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2023-24 Big East Men’s Basketball: Where Are We Now?

With league action starting tomorrow, let’s take a spin around the conference and see what everyone’s been doing so far this year.

Houston v Xavier Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images

DID YOU KNOW?

Big East play starts for Marquette men’s basketball TOMORROW NIGHT. It’s true! They get things going with a roadie against Providence. We’ll get to a full game preview of that later today/early tomorrow, 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!

Or rather, I’m returning to a curveball I threw last year. Is it still a curveball if it’s turning into a recurring bit?

The 11 Big East teams have been ordered by “biggest change from the preseason,” but I’m not just using one source. I took the preseason KenPom.com rankings as noted on each team’s page as their ranking at the time their first game was played, and then compared everyone to where they were following the end of action on Sunday, December 17th. I did the same for BartTorvik.com’s preseason rankings, but I didn’t just look at the current rankings for the comparison. I used the filter feature to remove any preseason projections and looked at the pure numbers of how everyone’s been playing up through the end of business on Sunday. If CBS Sports’ Gary Parrish can filter data, so can I.

That gave me two change in ranking numbers for every one of the 11 teams in the league, and I just smooshed them together. This year, there are four teams in the Big East that had KenPom and T-Rank disagreeing as to whether or not the team had improved from their preseason expectations, meaning that one ranking had the team up at least one spot and the other algorithm had them down at least one spot. In one team’s case, this meant that their two numbers canceled each other out and they are dead even on the year so far. That’s called a tease. They’re all sorted below from biggest positive change to 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 Monday morning. I also went over to T-Rank and grabbed the current Ranketology as of Monday morning — which is seeding the bracket based on the most likely outcomes for the year according to the algorithm — to give everyone an NCAA tournament projection. T-Rank currently gives 25 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 25 Out” according to the algorithm.

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

Butler Bulldogs: +123

Record: 9-2
Scoring Leader: Pierre Brooks, 16.8 ppg
Rebounding Leader: Jalen Thomas, 6.6 rpg
Assists Leader: Posh Alexander, 5.3 apg
Best Win: vs #40 Texas Tech, 103-95 in overtime
Worst Loss: at #23 Michigan State, 74-54
NCAA Projection: 13th team out

I’m going to say two things about Butler. One is complimentary, one is ominous.

The complimentary thing is that Butler is much better than any neutral observer or algorithm expected. Head coach Thad Matta appears to have the ship steered in a positive direction, and while it’s hard to say that they’re headed towards an NCAA tournament berth with a NET ranking of #53 right now, it’s clear that the 2023-24 season is going very well for them. If they’re rounding into form after the offseason roster rebuild and actually getting better, then maybe they can snipe an unexpected win or two in Big East contests and get into the tourney discussion.

The ominous thing is that Butler was +122 last year when I did this with a record of 8-3, and then they still went 6-14 in Big East play. They dropped from #70 in KenPom on the day they started league play last year to #124 on the day of their regular season finale. That’s why the algorithms didn’t like them very much to start this season. They were very bad for the final 21 games of the season. Those 21 games for this season start tomorrow night at home against Georgetown, and they lost 68-62 to the 2-18 Hoyas at home last year.

Xavier Musketeers: +26

Record: 6-5
Scoring Leader: Quincy Olivari, 17.6 ppg
Rebounding Leader: Abou Ousmane, 5.9 rpg
Assists Leader: Dayvion McKnight, 5.4 apg
Best Win: vs #37 Cincinnati, 84-79
Worst Loss: vs #138 Oakland, 78-76
NCAA Projection: 23rd team out

The first thing that we have to say about Xavier is that the computers disagree about what they are this season. The Musketeers have fallen seven spots from their preseason mark in KenPom, but they’re up 33 spots according to BartTorvik.com. There may be a certain amount of noise involved here, as everyone knew that Xavier was going to be without Zach Freemantle and Jerome Hunter to start the year, but there was a lot more mystery surrounding Hunter’s medical situation than Freemantle’s. The respective fall and rise may merely be a case of the computers not properly estimating for their absence or possibly overestimating the impact of their absence.

