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A Whip-Around Look At Big East Men’s Basketball Heading Into League Play

Marquette plays their first conference game on Friday night, so let’s get caught up with everyone.

Rider v Providence Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images


Big East play starts for Marquette men’s basketball on Friday. It’s true! They get things going with a home date against Creighton. It’s a 7:30pm tipoff on a Friday night right after finals wrap up on campus, so it should be a pretty fun time to be at Fiserv Forum.

We’ll get to a full game preview of that late on this week, but with league play set to kick off, it’s probably a good time to check in on the other 10 teams around the conference to see how everyone has been doing so far this year. However, instead of just doing a straight ahead “here are the teams in alphabetical order beep borp” rundown, I’m throwing a curveball into the mix!

The 11 Big East teams have been ordered by “biggest change from the preseason.” I took the preseason KenPom ratings as archived in this article and then compared them to where everyone was standing after Creighton’s Monday night game against Arizona State. I took the T-Rank preseason rankings as archived by Paint Touches and then compared them not with where the live rankings are, but where the “preseason expectations filtered out” rankings have everyone situated after that same Bluejays game. Everyone knows how to filter on T-Rank, right? If Gary Parrish can do it, you can do it, too.

That gave me two numbers for every team, and I just smooshed them together. As it turns out, 10 of the 11 teams in the league are either both up or both down from the preseason ranks in both systems, so that made the math a lot easier. After that, I just sorted them all out, going from the biggest positive change to the biggest negative change.

There’s also a quick info dump for every team: Record, stats leaders, and best win/worst loss according to KenPom rankings on Wednesday morning. I also went over to T-Rank and grabbed the current Ranketology as of Wednesday morning to give everyone an NCAA tournament projection. T-Rank currently gives 24 teams outside the field of 68 at least a 0.1% chance of making it in, so if you see a “No” for any given team, then they’re outside the “First 24 Out” according to the algorithm.

Everything make sense there? Okay, let’s jump into it!

Butler Bulldogs: +122

Record: 8-3
Scoring Leader: Jayden Taylor, 14.9 ppg
Rebounding Leader: Manny Bates, 7.0 rpg
Assists Leader: Simas Lukosius, 3.7 apg
Best Win: vs #56 Kansas State, 76-64
Worst Loss: vs #53 NC State on a neutral floor, 76-61
NCAA Projection: 6th team out

All of that preamble about how I went about organizing the 11 teams into this list, and Butler still ends up at the top of the page just like they would have been if this was alphabetical order. Such is life, and shouts to the Bulldogs for heavily outdoing their preseason expectations so far this season. One would have to figure that most of the work is being done by Thad Matta calling the shots instead of LaVall Jordan, but a lot of it has to do with Butler being an excellent two-point shooting team so far this season. They have three players shooting better than 56% inside the arc, and Chuck Harris going from 46% last year to nearly 57% so far this year certainly explains a lot of the improvement in the two ratings.

While Butler may be better than expected and presumably much better than last year, that hasn’t quite lined up to look like an NCAA tourney team quite yet. They don’t have a Quadrant 1 win yet, and as you’ll kind of understand as we go, there aren’t going to be a lot of those in Big East play. That’s part of the reason why T-Rank still projects them to be outside the tournament at the moment... but given how the last two seasons have gone, I don’t think that Butler fans are really complaining about “can obviously play their way in” at the moment.

Marquette Golden Eagles: +98

Record: 8-3
Scoring Leader: Kam Jones, 16.4 ppg
Rebounding Leader: Oso Ighodaro, 6.9 rpg
Assists Leader: Tyler Kolek, 7.8 apg
Best Win: vs #15 Baylor, 96-70
Worst Loss: vs #34 Wisconsin, 80-77 in overtime
NCAA Projection: #8 seed

The blowout win against Baylor is doing Marquette a lot of good in the quantitative measurement department at the moment, and honestly, it’s probably going to do the Golden Eagles a lot of good all season long. MU has three losses to top 35 KenPom teams by a total of 11 points, and that’s also a good recipe for outperforming your preseason expectations. If they can get tougher on defense — currently #62 nationally per KenPom — they could be a frightening team as the season goes along.

