Big East men's basketball starts conference play with a doubleheader on Wednesday night. As such, we're going to take a look around the league to get caught up on how everyone's season has been going so far.
Next to each team's name is their record, followed by their current ranking on KenPom.com. The next three lines are their stat leaders in the most important traditional counting stats, along with their rank in the conference in parentheses. After that is each team's record against the KenPom top 50 and top 100. We wrap up each info dump section with each team's Best Win and Worst Loss, again according to the KenPom rankings. Make sense? Off we go then.....
Butler (11-1, #20)
AP Poll: #9
Points Leader: Kellen Dunham, 15.6 ppg (4th)
Rebounds Leader: Roosevelt Jones, 7.8 rpg (T-7th)
Assists Leader: Roosevelt Jones, 5.0 apg (3rd)
Top 50 Record: 2-1
Top 100 Record: 3-1
Best Win: vs #4 Purdue on a neutral court, 74-68
Only Loss: vs #11 Miami on a neutral court, 85-75
Truth be told, Butler scares the living hell out of me. Let me explain it this way: If I asked you to name Butler's players in order of "star level," or basically how important they are to the Bulldogs, Kellen Dunham and Roosevelt Jones are 1-2, and we can debate which is which, right? So that means Andrew Chrabascz isn't higher than 3rd, and if you want to argue about Kelan Martin or Tyler Lewis, I'll listen to that. And yet, somehow, as we sit here right now, Andrew Chrabascz has the fifth best Offensive Rating IN THE COUNTRY. This may have something to do with the fact that you could make an argument that he's the fifth best player on the team and thus he doesn't get the defensive attention, of course.
Right now, Butler has the 7th best Adjusted Offensive Rating in the country. I can't help but wonder how much this has to do with Butler's season opening win against The Citadel. The Bulldogs won that game 144-71, and while I know that part of "Adjusted" ratings is accounting for the fact that The Citadel is a bottom 50 team. In short, if you're good, you're SUPPOSED to obliterate The Citadel. With that said, 144 points in a game is up towards twice the number of points that you could score in a reasonably entertaining game, and at some level, Butler's points per possession of 1.50 in that game has to be tilting their rating at least a little bit, right?
Then again, they have two top 25 wins, both away from Hinkle Fieldhouse, so maybe not.
Creighton (9-4, #67)
Points Leader: Maurice Watson, Jr., 12.5 ppg
Rebounds Leader: Geoffrey Groselle, 6.9 rpg (14th)
Assists Leader: Maurice Watson, Jr., 6.4 apg (2nd)
Top 50 Record: 0-2
Top 100 Record: 0-3
Best Win: vs #137 Nebraska, 83-67
Worst Loss: at #192 Loyola-Chicago, 68-65
Welcome to Year 2 of the Post-Doug Era. The Jays are in the same spot they were a year ago at the end of non-conference play with a 9-4 record. The difference here is that they had two top 100 wins heading into league play last year, while this year's edition of Creighton has come up empty on three tries.
Creighton is getting big performances from two transfers that became eligible this season. Obviously, Creighton is benefiting from the presence of Maurice Watson. He spent two years at Boston University, where he was very good for the Terriers. Watson was top 20 in the country in assist rate both years in Boston, including being #2 in the country by recording just barely short of 50% of the assists while he was on the floor. That's dropped well back this season in Greg McDermott's system, but Watson's still great: His 36.4% assist rate is 31st in the country.
The other transfer is Cole Huff. The junior was at Nevada for two seasons and now he's just plugging stats into the Creighton scorebook. Huff's averaging 12 and 4 for the Jays, and he's shooting 38% from long range. He's only playing 21 minutes a game, which may be a combination of averaging four fouls per 40 minutes and only Isaiah Zierden cracking the 30 minute barrier for the Jays.
