Not a bad week around our conference with the Big East only dropping two games total this week, both against very good opponents in Wisconsin and Arizona State. The majority of the teams in the league defeated overmatched non-conference opponents, some in more convincing fashion than others. We're three weeks away from the start of league play, so most of the teams (not including the Hoyas and Villanova / St. John's who both have a game against Syracuse looming) have now wrapped up their challenging fall games and are beating up on smaller-conference schools for the rest of December. Thus far, teams not named Villanova are jumbled in the middle, as seven teams have either two or three losses. While very little happened in the league this week, I'm still thankful for Villanova's performance last week for how good I feel about this league. Between Nova, Creighton, Georgetown and (maybe Marquette), Big East fans have a lot to look forward to in 2014. Of course, I'm an optimist who's willing to ignore Georgetown's loss to Northeastern and Creighton's losses in the Wooden Legacy, so take that last paragraph how you will.
Note: These Power Rankings are only meant to reflect the most recent results.
Last Week: W vs. Penn (77-54), W @ St. Joseph's (98-68)
Next Week: vs. LaSalle (12/15)
Why they're ranked here: Villanova avoided a post-Bahamas letdown this week by blowing out two Big 5 schools with a third coming up next week. The Wildcats jumped out to a 46-28 halftime lead on Wednesday against Penn and then followed that performance up by outscoring St. Joseph's by 26 points in the second half of their Saturday matchup. After the St. Joe's game, James Bell said "[it's] very enjoyable to do it the right way." Well put, Bell. The Wildcats are sitting pretty at 9-0 overall with a #14 AP Top 25 ranking and look to be ready to contend for the Big East title.
LW: W vs. North Dakota (79-64)
NW: vs. Manchester (12/9), Crossroads Classic vs. Purdue (12/14)
WTRH: Beating a 2-5 North Dakota squad at home by itself isn't much of a reason for the Butler Bulldogs to hold on to the #2 spot here, but in the absence of any big wins throughout the rest of the conference, the Bulldogs get to keep their spot as a legacy pick. Kellen Dunham scored 15 of Butler's final 29 points in the first half of the game to put them up by 17 at the half and the Bulldogs were able to coast the rest of the way. He finished with 29 points including five three-pointers and now has almost 20 Points per Game. Their two losses this season are by a combined four points, so there hasn't been a time yet where this squad was completely out of a ball game. Butler returns to the Crossroads Classic this week, an event where they beat an incredibly talented Indiana squad in overtime last season.
LW: W @ Long Beach State (78-61), W vs. Nebraska (82-67)
NW: No games
WTRH: In all honesty, Creighton should have jumped Butler for #2 this week due to their strong performances in a west coast game followed up by a win over a Big-12 school, even if Nebraska's resume is nothing impressive. However, the GW loss still stings and it's hard to knock Butler down a peg when they took care of business in their only game this week. The Jays played well and are still ranked highly in several categories. Creighton is #8 in Adjusted Offensive Efficiency and #5 in Effective FG% behind, you guessed it, Doug McDermott's strong play. The senior scored 33 points against Nebraska, 11 of which came in the first five minutes of the game. Creighton held a 32 point lead late in the first half and never looked back against the Cornhuskers on Sunday. The Bluejays will have a say in the Big East championship race, as they still look like strong contenders to challenge Villanova.
LW: W vs. High Point (80-45), W vs. Colgate (61-55)
NW: No games
WTRH: The Hoyas have a knack for bad first halves thus far, an annoying trend that continued into week four. The silver lining in this week is that Georgetown scored 52 and 40 points in the second halves of their two games. Mikael Hopkins had a pretty good week, scoring a total of 18 points and recording 14 rebounds across the two games. The Junior now averages 8.0 Points per Game and 6.1 Rebounds per Game for the season coming off the bench. At the risk of starting a discussion section argument, he should crack the starting five as this season progresses. Nate Lubick averages four shots per game, something that defenses are very well aware of. I love Thundersnow, but it can't go ignored that defenses play like he isn't a threat to pull up and shoot or drive to the hoop. JT III is a fun of Lubick's play, but starting Comrade Hopkins in a tune-up game wouldn't be the worst experiment for the Hoyas offense, just to see what would happen.