Connecticut Huskies: +85

Record: 11-0
Scoring Leader: Adama Sanogo, 18.3 ppg
Rebounding Leader: Donovan Clingan, 6.9 rpg
Assists Leader: Andre Jackson, 4.6 apg
Best Win: vs #10 Alabama on a neutral floor, 82-67
NCAA Projection: #1 seed

UConn is the team hurt the most by their preseason rankings limiting their movement. KenPom started the Huskies off at #27 in the country, so they had an artificial ceiling to their ascendancy. The good news for them is that they had taken up all 26 possible spots available to them to sit as the #1 team in the country per KenPom when I snagged all the ratings to measure this out. Even better, they grabbed 59 of the 60 possible spots from T-Rank. Connecticut came within probably a decision to round off a decimal somewhere away from improving as much as absolutely possible in both systems.

Yeah, they’re terrifying, and Dan Hurley has quickly pulled this roster with less than 29% minutes continuity together into a national championship contender. They come to Milwaukee on January 11th, so get your tickets now. That could be a big one in terms of Big East standings.

Xavier Musketeers: -8

Record: 8-3
Scoring Leader: Souley Boum, 17.0 ppg
Rebounding Leader: Zach Freemantle, 7.5 rpg
Assists Leader: Colby Jones, 5.6 apg
Best Win: vs #23 West Virginia, 84-74
Worst Loss: vs #16 Indiana, 81-79
NCAA Projection: #7 seed

Xavier is the “one went up, one went down” team I mentioned in the intro. The X-Men are a net -8 because they are down 16 spots in T-Rank and up eight spots in KenPom. Largely speaking, this makes them pretty close to the Dennis Green “THEY ARE WHO WE THOUGHT THEY WERE” team in the Big East. They have three top 16 KenPom losses by a total of 13 points, and two of those were on a neutral floor. They’re 1-3 against Quadrant 1 opponents so far, with those three losses and the WVU win in there. As long as they don’t do anything crazy between now and March, this is clearly an NCAA tournament team.

Seton Hall Pirates: -17

Record: 6-4
Scoring Leader: Al-Amir Dawes, 11.4 ppg
Rebounding Leader: Tyrese Samuel, 6.8 rpg
Assists Leader: Kadary Richmond, 3.1 apg
Best Win: vs #26 Memphis on a neutral floor, 70-69
Worst Loss: vs #211 Siena on a neutral floor, 60-55
NCAA Projection: 15th team out

If we’re being fair, Seton Hall has a solid crack at the “THEY ARE WHO WE THOUGHT THEY WERE” crown because both of their drops are smaller than the 16 point drop that Xavier has in T-Rank from the preseason til now. There’s an easy argument to be made that if Seton Hall had merely not lost to Siena by 1) not giving up a 14-1 run the first half or 2) not needing a 9-0 run stretched over four minutes to take a 51-50 lead in the second half or 3) scoring more than 2 points in the final three-plus minutes, they probably wouldn’t even be showing up as a negative moving team. If they can figure out how to stay on the side of the angels a little bit more, they have a shot at picking up an at-large berth to the NCAA tournament.

A heads up as we enter league play: Shaheen Holloway has his dudes defending their butts off, which should not be a surprise from how the past three seasons went at Saint Peter’s. They also can’t score to save their lives, and that is also not a surprise from how Holloway’s SPU tenure went.

Creighton Bluejays: -25

Record: 6-5
Scoring Leader: Ryan Kalkbrenner, 15.9 ppg
Rebounding Leader: Baylor Scheierman, 9.6 rpg
Assists Leader: Ryan Nembhard, 6.0 apg
Best Win: vs #14 Arkansas on a neutral floor, 90-87
Worst Loss: vs #92 BYU on a neutral floor, 83-80
NCAA Projection: #9 seed

You wanna run through the Creighton talking points real quick?

  • The defense is not as good as it was last year, currently ranking at #36 per KenPom.... and if you use T-Rank and filter out preseason expectations, the Jays are playing as the #64 defense in the country. That would be bad, much worse than last year’s defense, but Greg McDermott has gotten the offense back on track after a very bad version of it in 2021-22, so it’s not a terrible problem.
  • Baylor Scheierman has been a positive impact on both ends of the floor, but especially on defense. Creighton is allowing 90.3 points per 100 possessions while he’s out there and a whopping 112.0 per 100 when he’s on the bench.
  • Scheierman has proved to not be the kind of electric shooter than he was at South Dakota State. However, the concern was that he would be more of a 23% shooter like he was last year in five games against KenPom top 100 opponents. He’s had six of those types of games already this season, and he’s shooting an absolutely great 39.5% in them and 38% overall on the season. It’s not light the world on fire, but it is very good.
  • Through 11 games, Ryan Nembhard has gotten his turnover rate problem from last year (24.1%!) under control and has things at a perfectly acceptable perhaps even good spot. With that said, he has coughed the ball up 10 times in the past three games, all of which were Creighton losses, so maybe we’ll put a pin in that for now.

