Otskey’s Big East Observations: 12.03.15 Edition

Posted by Brian Otskey on December 3rd, 2015

One season removed from sending six of its 10 teams to the NCAA Tournament, the Big East has again started the season with a bang. To date, the conference has amassed an 18-13 record against teams currently ranked in the top 100 of Ken Pomeroy’s ratings, with only Creighton, DePaul and St. John’s not yet in the win column. Against Power Five conference opponents, the league as a whole sports a 16-12 record. With a strong start under its belt, the question will inevitably turn to how many teams the Big East can place in the NCAA Tournament this year? It is probably safe to say that a minimum of four will go with a good chance for a fifth given the way Providence has been playing. However, it is still early and a lot of things can happen between now and March. As far as a sixth team, the odds are not as great but there is something of a chance. Marquette, Seton Hall and Creighton could very well fight for the sixth and final Big East NCAA berth when all is said and done in this league.

Jay Wright and Villanova have been on point. (Getty)

Jay Wright and Villanova, who sit at the top of the Big East standings at 7-0, is leading what is a tremendous conference pack so far this season. (Getty)

Right now, the edge would have to go to the Golden Eagles and Pirates. While Marquette’s (5-2) weak non-conference schedule will be an anchor, the Golden Eagles are a team that should get better as the season moves along and could win 10 games in the league. Its two wins before Thanksgiving at the Barclays Center against LSU and Arizona State were critical after starting the season with two early losses. As for Seton Hall (5-2), it has quietly picked up top-100 victories over Georgia and Mississippi and has another chance to grab a quality win at home against a banged-up Wichita State team that should get back to playing good hoops once Fred VanVleet returns. If Kevin Willard’s squad can finish the non-conference slate at 10-2 and get to 9-9 in conference, it will be right on the bubble come Selection Sunday. Creighton is in a tough position because of a non-conference schedule that provides limited opportunities for quality wins. It has already lost at Indiana, and while a game at Oklahoma later this month is certainly a top-notch opponent, it is unrealistic to think the Bluejays can win that one. After blowing a great chance for a top-100 win this week at home against Arizona State, Greg McDermott’s team will have a lot of work to do in conference play. Ultimately, five NCAA teams seems like the proper over/under for the Big East this year.

While Villanova is performing just as expected, Xavier may be the surprise team of the Big East. Most observers had the Musketeers among the top four of the league, but their play to date has been stellar. A 16-point win at Michigan in the “Gavitt Games” raised a few eyebrows but Xavier’s performance last week in Orlando lifted expectations to a new level. Chris Mack’s team absolutely destroyed a good Dayton team in the championship game of the AdvoCare Invitational. The play of redshirt freshman guard Edmond Sumner may have surprised some casual fans, but the success of this former top-100 recruit isn’t a surprise to anyone around the program. While more of a combo guard due to his size, Sumner is doing a great job at the point, a position that had some uncertainty surrounding it after Dee Davis graduated last season. The Musketeers should finish the non-conference season in a solid position and they appear to have a high ceiling as players like Jalen Reynolds continue to blossom. What I love about Xavier is its relentless attack on the glass. The Musketeers, led by Reynolds and James Farr, are a top 25 team in both offensive and defensive rebounding percentage. This is a group that could make the deep run this league really needs in the NCAA Tournament. Xavier’s Big East opener at Villanova at noon on New Year’s Eve is appointment television.

Xavier dominated in Orlando last week. (Chris O'Meara/AP)

Xavier dominated in Orlando last week. (Chris O’Meara/AP)

After losing three times in its first four games, Georgetown faded a bit from the national discussion. This is an oversight and a case of recency bias as the Hoyas will remain a Big East contender and nationally relevant throughout the year. Despite an early outlier of a loss to Radford, Georgetown pressed on and nearly toppled both Duke and Maryland while not at full strength. It was refreshing to see the rivalry with Maryland renewed after so many years and it played out as one of the most entertaining games of the college basketball season. The Hoyas are certainly the best 3-3 team in the country right now and I would not be surprised if they challenge Villanova near the top of the Big East. John Thompson III’s crew hosts Syracuse this coming Saturday in a match-up rich with nostalgia and memories of a different time. With a win against a rebuilding Wisconsin team on the resume already, the Hoyas can salvage their non-conference season with a victory over the Orange.

While this is clearly senior D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera’s team, Georgetown is a rather young group with freshmen and sophomores playing key roles up and down the roster. It is important to note that this was not a completely healthy team over the first five games. Paul White and Tre Campbell missed time due to injuries and are being eased back into the rotation (White in particular). When I have heard people talk about Big East contenders over the last couple of weeks, they are glossing over Georgetown. Early in the season analysts and observers tend to get caught up in the moment and fail to see the bigger picture that this is a long season with a lot of twists and turns. Make no mistake, this team will be in the mix for the better part of the Big East season.

Brian Otskey (269 Posts)

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