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.

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Big East Bubble Watch: Volume I

Posted by Justin Kundrat & Brad Cavallaro on February 10th, 2020

We’re finally working our way into the heart of February. College football is over, the Super Bowl is over, and as these other attention-grabbing sports fade into the rear-view, college basketball embraces its time in the spotlight. We still have a solid five weeks of play before the NCAA Tournament tips off on March 17, but the bracket is already taking form. Below is Rush the Court’s first evaluation of the Big East. All figures below are from WarrenNolan.com.

Locks

Seton Hall is Back, Baby (USA Today Images)

Seton Hall: 18-5 (10-1); NET: 12; SOS: 20
Villanova: 17-6 (7-4); NET: 18; SOS: 2

  • Analysis: Some other sites have been cautious to call these two teams locks, but I can’t conceive a scenario where neither makes it. Both are shaping up to be seeded in the #3-#5 range, with incremental wins at this point serving to move the dial upward and ideally provide a favorable location draw. In spite of Villanova’s recent three-game skid, the Wildcats still boast a NET ranking of #18 with five Q1 wins. The concern for Jay Wright is less about seeding and more so fixing its short rotation and ailing post defense. Seton Hall meanwhile has seen a number of its secondary players emerge at just the right time. Romaro Gill‘s offensive play has stalled, but the likes of Sandro Mamukelashvili and Jared Rhoden are helping to soften a recent Myles Powell shooting slump.

Should Be In

Butler: 18-6 (6-5); NET: 10; SOS: 46.

  • Analysis: Butler is closer to “Lock” status than “Not Quite There,” but after a sizzling 15-1 start, the Bulldogs have only won just three of their last eight games. In those eight contests, the defense has given up 1.12 points per possession, as opponents are scoring both at the rim and around the perimeter. This is a concern for a team with a methodical approach that, in the beginning half of the season, used defensive stops to power its offense. Still, none of the trio of losses are necessarily bad — Butler is still 12-6 in Q1/Q2 games and has no losses in the Q3/Q4 territory. Consider this team safe, in general.

Creighton: 17-6 (7-4); NET: 22; SOS: 31.

Creighton Has Been Sneaky Good All Season (USA Today Images)
  • Analysis: The bracket aggregation site BracketMatrix lists Creighton’s average seed as a 5.08. With a 6-6 record in Q1 games and unblemished beyond that, the Bluejays look every part a Tournament team. Their defense, given a lack of size and inability to win the rebounding battle, is concerning, but a 7-4 conference record is propelled by a remarkably efficient offense (7th nationally). The remaining schedule offers more opportunities for quality wins, which can further improve their seeding, but the other benefit is that there are not many opportunities for bad losses either. Consider Creighton close — maybe a week or two away from being a lock.

Marquette: 17-6 (7-4); NET: 24; SOS: 10.

  • Analysis: Marquette has an eerily similar profile to Creighton in many ways. The Golden Eagles also have six Q1 wins, no bad losses, and a 7-4 Big East record. The notable part about this group is their much improved defense, with a range of long wing players and an improving front line in tow. They are currently slotted as a #6/#7 seed in most brackets, which should further improve once adjusted for Sunday’s home win over Butler. There is some margin for error here, so a few bad losses won’t put them out of the picture, but it’s too early to say definitively. Like Creighton, this team is almost to the point of playing for seeding.
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Five Questions: Big East Midseason

Posted by Justin Kundrat & Brad Cavallaro on January 15th, 2020

It feels like just yesterday that the season was tipping off and we were examining the biggest questions each Big East team would face this season, trying to fit new players into the puzzle, and evaluating offseason departures. But here we are at the midpoint of the season, and while there has been plenty of clarity around the conference’s contenders, the questions continue to pop up faster than the answers. Below, Big East microsite writers Justin Kundrat and Brad Cavallaro attempt to tackle the biggest ones at this point of the year.

