recruiting class has contributed well to his squad’s 10-2 start. Ellenson has lived up to the hype, Haanif Cheatham has been effective shooting the ball and Traci Carter has eaten up tons of minutes at the point guard spot showing clear signs that he deserves the starting job. Despite many strong stretches this season and an impressive assist rate of 30.6 percent Carter has struggled with turnovers, including a few high profile errors. Together Henry Ellenson and Luke Fischer are averaging 31 points, 17 rebounds, 3 assists and three blocks per game. Fischer is shooting 66% from the floor this season. He looks much stronger and more comfortable in the paint in his first full season of college basketball. Sophomore Duane Wilson is the leading returning scorer but his season got off to a slow start and his best is likely yet to come. Sophomore Sandy Cohen added a ton of muscle this summer and it clearly helped. Cohen is Wojo’s best option from downtown and he’s the team’s top defender on the wing. Marquette has plenty of upside but their turnover problem and their propensity for missing three pointers must be addressed if they want to earn a ticket to the dance.
The Teams Ruining Conference RPI
Identity: Perennial bottom dweller
It’s a tale as old as time: another year, another weak DePaul team. The Blue Demons did score a great win over George Washington to close out the non-conference season, ending a tough stretch of games with a win. Five of their six losses have come to KenPom top 100 teams and for their one loss outside the top 100, they have a win in the top 100. Things look a little brighter in Chicago this season but unless Billy Garrett wakes up as Kemba Walker sometime before mid-March this team won’t sniff the tournament.
Identity: Early, early stages of a massive rebuild
The Red Storm return just three players from last year’s squad, none of which would even qualify as role players. Now one of them, Christian Jones, is playing nearly 29 minutes per game. Freshman guard Federico Mussini runs the show. He’s scoring 14 points per game to go with three dishes and three boards. There’s really not much to see here. Year one in Jamaica, NY is going to be a rough one for head coach Chris Mullin.
- Villanova 14-4
- Butler 12-6
- Xavier 12-6
- Providence 11-7
- Georgetown 9-9
- Marquette 9-9
- Seton Hall 9-9
- Creighton 7-11
- DePaul 5-13
- St. John’s 2-16
Player of the Year: Kris Dunn
DPOY: Kris Dunn
Rookie of the Year: Henry Ellenson
Coach of the Year: Chris Mack
Most Improved Player: Bradley Hayes
Best Sophomore: Isaiah Whitehead
Villanova, Butler, Xavier, Providence
Seton Hall (in), Marquette (in), Georgetown (out)