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2017-18 Big East Men’s Basketball: Where Are We Now?

With conference play starting up, let’s see what everyone’s been doing this season.

NCAA Basketball: Hall of Fame Classic-Baylor at Creighton
Billy Bluejay seems like a happy fellow.
Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Can you believe that Big East play begins for men’s basketball on Wednesday? It’s coming up quick!

As such, it’s time to take a spin around the league and see what everyone has been up to so far this season. There’s been some good wins, there’s been some great wins, and I think that there have been absolutely zero bad losses. That’s pretty great!

For each team, we’ll give you a little stat blurb, including their overall record, their current rank in the RPI, and their current rank according to KenPom.com. We’ll also highlight their scoring, rebounding, and assists leader and, where appropriate, mark where they rank in the top 10 in the Big East. The blurbs wrap up with each team’s best win and worst loss of the season in terms of the KenPom rank of the opponent.

We’ll also chat about each team along the way to one degree or another, but I don’t think that you really need that part explained to you all that much. Left to right, top to bottom, words and phrases join together to make sentences.

Here we go!

Butler Bulldogs (10-3)

RPI: #38
KenPom: #44
Points Leader: Kelan Martin, 17.9 ppg (T-8th)
Rebounds Leader: Kelan Martin, 7.2 rpg (7th)
Assists Leader: Aaron Thompson, 3.9 apg (T-8th)
Best Win: vs #45 Ohio State on a neutral floor, 67-66 (OT)
Worst Loss: at #34 Maryland, 79-65

The biggest question mark coming into the season back in November was Butler, and I don’t think that the Bulldogs have wiped that away quite yet. No one really knew quite what to make of the team given that LaVall Jordan took over in the middle of the summer after just one previous season of experience as a head coach. With that said, there’s nothing on this slate that would look out of place if Chris Holtmann was still the coach. Lost at Maryland? Whatever. Lost in Portland at the PK80 tournament to Texas? Whatever. Lost at Bankers Life to a very good Purdue team? Whatever. Those are all games that the Holtmann Bulldogs could have dropped.

Those are also their only three losses of the season. Now, there’s not a lot elsewhere to be super excited about. They had to rally from down 54-39 with four minutes left to force overtime and eventually beat Ohio State.... and you can’t help but wonder if Chris Holtmann just lost his nerve to beat his old team in that one. The home win over Utah is nice, I guess, but that’s a middle of the road Pac-12 team that probably was kind of expecting to have Kyle Kuzma back again when recruiting for this year. The rest of their slate has mostly just been unremarkable buy games. To hammer home the “well, I dunno” factor on the Dawgs, they’re projected to go 9-9 in the Big East. We’ll get an idea of what their deal is pretty quick, as after they open with Georgetown, they go Villanova/Xavier/Seton Hall/Creighton in a row. That’s a rough stretch to kick things off, even if Jordan was an experienced coach.

Creighton Bluejays (10-2)

AP Poll: #25
RPI: #57
KenPom: #29
Points Leader: Marcus Foster, 19.5 ppg (5th)
Rebounds Leader: Martin Krampelj, 7.6 rpg (5th)
Assists Leader: Khyri Thomas, 2.7 apg
Best Win: vs #51 UCLA on a neutral floor, 100-89
Worst Loss: vs #27 Baylor on a neutral floor, 65-59

As I said on The Real Chilly Podcast, Creighton is the team I was most wrong about in the preseason in a positive direction. I had the Jays pegged for a back half of the league finish. They went in the tank badly last season after Maurice Watson got hurt, and then Justin Patton bounced for the NBA. I figured it was going to be rough sledding for Greg McDermott’s squad.... and yet here they are ranked in the top 25.

The thing that fascinates me the most is how Creighton is compensating for not having a superb point guard like Watson this year. When they lost him for the season to a knee injury last year, the Bluejays went 5-7 down the stretch, and the five wins weren’t exactly priming them with hope. It was a valid question to wonder who was going to provide them with the playmaking skills that Watson had.... and it turns out that the answer is no one and everyone. As you can see, they’ve gone from having a guy leading the country in assists per game at 8.5 to their best guy capping out with fewer than three per game, and this is with KenPom’s 22nd fastest team in the country. While no one player is dominating like Watson, there are six different Jays averaging between two and three assists per game. They’re going to sling it all over the court and I don’t know if you can track this kind of thing, but that has to make them one of the most unselfish teams in the country.

