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

Let’s take a spin through the league with league play getting started this weekend!

Big East Men’s Basketball Tournament Semifinal-Georgetown v Seton Hall Photo by Porter Binks/Getty Images

HEY! It’s Thursday. Big East men’s basketball starts league play TOMORROW.

We should probably take a spin around the league, huh?

There’s a lot to read further down the page, so let’s make it quick. Below, you’ll see a capsule for each team telling you their stats leaders, and then their various rankings in the various metrics. You’ll also see a Best Win and a Worst/Only Loss line, and for the record: Those are determined by the NET, since the NCAA has that up and running already at this point of the season.

Okay, let’s just dive right in, going in alphabetical order..........

Butler Bulldogs (7-3)

Points Leader: Chuck Harris, 11.6 ppg
Rebounds Leader: Bryce Nze, 5.5 rpg
Assists Leader: Aaron Thompson, 4.6 apg
KenPom Ranking: #86
T-Rank Ranking: #126
NET Ranking: #133
Best Win: at #35 Oklahoma, 66-62 in overtime
Worst Loss: vs #70 Texas A&M on a neutral floor, 57-50

Well, the easiest way into talking about Butler so far this season is talking about Bryce Nze leading the team in rebounding. Officially, that’s true. Ty Groce is second on the team at 4.4. However, Nze only played in Butler’s first four games of the season, and only seven minutes of the fourth one to boot before suffering a partial tear of his left labrum. He hasn’t played since, but also wasn’t ruled out for the rest of the season.

That’s the story of Butler basketball this season: Injuries. Only two guys — Bryce Golden and Jayden Taylor — have started all 10 games, and Jair Bolden is the only other guy to have played in all 10 games. Impressively, even with four guys only missing one game to this point, head coach LaVall Jordan has only used four different starting lineups.

Still, it’s impossible to say that we’ve seen what Butler expected themselves to look like during this campaign. Much was made out of all five of Butler’s seniors electing to come back for one more season together, but they have yet to all play in one game together. Most of that, though, has to do with the fact that Bo Hodges hasn’t played at all due to a tibial plateau fracture suffered in late August. Still, the closest that they’ve come to getting the other four on the court together was the opening seven minutes of the game against Michigan State when Aaron Thompson, Bryce Golden, and Bryce Nze all started. That’s the game when Nze got hurt, and the other returning senior, Christian David, did not play at all in that one.

Even past the seniors, Butler hasn’t had everyone available, as Myles Tate only made his season debut last time out against Eastern Illinois. He played four whole minutes as he played in his first game after suffering an ACL injury during the Big East tournament in March. I’m not trying to tell you that Tate is a major game changer here, but if you can get a guy who gave you 25 minutes a game last year as a freshman back in the lineup to help bolster things overall, that’s good news.

The point of all of this is that Butler has been more of a M*A*S*H unit this season than a basketball team.... but they also haven’t taken a bad loss. Heck, they might be one up on what they would have been with everyone available given their road overtime win over Oklahoma. Still, we don’t know what Butler is going to look like as the season goes on, and they’re 1-3 against teams in the KenPom top 250.... with another one against Purdue coming up on Saturday before they start Big East action. I’d say there’s reason for optimism if they can get everything going in the right direction..... but until they get everyone on the court, this might not be a very fun league slate for the Bulldogs.

Connecticut Huskies (9-2)

Points Leader: R.J. Cole, 16.0 ppg
Rebounds Leader: Tyrese Martin, 7.7 rpg
Assists Leader: R.J. Cole, 4.2 apg
AP Poll Ranking: #20
KenPom Ranking: #22
T-Rank Ranking: #22
NET Ranking: #14
Best Win: vs #11 Auburn on a neutral floor, 115-109 in overtime
Worst Loss: at #56 West Virginia, 56-53

And then there’s the Huskies, who haven the same “only two guys have started every game” problem that Butler has. The difference here is that UConn picked up wins over Auburn and VCU and St. Bonaventure to go along with the preseason outlook of “hey, they’re going to be pretty good” and that’s how they’ve ended up in the AP top 25 all season. Their losses so far have been squeakers against Michigan State and West Virginia on a neutral and road court respectively, and there’s nothing wrong with those two losses, that’s for sure.