We also have to point out that yes, they lost to BYU and Arizona State without Ryan Kalkbrenner, the 2022 Big East Defensive Player of the Year, in the lineup. Losing five straight is bad, getting blasted out of your own building by a not particularly great Nebraska team is bad, but losing to those two teams by a combined five points without your defensive anchor is maybe not the worst. That’s led to the Bluejays looking like a team that’s a wee bit worse than the fringe top 25 team that the computers thought they were.... and a lot worse than the preseason top 10 team that a lot of poll voters thought they were.

Providence Friars: -35

Record: 8-3
Scoring Leader: Bryce Hopkins, 14.9 ppg
Rebounding Leader: Bryce Hopkins, 8.5 rpg
Assists Leader: Jared Bynum, 5.1 apg
Best Win: at #192 Rhode Island, 88-74
Worst Loss: vs #61 Saint Louis on a neutral floor, 76-73
NCAA Projection: No

My exact words from their Summer Check-In:

This feels, even with all the obvious question marks, like a team that’s going to be struggling all over the place in November and December — no schedule for them yet, but we know they have Miami, TCU, and either Maryland or Saint Louis, none of which sounds easy for a team figuring themselves out, all before December 1st — but then we’ll look up on February 1st and they’ll be at least .500 in the Big East and competing for an NCAA bid.

50% of the way there! Providence lost all three of the notable non-conference games that I mentioned, but won everything else to get us to this point. They even went so far as to struggle with Rider in their opener right up to the point of PC might have actually lost the game at the horn if the Rider player with the ball and a chance to win it didn’t trip and fall! You don’t need to lean into the bit, Friars!

Anyway, given how much Providence was replacing from last season, I don’t think it’s exactly a shocker that they don’t have the continuity through 11 games to match up with what the algorithms thought that they might be. Nothing wrong with that, but [glances at schedule] let’s all hope that they don’t really get it figure out until after Christmas.

By the way, PC fans, if you’re checking in: Y’all are currently #259 in the country in Luck per KenPom, so maybe this is just y’all catching some bad beats.

St. John’s Red Storm: -49

Record: 10-1, 1-0 Big East
Scoring Leader: David Jones, 15.0 ppg
Rebounding Leader: Joel Soriano, 12.6 rpg
Assists Leader: Posh Alexander, 5.0 apg
Best Win: vs #81 Nebraska, 70-50
Only Loss: at #46 Iowa State, 71-60
NCAA Projection: 16th team out

Is there anything more St. John’s in the world than starting off the season 10-1 with the only loss coming on the road to a team that’s earning AP top 25 votes at the moment..... but also falling well short of what the analytics thought you were and also only having a microscopic chance of making the NCAA tournament? Oh, and the Johnnies have spent a week alone in first place already.... but that’s because they beat DePaul in the first Big East league game of the season and no one else has played one yet.

All due respect to everyone involved, but this absolutely sounds like a team that is depending on DePaul’s second best player from last season to lead them in scoring.

In news that has to have the Marquette coaching staff licking their chops, Posh Alexander and Andre Curbelo both have turnover rates north of 23% at this point of the season. You might remember Andre Curbelo from his seven turnover outing at Fiserv Forum in the third game of Shaka Smart’s tenure as head coach.

DePaul Blue Demons: -58

Record: 6-4, 0-1 Big East
Scoring Leader: Javan Johnson, 18.1 ppg
Rebounding Leader: Eral Penn, 8.0 rpg
Assists Leader: Umoja Gibson, 6.0 apg
Best Win: at #122 Loyola Chicago, 78-72 in overtime
Worst Loss: vs #124 Santa Clara on a neutral floor, 69-61
NCAA Projection: No

DePaul’s here mostly because they have a 50 point difference in T-Rank’s preseason expectation of them and how they’re actually playing. This is explainable through one very important item: Nick Ongenda and Caleb Murphy haven’t played. Murphy had wrist surgery in October, while Ongenda had wrist surgery (hey, that’s a weird coincidence) at the start of December and will miss 10 weeks. Those two guys should probably be starting for the Blue Demons, and they’ve gotten precisely nothing from them. Ta-da, that’s how you get a team that’s not performing up to expectations.