With that said, Sean Miller has some problems on his hands. No one’s faulting Xavier for a 10 point road loss to Purdue. Same goes for a six point home loss to Houston. The loss to Washington on a neutral floor in Las Vegas? If you take into account 1) the roster rebuild in Cincinnati and 2) Washington looking respectable, that’s not a major problem that early in the year.

Losing at home to Oakland and Delaware? Yeah, that’s a problem. Xavier projects as a relatively comfortable NCAA tournament team right now if they win those games. Can a team that took those losses find a way to win at least 12 games in the Big East and balance out a pair of Quadrant 3 losses on their resume? I’d tend to trust Sean Miller to find a way to do it, but he’s also not a magician. Sometimes you are what you are.

Marquette Golden Eagles: +11

Record: 9-2
Scoring Leader: Kam Jones, 15.6 ppg
Rebounding Leader: Oso Ighodaro, 6.2 rpg
Assists Leader: Tyler Kolek, 5.9 apg
Best Win: vs #11 Kansas on a neutral floor, 73-59
Worst Loss: at #17 Wisconsin, 75-64
NCAA Projection: #2 seed

By pure KenPom rankings, Marquette has the second best win in the Big East so far this season, and if you adjust for home/road/neutral sites, there’s an easy and obvious argument that MU’s win over Kansas is the best win in the league.

The Golden Eagles being up a combined double digit total from their preseason marks is probably a combination of factors. First among them is “Last year was Marquette’s best ever KenPom ranking at the end of a season and first top 25 finish since 2012, why would they be just as good or better?” Sorry, but that’s how the computers think, even with most of MU’s rotation returning. It’s not entirely unlike how the computers treated FAU to start the year.

That reluctance to project Marquette as a top 10 team allows Marquette to then perform as a top 10 team — the live Torvik ranking is exactly #10 — and then rise up the rankings accordingly. There’s nothing wrong with an expectation to be great and then living up to it, but right now, MU’s growth in the rankings since the start of the year is, to a certain extent, due to a Wojo Tax that we’re still paying.

St. John’s Red Storm: +10

Record: 7-3
Scoring Leader: Joel Soriano, 18.0 ppg
Rebounding Leader: Joel Soriano, 10.5 rpg
Assists Leader: Daniss Jenkins, 6.0 apg
Best Win: vs #35 Utah on a neutral floor, 91-82
Worst Loss: vs #93 Boston College in Brooklyn, 86-80
NCAA Projection: 1st team out

The +10 for the Johnnies here is entirely because they’re +11 in T-Rank, moving up to #42 in the live numbers from their preseason estimation of #53. They’re down one spot on KenPom in that time, which means that they are, effectively, exactly what that computer thought they were going to be.

There’s a couple of ways to look at all of this. The first is the good one: Rick Pitino is paying the dividends that you would expect Rick Pitino to pay and he’s getting his team together right away. The other one is the part where SJU fell from #59 as far as #81 in the KenPom rankings after starting the year 2-2, and they’ve rebounded since then.... but also they’d probably be better off if the loss to Boston College didn’t knock them down eight spots.

All told, they’re maybe right on the bubble of the tournament right now, and that’s not a bad place to be given the near complete reset of the program since Pitino took over.

Providence Friars: +7

Record: 9-2
Scoring Leader: Bryce Hopkins, 17.2 ppg
Rebounding Leader: Bryce Hopkins, 8.3 rpg
Assists Leader: Devin Carter, 3.0 apg
Best Win: vs #17 Wisconsin, 72-59
Worst Loss: vs #67 Kansas State on a neutral floor, 73-70 in overtime
NCAA Projection: #12 seed, Last Team In

All told, the transition to Kim English as head coach is going pretty well for Providence. Their win over Wisconsin is looking better and better by the minute, the K-State loss was a cointoss of a loss in overtime on a neutral floor, and a lot of good Big 12 teams are going to lose at Oklahoma this season. PC has taken care of business everywhere else on the schedule, and they look roughly like exactly the team that everyone thought they would be when the season started.