We do have to ask if the Jays are as good as we think they are, though. Their two best wins on the year are against Northwestern and UCLA, and neither of those teams is as good as anyone thought they were in the preseason. Then again, Creighton isn’t the second best two-point shooting team in the country on accident, either.

DePaul Blue Demons (7-5)

RPI: #208
KenPom: #107
Points Leader: Max Strus, 17.3 ppg (T-10th)
Rebounds Leader: Tre’Darius McCallum, 5.8 ppg
Assists Leader: Eli Cain, 3.7 apg (10th)
Best Win: at #214 Illinois-Chicago, 65-55
Worst Loss: at #87 Illinois, 82-73

Is..... is this a respectable DePaul team? I mean, no one’s going to be excited about that 7-5 record, but all of their losses are in the top 90 of KenPom, and only the Illinois game is outside the top 60. That’s fine. It’s not going to get them to the postseason, but it’s not a “hey, we lost at home to Illinois-Chicago, our bad” dumpster fire like last season.

I haven’t watched a ton of DePaul this season (it’s DePaul, who’s blaming me here), but it seems like Max Strus has to be just a nightmare to coach. I mean, yeah, he’s shooting 35% from three, which is mostly fine, but he’s averaging a shot every two and a half minutes while leading the team in shots. He’s posted games of 3-of-12, 0-of-5, 3-of-11, and 3-of-12 from distance this season. SHOCKER: DePaul is 1-3 in those games. This may bear paying attention to, as the former Division 2 player is shooting just 21% on three-pointers in DePaul’s three games against adjusted top 50 opponents according to KenPom. Not to panic you or anything, but 11 of DePaul’s Big East games are against adjusted top 50 teams. That’s, uh, potentially very very bad for Dave Leitao, but very good news for his gastroenterologist and cardiologist.

Georgetown Hoyas (10-1)

RPI: #217
KenPom: #96
Points Leader: Jessie Govan, 19.0 ppg (6th)
Rebounds Leader: Jessie Govan, 12.1 rpg (1st)
Assists Leader: Jonathan Mulmore, 4.5 apg (5th)
Best Win: vs #228 North Texas, 75-63
Only Loss: vs #53 Syracuse, 86-79 (OT)

Hooray for Jessie Govan and his double-double average.

Here’s a question for first year head coach Patrick Ewing, though: When is he going to tell Govan to stop shooting threes? Sure, the junior from New York is shooting 44% on the season.... but he was also shooting 64% before he missed his last five attempts. Sure, it’s not a big deal for the big dude to step out and shoot it here and there, but after six or seven dozen more misses in a row, Ewing has to step in there and be the bad guy.

I don’t really have anything else to say about the Hoyas. They lost their only real game of the season by coughing away a 13 point lead with 11 minutes left before losing in overtime, and that game was at home in front of a huge crowd. They struggled against North Carolina A&T and played a competitive game with North Texas for 30 minutes. Seven of their next eight games (sorry, DePaul) are against tougher competition than anything they did in the non-con slate. There’s a 0.2% chance they go winless in Big East play. I hope Marquette shreds them by 70 on Saturday.

Marquette Golden Eagles (9-3)

RPI: #66
KenPom: #49
Points Leader: Markus Howard, 21.8 ppg (1st)
Rebounds Leader: Sam Hauser, 5.3 rpg
Assists Leader: Andrew Rowsey, 4.5 apg (6th)
Best Win: at #63 Wisconsin, 82-63
Worst Loss: vs #62 Georgia, 73-66

I think it’s kind of fun that each of of the Trey Amigos is leading Marquette in one of the three stat categories that we listed here. FUN FACT: Andrew Rowsey is the second leading scorer in the league.

