Big East Quick Thoughts

Drew Hallowell

Random thoughts about each team on the eve of the tournament.

With the Big East Tournament starting in New York, I thought I’d offer a brief take on all ten conference teams, completely off the top of my head and random.

Villanova – These guys are really good. They are clearly the best team in the conference. They are a legitimate threat to win the national title. They have one vulnerability, and that is they give up the three ball. Enter Creighton, which shoots the three ball decently well (okay, insanely greatly). Villanova went 16-0 against the rest of the conference, but got murdered twice by Creighton, by a combined 49 points. What does this mean going forward? Well, if the two teams meet again in the Big East, it will be interesting. More broadly, one could see a lower seed in the NCAAs getting hot from three and shocking the Wildcats. But of course, one could also see them winning the national title.

They lose only James Bell next year, and with projected improvements from sophomores Daniel Ochefu and Dylan Ennis, as well as freshmen Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins, this team should be an absolute beast again next season.

Creighton – The Bluejays have the best offense in the country. They don’t turn the ball over and shoot the lights out from all over the floor, particularly from threes. Doug McDermott is awesome, and a totally deserving National Player of the Year. I will say that while they can beat anybody, it’s harder to see them stringing together a Final Four run because their defense is terrible.

On a side note, Ethan Wragge is ridiculous. I’ve heard of three point specialists, but I’ve never seen anything like this. Wragge has shot 201 three pointers this year, at a 47.8% clip. He has shot seven two pointers. Seven. Exactly two of them came in conference play (a make against Seton Hall, a miss against Xavier). I doubt we’ll ever see such an extreme player again.

Creighton’s future is also iffy. McDermott is gone after this year, and he’s a once in a lifetime player whose type won’t be coming around Omaha again anytime soon. The Bluejays also lose three other starters: Wragge, Jahenns Manigat, and Grant Gibbs. Expect a big step back from Creighton next year. In fact, with his son graduating and his team peaking, I can’t help but wonder if Coach Greg McDermott won’t be seeking a higher profile job for next year, though I don’t know if he’d be too in demand after previously washing out at Iowa State.

Xaiver – The Musketeers have been seemingly just short of being an NCAA lock for months now, and that seems to be the consensus opinion of them now. If they can get by Marquette on Thursday that would probably be enough to lock them in for good. It’s been a weird season for Xavier. They had good wins over Tennessee and Cincinnati but mixed in an awful trip to the Bahamas, which featured three losses including one to a dreadful USC team. They were generally pretty consistent in conference play, but managed two losses to Seton Hall. They seem capable of almost any result. Still, the season has been mostly a return to form for the consistently strong Xavier program after an off year last season, and that is welcome news for the conference.

Xavier loses only one easily replaceable senior, Isaiah Philmore. Expect an improved Xavier team next year that contends for second place behind Villanova.

Providence – Is it just me, or has Providence been sitting right on the NCAA cut line for two months? The Friars have all the makings of a mediocre resume. Slightly above .500 conference record? Check. No useful out of conference wins? Check. No big road wins? Check. No truly bad losses? Check.

All this combines to make Providence as blah as can be. Still, blah is a big improvement for the Friars. I hope they make the tournament, if for no other reason than to give Bryce Cotton a national stage. Cotton has been amazing, performing terrifically while almost never sitting down (literally, he averages over 40 minutes a game, and in conference play has sat a total of six minutes in three blowouts against Villanova, DePaul and Creighton).

Next year will be pivotal for Ed Cooley’s team. Cotton will leave, along with Kadeem Batts. Cooley has consistently brought in touted recruiting classes but had trouble keeping them eligible. Still, the team has improved, though it’s hard to see that continuing next year. The nascent Big East could really use Providence to be more than the vortex of suck it had been for the past decade.

St. John’s – Speaking of coaches whose reputation peaks on signing day, we have Steve Lavin. It seems like every year the Red Storm is supposed to break out behind awesome talent, but they never do. The fact remains Lavin has only really won at St. John’s with Norm Roberts’s seniors. The Red Storm may have the best athletes in the conference, and it shows with one of the nation’s best defensive team that leads the nation in blocked shots. But they can’t put the ball in the basket. They did break out down the stretch, going 10-3 and nearly winning at Villanova. But this came after a 0-5 start in the conference and a non-conference schedule where the only halfway decent win was over San Francisco. The quarterfinal game with Providence is definitely a eliminator. The loser will be headed to the NIT. I think the Johnnies will win it, and they are my sleeper pick to make a run in this tournament, aided by home court advantage.