With that said, they’re going to have to make some noise in Big East play to make the NCAA tournament. Projecting as the last team in is not a comfortable position, and right now, Providence is #71 in the NET. That’s bound to improve just by playing Big East foes, but #71 is almost borderline disqualifying from the discussion. They’re going to need to steal a win off someone at some point, and boy, do they get a great chance to do that in their first game of the league slate with Marquette coming to town.

Connecticut Huskies: Even

Record: 10-1
Scoring Leader: Tristen Newton, 16.3 ppg
Rebounding Leader: Tristen Newton, 6.8 rpg
Assists Leader: Tristen Newton, 6.0 apg
Best Win: vs #18 Gonzaga on a neutral-ish floor, 76-63
Only Loss: at #11 Kansas, 69-65
NCAA Projection: #1 seed

Like I said earlier, there’s nothing wrong with starting with an expectation that you’ll be great and then living up to it. That’s UConn right now, starting the year in the top five in both ranking systems and going up one spot in one and down one spot in the other. There was only so far that they could move up, and not dropping down massively is also very good.

If anything, UConn’s biggest problem right now is a good problem to have: Tristen Newton’s doing an awful lot to make them look very good. Donovan Clingan is obviously their most important rebounder, but he’s just not leading the team in that department because he’s averaging under 22 minutes a game. That’s not just because of his minutes restrictions early in the season due to his foot injury in the preseason, either. I would imagine that Newton’s load is going to diminish a little bit as the season goes along, as potential lottery pick Stephon Castle has missed six games with a injury and is playing a role off the bench for UConn right now.

Creighton Bluejays: -4

Record: 9-2
Scoring Leader: Baylor Scheierman, 18.5 ppg
Rebounding Leader: Baylor Scheierman, 7.2 rpg
Assists Leader: Baylor Scheierman, 4.7 apg
Best Win: vs #9 Alabama, 85-82
Worst Loss: vs #102 UNLV in Nevada, 79-64
NCAA Projection: #2 seed

The Bluejays might project as a #2 seed according to BartTorvik.com and third place in the Big East according to KenPom at this point of the calendar, but they’re also not going to win the Mountain West. They are 0-2 against MW teams already this season, and both losses — their only losses of the season, as it happens — are by at least 15 points.

It’s those two losses that should have the Bluejays faithful desperately thankful that they’re only down a collective four spots across the two computers. It’s actually up two in KenPom and down six in T-Rank, but when you started preseason top 15 in both and two massive ugly losses didn’t damage you that much, you’re doing pretty well for yourself. Did beating Alabama at home for the best win, rankings-wise, in the entire Big East so far this season, help them out in that regard! Probably a little bit, yeah!

Are they still a Big East title contender? Are they still a national title contender? The computers say that they are. Is everyone uneasy about saying that with those two Mountain West losses staring at you on the schedule? Yep! Do they probably need more from Ryan Kalkbrenner and Trey Alexander, given that Baylor Scheierman is leading the team in all three top statistical categories? Probably!

Villanova Wildcats: -14

Record: 7-4
Scoring Leader: Eric Dixon, 13.6 ppg
Rebounding Leader: Tyler Burton, 7.6 rpg
Assists Leader: Justin Moore, 2.2 apg
Best Win: vs #20 North Carolina on a neutral floor, 83-81, in overtime
Worst Loss: at #176 Penn, 76-72
NCAA Projection: #7 seed

The Wildcats are down in both ranking systems, and it is entirely because they can’t beat a Philly Big Five team to save their lives. They lost 10 spots in KenPom when they lost to Penn at The Palestra, and then back-to-back losses to Saint Joseph’s and Drexel dropped them — no joke — 20 spots. They’ve rebounded since then, with an overtime road loss to Kansas State definitely not helping their case.

VU is also going to go 11 days between their win over UCLA and their Big East opener at Creighton. It’s going to be interesting to see how they come out of that break. Villanova has easily been the weirdest and hardest to read team in the Big East between the Big Five losses and the Battle 4 Atlantis championship that netted them that win over North Carolina. Can they keep the needle to the positive side of the meter during Big East play, or are there more seemingly out of place losses in their future?

