With the non-conference season coming to a close, we will be previewing each of the power six conferences based on what we have learned so far this year and guide you through what to look out for as the season continues.
Here is your guide to the Big East.
All-Big East Team
- Maurice Watson, Creighton
- Josh Hart, Villanova
- Kelan Martin, Butler
- Trevon Bluiett, Xavier
- Justin Patton, Creighton
Player of the Year: Josh Hart, Villanova
Looking at his stats, it’s easy to say Hart has been one of the most efficient players in nation. While playing 83% of his team’s possible minutes, Hart is averaging a team-high 20.1 points and is second on the team with 3.6 assists per game. Often times, Hart has carried this Villanova team on his back. Against Notre Dame, the consensus preseason Big East player of the year dropped 37 points while going 14-14 from the free throw line and adding 11 total rebounds to his stat line. In the game against in-state rival St. Joseph’s, Hart posted a triple double with 16 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists. In the Wildcats’ biggest game of the year, on the road against Purdue, Hart put up 24 points and seemingly willed his team to victory in Mackey Arena by getting to the basket whenever and finishing around the Purdue bigs. He’s the engine that makes his team go and should be at the top of the list for the National Player of the Year award at the season’s end.
What We’ve Learned
- Villanova has a chance to repeat: Even with the loss of Ryan Arcidiacono and Daniel Ochefu, the Wildcats have been playing at a high level which rightly earns them their current number one overall ranking in the AP Top 25 poll. At this point in the season, Josh Hart is the best player in college basketball. The combination of Hart and Jalen Brunson at the guards spots gives opposing players and coaches fits as both are able to create their own shot for themselves and their teammates. With neutral and away wins against highly regarded teams such as Notre Dame and Purdue, Jay Wright’s team is poised to run away with the Big East title and should be considered a national championship favorite come March.
- Butler is a Big East contender: Much like Villanova, Butler lost two of their best players from last year’s squad, Kellen Dunham and Roosevelt Jones, due to graduation. But with the emergence of sophomore Kelan Martin, the ‘Dawgs have arguably the most impressive resume in college basketball to this date. Butler has six KenPom top 75 teams including three wins against No. 20 Cincinnati, No. 18 Arizona and No. 15 Indiana. Although the away loss to in-state rival Indiana State overshadows these victories, the ‘Dawgs have proven they can beat anyone even without a highly-touted superstar on their roster. Balance on offense and the willingness to scrap and claw on the defensive end is a scary combination. “The Butler Way” will be put on display this year and the ‘Dawgs will not be a team you want to play against in March.
- The transfer market is working for Creighton: Greg McDermott’s program hasn’t been to the NCAA Tournament since his son, Doug, was a senior in 2014 and led his team to a Sweet 16. Now with the addition of transfer guards Maurice Watson (Boston University) and Marcus Foster (Kansas State), the Bluejays are off to their best start in program history with a 12-0 record heading into conference play. Along with the significant guard play, the Bluejays hoist one of the most consistent front court duos in the country with Justin Patton and Cole Huff. Just a freshman, Patton is one of the most improved and surprising big men in the country. The 7-foot center can hurt you inside, hit the three ball, and if you blink, he’ll have your team beat down the floor and finish with an easy layup or dunk in transition. While his stats may not resemble his importance to this team, Huff uses his wide 6-foot-8 frame to battle taller bigs down low and does all the little things that unites this team together and let’s them play such a team-oriented style of basketball. Not many teams have five players that can constantly beat you in the open floor. In order for this Creighton team to contend at the top of the conference standings throughout the year, their going to have to take advantage of their versatility up and down the lineup.
Storylines to watch in Conference Play
- Can Xavier overcome non-conference inconsistency?: While their record sits at 10-2 heading into conference play, it is safe to say that a number of college basketball fans are not as high on this Xavier team now as they were before the season. Although ranked 17 in the AP Poll, the Musketeers have played games to close to comfort against teams such as Northern Iowa, Missouri and Lehigh, all teams three teams are ranked 95 and above according to KenPom. The only two losses this year have been at the hands of No. 4 Baylor and Colorado. Both losses, however, were on the road and were games that could’ve gone either way. Even without veteran Myles Davis who hasn’t played a single minute this year due to an indefinite suspension, Xavier boasts one of the most reliable backcourts in the country with Bluiett, JP Macura and Edmond Sumner. The trio has struggled from the perimeter this year shooting at a combined rate of 34% (61-179). For a team that has no starter over 6-foot-9, these three need to get the ball rolling and step up their play on the offensive side of the ball if this Xavier team wants to make some noise in the Big East.