St. John’s loses nobody of vital importance next year, though they do lose the conference’s best name in God’sgift Achiuwa. They should be a solid tournament team next year.

Marquette – Buzz Williams’s sideline histrionics seem much too involved for the NIT. But, that’s exactly where the Golden Eagles are headed barring a run to the automatic bid this week. What happened to the preseason favorites? It’s hard to tell. They aren’t particularly good at any one thing. They are particularly bad at shooting the ball, which is odd considering they have one of the most efficient offensive players in the nation in Davante Gardner. I love Gardner as a player, and I take my hat off to him for getting in better shape over the course of his career. He’s really everything Georgetown hopes Josh Smith can be.

Marquette also tried to play a tough schedule but it didn’t work out. They lost to Ohio St., Arizona St., San Diego St., Wisconsin, and New Mexico. Their only out of conference win of note was over George Washington. They also played some especially low dregs, four teams below 300 in the Pomeroy rankings.

Marquette will take some serious losses next year, with Garnder, Chris Otule, Jamil Wilson, and Jake Thomas leaving. Thus, it’s hard to see Marquette bouncing back to the top of the standings next year. But, Williams’s track record is too good to expect Marquette to wallow in mediocrity for very long.

Georgetown – Here’s the oddest thing in a very odd year for Georgetown. Their NCAA resume takes a huge ding with their loss to Northeastern in the tournament in Puerto Rico. But, had they not lost that game they wouldn’t have gotten their resume building wins over Kansas St. and Michigan St. They would have gotten a no upside game with Charlotte followed presumably by a game with Michigan they probably would have lost. In other words, they may be better off with that loss to the Pomeroy number 200.

The Hoyas have been hurt badly by the injury and later expulsion of Greg Whittington and the academic foibles of Josh Smith. Credit to John Thompson III though, unlike Jim Boeheim the Hoyas will sit players who don’t make the grade or otherwise screw up. The team that is left has been wildly inconsistent. They have the best wins of any bubble team, but a losing conference record, terrible road performances, and some ugly losses. The midseason loss of Jabril Trawick for five games hurt the team badly. With him, they probably beat Marquette and Seton Hall at home and make the tournament easily.

The Hoyas lose Markel Starks next year, but have a prized recruiting class coming in. Next year may be another struggle, but the Hoyas are primed to return to prominence in 2016.

Seton Hall – The Pirates have been just good enough this year to cause major problems. They have beaten Georgetown and Xavier twice and won at Providence. Had those results gone the other way, I think those three teams would be comfortably in the tournament at this point. Seton Hall was this year what they seemingly always are, a bad team that isn’t terrible.

Fuquan Edwin, Gene Teague, and Brian Oliver graduate after this season. It looks like more of the same for the Pirates going forward.

Butler – The Bulldogs pose one of the more interesting questions for the future of the Big East. Are they going to be better than this? They were brought into the conference on the heels of their two appearances in the National Championship Game in the previous three years. Now, one wonders if they will be able to handle the increased competition, particularly with the departure of wunderkind coach Brad Stevens. The Catholic Seven schools brought along enough of their own bottom heavy detritus to the conference. We can’t afford for any of the new schools to be terrible too. Unfortunately, there is no good reason to think Butler will be any better next year.

DePaul – Lord, what a mess. It’s hard to believe that in 2007, DePaul actually finished 9-7 and eighth out sixteen in the Big East. In the seven years since they are 16-110 in the conference. Cutting out their 6-12 record in 2008, they are 10-98 in the last six years, finishing dead last on each occasion. Their 3-15 record this year was their best performance since 2008. Even the Houston Astros laugh at DePaul.

I love Billy Garrett, but it seems doubtful that the Blue Demons will get their act together soon. Despite everything, I’m a defender of Oliver Purnell. There are some systemic problems here, mainly close to zero fan support, which probably has to do with an old arena that is nowhere near DePaul’s campus. This may be straightened out by the end of the decade, but until it does I wouldn’t expect much out of the Blue Demons. It’s really too bad, because the Big East could use a good team in Chicago.

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