What’s been getting UConn through this situation where their starting five hasn’t been very stable is the fact that they do have five guys who have played in every game. When you know you can get 20-ish bench minutes from guys like Jalen Gaffney and Tyler Polley, it tends to make everything else go smoothly.

UConn’s biggest obstacle as Big East play gets going is the availability of Adama Sanogo and Tyrese Martin. Sanogo has missed Connecticut’s last three games with an abdominal strain, while Martin has been out for the last four games with a fractured wrist. Martin might be out until after the first of the year, and Sanogo’s outlook is more murky than that. The pair combined for over 28 points, 14 rebounds, and nearly three assists per game when they were in the lineup, so that’s a lot of production that they’re missing right now. Dan Hurley showed the ability to staple together a competitive lineup when they were without James Bouknight last season (4-4, no awful losses), so it seems safe to expect the same here.

Still, if Sanogo and Martin are going to miss extended time, that could be the difference between “competing for the Big East title” as was expected of Connecticut this year and “is an obvious NCAA tournament team.” There’s worse things in life than having your ceiling suddenly limited to “still probably a single digit NCAA team at worst,” but that might be something of a bummer for the Huskies if that’s how it plays out.

Creighton Bluejays (9-3)

Points Leader: Ryan Hawkins, 13.7 ppg
Rebounds Leader: Ryan Hawkins, 6.8 rpg
Assists Leader: Ryan Nembhard, 4.9 apg
KenPom Ranking: #63
T-Rank Ranking: #72
NET Ranking: #81
Best Win: vs #27 BYU on a neutral floor, 83-71
Worst Loss: vs #151 Arizona State, 58-57

Well, I for one am very excited that I didn’t get a chance to get this published and out the door by Tuesday morning. On Tuesday night, the Bluejays lit their season on fire with a 58-57 loss to an Arizona State team that had already suffered not only a home loss to UC Riverside but also a — and this is not a joke — 51-29 loss to Washington State.

What’s the worst part about this loss for Creighton? The fact that they gave up a 12-2 run in the middle of the second half and had to chase down the Sun Devils the rest of the way and fell short? Falling 20 spots in the NET as a result? Posting their third sub-100 points per 100 possessions offensive output of the season, something you would think would never happen to a Greg McDermott coached offense, much less this early in the year? Or is it the fact that this game came just days after the Bluejays went out to South Dakota and absolutely smacked around a ranked BYU team and made everybody stand up and say “hey, wait, is Creighton good?”

Yeah, that’s out the door, that’s for sure.

If the current state of things hold, this Creighton offense (#74 in the country per KenPom) will be the worst one Greg McDermott has coached at Creighton. He’s only had two sub-50 offenses. One was in his first season, and the other was in CU’s first year without Doug McDermott which qualifies as a “we didn’t get a recruiting ramp up to join the Big East” season. In other words, there were reasons for those two, but not much of a story for this one other than “hoooooboy are they reliant on newcomers.” Sure, maybe they figure it out and get better as they go, that’s definitely possible.... but playing nine KenPom top 80 defenses twice each over the next few months probably isn’t going to help.

In the preseason preview, I opined that there was “a very real chance that Creighton is going to be god awful this season.” It would seem that the best path to possible success for them this year would have been if the five freshmen, aka the five highest ranked Creighton recruits this century, all took up major roles because there was nearly nothing coming back from last year’s team that went to the Sweet 16. That has, broadly speaking, not happened. Yes, Ryan Nembhard and Arthur Kaluma are both starting and playing over 23 minutes a night. They both also have a turnover rate north of 25%. One in four chance a possession credited to them ends up going the other way. Seems bad. Mason Miller? Hasn’t played a minute. Trey Alexander? Appeared in every game, averages over 21 minutes a night, 4.2 points, 3.0 rebounds, 1.5 assists. A Guy, at best. Rati Andronikashvili, the #77 prospect from the 2020 class that missed all of last season with a knee injury? Playing less than 10 minutes a game on average, but that’s mostly due to essentially being held out of Creighton’s first six games. Still, since he’s gotten into games regularly, 2.6 points and 1.8 assists isn’t much to speak of.

It’s possible that the Arizona State game is an aberration for the Bluejays. But the BYU game was their only top 100 KenPom win in three tries.... and now they’re going to do (almost) nothing but play top 100 teams the rest of the season. I’ve got a bad feeling about this.

