Big East Notebook: Recapping Non-Conference Play

Posted by Justin Kundrat on December 20th, 2017

Conference play in the Big East is a mere week away, which means most teams are quietly wrapping up the non-conference portion of their schedules and looking ahead to the good stuff. Currently ranked third by KenPom’s adjusted efficiency metrics, the conference as a whole has fared in line with expectations thus far. But not every team in the Big East can proclaim a strong start; there has certainly been a reshuffling of the pecking order in the middle of the standings. Here is a recap of several key conference takeaways from over the last few weeks.

Villanova Has Looked Great Through the Non-Conference Season (USA Today Images)

  • Villanova has looked every bit the part of a national title contender. Not only have juniors Mikal Bridges and Jalen Brunson made a case for being the best one-two combination in college basketball this season, but redshirt freshman Omari Spellman has erased any doubts over about a long adjustment period after his 27-point, eight-rebound outburst against Temple last week. Any of the Wildcats’ six rotation players are capable of scoring in double figures and Wright has gotten encouraging play from of his trio of freshmen. An entire essay could be written about the many things that Villanova does well. If there any areas for future improvement, it would have to be focused on the team’s inside scoring — the Wildcats rank 132nd nationally in shots taken at the rim and 90th in field goal percentage there.
  • Providence has underwhelmed so far, but full judgment isn’t yet justified. The Friars’ 8-3 record is a bit deceiving in that it includes marginal two-possession or fewer wins over Rider, Brown and Stony Brook. Those close victories are largely because Providence’s offense has struggled mightily over the team’s last four games, posting a mere 0.92 points per possession after a 1.17 PPP mark to start the season. A major contributing factor to that decline has been injuries to three key rotation players: Kyron CartwrightAlpha Diallo, and Maliek White. The lingering injury to Cartwright is particularly damaging on the offensive end as he serves as the primarily facilitator and secondary scoring option. Meanwhile, the injured Diallo provides a great degree of defensive versatility while having come into his own as a tertiary scoring option (11.4 PPG more than doubles his scoring from last season). These injuries coupled with a season-ending injury to presumptive starting forward Emmitt Holt have been noticeable setbacks for Ed Cooley’s squad.

  • Nobody really knows what to make of Butler’s struggles. None of Butler’s three losses to Maryland, Texas and Purdue are considered bad by any stretch, but it is readily apparent to any observer that this is a completely different team from years past. The Bulldogs’ outside shooting has plummeted (285th nationally) and they have been atrocious in getting to the line (324th nationally). Even a week away from the start of conference play, things appear to still be unsettled as head coach LaVall Jordan continues to tinker with his lineup. One thing is clear, though: Rising star Kamar Baldwin has struggled in his new role as a go-to scorer. The 6’1″ sophomore’s shooting percentages have dipped across the board, most easily seen in his eFG%, which has dropped from 55.7 percent last year to only 45.9 percent now. In its stead has been the shooting recovery of Kelan Martin and the manic scoring outbursts of Paul Jorgensen. But without enough consistent scoring threats on the floor, the offense gets stagnant and has become heavily reliant on any of the above three players to create shots for themselves. This has not proven to be a winning formula so far.

Quick Hitters.

  • Georgetown can say goodbye to its undefeated season hopes after blowing a 13-point second-half lead at home to Syracuse over the weekend. Truthfully speaking, though, there’s enough talent on the Hoyas’ roster to steal a handful of games this season.
  • Seton Hall’s point guard struggles continue as the injured but promising freshman Jordan Walker announced that he was leaving the program. His untimely decision forces head coach Kevin Willard to rely on Khadeen Carrington and Myles Powell to run the show — both of whom are better off the ball. The problem was recently evidenced by the Pirates’ 18 turnovers in a loss to Rutgers on Saturday.
  • For all the love that the conference’s top four teams have gotten, St. John’s has quietly made its case for being the fifth-best Big East team this season. The Red Storm do not have any notable victories to date, but their only two losses were to Missouri and a near-win against Arizona State. Sophomore Shamorie Ponds has shouldered a staggering scoring load by himself, but the Johnnies’ success has been bolstered by a defense that ranks 15th nationally. St. John’s lineup features numerous pesky wing defenders and Tariq Owens, a stretchy 6’11” forward who ranks second nationally in block percentage.
Justin Kundrat (142 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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