1. Providence is off to a surprising 3-1 start. Is it too little too late or can you see a path for a tournament bid?

Where Does Providence Go From Here? (USA Today Images)

BC: Unfortunately, I think it’s too little too late for Providence. Despite an impressive 3-1 start that includes two road wins, the Friars likely need to get to 12-6 to make up for their awful non-conference start. Their schedule will only get tougher from here — providing more opportunities — but will also expose their inconsistent offense. Tonight’s game versus St. John’s is basically a must-win at this point because it may be their easiest remaining game on the schedule. Providence needs more contributions from AJ Reeves and Luwane Pipkins, who combined to shoot 1-of-11 against Butler last Friday.

JK: The best part about the Big East is that there’s no shortage of opportunities for quality wins. I’ve seen a record of 12-6 quoted on Providence’s message boards as the golden record, and honestly, it probably gets them there. That puts the Friars at 19-12 overall, ranked among in the top three of the conference standings, and presumably includes eight or so wins over NCAA Tournament teams. The home game loss against Butler last Friday was definitely a missed opportunity, but the Friars have definitely turned a corner. Alpha Diallo is finally getting (creating) good looks around the hoop; guard Maliek White has found consistent scoring; and the defense was successful in forcing opponents to take tough shots. A four-game winning streak featured some of the best two-point defense all season. That said, it’s an uphill climb to get to 12-6 — this team can’t afford any missed opportunities.

2. Marquette and Xavier are squaring off tonight and both stand at 1-3 heading into that game. Which team is more likely to right the ship and continue on the Tournament track?

JK: This is tough. Both teams have significant holes (interior offense for Marquette; shooting for Xavier) but Marquette probably has the higher ceiling and is therefore more likely to right the ship. Xavier is awkwardly constructed by lacking a true point guard, and aside from KyKy Tandy, you more or less know what you’re getting with this team. On the other hand, with Markus Howard consistently putting up 25-30 points per game, there’s a floor for Marquette that hopefully encourages more production from Brendan Bailey or Koby McEwen. But most of all, the team desperately needs Theo John to give something — anything — in the post. The 6’9″ big man has been saddled with foul trouble and awkwardly low efficiency around the hoop, contributing to an offense that ranks 338th (!) nationally in field goal conversions at the rim. No matter how much the defense has improved this season, interior offense is going to hold this team back.

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Quarter-Pole Check-In on the Big East

Posted by Brad Cavallaro & Justin Kundrat on December 18th, 2019

We’re only about five weeks into the regular season and yet it feels like an eternity judging by how much has happened thus far. Between the risers and fallers, early season disappointments and pleasant surprises, the Big East has had no shortage of compelling storylines. Below, Big East writers Justin Kundrat and Brad Cavallaro regroup and recap several of the key questions the conference is facing going into the holidays.

With only a close loss at Baylor, Butler has emerged as a Big East contender (or even front-runner) by analytics and their body of work. Do you see the Bulldogs as a legitimate contender or just a team off to a hot start?

Is Butler the Big East Team to Beat? (USA Today Images)

JK: With Seton Hall floundering and Villanova skirting by against inferior opponents, there’s no question in my mind that Butler is the top dog in the conference right now. The Bulldogs won’t overwhelm you with size or athleticism or shooting or lottery picks, but this team is as cohesive as any in the country. They remind me a bit of some of the Virginia teams in recent years, in that every game is played on Butler’s terms. The Bulldogs currently rank 338th nationally in tempo and opponents are getting just 16.7 percent of their shot attempts in transition, good for 12th nationally. Combine that with a defense that is elite in both defensive rebounding and discouraging perimeter shots and you have a recipe for success — there are no easy buckets with this team. On the other end, there are occasional concerns about the offense over-relying on Kamar Baldwin, but others have stepped up in recent games (here’s looking at you, Sean McDermott). And when opponents are scoring just 54.5 PPG, you don’t need multiple 20+ point scorers on the roster. Anyway, count me in as a buyer of Butler stock.

