Five Questions: February in the Big East

Posted by Justin Kundrat & Brad Cavallaro on February 25th, 2020

We’re oh so close to March, the Big East Tournament and everything good that follows. With each slate of conference games under wrap comes more certainty but also more urgency. The Big East has had its fair share of risers and fallers in recent weeks, and below, microsite writers Justin Kundrat and Brad Cavallaro attempt to tackle the big themes happening now.

1. Creighton has seemingly taken the conference by storm these last few weeks, winning nine of its last 10 games. Is it safe to say the Bluejays are the team to beat at the upcoming Big East Tournament?

Creighton has Been on Fire All February (USA Today Images)

JK: As much as I want to say they’re being overrated, it’s hard to overlook what Creighton has accomplished in recent weeks. At 11-4 in Big East play, they are still a game back from Seton Hall but have been playing unconsciously on the offensive end. I could write for days about their 38.6 percent three-point shooting (fourth nationally) supported by three guys hitting at greater than 40 percent, and the ball movement that accompanies their small ball style. But the key difference has been: 1. Ty-Shon Alexander’s function as a defensive ball stopper, and 2. Denzel Mahoney’s ability to score at multiple levels. Alexander has shut down just about everyone from Kamar Baldwin to Markus Howard to Myles Powell, while Mahoney, a 6’5″ transfer from Southeastern Missouri has shot 34 percent from deep while showing an ability to out-muscle his defenders on drives. I’m a buyer of this team and think they’re the conference favorite.

BC: I agree, Creighton looks the best team at this point. Their dynamic offense quickly disposed of Butler in a blink of an eye and it will be extremely difficult for any other Big East team to slow them down. The Zegarowski/Alexander/Ballock trio is so scary because all three have extremely deep range and an ability to put the ball on the floor and become playmakers. While Villanova may have the highest ceiling and Seton Hall has an elite scorer and rim protector, Creighton’s scorching shooting makes them the late February favorite.

2. With just a few games remaining, are you worried about the late season slides for Butler and Marquette?

BC: I am certainly more worried for Butler than Marquette. Butler was projected as an NIT team in the preseason and their talent level is certainly closer to that level than that of an elite team. Butler will certainly make the NCAA Tournament — probably as a #6 or #7 seed — and has a fairly favorable closing schedule, but their deteriorating defense is the biggest concern. As for Marquette, I think we were getting ahead of ourselves in ranking them as a top 20 club. Expect a 10-8 conference record and a #6 or #7 seed for the Golden Eagles as well, but they have a much better chance of advancing behind an improved defense and the unreal scoring wizardry of Markus Howard.

JK: It seems like we’re writing about late season slides for Marquette every season as Howard runs out of gas or the defense fails to materialize or their secondary scorers disappear. It’s a problem, and I’m not sure why guys like Sacar Anim, Brendan Bailey and Koby McEwen can’t consistently generate offense when Howard receives so much attention. But the last game’s box score against Providence tells you all you need to know: Howard: 38 points, rest of team: 34. I love Howard, but I think you need an offense with multiple options, or a defense that can string together enough stops to offset any scoring droughts. So I’m a little worried, but not as worried as I am about Butler… a team that has battled more injuries than I can keep track of and recently saw Kamar Baldwin go out as well. This is already a short rotation team but the guys simply look gassed and don’t have the same cohesiveness defensively that we saw earlier in the season. Here’s a shocking stat: in conference play, Butler is dead last in defensive efficiency, allowing teams to score 1.08 PPP. This seems like a difficult problem to fix when you’re already short-handed.

3. Let’s talk late season bloomers. Where do you stand on Providence? Winners of five of their last seven games, which puts them at 9-6 in conference play. Is this an NCAA Tournament team?

Providence’s Second Run Through the Schedule Has Been Great (USA Today Images)

BC: Providence is clearly the fourth best team in the Big East after sweeping Marquette; however, their disastrous November will ensure that they only have the sixth or seventh best seed from the conference in the Big Dance. Providence’s late season surge comes mostly from their defense, but also from improved shooting from Luwane Pipkins and AJ Reeves. Kalif Young has been the X-factor as his energy and terrific instincts have solidified a very strong defense. Providence still needs to win two of their three remaining games, but everything is pointing to a sixth NCAA Tournament bid in the last seven years.

JK: It looks like the team we hoped to see is finally here. Providence’s slate from here on features a road game at Villanova and two home games vs. Xavier and DePaul. Assuming they win a pair of those three, they should be in regardless of Big East Tournament performance. It can be hard to overlook some of those non-conference losses, but the Friars are now 48th in NET with seven Quad 1 wins. And if the eye test is ever a thing, you’d be hard pressed to watch this team play and conclude they aren’t Tournament-worthy. Its shooting is still frustrating, but the ball movement is light years ahead of where it was.

4. If the season ended today, who would be your pick for Big East POY?

JK: It’s still Markus Howard. If Myles Powell’s shooting didn’t fall off so severely after his concussion, it would be an interesting battle. But for now, Howard is the clear front-runner. His usage is even higher than it was last year and now ranks first in the country, while his ORating and effective field goal percentage are just barely off last year’s pace. For a guy that gets so much defensive attention, it’s amazing that he can still average 27.1 PPG. Let’s just take a moment to appreciate one of the greatest college basketball players in the country.

BC: I have an unconventional Big East POY pick. Romaro Gill’s emergence is what has made Seton Hall the Big East’s leader throughout league play. His defensive impact cannot be overstated, as he blocks, alters and prevents countless shots with his length and presence. While Myles Powell is Seton Hall’s best player and Markus Howard is the best player in the league, Gill is the main reason why the Pirates are top-10 good.

5. Georgetown is barely hanging on in the bubble picture and sits in the next four out. What do they need to do from here on out?

What About Georgetown? (USA Today Images)

JK: Win some and then win some more. It’s super impressive that this team has won so many games without Mac McClung and with an injured Omer Yurtseven, but with a 15-12 overall record and 5-9 Big East record, there’s a lot of work still to be done. Seeing how gassed some of the Hoyas are at the end of games, it would appear to be a lost cause if McClung cannot return soon. There’s too many bid thieves in the country and not enough quality wins on Georgetown’s resume at this point, but the good thing is there’s plenty of opportunity in the next two weeks: three Q1 games and a Q2 game.

BC: Georgetown is cooked. After being swept by Providence and following that disappointment up with a loss to DePaul, the Hoyas are drawing dead. It’s a shame because they looked so good towards the end of non-conference play, but the Hoyas’ general lack of depth and injuries to McClung and Yurtseven dealt them a hand that they couldn’t overcome.

Justin Kundrat (175 Posts)

Villanova grad, patiently waiting another 10 years for season tickets. Follow Justin on twitter @JustinKundrat or email him at

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