Risen From the Dead: The Big East is Back!

Posted by Shane McNichol on December 30th, 2015

As we sit on the precipice of celebrating the New Year, two conferences have landed four teams in the top 16 of the AP Poll. One is, of course, the ACC, monstrous in both size and basketball dominance. A league that stretches from Miami to South Bend to Boston, with a whopping 15 members located in that absurd triangle. The other is the Big East. Yes, that Big East. The star of ESPN’s 30 for 30 documentary “Requiem for the Big East”. The conference with a Wikipedia page declaring that it ended three years ago. The same Big East who inspired headlines like “The Big East is dead (or at least dying). Long live the Big East” and “How the Big East died and was dead all along.” A Google search of “Big East is dead” fetches over 68 million results. SIXTY-EIGHT MILLION!

Jay Wright's crew leads an incredibly deep Big East conference this season. (Getty)

Jay Wright’s crew leads an incredibly deep Big East conference this season. (Getty)

And yet, the current iteration would certainly beg to differ. After the “Catholic Seven” refused to let their conference go by the wayside, they’ve done more than exist or tread water. Last season, six Big East clubs reached the Big Dance. That’s more than football powers like the SEC and the Pac-12 and just as many as the giant ACC. Having a swath of teams reach the tournament says one thing about a conference. Having four teams reach the turn of the calendar highly ranked with non-delusional plans of reaching the Final Four says something more. Whether through a stroke of luck or genius, the Big East schedule opens Thursday with two nationally televised games pitting these four teams against one another. #16 Villanova hosts #6 Xavier at noon, followed by #10 Providence traveling to play at #9 Butler. Butler then turns right around and heads to Xavier on Saturday.

Consider this long holiday weekend the first foray into what is sure to be a season long battle for the conference crown between four teams all capable of deep runs in March.


Villanova, the most familiar with tournament success among the group of four, came into the season with heavy expectations. Ryan Arcidiancono returned for his senior season, along with experienced talent in Josh Hart, Daniel Ochefu, and Phil Booth. Big name freshman recruit Jaylen Brunson joined the fold, expected to make all of his now teammates lives much easier. Thus far they’ve nearly lived up to the hype, save for losses to two highly ranked foes, Oklahoma (on a neutral court) and Virginia (on the road). The Cats’ biggest issue has been a frigid start from long range, shooting merely 31 percent on the year. The cold start has been led by Booth (49% last year) shooting 27 percent and Kris Jenkins (37% in the two prior years) firing an ugly 29 percent on nearly seven attempts per game. In Jay Wright’s dribble-drive offense, led by playmaking by Arcidiacono and Brunson, shooting on the perimeter will not only increase scoring, but will open space for slashers or Ochefu operating on the post.


Butler, on the other hand, has had no such trouble scoring this season. Everything is falling for the Bulldogs, who score the 2nd most points per game in the nation at 89.9 per night. That number is slightly inflated by an absurd 144 point outburst in the Bulldogs opener versus the Citadel, but Butler has reached 85 on the scoreboard in eight of their other 11 contests. Seniors Kellen Dunham and Roosevelt Jones are the big names though Butler has been much more than a two-man game. Andrew Chrabascz has posted the fifth best offensive rating in the country with Butler scoring 141.6 points per 100 possessions. Sophomore Kelan Martin leads all Big East players this season in effective field goal percentage, thanks to burying half of the 34 threes he’s attempted.  All of Butler’s offensive success has paid off with wins at Cincinnati and over in-state rival Purdue, with their lone loss coming to Miami (FL).


What CAN'T this guy do? (USA TODAY Sports)

What CAN’T this guy do? (USA TODAY Sports)

Only losing to ranked teams seems to be contagious in the Big East, with Providence’s sole defeat coming at the hands of top ranked Michigan State. The Friars have been led by the incredible play of junior guard Kris Dunn. He’s climbing NBA draft boards by dominating on both ends of the floor. He leads the nation in assist percentage, with 49.4 percent of his teammates’ baskets coming via a Dunn assist. A year after leading the Big East in steals, he’s on pace to do so again. Dunn records a steal on six percent of his defensive possessions. No one else in the Big East is even over 4.4 percent. The scariest stat in Providence’s favor may be that Dunn doesn’t even lead the team in scoring. That distinction goes to Ben Bentil and his 18.8 points per game. They represent as potent a duo in the nation.


Despite their four combined losses all coming to ranked teams, those three teams all still sit behind #6 Xavier in the rankings, as the Musketeers have yet to lose this season. The season opening winning streak is rooted on the defensive end of the court. Xavier is ranked 4th in defensive efficiency, backing that effort up by allowing the 3rd lowest offensive rebound rate. Offensively, the Musketeers are beating opponents from the foul line, scoring more than a quarter of their points from the stripe (that’s good for top 15 nationally). In close games, Chris Mack’s team is capable of getting stops and finding ways to manufacture points when they need to.

On Thursday, long before the college football semifinals take the stage and the ball drops in Times Square, the spotlight will be on the once presumed dead Big East. Given what we’ve seen from these four teams so far, they are more than ready for the spotlight.

Shane McNichol (30 Posts)

Shane McNichol is a national columnist for Rush The Court. He is also the founder, editor, and writer at PalestraBack.com and has contributed to SALTMoney.org and ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter @OnTheShaneTrain.

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