DePaul (6-6, #147)
Points Leader: Billy Garrett, 14.1 ppg (11th)
Rebounds Leader: Tommy Hamilton, 6.7 rpg (15th)
Assists Leader: Billy Garrett, 3.7 apg (T-8th)
Top 50 Record: 0-3
Top 100 Record: 1-5
Best Win: vs #58 George Washington, 82-61
Worst Loss: at #125 Penn State, 68-62
Congratulations, Blue Demons. You're not the joke of the Big East this season. Hell, even before that win over GW, DePaul wasn't the biggest glaring flaw in the diamond that is the Big East during this year's non-conference campaign.
While they're clearly not the biggest problem child in the conference, DePaul's still not very good. The win against George Washington is actually DePaul's only win over a top 165 team, turning it more into a "Stanford in 2014-15" type aberration on the schedule. Generally speaking, this does not bode well for the Blue Demons, as they're going to see almost nothing but top 100 teams for the reset of the season.
While Eli Cain is performing well as a freshman for the Blue Demons, the most interesting development on the roster under the guidance of Dave Leitao has been Aaron Simpson. The senior appears to be going out on a high note, posting a top 325 Offensive Rating. He's doing it largely on the basis of his shooting, as he's hitting 50% of his three point attempts. He's not doing it in a shy fashion, either, as he leads the Blue Demons in that category with 44. Even more impressively, Simpson has saved his most impressive performances for the top 100 teams on the schedule, going 18-31 (58%) in those games.
Georgetown (7-5, #74)
Points Leader: D`Vauntes Smith-Rivera, 15.0 ppg (5th)
Rebounds Leader: Bradley Hayes, 8.3 rpg (T-4th)
Assists Leader: D`Vauntes Smith-Rivera, 3.7 apg (T-8th)
Top 50 Record: 0-2
Top 100 Record: 3-3
Best Win: vs #53 Syracuse, 79-72
Worst Loss: vs #181 Radford, 82-80 (OT)
Believe it or not, Georgetown is not the dumpster fire that I was referring to in the DePaul segment. Sure, no one's excited that the Big East took two losses against the Big South as a result of the Hoyas dumping games against Radford and UNC-Asheville. Georgetown's still got enough on their resume to make us say, "Hey, they did a thing or two here." And no, I'm not just being a Georgetown apologist because they beat Wisconsin.
The biggest question I have is who stuck a quarter in Bradley Hayes? With 278 minutes played this season already, he's played twice as many minutes as in his first three seasons at Georgetown COMBINED. And he's really good! Top 100 Offensive Rebound Rate, top 40 Defensive Rebound Rate, top 160 Block Rate, and he's one of the 500 best shooters in the country on two point field goals! WHAT THE HELL, GUYS?
Now, he is a little foul prone, averaging 4.8 per 40 minutes, which might help explain why he's only playing 23 minutes a night. In fact, a glance at the Fouls Per 40 column on KenPom gives us a little bit of a clue as to why Georgetown might be struggling. They've got FOUR guys averaging more than five fouls per 40 minutes, and Hayes is just barely outside that marker. In fairness to the Hoyas, three of those guys are freshmen. Then again, you'd think that freshmen would have an easier time adjusting to the offensive freedom rules this season because, well, that's just how college basketball is played for them.
Marquette (10-2, #83)
Points Leader: Henry Ellenson, 16.8 ppg (2nd)
Rebounds Leader: Henry Ellenson, 9.8 rpg (2nd)
Assists Leader: Traci Carter, 4.9 apg (4th)
Top 50 Record: 0-0
Top 100 Record: 3-2
Best Win: vs #51 Arizona State on a neutral floor, 78-73 (OT)
Worst Loss: vs #100 Belmont, 83-80
Since Henry Ellenson verbally committed to play for Marquette, I've used the phrase "If Ellenson is The Light And The Truth" to summarize the top end expectations for the big man from Rice Lake.
Well, he is. He's *this close* to leading the Big East in both scoring and rebounding, and if he had a little bit more ball handling responsibility, I bet he could make a charge at leading in assists, too. He's just barely outside the top 15 in the league in that category right now.