BC: I think at this point Butler is absolutely a contender. Between Seton Hall’s injuries and Xavier’s recent disappointing play, Butler and Villanova look like the clear front-runners in the Big East. While the Bulldogs do not have top-half conference talent, their excellent chemistry and buy-in from their role players has created a “whole is greater than the sum of its parts” scenario. While team synergy looks like the main reason for Butler’s early success, they are also receiving some great individual performances. Baldwin has taken the step from great player to star and the defense has been excellent with players like Aaron Thompson and Bryce Nze setting the tone. I think the most likely scenario is that Butler settles into the #15-#20 range nationally, but if they can get more from Jordan Tucker and Khalif Battle, the ceiling is even higher.

Seton Hall has disappointed, surrendering late game leads versus both Michigan State and Oregon? Can they back up their lofty preseason ranking and who emerges in Mamu’s absence?

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Big East Key Questions: Villanova and Xavier

Posted by Brad Cavallaro on November 4th, 2019

Villanova: Will the Wildcats’ offense be as effective without a clear go-to guy?

Jay Wright Wonders Where His Offense Will Come From (USA Today Images)

Villanova’s roster last season was missing a perimeter creator and Jay Wright clearly had expected 2018 Final Four MOP Donte DiVincenzo to have filled that role. Seniors Phil Booth and Eric Paschall were terrific on their own, but a supporting cast led by Joe Cremo and Jahvon Quinerly fell woefully short of preseason expectations. Collin Gillespie began to flourish when Booth assumed the go-to scoring role, but he looked overmatched as the lead ball-handler. Saddiq Bey and Jermaine Samuels showed great promise as well, but neither created for themselves very often.

The 2019-20 Wildcats do not have any unforeseen departures, but they did lose the only two players in Booth and Paschall who could consistently put the ball in the basket. A strong group of returnees is bolstered by an excellent freshman class, but it is difficult to see how the Villanova offense moves forward. When you factor in the fifth-year seniors’ wealth of experience and essential contributions, an adjustment period feels inevitable.

Still, most prognosticators disagree. Despite finishing 30th in KenPom last season and losing their two most productive players, the Wildcats are expected by many to be significantly better this season. Villanova has been consistently ranked as a top-10 team in most human polls and computer metrics. I expect Villanova finish closer to 20th nationally. Their defense has elite potential with great positional size and versatility, but the losses of Booth and Paschal — especially on the offensive end — are being undersold. Multiple players will need to take major leaps in their skill set development to become consistent shot creators. Freshman Bryan Antoine was the most logical candidate until his season was jeopardized with a shoulder injury. Bey and Justin Moore could fill that role eventually, but it is probably too soon to place that burden on them. Perhaps big man Jeremiah Robinson-Earl can add an interior scoring punch, but will that be enough?

Xavier: Was last year’s end of season push a mirage or a sign of things to come?

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Big East Key Questions: Seton Hall & St. John’s

Posted by Justin Kundrat on November 1st, 2019

Seton Hall: Is there enough roster improvement here to warrant a Top 25 ranking?

Myles Powell Dives Back Into Big East Play as a Preseason All-American (USA Today Images)

A recent article over at Three Man Weave highlighted an interesting conundrum: Decent teams with high minutes continuity from the previous season rarely make a big leap. Just two of the 47 data points containing teams with 80%+ minute continuity that finished the prior season between #41-#80 on KenPom finished in KenPom’s top 15 the next year. In other words, the most likely outcome for this year’s Seton Hall team is last season’s result, which would be a huge letdown for a fanbase thirsty for postseason success. Michael Nzei is the only meaningful contributor lost from last year’s squad, and the addition of 7’0″ transfer Ike Obiagu should go a long way in shoring up the Pirates’ lackadaisical post defense. But outside of that, the onus will likely fall on Myles Cale and Jared Rhoden to provide consistent scoring alongside the 23.1 PPG fire hose that is All-American Myles Powell. Cale alternated between a confident, slashing 6’6″ wing who could pour in 20+ points in numerous ways and a forgotten standstill shooter who couldn’t find his mark. Rhoden, on the other hand, is a rising 6’6″ sophomore who demonstrated his tremendous potential in flashes and has the makings of a legitimate breakout candidate with more minutes. Nonetheless, we know what last season’s Seton Hall team was capable of — the question is whether a corner can be turned this season. Let’s see if those players can make the leap.