I think we still don’t really know what to make of Marquette at this point of the season. We saw 10 games without Harry Froling, and the Golden Eagles were.... well, fine, I guess. They didn’t get any big wins, and they seemed to play up or down to the level of their opponent. Their first game with Froling was a “play down to opponent” game, and we didn’t get much of the big Aussie as a result. MU’s final non-conference game might have been their most complete performance as a team from all angles, but it was against the second worst opponent on their schedule this season.

There’s a reason why KenPom and T-Rank are both projecting the Golden Eagles to go 8-10 in league play. There’s also reasons to believe that this team is capable of winning 12 games in league play and easily coasting into the NCAA tournament in March. We’ll have to see what happens.

Providence Friars (9-4)

RPI: #52
KenPom: #64
Points Leader: Rodney Bullock, 16.8 ppg
Rebounds Leader: Rodney Bullock, 6.7 rpg (9th)
Assists Leader: Kyron Cartwright, 5.7 apg (2nd)
Best Win: vs #86 Boston College, 86-66
Worst Loss: at #151 Massachusetts, 72-63

The Friars are the inverse Creighton of the season for me. Just like with Creighton, I pointed out on The Real Chilly Podcast that I thought I had a read on where Providence was going this season — very good, dark horse for the Big East title — and that has not panned out in the slightest. Now, part of this may have something to do with Emmitt Holt being lost for the season to an undisclosed medical reason. The New York native started most of PC’s games last season and played 66% of the possible minutes. They’re getting none of that this season, but Holt wasn’t supposed to be one of the two most important players on the team, and you could make an argument against the top three.

So what’s wrong with the Friars? Honestly? Nothing. Their Four Factors stats are roughly the same, trading a little bit better offensive rebounding for a little worse defensive rebounding. They’re kind of in the same situation as Marquette, where they lost their three biggest games of the year: Minnesota, at Rhode Island, and Houston on a neutral floor. Rhody is the worst of those three teams, and that game was in the Rams’ building. The big question mark is how and/or why they lost to Massachusetts. PC led 51-46 with less than 10 minutes to play.... and then lost by nine because they forgot to score for over four minutes. Losing to the Atlantic 10 favorite on the road? Fine. Losing to a middling A-10 team on the road? I have questions, and I don’t know if Ed Cooley has answers.

St. John’s Red Storm (10-2)

RPI: #19
KenPom: #47
Points Leader: Shamorie Ponds, 20.4 ppg (3rd)
Rebounds Leader: Justin Simon, 8.2 rpg (3rd)
Assists Leader: Shamorie Ponds, 4.8 apg (4th)
Best Win: vs #83 UCF on a neutral-ish floor, 46-43
Worst Loss: vs #54 Missouri on a neutral floor, 90-82

Marcus LoVett hasn’t played since November 26th, which was the awful UCF game. The Johnnies are 4-1 without him, and three of the games (2-1) came away from the welcoming confines of New York City. The loss without LoVett came in a competitive contest against an Arizona State team that’s burning up the charts, so that one still could have been an L even with him.

So far this season, St. John’s has been a borderline absurd defensive team, ranking #11 on KenPom in adjusted Defensive Efficiency. There’s been two factors for that. First, they’re blocking a ton of shots, with only Michigan State and Syracuse swatting more of their opponents’ shots this season. That’s led to incredibly low shooting stats for the SJU opponents, but that’s only one half of the riddle here. The other half is the fact that St. John’s doesn’t actually let you shoot it all that much. Only Stephen F. Austin and West Virginia force turnovers more often, and those two teams straight up take it away from you. St. John’s is #3 in turnover rate via KenPom, but only 10th in steal rate. They’re forcing YOU to make a dumb mistake as opposed to ripping it away from you. Crafty.

One final thing here: Did you realize that KenPom has Shamorie Ponds as the 8th best player in the country right now? Yup. Top 100 in minutes, possessions, shots, assist rate, and steal rate, too.