5. St. John's
LW: W vs. Fordham (104-58)
NW: vs. Syracuse (12/15, Madison Square Garden)
WTRH: St. John's took care of Fordham easily this week, scoring 100 points for the first time in nearly 14 years. In the blowout win, the Red Storm made 17 consecutive shots and didn't miss for over 12 minutes of game time. For the game, the Johnnies made 66% of their attempts from the field and 60% from deep. The real story for St. John's is their defense through this early stage. St. John's ranks #1 in the nation in Block %, #2 in opponent's 2P% and #9 in opponent's Effective FG%. Some of that may come from their competition (Longwood, Monmouth and Fordham specifically), but ranking that highly in any defensive category through eight games is still something to brag about. The Johnnie's take on Syracuse this week in the Garden, hopefully putting an end to Cuse's undefeated season.
LW: L @ Wisconsin (70-64)
NW: IUPUI (12/14)
WTRH: I genuinely like Marquette as a team and wish them the best until conference play begins, but this year's team is failing at asserting itself as the Big East's dominant team. Losing to two top-10 clubs isn't embarrassing by any stretch, but for a team that was picked to finish first in the conference this season, you'd like to see them knock off a quality team or two in non-conference play. The Golden Eagles played #8 Wisconsin close on Saturday, but eventually weren't enough for the Badgers who were led by Sam Dekker's 20 point, 10 rebound performance. Jamil Wilson and Davante Gardner both scored well, tallying 22 and 16 points respectively. Marquette still ranks above 200th in the country in 3P%, 2P% and FT%, but they're 26th in Offensive Rebounding %. The bright spot there is that while they're missing a lot of shots, at least they're getting second chances to shoot again.
LW: W vs. Rhode Island (50-49)
NW: No games
WTRH: Hitting a late free throw to break a tie against an A-10 school that had previously been blown out by SMU certainly wasn't Providence's ideal finish on Saturday, but at least they came away with the win. The Friars are now 8-2 for the season with no true bad losses, but eventually having the 331st best Field Goal % in Division I basketball is going to catch up to Providence. However, this team is second in the country in FT% behind only Boston College, which could help them eke out a few close wins in 2014.
LW: W vs. Bowling Green (85-73, OT)
NW: vs. Evansville (12/10), vs. Cincinnati (12/14, US Bank Arena)
WTRH: More on Xavier at the bottom.
9. Seton Hall
LW: W vs. LIU Brooklyn (92-81), W @ Rutgers (77-71)
NW: vs. NJIT (12/10), vs. St. Peter's (12/14)
WTRH: Seton Hall prevailed in a battle of two teams that both lost to Fairleigh Dickinson on Sunday when they defeated in-state rival Rutgers 77-71. The Pirates saw an 11 point lead with just over three minutes to play deteriorate as Rutgers pulled within one point late in the game, but Seton Hall scored the last five points of the game to pull away with the victory. KenPom's predictions for the remainder of the season (nowhere near perfect, but interesting to look at) have Seton Hall only winning one conference game this season, that game coming against DePaul. The Pirates and Blue Demons could see a lot of time in these bottom two spaces of the Power Rankings.
LW: L vs. Arizona State (78-56)
NW: vs. Florida Atlantic (12/12), vs. Chicago State (12/15)
WTRH: Welcome back to the conference cellar, DePaul. The Blue Demon's only game this week was a 22-point loss to Arizona State, who is now 2-1 against the Big East. Despite keeping the game close going into the half, DePaul quickly fell behind by 20 points in the first eight minutes of the second half. DePaul is now 260th in the nation in assists per game and 209th in rebounding. Cleveland Melvin and Brandon Young are both averaging over 16 Points per Game for this squad and Melvin is shooting a career-high 53% from deep, but this team struggles in too many areas to do much this season. KenPom's predictions also have the Blue Demons winning one conference game this season, a year after they won two Big East games.
Spotlight Team: Xavier
What's Going On With Xavier:
I've never been shy about Xavier being my second-favorite college basketball team behind Georgetown, as my twin brother is a proud Xavier alum, and I've enjoyed a handful of great games at the cozy Cintas Center. I reached out to him to provide some insights for this section, so he helped co-write the following paragraphs.
