For better or for worse, Big East play is in full swing and our boys currently have one game remaining on a road trip that saw Joshua Smith receive an academic suspension and gave Jabril Trawick a broken jaw. The starting lineup now includes a true freshman and Mikael Hopkins where once upon a time we had guys like the aforementioned Smith and the hope of Greg Whittington's return. As much as the team may struggle throughout the season (see: Providence), this crew could deliver a lot of heart-attack inducing games (see: Butler). The rest of the Big East has also delivered some exciting basketball as well. Creighton's victory over Xavier Sunday was a hard-fought victory that showcased the skills of Doug McDermott and Semaj Christon. DePaul and Butler played a double overtime game earlier in the week and on Saturday St. John's stood their ground and almost knocked off #8 Villanova. While the games are exciting, the majority of the actual teams in the league have been disappointing through the middle of January. After the #3 spot in these power rankings, the quality of the teams plummets. Actually, these rankings starting at #6 turn into a shitshow of "can you really call St. John's the seventh best team in the league if they haven't won a Big East game yet?" This is the hand we've been dealt in year one of the new Big East, so let's just enjoy the games like Saturday's Butler thriller and drink ourselves through the rest.
Note: These Power Rankings are only meant to reflect the most recent results. The bottom four teams were picked out of a hat.
1. Villanova (15-1, 4-0)
Last Week: W @ Seton Hall (83-67), W @ St. John's (74-67)
Next Week: vs. DePaul (1/18)
Why they're ranked here: The Wildcats are far and away the best team in the Big East this season. Their #4 ranking from KenPom is derived from their impressive defense that ranks 7th in Adjusted Efficiency. Their matchup against St. John's was closer than head coach Jay Wright would have liked, but Villanova is still undefeated in league play through the first two weeks. JayVaughn Pinkston has been great so far, averaging over 16 points and 5 rebounds per game on over 50% shooting from the field. While he gets 6 minutes less per game than Pinkston, Josh Hart has also been effective, recording the 16th best Offensive Rating in the country of 134.7. Now that Ryan Arcidiacono is starting to find his shot, watch out for the Wildcats as Big East play progresses.
2. Creighton (14-2, 4-0)
LW: W @ DePaul (81-62), W vs. Xavier (95-89)
NW: vs. Butler (1/14), @ Providence (1/18)
WTRH: More than a dozen NBA scouts showed up to Xavier at Creighton on Sunday to watch superstar Doug McDermott square off against Semaj Christon and they certainly left impressed. McDermott scored 35 of the Bluejays' 95 points en route to his team starting 4-0 in their first Big East season. This team has come a long way since their now-fluky losses in California and are honestly scary to watch. Creighton doesn't just score a ton of points a game (81.5 to be precise, good for 26th in the country), they facilitate and find the open man like few other teams. The Bluejays are second in the nation in assists per game and lead the nation in Adjusted Offensive Efficiency. The loss of Grant Gibbs certainly hurts, but if Sunday's performance is any indication, Creighton's going to be just fine. For your weird fact of the week, I present this tweet from Xavier blog Banners on the Park:
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p>Just wanted to pass along that Creighton's Grant Gibbs is older than James Harden. Thanks, <a href="https://twitter.com/muskiefan3">@muskiefan3</a>, for pointing that out to me.</p>— Banners on the Park (@BannersParkway) <a href="https://twitter.com/BannersParkway/statuses/422096086539325440">January 11, 2014</a></blockquote>
<script async src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>
3. Xavier (13-4, 3-1)
LW: W vs. Marquette (86-79), L @ Creighton (95-89)
NW: vs. Georgetown (1/15)
WTRH: Yes, they came up just short against Creighton, but Xavier's 54 point second half performance was nothing short of remarkable. Semaj Christon scored 27 and Justin Martin put up 21 in the Musketeer's first loss on American soil this season. Xavier started the game off hot by knocking down four three-pointers before Creighton got on the board but eventually lost primarily due to the play of two-time All-American Doug McDermott. This game counts as a moral victory for the Musketeers though, as an 89-point performance against one of the tougher teams in the country in an away game is nothing to feel bad about. Xavier ranks 28th nationally in Adjusted Offensive Efficiency (which is quickly becoming my go-to stat now that two of the top three teams in the league are emerging as offensive juggernauts). In games played within the United States, Xavier hasn't scored less than 63 points and are absolutely a fun team to watch. For Georgetown fans who suffered through last season's 37-36 win over Tennessee last season, Xavier is a fun contrast in styles. They square off against our Hoyas this week in the Cintas Center.
