Lee Kunkel (@Kunkel5)
With students around the country taking their final exams for the fall semesters, CoBL is taking grading out teams in a few conferences with local teams. The new Big East has one team in the top 10 at this point, but it’s certainly not who people thought it would be. A lot of other teams are off to strong starts as well. The good, the bad and a grade for each team follows:
Butler Bulldogs (7-2)
The Good: Butler has gotten off to a very fast start for a team that many expected to finish at the bottom of the Big East in their inaugural season. They have a few decent wins over Vanderbilt and Washington State. Their losses to Oklahoma State –by two points on a neutral court– and to LSU –also by 2, in OT on a neutral court– aren’t detrimental. They finish with three winnable games before Big East play starts, and could be a respectable 10-2 in the non conference. The Bulldogs are currently 11th in the nation in offensive turnover percentage, meaning they do not give the ball away. They’re also 50th in the country in adjusted defense at 97.0 points-per-100 possessions.
The Bad: The Bulldogs may enter Big East play at 10-2, but they will not have any resume building wins which are very important for teams on the bubble come March. Their best win according to KenPom will be Princeton –who is 71st in the KenPom ratings– and that’s not going to do a whole lot if the Bulldogs are vying for an at-large bid. There will be opportunities during Big East play, and Butler will need to make those opportunities count if they plan on getting back to the NCAA tournament. Butler is also shooting 65.6 percent from the free throw line as a team (that’s 278th in the country). Most Big East games are likely going to come down to the last few minutes, where free throw shooting becomes so critical. The Bulldogs need to improve on that if they want to win those close games.
Creighton Bluejays (7-2)
The Good: The Bluejays have a few really good wins over Arizona State, St. Joe’s, Nebraska and own a 7-2 record with three games to play before their first Big East season begins. They still have an opportunity to pick up a nice win over a good California team on December 22nd. Doug McDermott is third in the nation at 25.3 points-per-game, and the Creighton is once again one of the most lethal offenses in the entire country, scoring 117.6 points-per-100 possessions (seventh in college basketball). The Bluejays shoot an outstanding 44.2 percent from three-point-range, fifth best in the nation. Currently almost every key offensive stat is in the top-100 according to KenPom. The defense isn’t too shabby either, giving up 98.9 points-per-100 possessions (71st in the country).
The Bad: Creighton blew a few golden opportunities in the Wooden Legacy out in Fullerton California. Favorites entering the tournament, the Jays slipped up in the second round against a good San Diego State team and followed that up by losing to George Washington. Neither loss will look horrifying, but Creighton left the tournament a disappointing 1-2. For a team that should make the NCAA tournament, this blown opportunity could be the difference between a five seed, and a seven seed. Come March that’s a big deal. The Bluejays are also struggling to turn teams over (16.4 defensive turnover percentage) and only own a block percentage of 5.2 percent. Both are outside the top 270 in the country. These statistics show that they lack size and athleticism, something that could prove costly against bigger more athletic teams in the Big East.
DePaul Blue Demons (4-4)
The Good: There really aren’t any bad losses on the resume with five games to go before Big East play starts. Southern Miss and Wichita State are two of the best mid-major teams in the country –both ranked in the top 3 of the latest mid-major power rankings by our friends over at NBC Sports– and Texas and Arizona State are good teams. They have a win over Oregon State, who could contend for an at-large berth in the Pac-12. That’s a very nice win to build upon. Brandon Young is having another great year, averaging 16.3 points-per-game, 4.3 rebounds-per-game, and 4.4 assists-per-game. His side kick –Cleveland Melvin–has been just as solid, averaging 16.1 points-per-game and 6.3 rebounds-per-contest.
The Bad: Once again, it appears Depaul will struggle to get out of the basement of the Big East. They blew a few opportunities to pick up some nice wins entering conference play, losing to Wichita State and Texas on a neutral court. In their four losses, they really haven’t been competitive, losing by 18 points to both the Shockers and Longhorns and at home to Arizona State (they also lost by seven points at home to Southern Miss). The defense is by far the worst in the conference, allowing 107.2 points-per-100 possessions. No team other than Seton Hall is above 100 points per-100 possessions (and the Pirates are a respectable 100.7). Outside of Melvin and Young, there isn’t a whole lot of Big East level talent on this team, and that’s a worry for a team that has been in “rebuild” mode for years now.
Georgetown Hoyas (6-2)
The Good: After getting upset by Northeastern in the first round of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off it appeared the Hoyas were in for a tough tournament. They then went on to save their non-conference season by beating Kansas State, and upsetting number 10 VCU –their best win of the season so far– finishing the tournament 2-1. A trip to Kansas remains on the schedule before conference play begins, and they play Michigan State in New York City on February 1st, so the opportunity to pick up some big time non-conference wins remains. D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera (16.6 ppg, 4.3 rpg), Markel Starks (15.0 ppg, 4.9 apg), and Josh Smith (13.6 ppg, 4.1 rpg) have been sensational. Smith is only playing 19.5 minutes-per-game at this point in the season. As he gets in better shape, he could become a major factor for the Hoyas. Georgetown once again has one of the better defenses in the county. Their defensive effective field goal percentage of 39.4 percent –carried by their 24.2 three point FG percentage against– is third in the country.