DePaul Blue Demons (9-1)

Points Leader: Javon Freeman-Liberty, 20.9 ppg
Rebounds Leader: Javon Freeman-Liberty & David Jones, 8.3 rpg
Assists Leader: Javon Freeman-Liberty, 3.9 apg
KenPom Ranking: #89
T-Rank Ranking: #87
NET Ranking: #52
Best Win: at #64 Louisville, 62-55
Only Loss: vs #16 Loyola Chicago, 68-64

Credit where credit is due: DePaul is off to a very good start in terms of wins and losses under new head coach Tony Stubblefield. That’s not something we can say about a lot of DePaul teams over the years, so good for them.

HOWEVER.

The last time DePaul played a normal non-conference schedule, they started off the year 12-1. Then they went 3-15 in Big East play. In other words, we’ve seen this movie before. Heck, that DePaul start was actually more impressive because it contained wins over three top 50 KenPom teams. They looked like a for real team, and then absolutely self-destructed against teams that had seen Dave Leitao’s entire deal before.

This year? DePaul is 1-1 against KenPom top 100 teams, although they would be 2-1 if Rutgers got their act together a little bit. DePaul has stacked wins against competition that they should have beaten. I’m all for praising a team that deserves the praise, but DePaul needs to get through about a month’s worth of Big East play before I start taking them seriously.

Georgetown Hoyas (6-4)

Points Leader: Aminu Mohammed, 15.1 ppg
Rebounds Leader: Aminu Mohammed, 8.7 rpg
Assists Leader: Dante Harris, 5.1 apg
KenPom Ranking: #111
T-Rank Ranking: #167
NET Ranking: #166
Best Win: vs #120 Syracuse, 79-75
Worst Loss: vs #248 Dartmouth, 69-60

Congratulations to the Hoyas on recording the only truly bad loss in the entire Big East. They lost to an Ivy League team at home, and not just any Ivy team, but one of three Ivy teams outside the top 200. They also have a neutral court loss to a Saint Joseph’s team that’s going nowhere fast this season as well as a South Carolina squad that very well could get head coach Frank Martin fired by the end of the year. Blech.

In fairness to Patrick Ewing and his team, I have to acknowledge that they did record their best win of the year just recently. Then again, GU’s “best win” is the only one in the Big East outside the top 70, so it’s a mixed blessing at best.

Georgetown has many and varied problems, as you can probably imagine, but their tempo and three-point attempt rates are probably amongst the biggest ones. Playing fast is itself not a problem, that’s just a choice. But the Hoyas are playing fast (#44 in the country in tempo per KenPom) while being below average in attempting three-pointers….. and hitting more than almost any one in the country. The Hoyas are currently connecting on over 39% of their long range shots, which is the 15th best shooting percentage nationally. If I were them and I were playing extremely fast, I’d try to shoot more of those since I’m so good at them.

On the other end of the court, Georgetown seems to have a defensive inclination to let you shoot all the three-pointers you want. Over 40% of shots against them have been threes this season, and that’s nearly in the bottom 100 in the country. It’s not like the Hoyas are letting guys just launch from outside either, as Georgetown is one of the 60 worst teams in the country at letting teams find the open man for an assist.

Combine all that with Georgetown’s decision to play fast….. and well, I think you start to see why the Hoyas have the worst defense in the Big East.

On top of all of their other problems, GU will also be without center Timothy Ighoefe until at least January, possibly til the middle of January. He fractured his hand in their win over Longwood, and will be out for 4-6 weeks starting from his surgery earlier this month. Junior Malcolm Wilson has been starting in his place, while freshman Ryan Mutombo has seen his minutes increase since the lineup change.

Marquette Golden Eagles (8-3)

Points Leader: Justin Lewis, 15.4 ppg
Rebounds Leader: Justin Lewis, 7.8 rpg
Assists Leader: Tyler Kolek, 5.6 apg
KenPom Ranking: #79
T-Rank Ranking: #107
NET Ranking: #74
Best Win: vs #30 Illinois, 67-66
Worst Loss: vs #82 St. Bonaventure on a neutral floor, 70-54

Since we focus on Marquette on this here internet website, I’m just going to keep this moving along....