St. John’s: Can newly minted head coach Mike Anderson bring some defense to Queens?

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Big East Key Questions: Marquette and Providence

Posted by Brad Cavallaro on October 30th, 2019

Marquette: Will a stylistic change pay off for the Golden Eagles?

All-America Guard Markus Howard Leads Marquette (USA Today Images)

Marquette was gaining traction as a potential elite team for the upcoming season once All-America guard Markus Howard removed his name from the NBA Draft. That is, until two of the most shocking transfer decisions in recent memory grinded those premature expectations and optimism to a halt. Without the Hauser brothers returning (they have since transferred to Virginia and Michigan State), an immediate reaction was to bury Marquette. The pair were absolutely integral to the spacing and three-point shooting that made opposing defenses fear the Golden Eagles’ potent offense. As the offseason progressed, however, Marquette slowly looked more favorable and even appeared in some Top 25 polls.

Marquette could plausibly repeat last year’s performance and warrant such preseason recognition, but there is no debate that this year’s team will bear little resemblance to a lineup that was loaded with long-range threats a year ago. As a result, few teams will undergo as drastic a stylistic change in one offseason. The Golden Eagles’ identity has now pivoted toward length, athleticism, and a possible two-big lineup.

Surprisingly, head coach Steve Wojciechowski did not chase a shot-making wing or stretch power forward to replace the Hausers. They will be instead replaced with scoring combo-guard Koby McEwen and versatile forward Brendan Bailey. McEwen averaged 15.6 PPG and 3.2 APG for Utah State two seasons ago and is known for his ability to attack the basket. Bailey averaged 3.2 PPG as a freshman and will need to make a major leap. The 6’8’’ forward shot a paltry 25 percent from three-point range, but that number should increase considerably as he becomes more comfortable.

Almost as surprising as the Hauser brothers leaving was the addition of Jayce Johnson to the roster. Johnson was a starting center at Utah and turned down numerous starting opportunities to become the backup at Marquette. That is how the graduate transfer logically fits on this roster, but Wojciechowski mentioned playing the big man alongside Theo John in what would undoubtedly be a disaster with neither player scoring outside the paint. Pairing Ed Morrow with either traditional center would be more palatable, but it would still be a stark contrast from the incredible shooting and spacing Marquette enjoyed last year.

Despite all these changes, Marquette still returns the anchor of its offense in Howard and the anchor of its defense in John. Sacar Anim has excelled as a glue guy and perimeter defender and can now show his full offensive arsenal. These three veterans will raise Marquette’s floor considerably, even if its new identity flops. As long as they stay away (far away) from playing John and Johnson together and emphasize their increased length and athleticism, Marquette should plan to return to the NCAA Tournament.

Providence: Will an upgrade at point guard be enough to save Providence’s struggling offense?

Ed Cooley Brings Back an Interesting Friars Squad (USA Today Images)

Providence missed the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2013 last season despite owning a talented roster filled with several former top recruits and numerous proven Big East players. The reason was very simple — the Friars could not score. Ed Cooley‘s offense ranked 164th in KenPom (eighth-worst high-major team); it was 257th in three-point percentage, 275th in two point percentage, and even struggled to convert free throws (235th).

While it may look like shooting the ball was the Friars’ biggest issue, point guard play was the root cause of these offensive deficiencies. Providence lacked someone who could consistently create his own shot during shot-clock situations and generate easy opportunities for his teammates. Cooley rotated through all of his lead guards at one time or another, but none were able to separate themselves and consistently deliver suitable results.