Georgetown Hoyas: -31

Record: 7-4
Scoring Leader: Jayden Epps, 18.9 ppg
Rebounding Leader: Supreme Cook, 8.6 rpg
Assists Leader: Jayden Epps, 4.7 apg
Best Win: at #182 Notre Dame, 72-68, in overtime
Worst Loss: vs #353 Holy Cross, 68-67
NCAA Projection: No.

It’s probably a bad sign for the direction of Ed Cooley’s first year of his rebuilding project at Georgetown that the Hoyas are down double digits in both ranking systems since the start of the year, and the computers already didn’t like them because of how poorly the last two seasons of Patrick Ewing’s tenure finished. The loss to Holy Cross is obviously doing a lot of the work there, but it’s their only ugly loss. They do, however, have several unconvincing victories, all at home:

83-72 vs Mount St. Mary’s
88-83 vs American, in overtime
88-81 vs Jackson State
69-67 vs Merrimack

The only reason they’re not down worse is because they beat Notre Dame. The win over the Irish jumped the Hoyas up 21 spots in KenPom. That -31 should be at least in the -50s and probably worse. I get why there was a lot of excitement around the program to start the year, but Cooley himself wasn’t shying away from talking about the amount of work in front of him. Georgetown’s not going to be good this season, and Jayden Epps continuing to miss time — he’s been out the last two games — isn’t going to make things easier to say the least.

Seton Hall Pirates: -85

Record: 6-4
Scoring Leader: Kadary Richmond, 14.7 ppg
Rebounding Leader: Jaden Bediako, 7.9 rpg
Assists Leader: Kadary Richmond, 4.4 apg
Best Win: at #85 Missouri, 93-87
Worst Loss: vs #77 Rutgers, 70-63
NCAA Projection: No.

Want to know why the computers don’t like Seton Hall after projecting them as a team that should have NCAA tournament hopes to start the season? They’re not defending.

This is Shaheen Holloway’s sixth season as a Division 1 head coach. We’ll give him a pass on Year One. Years Two Through Five, his teams were somewhere in the top 100 of the KenPom defensive rankings. More importantly than that, they kept getting better. #80 to #61 to #25 in his final year at Saint Peter’s, and then #20 last year in his debut campaign with the Pirates.

Right now? #125.

Holloway’s teams have struggled to score in the past, but that’s not a problem now, jumping up from #133 last year on offense to #62 right now. But since they can’t defend their way out of a wet paper bag, their computer numbers are in a full blown nose dive. They don’t have any bad losses, they don’t have any questionable wins, and they even got their best win of the season on Sunday afternoon in Kansas City. But they had to get into a shootout with a not particularly good Missouri team to get that win, and that’s something that last year’s SHU team wouldn’t have had to do. Can Holloway figure out how to get this team to defend the way that he wants? If he can, and the offense stays where it is, then this team could be dangerous. For now though, they have the second worst dropoff from the preseason in the entire league.

DePaul: -246

Record: 2-8
Scoring Leader: Chico Carter, 14.0 ppg
Rebounding Leader: Jeremiah Oden, 4.2 rpg
Assists Leader: Chico Carter, 4.4 apg
Best Win: vs #175 Louisville, 75-68
Worst Loss: vs #190 Northern Illinois, 89-79
NCAA Projection: No.

DePaul’s Preseason Projections:

KenPom: #113
T-Rank: #127

DePaul’s Current Rankings:

KenPom: #215
T-Rank: #271

That’s, uh, real bad. It’s one thing to be worse than expected like a few teams we’ve seen wobble downwards. It’s another thing to be over 100 spots worse in the rankings. For context as to what DePaul is doing here: Last year when I did this, Villanova had the worst change, and they were only down 113 combined spots AND that was largely because they didn’t have Justin Moore at all for their first 10 games AND they only had Cam Whitmore for three games.

“Missing a Big East Player of the Year candidate and a projected lottery pick” is not DePaul’s problem here.

Serious question for DePaul administration, since the Tony Stubblefield hire was questionable at best from ethical points of view and is clearly not working from a basketball results points of view: Why should athletic director DeWayne Peevy be allowed to hire another men’s basketball coach?