Before the season began, many pundits thought that the carry-over members of the Big East would do the heavy lifting as the new league got its feet wet. CBSSports.com, for example, predicted Creighton to finish third, Xavier sixth, and Butler eighth. ESPN.com picked Creighton to finish atop the league, but had Butler sixth and Xavier eighth. As just one example, one writer said about the Bulldogs: “New head coach Brandon Miller is left with a depleted roster in a new conference… the roster as a whole certainly does not reflect an NCAA Tournament team.” It was an understandable position — after losing its fantastic head coach, two best players to graduation, and top returning player to injury, Butler had major question marks. As for Creighton, the Bluejays brought back one of the best players in the nation in Doug McDermott, but there were doubts about their step up in competition from the Missouri Valley Conference, especially on the defensive end. Xavier too returned a great player in Semaj Christon, but the rest of the team was a major unknown and coming off a disappointing 17-14 season by Musketeers’ standards.
Even though there were doubts and concerns from many of the experts, all three teams are making a case for an NCAA Tournament spot come March. Heading into the start of conference play on New Year’s Even, Creighton has only lost two games, back-to-back defeats to San Diego State and George Washington while at the Wooden Classic in Southern California. They have been very impressive otherwise, with the second-best adjusted offense according to Ken Pomeroy, and an improved, if not elite, defense (ranking 16 spots higher than last season at #64). McDermott, as expected, has been a strong NPOY candidate, and the rest of the team has shot the ball very well, making 44 percent of their threes (the third-best mark in the nation).