4. Georgetown (10-3, 3-1)
LW: L @ Providence (70-52), W @ Butler (70-67, OT)
NW: @ Xavier (1/15), vs. Seton Hall (1/18)
WTRH: If I told you at the beginning of the season that John Caprio would be our tallest player on the court during the overtime period in a conference game, how would you have reacted? Not well, right? The Providence game last Wednesday was downright unwatchable, but Georgetown redeemed itself by pulling out a tough team win in Hinkle Field House on Saturday night. Earlier in the season, I broke down the Hinkle
Magic Voodoo, so needless to say, I'm impressed by our win on Saturday. Being this shorthanded with a team that already lacks talent is going to be tough moving forward. My only suggestion for the rest of 2014 is to booze early and often and dream of next season.
5. Providence (11-5, 1-2)
LW: W vs. Georgetown (70-52)
NW: @ St. John's (1/16), vs. Creighton (1/18)
WTRH: Providence dominated Georgetown for 40 minutes on Wednesday and never allowed the Hoyas to get close during the second half. That win almost makes me forget about the fact that the Friars lost to Seton Hall on New Year's Eve. I'm not convinced that Providence is that bad this season and they may sneak into a tournament spot when it's all said and done. Their out-of-conference losses came against Maryland, Kentucky and a ranked UMASS squad that they took to overtime, none of which are particularly egregious. If the Friars can take care of business in the Big East, they could be looking at a 9-seed in the tourney, which would be their first appearance in the dance since their 2004 loss to Pacific in the first round.
6. Marquette (10-7, 2-2)
LW: L @ Xavier (86-79), W vs. Seton Hall (67-66)
NW: @ Butler (1/18)
WTRH: I had the unfortunate experience of deciding to watch the last few minutes of Marquette's win over Seton Hall on Saturday. To summarize for those of you with anything better to do: Marquette barely scraped by Seton Hall and gave the Pirates several opportunities to make a play to win the game. What happened to you, Golden Eagles? Just last season you were in the Elite 8 and now you're gritting out tough wins against Seton Hall. Gus Johnson and Bill Raftery put it best during the St. John's / Villanova broadcast when they said "Marquette just can't score." The Golden Eagles are 288th nationally in 3P% and 256th in FT%, which is abysmal. Nobody expected Marquette to have seven losses at this point in the season, but that's how things have played out. They go through a particularly rough stretch of Big East play in the next two weeks, travelling to Butler and Georgetown before taking on Villanova at home.
7. St. John's (9-6, 0-3)
LW: L vs. Villanova (74-67)
NW: @ DePaul (1/14), vs. Providence (1/16), vs. Dartmouth (1/18)
WTRH: More on the Johnnies at the bottom.
8. DePaul (9-8, 1-3)
LW: L vs. Creighton (81-62), W @ Butler (99-94, 2OT)
NW: vs. St. John's (1/14), @ Villanova (1/18)
WTRH: I've yet to watch a single DePaul game yet this season, but based solely on record and statistics, this team is somewhere between unremarkable and terrible. They've dropped games to Southern Miss and Illinois State but beat Butler in 2 OT, which is only one overtime more than it took us to beat Butler. Cleveland Melvin leads the Blue Demons with 16.6 Points per Game and 6.5 Rebounds per Game. Brandon Young leads the team in % of minutes played and % of possessions used.
9. Seton Hall (10-7, 1-3)
LW: L vs. Villanova (83-67), L @ Marquette (67-66)
NW: @ Georgetown (1/18)
WTRH: In a normal season, Seton Hall barely losing to Marquette would be a major moral victory for the Pirates, but in 2014 it just illustrates how poorly Marquette has been playing. Like DePaul, there isn't much to say about Seton Hall. They've suffered their fair share of bad losses against Mercer and St. Peter's but also have a win against providence. Brian Oliver has been great for the Pirates so far, posting a career-high 45% from deep while attempting almost 10 shots from there per game. As poor as they've been playing this season, something in my gut tells me Saturday's game at the Verizon Center is going to be entirely too close. Time for some more bourbon.