Providence Friars (10-1)

Points Leader: Nate Watson, 15.3 ppg
Rebounds Leader: Noah Horchler, 8.2 rpg
Assists Leader: Jared Bynum and Al Durham, 3.7 apg
KenPom Ranking: #57
T-Rank Ranking: #41
NET Ranking: #41
Best Win: vs #23 Texas Tech, 72-68
Only Loss: vs #99 Virginia on a neutral court, 58-40

I’m not entirely sure what to make of the Friars quite yet. They appear to be better than expected, which is good. They’re also 2-1 in games away from the Dunk, which is good news... but there’s a little bit of “well, actually” there. They beat Wisconsin in Madison, but Johnny Davis didn’t play in that game. Their loss is on a neutral floor to a Virginia team that’s now 6-4 on the year with losses to Navy and James Madison... and Providence got headkicked in that one, losing by 18.

So, yeah, maybe there’s still some reason for concern here.

Here’s a reason for concern: Jared Bynum has missed their last four games with an ankle injury. He was doing really well before that and was looking very much like the impressive point guard that head coach Ed Cooley loves to have on his team. Al Durham seems to have taken that role over in the intervening time, and PC has picked up two notable wins over Texas Tech and Rhode Island in that manner. I don’t want to say for certain that Providence would be much better with Bynum in the lineup, but it seems like a safe bet that they would definitely be a deeper team with him. It’s not a secret that Cooley tends to lock into seven, maybe eight guys at the most and just run with that group all year. Having a productive lead guard helps alleviate some of that pressure, but who knows when Bynum will actually be back in the lineup, and what exactly he’ll look like when he is.

St. John’s Red Storm (8-2)

Points Leader: Julian Champagnie, 20.3 ppg
Rebounds Leader: Julian Champagnie, 6.7 rpg
Assists Leader: Posh Alexander, 5.1 apg
KenPom Ranking: #65
T-Rank Ranking: #60
NET Ranking: #84
Best Win: vs #45 Monmouth, 88-83
Worst Loss: at #43 Indiana, 76-74

Julian Champagnie and Posh Alexander are great basketball players. That’s not up for debate. But St. John’s needs more than them playing well to succeed this season. Their top pair both had quality performances in SJU’s two losses this season, one close and one a hilarious blowout. But that wasn’t enough to get them the win against the only top 100 KenPom teams that they’ve played this season.

Should that be troubling for the Johnnies as they head into Big East play and a thresher’s maw of top 100 opponents? Probably!

Am I crazy or are there a lot of teams in the Big East this season, Marquette included, that find themselves headed into conference play with a “well, that’s about as good as you could have expected” type set of non-conference results..... but all of that leaves you with a lot more questions to be answered? After all, KenPom.com does expect SEVEN Big East teams to finish under .500 in league play this season. St. John’s is definitely one of those type of teams, and they are one of the seven, coming in with a 9-11 projection. I suspect that seven teams won’t have losing records, so this season could turn into a battle amongst that group to see who comes out ahead. I would have expected St. John’s to shape up as better than this..... but Golden Gate Mike Anderson’s defense is the second worst in the league right now.

Seton Hall Pirates (9-1)

Points Leader: Jared Rhoden, 17.4 ppg
Rebounds Leader: Jared Rhoden, 7.3 rpg
Assists Leader: Kadary Richmond, 3.4 apg
AP Poll Ranking: #16
KenPom Ranking: #26
T-Rank Ranking: #24
NET Ranking: #24
Best Win: vs #21 Texas, 64-60
Only Loss: vs #18 Ohio State, 79-76

You can go read my team preview on the Pirates from back in August. It’s right there on the internet. I was wrong about Seton Hall. They’re currently ranked higher in KenPom than they were at any point last season. I didn’t think they had the pieces to pull that off, much less look like a legitimate contender to Villanova for the top spot in the conference.

Their only real flaw as a team is that they don’t shoot three-pointers particularly well, coming in with a conversion rate of 29.9% right now. It’s a situation where they need the right guys taking shots. Jamir Harris is their leader in terms of shots per game, and he’s hitting 36%. That’s great. Myles Cale is great at 38%. Kadary Richmond should think about shooting more at 46%. Everyone else? Ehhhhhh, maybe not, guys.

