Big East Q&A: Unpacking The Conference’s Key Questions Heading Into the Home Stretch

Posted by Justin Kundrat & Brad Cavallaro on February 26th, 2019

Time is running out in conference play and there is still much to be decided. Big East microsite writers Justin Kundrat and Brad Cavallaro teamed up this week to break down several of the conference’s key questions heading into the last couple weeks of regular season action.

JK: The biggest storyline in recent weeks has been the drastic fall of Villanova – is this simply the case of a team being gassed or is there a bigger underlying issue here?

Villanova’s Latest Loss Left Xavier Celebrating (USA Today Images)

BC: It has to be a little of both. Phil Booth and Eric Paschall are clearly tired at the end of games and the difficult contested shots that they typically hit in the first half are not falling in the second. However, the biggest underlying issue is that Villanova does not have enough offensive creators this season. If they still had Donte DiVincenzo in the lineup, they would have had plenty of firepower, but Collin Gillespie is not getting the job done. He is a good player and has played well for the most part, but he has been thrust into a major role prematurely. Saddiq Bey, Jermaine Samuels, and Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree are solid role players and have bright futures ahead, but they cannot create shots for themselves. Some of these young players will need to step up immediately or Villanova could be in for a quick postseason.

JK: Much has been said about the conference’s cannibalism this season when it comes to NCAA Tournament at-large prospects. What are your thoughts on the conference’s two bubble straddlers: Seton Hall and Butler?

BC: The Big East has not done itself any favors with cannibalization this season. While Marquette, Villanova, and St. John’s all sit in good position, Seton Hall and Butler are clinging to tenuous positions. The Pirates have two amazing non-conference wins away from home (Kentucky and Maryland), which will give them a leg up on comparable bubble teams. Butler has a couple nice wins on its resume as well, but their lack of statement wins is worrisome. The Pirates should not be in position to miss the NCAA Tournament unless they lose the rest of their games, but the Bulldogs needs to accumulate more wins or else a bid thief from a smaller conference will take their spot.

JK: There has been a lot of optimism around some of the fringe teams in the last week as well – is there any hope for Georgetown or Xavier?

Does Georgetown Have a Shot? (USA Today Images)

Both Georgetown and Xavier have emerged in several “Next Four” and “First Four Out” bracketologies, which speaks to how weak the bubble is this season. Both squads were left for dead after poor non-conference showings, but they are now playing their best basketball. I think it’s too little, too late, for both of them, but I wouldn’t want to see either in the Big East Tournament either. Xavier has played especially well lately as Naji Marshall and Tyrique Jones are starting to make a major impact.

JK: Who is your front-runner for Big East Player of the Year? The most surprising breakout player?

Marquette‘s Markus Howard has to be the front-runner at this point. He is an elite scorer on the best team in the conference. His offensive ability makes him a true game-changer who makes an impact in defensive attention even when he isn’t hitting shots. For most surprising player, I’ll go with Howard’s teammate, Theo John. The sophomore has grown from a struggling reserve big man as a freshman to a defensive force this season. He may not have the statistics yet to back it up, but he is easily the pick. However, Creighton‘s Ty-Shon Alexander may have the easiest path to winning the award because of his emergence in a leading role.

JK: Just how good is Marquette? Are the Golden Eagles capable of a Final Four run?

Marquette is a legitimate top-10 team that is absolutely Final Four caliber. Their shooting is unbelievable, they get consistent contributions from four different players, and they have a star (Howard) who can take over games. Defense has always been the knock on Marquette, but they have improved significantly in that area this season.

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