Big East Notebook: Early Conference Turmoil

Posted by Justin Kundrat on January 9th, 2018

Unsurprisingly, cannibalism within the Big East has proven itself very real again this season. With every team having now played a minimum of three conference games, only Seton Hall remains unbeaten, and even the Pirates have narrowly escaped in all three of their victories. The conference boasts four of its teams in the current AP Top 25 and as many as seven NCAA Tournament bids by March is a realistic possibility. Below are three key takeaways from Big East action over the last two weeks.

Raise Your Hands if You Had Seton Hall as the Last Big East Unbeaten Team (USA Today Images)

  • Providence has rebounded sharply. Even at full strength, Ed Cooley‘s group scraped by in home games against Rider, Brown and Stony Brook. The Friars’ backcourt was then significantly hobbled leading into conference play but the root causes — poor shooting to inconsistent defensive rebounding — seem to have corrected themselves over the last few weeks. Having a healthy Kyron Cartwright back in action has helped as the Friars score 1.11 points per possession (PPP) with him versus 0.99 PPP without. But the most important factor to the team’s success has been the emergence of wing Alpha Diallo as a legitimate offensive threat. In addition to his excellent defense, the sophomore has averaged 13.3 PPG in Big East play by using his mid-range jump shot as a reliable weapon. His outside shooting (21.4% 3FG) leaves something to be desired but, judging by his form, is certainly fixable. On the other end of the floor, his play was a big reason the Xavier duo of Trevon Bluiett and JP Macura combined for just 21 points (10.5 below their season average) in a loss to Providence over the weekend.

  • Should we be concerned about Villanova’s defense? Despite currently being ranked 37th nationally in defensive efficiency, the Wildcats are on target for their worst defensive season since a 13-19 disaster in 2011-12. Butler shooting outburst aside (the best outside shooting performance against Villanova in the KenPom era), Villanova’s defensive problem actually lies in the interior where it ranks 97th in defensive field goal percentage at the rim. This can be chalked up to a few driving factors. First, Jay Wright is employing two freshmen big men who are assigned critical roles in the amorphous, constantly-switching Villanova defense. Additionally, recent injuries to Collin Gillespie and Jermaine Samuels have cut the active rotation to six or seven players. Sharp ball movement and screen-and-roll situations have definitely stressed the Wildcats’ help defense.
  • Martin Krampelj deserves the Most Improved Player award. So much for Creighton lacking reliable big men. The sophomore who averaged a measly 2.8 PPG and 2.2 RPG in limited minutes last season is now pouring in 12.7 points and pulling down 8.2 rebounds per game, all while converting 82.1 percent of his shots at the rim. That last metric, however, is somewhat misleading — he has shown versatility via an ability to knock down shots from deep or put the ball on the floor. While Khyri Thomas draws the defensive accolades on this team, it has actually been Krampelj who is the most impactful defensive player from a points per possession standpoint. Opposing teams are scoring at just a 0.89 PPP clip when he is on the floor, which jumps to 1.04 PPP when he rests. His light-footedness enables him to defend multiple positions and cover a lot of ground in a hurry.

Quick Hitters.

  • St. John’s is off to an 0-4 start as sophomore guard Marcus LoVett remains sidelined with a knee injury. The Johnnies’ elite defense that supported an inconsistent offense has fallen off a cliff — they are allowing opponents to score a hefty 1.20 points per possession so far in conference play.
  • Funny enough, that defensive metric isn’t even the worst in the Big East. That award goes to Villanova, which is surrendering 1.22 PPP after facing Butler’s 101-point barrage and an elite Marquette offense.
  • Markus Howard dropped 52 points against Providence last week and then followed it up with 37 points against Villanova over the weekend. For all the media attention that Oklahoma star freshman Trae Young is receiving, Howard looks just as much like Steph Curry out there…
  • Seton Hall finally looks like it has a complete offense. The team’s three-point shooting is a very good 37.9 percent (64th nationally) this season, which would qualify as its best mark in the KenPom era. Shooting the ball so well forces defenses into a very tough decision when double-teaming nightly double-double threat Angel Delgado in the low post.
Justin Kundrat (130 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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