The Bad: The Hoyas are off to a fast start, but the news of Greg Whittington transferring is a blow. Whittington was recovering from a torn ACL and was likely out for the season, but it is still a big loss for John Thompson III and his staff. As for the current team on the court, they certainly didn’t help themselves by losing to Northeastern. They also have really struggled from three-point-range as a team, shooting just 30.8 percent. That will need to increase once they enter Big East play if the offense is going to continue to thrive.
Marquette Golden Eagles (5-4)
The Good: The defense has been tremendous for the Golden Eagles. Thier adjusted effective efficiency of 95.0 is 28th in the country, their effective field goal percentage of 45 percent in 51st in the country, and they’re one of the best defensive teams inside the three point arc, holding teams to 42.2 percent from two-point-range. Davante Gardner has been really good, averaging 14.2 points-per-game, along with 6.6 rebounds-per-game. The win over George Washington on a neutral court could look really good come March, but outside of that Marquette has missed a lot of good opportunities.
The Bad: Losing to Ohio State, Arizona State, San Diego State, and Wisconsin is not going to cost Marquette a spot in the NCAA tournament, but that’s a lot of blown opportunities. They still get New Mexico in Vegas on December 21st and that will be their last opportunity to get anything from their non-conference schedule. The offense is also a bit of a worry. Against competition comparative to Big East play (Ohio State, Arizona State, San Diego State, Wisconsin) they’re averaging only 58.7 points-per-game. They’re also shooting a poultry 27.8 percent from three, that’s good for 316th in all of college basketball. That lousy three-point-percentage leads to a pretty bad effective-field goal-percentage of just 46.1 percent (278th in the country). If Marquette is going to contend for a Big East title –or even an NCAA bid– they must improve the offense.
Providence Friars (8-2)
The Good: Starting the year off 8-2 –with the two losses to Maryland and Kentucky on a neutral court– is pretty impressive given the suspensions to freshman Brandon Austin and Rodney Bullock, along with the injury to Kris Dunn. Wins over Boston College, Vermont, Vanderbilt, La Salle and Rhode Island are all collectively solid, though none of those will jump out at the committee come March. They still get an opportunity at UMASS to notch a great non-conference win. Bryce Cotton is once again the leader for the Friars. The senior is averaging 18.6 points-per-game along with five assists-per-game. NC State transfer Tyler Harris has been a welcome addition, averaging 12.7 points-per-game and 4.8 rebounds-per-game. He’s helped form a nice trio with Kadeem Batts (12.3 ppg, 7.4 rpg) and LaDontae Henton (12.7 ppg, 7.7 rpg). Statically, the Friars have been great on both ends of the court (105.7 adjusted offensive efficiency, 95.3 adjusted defensive efficiency), and their 80.7 percent team free throw average is third best in all of college basketball.
The Bad: The injury to Dunn is a massive blow. The sophomore guard will undergo season ending shoulder surgery and will miss the rest of the season. The suspensions to Austin and Bullock haven’t helped either. Both have yet to play a minute for the Friars, and it hasn’t been announced when either could return. With those three all out of the fold, Providence has little to no depth. Austin and Bullock could return at some point, and both will need to play a role for the Friars to build on their early season success. Losing to Maryland on a neutral court hurts a lot. That’s a win that would have gone a long way if the Terps and Friars are both on the bubble come March. The 32.0 three-point-percentage isn’t pretty either.
Seton Hall Pirates (7-3)
The Good: Beating Rutgers was huge. The Pirates aren’t off to a great start, but losing to the Knights would have been a low blow. It’s big for perception, recruiting, and moral moving forward. The Virginia Tech win looks nice too, after all it’s currently the Hall’s only top 100 win (according to KenPom). Seton Hall has been okay on both sides of the ball and has done a great job getting to the free throw line. They’re 19th nationally with a 56.3 free throw rate (FTA/FGA). Sterling Gibbs and Fuquan Edwin have been solid for the Hall. Gibbs is averaging 16.0 points-per-game, Edwin 13.8 points-per-game. The senior Edwin is down a few points-per-game from his junior year.
The Bad: Losing to Fairleigh Dickinson was not in the plan. That’s a really bad loss. The loss to Mercer is pretty bad too. Sure the Bears will contend for the Atlantic Sun title, but their is no reason a Big East team should lose to an Atlantic Sun team, even if it is on the road. The one point loss to Oklahoma hurt a lot too. The loss itself isn’t detrimental, but it blew an opportunity for the Pirates to play number one ranked Michigan State at the Barclays Center, just a few miles from Seton Hall’s campus. That’s a big-time missed opportunity. The Pirates have three winnable games left before Big East play starts, and they can’t afford another slip-up. Statiscally, the Hall is really struggling at protecting the rim with a low 8.1 block percentage (215th nationally). They’re also allowing teams to shoot 37.1 percent from there.