Ellenson's unreal production (averaging 17/10/3/1/1) has tended to obscure some of the great things going on with the rest of the team. Did you realize that Luke Fischer is leading the team in offensive efficiency? Did you know that Marquette has three guys - Fischer, Haanif Cheatham, and Sandy Cohen - in the top 100 in the country in effective field goal percentage? Were you aware that Fischer is one of just two Big East players averaging more than two blocks per game? How about the fact that Traci Carter is fourth in the Big East in assists per game at 4.9? He's poised to be the first MU player to average five assists a game since Junior Cadougan was in his junior year.
Providence (12-1, #40)
AP Poll: #12
Points Leader: Ben Bentil, 18.8 ppg (1st)
Rebounds Leader: Ben Bentil, 8.0 rpg (6th)
Assists Leader: Kris Dunn, 7.3 apg (1st)
Top 50 Record: 1-1
Top 100 Record: 3-1
Best Win: vs #17 Arizona on a neutral court, 69-65
Only Loss: vs #8 Michigan State on a neutral court, 77-64
Using the old Kevin Jones Rule (if you lead in points and rebounds, you win the Big East Player of the Year award), who would have expected that the two leaders for POY at this point of the season would be Henry Ellenson and Ben Bentil? Hell, I could have spotted you "It's a guy from Marquette and a guy from Providence," and you *STILL* wouldn't have come up with Bentil. Now, part of the reason why Bentil is actually leading the team (and the league) in scoring is because that Kris Dunn missed two and a half games with an illness. Then again, Bentil threw up 32 against UMass, and that was with Dunn in the lineup.
Bentil's sudden explosion as a go-to guy for the Friars does a lot to explain their 12-1 record and #12 AP poll standing. It's also doing a world of good for Kris Dunn's national player of the year campaign. I know that sounds silly, but think about it this way: If Providence was going to be a team that struggled to make the NCAA tournament, you can come up with reasons to go with another player other than Dunn on a national level. Right now, it seems like the Friars are on track to coast into the tournament, so that boosts the attention on Dunn.
The Friars have been dealing with a number of issues this season that have led to only Rodney Bullock and Junior Lomomba starting in all 13 games. In fact, those two and Bentil are the only PC players to even appear in all 13 games. Right now, they're still waiting to see if Ryan Fazekas can get back on the court after a bout with mono. He's missed the last four games, but was shooting 47% from long range while starting in Providence's first nine games.
St. John's (7-6, #232)
Points Leader: Federico Mussini, 14.0 ppg (12th)
Rebounds Leader: Yankuba Sima, 7.0 rpg (13th)
Assists Leader: Federico Mussini, 2.7 apg
Top 50 Record: 0-3
Top 100 Record: 1-3
Best Win: vs #53 Syracuse, 84-72
Worst Loss: vs #166 NJIT, 83-74
Aaaaaaaaand here's the dumpster fire.
Sure, SJU's record is slightly better than DePaul's, by the nature of having played one more game than the Blue Demons. But the Red Storm are also counting that Maui win over Chaminade as a real win, so they're not REALLY 7-6.
I suppose part of the problem for the Johnnies is that they're not playing with the roster that they expected to have for this season. Marcus LoVett, their highest rated recruit, was declared ineligible for the season right before the campaign kicked off, so that's going to throw things for a loop for sure. The flip side of that is that the team has had nearly two months to figure out how to play without LoVett in the lineup, and yet their two worst losses of the season - Incarnate Word and NJIT, both at home - have come in the last three games.
I guess if you wanted to look at it from the perspective that this is what happens when a team is basically running out a roster that has no one returning from the previous season, including the head coach. On the flip side, St. John's was in the NCAA tournament just nine months ago and now finds themselves trying to figure out a way to not finish dead last in the Big East.