Seton Hall Pirates (11-2)

AP Poll: #23
RPI: #14
KenPom: #21
Points Leader: Desi Rodriguez, 17.9 ppg (T-8th)
Rebounds Leader: Angel Delgado, 11.3 rpg (2nd)
Assists Leader: Khadeen Carrington, 3.9 apg (T-8th)
Best Win: vs #11 Texas Tech on a neutral-ish floor, 89-79
Worst Loss: at #99 Rutgers, 71-65

Quick show of hands: Who had Desi Rodriguez as the Pirates’ scoring leader through 13 games? If I had given you three tries to guess, would he have been one of your three? The really wild part? Myles Powell is the #2 scorer, and I did not see that one coming, either. Don’t worry, Angel Delgado is still doing Angel Delgado things and averaging a double-double, and Khadeen Carrington is still capable of pouring it in when SHU needs a bucket.

Much like Providence, I’m not terribly worried about Seton Hall’s loss to Rhode Island. The Rams are good, and this one was at Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Oh well. The loss at Rutgers, though..... Well, okay, look. Steve Pikiell might have the Scarlet Knights pointed in a solid direction, although the overtime loss to Stony Brook is a problem. Maybe they hold it together in Big Ten play, and the loss ends up looking fine. It was on the road, after all. The problem with losing that game is that Seton Hall was up 63-54 with six minutes left, and then they missed their final eight field goal attempts of the game and committed four turnovers. Outside of maybe the final turnover (Rutgers was already up four), changing the outcome of any of those may have radically altered the result of the game. Yet Kevin Willard and his squad couldn’t get it done.

Oh, one last thing: Ismael Sanogo has been suspended, and Willard sounds awfully pissed off about it.

Villanova Wildcats (12-0)

AP Poll: #1
RPI: #5
KenPom: #1
Points Leader: Jalen Brunson, 18.1 ppg (7th)
Rebounds Leader: Omari Spellman, 7.8 rpg (4th)
Assists Leader: Jalen Brunson, 5.0 apg (3rd)
Best Win: vs #13 Gonzaga on a neutral floor, 88-72

Past Me: I dunno, no Josh Hart and no Kris Jenkins? I’m still picking them to win the league, but I can see how they might stumble this season.

Current Me: Boy, is that guy an idiot.

In Past Me’s defense, he didn’t know that Mikal Bridges had discovered the God Mode cheat code to his basketball abilities, and it’s unfair to blame Past Me for Bridges blowing the roof off of what we thought he was capable of doing.

Villanova basketball has become a machine with borderline interchangeable parts, as they have five players using somewhere between 20 and 23 percent of the possessions according to KenPom. Four of them (get your 1-for-23 three-point shooting act together, Eric Paschall) are ranked somewhere in the top 400 in both effective field goal percentage and true shooting percentage. You need a block? Someone’s going to get it. Need a steal? Don’t worry. Gotta get a rebound? Well, only Omari Spellman is really doing a number on the glass, but everyone’s contributing.

The closest they’ve come to a loss all season was either trailing by 12 at the half against Tennessee, or down one with five minutes left against La Salle. They won both games by nine, so that’ll tell you a whole hell of a lot about their mental fortitude.

Xavier Musketeers (12-1)

AP Poll: #6
RPI: #2
KenPom: #16
Points Leader: Trevon Bluiett, 19.8 ppg (4th)
Rebounds Leader: Tyrique Jones, 6.0 rpg
Assists Leader: Quentin Goodin, 6.1 apg (1st)
Best Win: vs #10 Cincinnati, 89-76
Only Loss: vs #20 Arizona State on a neutral floor, 102-86

You have to admit that it’s a little bit odd that Xavier’s best win and only loss of the season both came in games that were essentially not competitive. The Musketeers blitzed the Bearcats for a 21-5 start and never looked back, meanwhile the Sun Devils dusted XU after halftime, especially as the game went into its end stages.

In a weird sort of way, the best thing to happen to this year’s Xavier squad was losing Edmond Sumner with 10 Big East games left to play last year. It ended up giving them 17 games of playing without the ultra-talented point guard, and that ended up giving then-freshman Quentin Goodin all kinds of time to acclimate to the demands that head coach Chris Mack was going to put on him this season

Their late season six game skid last year wasn’t really a result of losing Sumner, it was a result of Trevon Bluiett getting hurt, too. Once he got himself right, the Musketeers played their way into the conference tournament semifinals and then advanced all the way to the Elite Eight. What we’re seeing this year is just an extension of Xavier getting themselves right in March last season.