10. Butler (10-6, 0-4)
LW: W @ Evansville (68-59)
NW: vs. NJIT (12/28)
WTRH: Butler was getting some buzz at the end of non-conference play after nearly beating Oklahoma State and LSU. They came close to knocking off Villanova on New Year's Eve, but have struggled since then and now sit at 0-4 in the new Big East. Three of their league losses have come at home which is surprising and disappointing for the Bulldogs. Dunham and Marshall are still playing great basketball, but this team isn't able to close out games. Georgetown was without Joshua Smith, Nate Lubick and Mikael Hopkins in overtime on Saturday night and the Bulldogs still couldn't put away the weakened Hoyas. Three of their league losses went to overtime (weirdly all three of these games were at home as well), which tells me Butler is competitive, just not quite there. They're certainly not the worst team in the league, but the rules of the power rankings clearly state that if you've never won a Big East game in the history of your team's existence, you get the 10 spot.
Spotlight Team: St. John's
What's Going On With St. John's:
I'll avoid talking about St. John's first half disaster against Georgetown and instead use this space to talk about the more unfamiliar points from their season to Georgetown fans. The Johnnies rallied against #2 Syracuse in the second half and nearly knocked off the Orange but were outplayed down the stretch. The story against Villanova on Saturday was similar. The Johnnies had opportunities to win but ultimately couldn't pull off the upset. The game was sloppy on both sides with many deflected passes and near-turnovers, especially from the Red Storm. The fact that 10 of Villanova's 12 turnovers came in the first half illustrates how sloppy the first 20minutes of play were (you can call it defense, but I saw some of those plays, it was sloppy too). The two teams combined for 33 missed layups in this game. The Johnnies shot 17% from beyond the arc in the game as well. Our friends over at Rumble in the Garden are grumbling about the Johnnies' half-court offense and for good reason, this team seemed to settle for a lot of bad shots against Syracuse and Villanova (I realize these are both top-10 squads, so barely losing these two games is no indication that this team is bad, those just happen to be the two non-Georgetown games I've caught this season).
Why They'll Beat Georgetown:
Based solely on the game on January 4th, St. John's can't beat Georgetown. They came out completely flat in the first half and went into the locker room down 16-42 after allowing D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera to drop 20 points through 20 minutes. D'Angelo Harrison is the best player for the Red Storm, averaging 18.7 Points per Game. He was held to four points on 1-12 shooting from the field in the first matchup against the Hoyas, so one has to question whether a complete game from Harrison could be the difference when the two teams square off in MSG. Outside of Harrison, St. John's can win against Georgetown if Jakarr Simpson plays well. With Joshua Smith's indefinite absence, the Hoyas might not have an answer for the 6'9" sophomore out of Akron. In the earlier matchup against Georgetown, Sampson was held to six points in only 18 minutes. Based on what we saw earlier this month though, it'll take an outstanding game from both of the previously mentioned Johnnies to beat the Hoyas. St. John's has been effective thus far this season in limiting turnovers, ranking 16th nationally in Turnover %. Further, they lead the nation in Block% allowed. Nate Lubick didn't record a single block in the earlier matchup. The Johnnies could have success taking the ball to the rim on February 16th.
Why They'll Lose to Georgetown:
D'Angelo Harrison may be St. John's best player, but the guy misses a ton of shots. Thus far, Harrison is shooting 27% in league play and chucked up 20 shots in their loss to Xavier. This may be a function of the Johnnies' struggles in their half-court offense, but he's yet to shoot 40% from the field in any season of his career, so this blogger is willing to say he's a volume shooter whose Points per Game numbers come from taking 14 shots a game. St. John's struggled against Georgetown's press in the first matchup as well. While the press won't be as effective due to Jabril Trawick's absence and replacement by Reggie Cameron, the Hoyas could still give the Johnnies fits on offense. The Red Storm rank 250th in Effective FG% and 231st in 2P%, so this team won't be shooting Georgetown out of the gym this season. In fact, "the most talented team in the Big East" is shooting 35% from two thus far in Big East play. Georgetown has won their last six matchups against St. John's and barring a hot shooting night from D'Angelo Harrison, this streak will continue.