They should be getting Murphy in the lineup any game now, so odds are that DePaul will look a little bit better going forward than they have through 10 games. Prepare yourself for an onslaught of “Wow, look at how Tony Stubblefield has gotten these guys to rally!” stories when it’s really just a case of adding a double digit scoring guard to the lineup.

Georgetown Hoyas: -65

Record: 5-6
Scoring Leader: Primo Spears, 17.2 ppg
Rebounding Leader: Qudus Wahab, 7.7 rpg
Assists Leader: Primo Spears, 4.9 apg
Best Win: vs #211 Siena, 75-68
Worst Loss: vs #171 South Carolina, 74-71 in overtime
NCAA Projection: No

The Worst Loss designation is purely because of KenPom rankings at the moment, there’s no subjective measurement attached to it. HOWEVER, there is a very clear subjective case that Georgetown’s home loss to South Carolina is actually the worst loss that the entire Big East has suffered this season.

In case you missed it:

  • Primo Spears, who has been legitimately good for Georgetown regardless of what’s going on around him, hit what should be the game winner with five seconds left, Georgetown leads, 65-64.
  • South Carolina flies up the court partially because they have to do this to get anything resembling a good look at the bucket to win and also partially because Georgetown was celebrating their “win”
  • Jay Heath commits a flagrant foul, pulling the jersey of the South Carolina player zooming past him to the rim with no other defenders between him and scoring the winner
  • Hayden Brown splits the freebies to tie it, GG Jackson misses a winner for the Gamecocks at the buzzer, sending it to overtime
  • Georgetown loses in the extra session

Absolutely awful, and somehow completely expected from the Hoyas at this point. The loss to SC was Georgetown’s 24th consecutive loss to a high major opponent dating back to last season when they beat Syracuse at home on December 11th. That streak extended to 25 straight thanks to an 83-64 loss to Syracuse in New York this past weekend. The Hoyas started out the game on a 12-2 run on the road, then gave up runs of 17-3 and 16-2 before halftime on their way to that loss.

I do not know why Patrick Ewing is still employed.

I will tell you right now, if they are 0-5 in the league when they come to Fiserv Forum on January 7th, I am not spending any amount of time previewing that game like Georgetown is a team to be taken seriously.

By the way: T-Rank said Georgetown was going to be the #177 team. They’re at #180. Almost all of this decline from the expectation is because of how badly the KenPom algorithm missed on the Hoyas.

Villanova Wildcats: -113

Record: 5-5
Scoring Leader: Caleb Daniels, 16.8 ppg
Rebounding Leader: Eric Dixon, 5.5 rpg
Assists Leader: Caleb Daniels, 3.4 apg
Best Win: vs #35 Oklahoma, 70-66
Worst Loss: at #113 Temple, 68-64
NCAA Projection: No

I’ll say this much: It’s a little unfair to bang on the Wildcats like this. The preseason algorithms were assigning a value to Justin Moore (14.8 points, 4.8 rebounds, 2.3 assists last season) being on the roster even though everyone knew that he wasn’t going to play due to blowing out his Achilles in the NCAA tournament. The computers were also giving credit to the Wildcats for enrolling Cam Whitmore, the #13 freshman in the country according to the 247 Sports Composite, and Whitmore missed Villanova’s first seven games of the season.

Shocker of shockers, VU went 2-5 in those games and lost every game against a team ranked higher than 150 in the KenPom rankings.

Before Whitmore made his debut, Villanova was playing like the #143 team in the country if you use the T-Rank filters, and they had a legitimately awful defense. #307 in the country, no joke. Flip the filter around for the three games that Whitmore has appeared in, and Villanova’s a top 50 team. Small sample size, sure, but that’s such a massive improvement. The defense is still not good at #154, but it’s also drastically improved.

I’ll explain it another way: Whitmore played 20 minutes against Oklahoma and didn’t make that much of an impact on the victory. Against Penn and Boston College? KenPom’s computers tabbed him as the MVP of the game both times, going for 21 points and six rebounds against the Quakers, followed by 19 points and seven rebounds against the Eagles. If you want to say the jury’s still out on them, that’s fair, but I’m leaning towards Villanova slowly but surely wiping out a lot of this differential between now and March.