Big East Stock Watch: Butler and Seton Hall Rising

Posted by Justin Kundrat on December 4th, 2014

It’s been close to three full weeks since the season tipped off, and despite most teams only playing between six and seven games, some of the results have been drastic enough to change some of the predictions that were made at the start of the season. Some teams have won games they weren’t expected to; others have lost games that they should have won. But at the end of the day, a team will only go as far as its talent takes it. Below is a list of Big East candidates whose outlook has been revised, for better or for worse.

Stock Up

Kellen Dunham and Friends

Kellen Dunham and Friends Have Two High-Quality Wins on Their Resume Already

Butler: The word outperform can’t be used in a discussion about Big East teams without first mentioning Butler. Butler was originally pegged to finish seventh in the league standings, tied with Marquette and just three votes ahead of ninth. Instead, through seven games, the Bulldogs find themselves at 6-1 with neutral floor wins over both North Carolina and Georgetown. So, why the discrepancy from prediction to performance? Without the scoring of graduated Khyle Marshall (14.9 PPG) and transferred Elijah Brown (6.8 PPG), many thought that the team’s already inefficient offense would go from bad to worse. As a primary example, Butler shot 31.4 percent from three (306th in the country) and 65.6 percent from the line (311th) last season, marking the second lowest effective field goal percentage the Bulldogs have had in their last 13 seasons. Everyone knew Roosevelt Jones, who played such an integral part in the team’s 27-9 season two years ago, would be back from injury, but he had always served as more of a play-maker than a true scorer. Kellen Dunham, the team’s leading scorer, was the only returning player who averaged more than 7.5 PPG.

What changed has been the contributions of everyone else on the floor. Senior Alex Barlow has been a tough, fearless point guard on the defensive end alongside forwards Kameron Woods and Andrew Chrabascz, each of whom has more than held his own on the low block against bigger opponents. Despite ranking in the bottom third nationally in effective height, the Bulldogs are 58th in limiting opponents’ offensive rebounding percentage. Additionally, Butler has been adept at forcing turnovers and playing physical interior defense, forcing teams to beat them with outside shooting (which they haven’t, at least not yet). Above all though, the biggest surprise has been the play of 6’6″ freshman forward Kelan Martin. Martin received a handful of offers at the D-I level, mostly from mid-major and mediocre high-major schools, but he was not touted as a difference-maker coming into this season. Yet the freshman has shattered all reasonable expectations: In just 16.3 minutes per game, he has averaged 10.9 points and 3.1 rebounds per contest. Butler has historically used short rotations, but Martin has proven his worth by playing both inside and outside. With Dunham and Jones in foul trouble against North Carolina, for example, it was Martin who stepped up in the second half, chipping in 17 points and six rebounds. At this point, nobody can question Butler’s talent as they have played themselves into the Top 25. Its biggest question marks will remain on the offensive end, where foul trouble has sometimes depleted the team’s proven scorers in an already limited rotation.

Seton Hall: While not as drastic or attention-grabbing as Butler, Seton Hall has quietly put together a nice 6-0 start, with wins over George Washington and a competitive Illinois State team. It’s the Hall’s best start since 2010, and as with Butler, the contributions of freshmen have played a large part of it. Brandon Mobley, the lone rotation senior, has played well when he’s not in foul trouble and junior Sterling Gibbs has upped his shooting percentages from last season by taking smarter shots. While Gibbs’ 40-point outburst against Illinois State certainly wasn’t expected, consistent scoring effort from both he and Mobley is something that is. The X-factor has been the play of freshman Isaiah Whitehead. Over the last few games, Whitehead has shown an ability to create his own shot — uncanny for a rookie at the college level — while also finding open teammates for easy scores. Whitehead’s contributions have gone well beyond his scoring and are not reflected in his assist numbers: There have been numerous times when he has found a teammate under the basket who proceeded to either miss an easy shot or get fouled. One of these players is Angel Delgado, a 6’9″ forward who leads the team, and the Big East, in rebounding at 9.7 caroms per game. Delgado has been abysmal at the line this season, but he has offset it with an incredible efficiency in the paint: The freshman is shooting 52.4 percent from the floor on the season, and 78.6 percent in the last two games. The Pirates haven’t made the NCAA Tournament since 2006, so this season has been a pleasant surprise for fans who are hoping this is finally the year the drought ends.

Providence would be third on this list after picking up noteworthy wins over Florida State, Notre Dame and Yale, but the expectations were higher for the Friars than they were for Butler and Seton Hall. Kris Dunn has put any lingering concerns about this team’s inexperienced backcourt to rest.

Stock Down

Honestly, there are no solid candidates who have underperformed against preseason expectations to populate this section. Marquette had an ugly loss, but has played well of late by forcing an incredible number of turnovers. As for teams with higher expectations, Xavier hasn’t looked great in the last two games, perhaps playing at a faster pace than the Musketeeers can handle, but their losses came down to the wire against two teams that will be competing for titles in their respective conferences. St. John’s, while playing out of control at times and never running away from inferior opponents, beat Minnesota and played Gonzaga closely. Undoubtedly, underperforming teams will surface down the road, but not yet at this point in the season, a really nice feather in the cap of the Big East.

Justin Kundrat (112 Posts)

Villanova grad, patiently waiting another 10 years for season tickets. Follow Justin on twitter @JustinKundrat or email him at justin.kundrat@gmail.com


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