St. John’s Red Storm (6-2)
The Good: The Red Storm have some nice wins over Georgia Tech (neutral court, but it was the Barclays Center in NYC) and Bucknell. They have also avoided any bad losses so far this season (losing to Wisconsin and PSU away from home shouldn’t be too costly) and that’s a plus for a young and sometimes inconsistent team. Their last game –a 104-58 beat down of Fordham– showed why many regard coach Steve Lavin’s team as the most talented and athletic in the Big East. That elite athleticism shows up on the defensive end. The Johnnies are 41st nationally in adjusted defense at 95.7 points-per-100 possessions and are first –yes number one in all of college basketball– in block percentage, denying an absurd 25.9 percent of teams shots. That block percentage helps St. John’s protect the paint, and that has led to a defensive two-point percentage of 38.9 percent, third nationally. If the Red Storm can translate that athleticism to the offensive end, watch out. Sunday (December 15th) St. John’s gets former Big East rival #2 Syracuse in the Garden. This will be a huge opportunity for Lavin and his team.
The Bad: Losing to Penn State isn’t bad, but could prove costly come March. If they don’t upset Syracuse, they won’t have a marquee win in the non-conference, and in the past that has cost teams a shot at an at-large berth in the NCAA tournament. The inconsistency is also frustrating. They have games like Fordham, where they look like they could contend for the Big East title but they also have games where they struggle to put away inferior teams (see the Monmouth game). They’ve avoided a costly slip-up but it’s something to track as they play better competition. A off night against Monmouth is still a win, but that type of performance against Butler or Seton Hall would likely result in a loss. The perimeter shooting is also a worry. The team as a whole is at 32.8 percent from distance and D’Angelo Harrison (18.9 ppg) is at 29.2 percent from three.
Villanova Wildcats (9-0)
The Good: The Wildcats earn the only A in the CoBL Big East grades, and how could they not? It’s been a picture perfect start for the Cats. They won the Battle for Atlantis by defeating USC, top 10 ranked Kansas and a really good Iowa team. Since then they’ve rallied off two straight Big 5 wins, beating Penn at home and Saint Joseph’s on the road (by 30!). They also have two nice wins over some good CAA teams in Delaware and Towson. The statistics back up their strong play too. The Cats have a national top three defense (90.6 points-per-100 possessions) and the 34th best offense (112.3 points-per-100 possessions). They protect the paint as well as anyone, holding teams to 39.9 percent inside the arc. It’s hard to give just one or two players credit for the hot start, but there’s little doubt James Bell has been at the center of it all. The CoBL player of the month for November is averaging 17.6 points-per-game, 7.3 rebounds-per-game and has been great on the defensive end where his versatility allows him to defend multiple positions. Darrun Hillard has provided the perimeter presence needed on the offensive end for the Cats to maintain a balanced attack. He’s 18-43 from three, good for 41.9 percent. Rice transfer Dylan Ennis has also provided good perimeter shooting, making 9-19 (47.4 percent) attempts from distance.
The Bad: It’s hard to find anything bad about the Cat’s performance thus far in 2013. They’re undefeated, went from unranked to Top-10, and look like the class of the Big East. One small worry is the play of Ryan Arcidiacono. The Sophomore is down from 11.9 points-per-game to 9.2 points-per-game but he’s also made some big shots –including a three that helped beat Kansas– so it shouldn’t be anything to panic about. One other small worry, Jayvaughn Pinkston may lead the team in scoring (17.8 ppg) but he’s just 3-18 from three (16.7 percent). Villanova as a team is shooting 32.8 percent from three.
Xavier Muskateers (7-3)
The Good: Semaj Christon is still really good. The sophomore is averaging 16.2 points-per-game along with 4.0 assists-per-game. His quickness –helped by the new hand check rules– make him nearly impossible to stop from getting into the paint. He’s attempted 106 shots inside the paint (making 48, good for 45 percent) while only eight from three (making four, good for 50 percent). He’s one of the most exciting players not only in the conference, but in all of college basketball. The team as a whole is playing very good defense, holding teams to 95.2 points-per-100 possessions. They’re also defending the three-point line well, allowing teams to make just 28.6 percent of their attempts.
The Bad: The Musketeers were rolling along at 5-0, and then came the Battle of Atlantis. As much as the tournament helped the aforementioned Villanova Wildcats, it hurt Xavier. They lost in overtime to Iowa, and then got smacked by Tennessee –offsetting their earlier home win over the Vols– and lost their final game to a bad Southern Cal team. The last three non-conference games –Cincinnati, Alabama, and Wake Forest– will all provided opportunities for coach Chris Mack and his team to turn it around, but that trip to the Caribbean really hurts. Statistically, it’s mind boggling that Xavier is shooting a dreadful 60.7 percent from the free throw line. That’s bad (334th nationally bad). The Musketeers are giving away points at the line. They also turn it over way too much. Their 19.7 turnover percentage is 237th in the country. These are self-inflicted mistakes that I’m sure are driving coach Mack insane. They are correctable, but if they don’t get fixed, Xavier will have a tough time in their first year in the newly formed Big East.