David Duke made an immediate defensive impact but looked extremely uncomfortable running the team. He had trouble creating shots and fared much better when he was eventually moved off the ball. Maliek White showed flashes of being the answer at point guard, but was too inconsistent to be permanently given the reins. Makai Ashton Langford was just plain ineffective. Even Alpha Diallo’s game grew increasingly sloppy and inefficient when trying to be the team’s lead offensive creator.

No team relies on its point guard more than Providence. Per Jordan Sperber, Cooley’s lead guards have the highest assist rate in college basketball, which speaks to the enormous responsibility of being slotted in that position. Fortunately, Providence struck gold with its inaugural dive into the graduate transfer market by landing Luwane Pipkins. The dynamic guard will certainly inject offense into the lineup, but at what cost? Last year’s team had enough talent to play in a lesser postseason tournament (NIT or CBI), but instead cratered to become Massachusetts’ worst team of the KenPom era (dating back to 1997).

The hope is that Pipkins can be the missing piece to an already talented roster. If he can create open threes for AJ Reeves, ease some of the offensive burden off of Diallo, and find Nate Watson more easy opportunities around the basket, this Providence offense could flourish. When you throw in a potential breakout candidate in Duke, a possible return to form from Emmitt Holt, and a deep veteran bench, you can really see some upside. If the Friars can integrate Pipkins and maintain their stellar defense, the sky is the limit this season for Providence.

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Big East Key Questions: DePaul & Georgetown

Posted by Justin Kundrat on October 28th, 2019

DePaul: Will newcomers vault DePaul into a long overdue rebound?

Dave Leitao Wonders What’s Ahead for DePaul (USA Today Images)

Breaking news: DePaul is 77th in KenPom‘s preseason rankings, which, if the Blue Demons can maintain, would equate to the team’s best finish since 2007. In fact, last season was the school’s first year above .500 in over a decade and it was capped on a high note — as the runner-up team in the CBI tournament. So it would seem that DePaul’s upward trajectory would be poised to continue, if not for the fact that 60 percent of its scoring output has departed Chicago. The remaining roster is full of question marks, which is both concerning and exciting. The only known commodities are the return of Devin Gage, an inconsistent but explosive guard, and a steadying pair of 6’9″ inside forces in Paul Reed and Jaylen Butz — both of whom spearheaded the Blue Demons’ best strength last season: rebounding. The list of unknowns is long — too long to promote any promise of a successful season, but simultaneously long enough to make things interesting. Head coach Dave Leitao added Romeo Weems, a four-star forward who signed with DePaul over Michigan and Michigan State, and inked a transfer in Charlie Moore, a sparingly used guard at Kansas. These two will join Jalen Coleman-Lands, who averaged 10 PPG in five games prior to a season-ending injury, in rounding out a high upside but low floor scoring attack. On paper, if high school rankings and former schools count for anything, this team has a good degree of potential, maybe even enough to draw out some of its students. But it’s hard to put stock into potential alone, particularly as it relates to a long-suffering program such as this one.

Georgetown: Will there finally be enough defense to support the offense?

Patrick Ewing Needs to Prioritize His Defense (USA Today Images)

There’s no getting around it — for the last two seasons, Georgetown has finished second to last in the Big East in defensive efficiency. Entering his third season as head coach, Patrick Ewing is pushing the tempo at a moment’s notice, which has the effect of both easy baskets and countless turnovers. Behind a pair of electric freshman guards in James Akinjo and Mac McClung, the fun style led to numerous games where the Hoyas’ defense thwarted its offense. Ewing trotted out a starting lineup with three freshmen, so the natural fallback excuse is that its subpar defense was experience-driven, which brings us back to our key question: Will another year of experience result in a more consistent defense? Between versatile 6’7″ wings Josh LeBlanc and JaMorko Pickett and some strong-armed guards, Ewing has the personnel in place. His team’s uncertainty lies in the paint. Offensive-minded Jessie Govan (+0.07 PPP offense; -0.07 PPP defense, per HoopLens) graduated, only to be replaced by another defensively deficient center in NC State transfer Omer Yurtseven (+0.09 PPP offense; -0.09 PPP defense). Yurtseven has a slightly better shot-blocking and rebounding profile than his predecessor, but it’s unclear whether he can function as a ball-stopping center on defense. He is joined by a trio of 6’10” and 6’11” three-star freshmen, whose impact will be important but is still unknown. It wouldn’t take a great defense to put Georgetown into the NCAA Tournament picture this season, but a decent one is critical.