I think the biggest reason for Seton Hall being better than expected is, quite simply, Jared Rhoden emerging as The Guy for this team. I didn’t know if he could do it, and honestly I leaned towards “no” if I had to pick a direction before the season started. If Seton Hall can successfully push Nova for the regular season title, there’s going to be a real argument for Rhoden as POY when March rolls around.

Villanova Wildcats (7-3)

Points Leader: Collin Gillespie, 16.2 ppg
Rebounds Leader: Jermaine Samuels, 6.3 rpg
Assists Leader: Collin Gillespie, 3.4 apg
KenPom Ranking: #6
T-Rank Ranking: #8
NET Ranking: #9
Best Win: vs #6 Tennessee on a neutral floor, 71-53
Worst Loss: at #22 UCLA, 86-77 in overtime

Well, the biggest question mark I had about Villanova this season has been answered in resounding fashion. With a March knee injury ending his campaign last season, I didn’t know whether or not Collin Gillespie was going to be up to being capital-C Collin capital-G Gillespie right out of the gate for the Wildcats. Yeah, well, even if he’s not, the team trusts him to do what he does, and that’s how he’s leading them in scoring right now. Much respect to him for throwing himself into the rehab to get to this spot.

You might be looking at the 7-3 record and saying “hey, yo, wait, they have three losses, are we sure they’re good?” Yeah, we’re sure. Well, mostly. The losses are all to national title contenders, all away from The Finn: UCLA and Baylor on the road, Purdue on a neutral floor. The UCLA game went to overtime at Pauley Pavilion, the Purdue game was a six point loss. Things happen.

Now, the “well, mostly” is because of the Baylor game. The Bears won by 19, 57-36. Villanova shot 22% in the game. A lot of that is because Baylor is the #2 KenPom defense in the country. But part of that is also Villanova is going to try to shoot half their shots from behind the three-point line and if they’re not falling, things can go very very very badly for the Wildcats.

They’re still the favorite in this league, but 15-5 as a 20 game projection by KenPom isn’t anywhere close to a dominating runaway favorite. They clearly have a little bit of a dent in their armor, so it’s going to be interesting to see if someone — or someones? — can knock the ‘Cats off the pedestal.

Xavier Musketeers (10-1)

Points Leader: Jack Nunge, 13.0 ppg
Rebounds Leader: Colby Jones, 8.2 rpg
Assists Leader: Paul Scruggs, 4.1 apg
AP Poll Ranking: #22
KenPom Ranking: #23
T-Rank Ranking: #15
NET Ranking: #13
Best Win: vs #18 Ohio State, 71-65
Only Loss: vs #17 Iowa State, 82-70

In my summer preview of Xavier, I wondered if it was possible for the Musketeers to recapture the magic that they had to start last season when they went 8-0 in less than a month and punched their way into the AP top 25. It was a reasonable question as Xavier’s season was wrecked by playing just three games in January due to COVID stoppages.

Well, it would seem that the answer is yes, they can. They’re 10-1 after clobbering a pretty decent Morehead State team on Wednesday night, and the only loss on their record is on a neutral floor to the Iowa State team that’s about 900% better than expected this year. No shame in that, to be certain. XU has four top 100 KenPom wins already this season, with two in the top 40, and if #51 Oklahoma State gets their act together just a little bit, it’ll be three in the top 50.

The wild part is how they’re getting there. Big man transfer Jack Nunge is leading them in scoring, but that’s almost a technicality. Nate Johnson is just 0.1 points per game behind Nunge, and Colby Jones is sitting there at 12.5 per game. They’ve figured out how to balance out their offense and/or run with the hot hand when the situation calls for it, as exemplified by Nunge’s 31 point/15 rebound devastation of Cincinnati in the Crosstown Shootout.

On top of that, they’ve kind of been doing this without Zach Freemantle, last year’s leading scorer. Freemantle missed Xavier’s first six games, and only played six minutes in his first game back on the court, so really he missed the first seven. He’s only been back in the starting lineup once, and that was the Morehead State game, and he’s yet to play more than 24 minutes. I don’t know if head coach Travis Steele has him on a minutes restriction or what, but other than torching Ball State for 24 points in 20 minutes, Freemantle looks like he’s just floating around the periphery of what the Musketeers have had going with him out of the active picture. If they get him fully up and running, that’s just one more bullet in the revolver for the X-Men, and it makes them even more dangerous of an opponent.