Xavier has a short, but rich history of solid basketball. Since 2004, the Musketeers have reached the Elite 8 twice and have reached the Sweet 16 the most times in Division I in that same period (5). Xavier invests 29% of their entire athletic budget on basketball-a higher percentage than Duke-and the years of hard work and investment have finally paid off with their move to the Big East this season despite a down year last season. The team looked to be in great shape to rattle off years of Sweet 16 appearances in 2011 when they were ranked in the top 10 behind the play of Tu Holloway, Mark Lyons and Dez Wells, who seemed to be ready to pick up where Jordan Crawford left off. The season went downhill quickly after an ugly brawl with Cincinnati in the Crosstown Shootout and all three of those players were gone by the start of the following season (Tu attempted to go to the NBA, Mark transferred to Arizona and Dez transferred to Maryland after being expelled from Xavier following a sexual assault allegation in which he eventually sued Xavier over). What we're getting at here is that this Xavier team has little of the identity of that 2011 squad, for better or worse. This season was supposed to be Xavier's redemption after the building year that was last year after the departure of those three. With Semaj Christon continuing to develop and one last go round for Dee Davis and Issiah Philmore plus the welcomed additions of Myles Davis and Brandon Randolph, the year seemed to have great possibilities. This was true for the first five games but the wheels completely fell off when the team had to leave the United States. Xavier lost all three games in the Battle 4 Atlantis against Iowa, Tennessee, and USC. Even in their return to the Cintas Center the team looked rough and had to go to overtime just to beat Bowling Green. Xavier has shown flashes of brilliance that earned them an invitation to the Big East, but there's also been a lot of ugly that needs to be sorted out.
Why They'll Beat Georgetown:
Simply put, this team has the potential and depth that last year's team was lacking. A steady rotation of Christon, Randolph, and the Davis duo at guard with their A games could spell trouble for Georgetown and almost any team. Out of those four the only one who is playing up to the expectations is Myles Davis, who is currently shooting 40% from behind the arc and brining flashbacks to Brad Redford's days in Cincinnati. This team also has James Farr coming off the bench and putting up strong numbers that a lot of people did not see coming. Farr has a knack for put-backs after Xavier misses that adds value to possessions that aren't accurately reflected in his stat line. Matt Stainbrook, Xavier's version of Joshua Smith-a large center who showed promise at his first school but would ultimately have his physical and mental resolve questioned before trasnferring, has been a welcomed addition and has become a rebounding monster. Currently Xavier is 51st in the nation in rebounds per game which could spell trouble for Georgetown who is over one hundred places behind at 168th. Stainbrook could dominate Joshua Smith down low and won't bounce off Smith while playing defense. If Xavier begins to play to their potential then they could take a home win in January.
Why They'll Lose to Georgetown:
In the last paragraph I was referring to the potential that Xavier holds. Unfortunately, a lot of that has only been seen in small glimpses. Semaj Christon is still battling the growing pains and leg problems that plagued him last season. During the second half of the Iowa game in the Bahamas-a game Xavier was in control of-Christon had to sit out due to cramping legs. He had this problem last season as well, which is a major liability to know that a team's best player could be unable to play down the stretch. Dee Davis, despite his underdog size and alpha dog effort has not put up anywhere close to the same stats that people predicted for him and the same is true for Issiah Philmore. Right now not even Sherlock Holmes could figure out what James Martin is trying to do on a basketball court, as he has been the most mysterious player in a long time at Xavier. This team is capable of having a 15 point lead over the #23 team in the country and also capable of barely beating Bowling Green in overtime. Xavier at their best can beat Georgetown but the odds don't seem that likely after each passing game. Smith-Rivera is even hotter from behind the arc than Davis is and would wreak havoc on the Xavier defense. If the game is close late, then all Georgetown needs to do is start fouling. Xavier is currently shooting a scary 60% from the free throw line and the team's star point guard Christon is only shooting 50%. In the Bowling Green game, it took two clutch free throws from Semaj to take the game to overtime, a performance that few people can see him repeating despite his undoubtedly strong mental resolve. The only positive about Xavier's free throw woes is that their opponents are only shooting 62% from the charity stripe, so maybe there's some weird voodoo in the Cintas Center (I'm aware that stat means nothing at all, but maybe we're all about to find out that poor free throw shooting is contagious?). If Christon has to miss much of the game due to injury then Georgetown should not have any problems running away from Xavier.