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Big East Key Questions: Butler & Creighton

Posted by Brad Cavallaro on October 22nd, 2019

Butler: Can the Bulldogs’ supporting cast take the necessary step forward to return to the NCAA Tournament?

Butler Seeks a Bounceback Year After a Disappointing 2018-19 Season (USA Today Images)

Despite finishing with a sub-.500 overall record and falling to a last place finish (tied) in the Big East standings, Butler was on the periphery of last year’s NCAA Tournament bubble until very late in the season. A mix of strong early wins, the tightly-clustered conference standings, and the star power of Kamar Baldwin kept them relevant, but the stark lack of a suitable supporting cast ultimately doomed Butler’s year.

The pressure will be on the supporting cast once again this season, as Paul Jorgenson, the Bulldogs’ second-leading scorer and second-best shooter, has graduated. Jordan Tucker is poised to step into a secondary scoring role with his 6’7″ size and beautiful three-point stroke (37% on 50 makes) — despite averaging an impressive 9.7 PPG last year, the sophomore was too inconsistent, scoring six points or fewer in nearly 30 percent of his games. Tucker will need to diversify his offensive game and improve his finishing at the rim to realize his immense potential.

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Maybe the Big East Really is Just Villanova and Everyone Else

Posted by Justin Kundrat on April 9th, 2019

It’s a painful narrative stemming from another painful season in the Big East. The conference as a whole battled all season long, collecting a number of impressive non-conference wins, amassing both longstanding and fleeting appearances in the Top 25, and ultimately achieving four NCAA Tournament bids. And yet again, come March, all that hard work failed to materialize. The best conference achievements might have been Xavier‘s run from 3-8 team to bubble team, the out-performance of Seton Hall and Creighton (picked eighth and ninth in the preseason poll, respectively), or DePaul‘s first postseason appearance since 2007 (it finished as the runner-up). But at the end of the day, the league’s attention disappeared as quickly as its several teams did from contention.

The Villanova East?

Given the exodus of talent from last offseason, most teams expected to struggle to adjust this year. But what hasn’t changed — not this year, last year, or the year before — is that the Big East continues to underwhelm in the NCAA Tournament. It’s a frustrating habit for conference supporters and it fuels the narratives that the league is no longer a top-tier conference, isn’t worth watching, is overrated, etc… So what gives? How many years will the non-Villanova Big East continue to languish in postseason play? And why is it even happening? There are a few schools of thought:

The first and most prominent is the sample size conundrum. The single elimination format of the NCAA Tournament allows for a wide variance in outcomes whereby a hot or cold shooting night, a few missed calls or a poor game plan will have an outsized effect on public perception of a team. The perfect example is last season’s Virginia club, which at 31-2 and an overall #1 seed, had one bad game at an inopportune time and received a shocking amount of criticism. Was it justified? Certainly not; a 33-game sample size greatly outweighs the one-game sample size of the NCAA Tournament. The same could be said for the postseason as it pertains to the Big East: single-game losses to equal or better teams should not outweigh the regular season as a barometer of success. But justly or not, it does, and it will continue to do so because the perceived point of the tournament in the first place is to crown the best team. One season might be a blip, but it remains perplexing that the Big East, aside from Villanova and an unexpected run by Xavier one year, has struggled for years.

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