Seton Hall (10-2, #47)
Points Leader: Isaiah Whitehead, 14.8 ppg (T-6th)
Rebounds Leader: Angel Delgado, 10.1 rpg (1st)
Assists Leader: Isaiah Whitehead, 4.1 apg (7th)
Top 50 Record: 1-0
Top 100 Record: 3-1
Best Win: vs #36 Wichita State, 80-76 (OT)
Worst Loss: vs #141 Long Beach State on a neutral court, 80-77
Coming into the season, I would have pegged Kevin Willard as the coach in the Big East that was most in danger of losing his job at the end of the season. The Pirates have gone nine straight seasons without a NCAA tournament appearance, and after failing to finish above .500 in the Big East in any of his first five seasons, the odds seemed likely that this Willard campaign wasn't going to go any differently.
But here they are, 10-2, with a nice win against Wichita State propping up their resume right now. I was expecting a sophomore slump for Isaiah Whitehead, but that hasn't happened, even though Willard moved him to point guard for the season. He's acquitted himself nicely in that regard, pulling top 10 stat ranking in both points and assists. Angel Delgado has picked up right where he left off as Big East Freshman of the Year last season.
It should be noted, though, that Seton Hall was 10-2 last year heading into league play. They finished 16-15.
Villanova (10-2, #6)
AP Poll: #16
Points Leader: Josh Hart, 14.8 ppg (T-6th)
Rebounds Leader: Daniel Ochefu, 7.8 rpg (T-7th)
Assists Leader: Ryan Arcidiacono, 4.4 apg (5th)
Top 50 Record: 1-2
Top 100 Record: 4-2
Best Win: vs #46 Akron, 75-56
Worst Loss: at #3 Virginia, 86-75
I don't know if Nova head coach Jay Wright cares about these kinds of things, but if I were in his shoes, I'd be using the AP poll to motivate the team. The Wildcats are still in the top 10 on KenPom because that measurement is completely about efficiency, and is 12th in the country in both offensive and defensive efficiency. The only things they don't do well are grab defensive rebounds and get to the free throw line. Their only losses are to two teams currently in the AP poll top five and those two teams are #1 and #3 on KenPom.
And yet somehow the Wildcats are #16 according to the AP voters. You tell me how this makes any damn sense.
Villanova is winning in typical Villanova fashion: everyone doing a little bit of everything to make everyone's life easier. They've got four guys with usage rates over 20%, but no one's higher than 24%. Even what might be their most significant flaw - they only shoot 31% on three pointers - is balanced out by the third best two point shooting team in the country. The big question that I have, though, is why Villanova shoots so many three pointers if they're not any good at it. Only four teams in the country have an offense that's more reliant on three pointers.
Xavier (12-0, #7)
AP Poll: #6
Points Leader: Trevon Bluiett, 14.7 ppg (T-8th)
Rebounds Leader: James Farr, 8.7 rpg (3rd)
Assists Leader: Edmond Sumner, 3.3 apg (T-11th)
Top 50 Record: 4-0
Top 100 Record: 6-0
Best Win: at #33 Michigan, 86-70
Well, you can't very well have a worst loss of the season when you're undefeated through 12 games.
It's almost kind of unfair that the Musketeers have to open league play at Villanova. It's one of just two games in league play where the Musketeers aren't favored to win according to KenPom, with the other coming on their road trip to Butler in mid-February. It will be their most significant test of the season, and just their third road game of the campaign.
The Musketeers are winning with rebounding. They're 16th in the country in Offensive Rebounding Rate and 3rd best in the country at keeping their opponents away from their own missed shots. Those kinds of things will help you overcome an offense that, to be honest, isn't that great at shooting the ball. Xavier is only 111th in the country in Effective Field Goal percentage, and 8th in the Big East in overall field goal percentage, but when you get second chances like mad and have an elite ability to limit your opponent to one shot per possession, that kind of a flaw just kind of disappears.
The most surprising thing about Xavier is probably that they're doing this with a freshman point guard. Admittedly, Edmond Sumner is a redshirt freshman, so he spent all of last year standing across from Dee Davis in practice and got a high quality lesson in learning how these things are supposed to go for head coach Chris Mack. But to find ourselves in a position where we could at least make an argument that he's performing better than Davis due to the overall play of the team? Man, that's something else.