- How many Big East teams will make an appearance in the NCAA Tournament this year? Five Big East schools heard their names called during the Selection Sunday Show last year. Villanova, Butler, Creighton and Xavier seem to be locks at this point for this year’s edition of March Madness. But, the real question is, what other teams will play their best basketball in conference season and represent the Big East in March? Marquette, Providence and Seton Hall have all showed they can beat teams they should and close out tough games but will they be able to do that day in and day out in conference play?
- The hot seat of John Thompson III: Since taking over the Hoyas in 2004, Thompson III has missed the NCAA Tournament four different times, two of those coming in the past three seasons. Sitting at 8-4 heading into conference play, JT3’s seat is hotter than ever as his team has been embarrassed this season against Arkansas State at home (78-72), and 17+ point losses on neutral courts to Wisconsin and Oklahoma State. Although this team has talented pieces with LJ Peak, Rodney Pryor and big man Bradley Hayes, the mid-season transfer of Isaac Copeland will affect this team significantly without his size and versatility at the forward position. If this team were unable to sneak into the NCAA tournament this year, do not be surprised to see the Thompson reign come to an end in Washington D.C.
Sleeper Team: Seton Hall has put together solid wins against South Carolina and California. The Pirates only two losses come against a very solid Florida team by five and an average Stanford squad by 14. With Khadeen Carrington’s play on the offensive end in the scoring column and Angel Delgado controlling the paint, Seton Hall is a team that could win a couple games they’re not suppose to and cause havoc for teams in conference play.
NCAA Tourney Locks
- Villanova: The return of Hart, Brunson and Kris Jenkins will propel this team to another deep tournament run. Along with the front court of: Mikal Bridges, Darryl Reynolds and transfer Eric Paschall this team has all the tools to go fix up another final four berth. Depth is the Wildcats’ only issue.
- Creighton: Love this team’s up-tempo style of play and ability to spread the floor and take and make the three on offense. The backcourt duo of Foster and Watson will give this team that extra boost they need to make this team great.
- Butler: No top recruits? No problem for the ‘Dawgs. The play of Kelan Martin and freshman Kamar Baldwin will help this team reach new heights this year. The addition of NC State transfer Tyler Lewis gives Butler a much needed leader at the point guard position.
- Xavier: I can’t really get a good grasp on this Xavier squad. The shooting numbers and production on the offensive end need to go up if this talented group wants to be great.
- Seton Hall: Although I had them as a “sleeper” team, I really like the inside-outside duo of Carrington and Delgado. Watch out for the names Desi Rodriguez and Myles Powell as well.
Work to do
- Marquette: The Golden Eagles have yet to add that great win to their resume. Their is talent to be played around with but there’s only so much time that coach Steve Wojciechowski has in order to put all these pieces together.
- Providence: The tightly contested, early season losses to Ohio State on a neutral floor and Virginia on the road looked promising for the Friars. But with the recent loss to the ACC’s anchor, Boston College, Ed Cooley’s team has a lot of question marks heading into conference play. The tandem of Rodney Bullock and Kyron Cartwright in the backcourt is one that college basketball fans should get to know.
- Georgetown: Everyone has their own opinion about the Hoyas. The win against Oregon in Maui was a bright spot for them but, can they bring that level of play every night more often than not in Big East play?
Better luck next year
- St. John’s: A 33-point win over Syracuse shocked just about everyone in the college basketball world. It might’ve shocked St. John’s as well. Will the Red Storm use that win to win a couple games they aren’t suppose to in Big East play? Watch out for the freshman backcourt duo of Marcus LoVett and Shamorie Ponds for years to come as they may be one of the most electrifying young guards in the conference.
- DePaul: This question has been asked many times, “Why is DePaul in the Big East?” The Blue Demons may be an automatic victory on most team’s schedule this year but newly hired coach Dave Letiao has a handful of freshmen that were 3-star recruits coming out of high school. Along with that, Letiao beat out schools such as Purdue and Indiana for 4-star 2017 PG, Justin Roberts from Indianapolis. The Blue Demons also picked up former Ohio State and Oklahoma guard Austin Grandstaff, a former ESPN100 recruit in the class of 2015.
Must Watch Games
- #1 Villanova @ #10 Creighton
- December 31st, 1 PM ET FS1
- #1 Villanova @ #13 Butler
- January 4th, 6:30 PM ET FS1
- #10 Creighton @ #17 Xavier
- January 16th, 2:00 PM ET FS1
- #10 Creighton @ #13 Butler
- January 31st, 7:00 PM ET FS1
- #1 Villanova @ #17 Xavier
- February 11th, 2:30 PM ET FS1