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Big East Power Rankings and Thoughts: Week 16

Every week, I'll be bringing you everything you need to know about the Big East. From power rankings and awards to thoughts on the conference and games you can't miss, this is your weekly one-stop-shop for all your Big East basketball needs.

Marquette's Kam Jones runs down the floor during a game against DePaul. (Photo from Marquette Athletics).

Shout out to Ryan Cassidy for filling in for me last week, he did an admirable job.

A lot happened since I last wrote this. Marquette clinched the title, Villanova rose from the dead, and UConn returned to form. Things develop quickly in the Big East. Every time it seems like you have it all figured out, something new happens. And that's what makes this whole thing fun.

Let's get into this for the last week of the regular season. Time really flies, doesn't it?

Power Rankings

As voted on by our staff weekly.

1. Marquette Golden Eagles

Record: 23-6 (15-3)

Last week: 1

Marquette began the season as No. 9 in the conference. When the AP Top 25 drops this afternoon, I'm sure they'll be at least No. 9 in the country. The Golden Eagles now have at least a share of the best team in the conference, the coach of the year in the league, and likely the player of the year as well. With a win in either of the team's remaining games, Marquette will become standalone champs of the Big East for the first time ever. Shaka Smart has earned a round of applause for what he's done with this program, and Marquette being good is good for the conference. Especially in the absence of Jay Wright, having Smart put up a Naismith Coach of the Year caliber season a year after Ed Cooley won the award shows that the Big East is here to stay.

I know this isn't Marquette's end goal; this team is capable of hoisting a trophy or two in the coming weeks. Enjoy this for what it is, though. This team has provided plenty of entertaining days and nights in Milwaukee, and nothing that happens in March can change that. This is worth celebrating.

2. Providence Friars

Record: 21-8 (13-5)

Last week: 4

Ed Cooley was not happy with his team's performance on Wednesday night at UConn. Providence got outrebounded 40-20 and never looked up to the task physically. That was not the case on Sunday afternoon when the Friars dismantled Georgetown. Providence has won three of four, including wins over Creighton and Villanova and a 20-point victory over the Hoyas. No-showing two games against St. John's and UConn in February does not build confidence in this group, but putting together strong performances in the other games shows just how good this team can be when it's clicking. Wednesday night's game against Xavier should provide a test of the state of the defense, while a regular season finale on FOX against Seton Hall should show what the offense can deliver.

3. Xavier Musketeers

Record: 21-8 (13-5)

Last week: 3

Being held to 63 points on your home floor by a Villanova defense that has been inconsistent this year is not how Xavier wanted to head into March. The team bounced back nicely, dicing up Seton Hall's defense and scoring 83 points in a 22-point road victory. Zach Freemantle could return this week, just in time for the Musketeers to exercise some demons. In each of the last three seasons, Xavier has dropped games to Providence and Butler late in the schedule as the team stumbled into postseason play. Well, guess who's on the schedule for this week?

Xavier takes a trip back to Providence on Wednesday night in a game that should decide who gets the No. 2 seed in the Big East Tournament. After that, the team returns home to face a Butler team that already got the best of them this year. Want to prove that things are different this time around? Win both of these games.

4. Connecticut Huskies

Record: 22-7 (11-7)

Last week: 5

That second half at home against Xavier seems like a turning point for this team. The Huskies didn't get the win, but they did rally and find a new gear at both ends. Since that one, UConn is 6-1, and the only loss is by three points at Creighton. A pair of dominant wins to avenge losses from earlier this season against Providence and St. John's shows UConn is headed in the right direction. I'm not quite sure this is the group from November quite yet, but this is a team playing as well as any in the Big East. The final week features a home game with DePaul before a trip to Philly to face Villanova in the late national slot on Saturday. Given the trajectories of those two teams, Saturday's game becomes incredibly interesting.

5. Creighton Bluejays

Record: 18-11 (12-6)

Last week: 2

Losing three out of four is certainly not ideal. The losses to Providence and Marquette are acceptable, especially when you consider the former came in 2OT on the road and the latter came by just two points. But losing by 12 at Villanova? The Bluejays got outclassed in that one, with Ryan Kalkbrenner having his toughest defensive performance of the season. Thankfully, the final week of the season provides games against Georgetown and at DePaul to build some momentum heading into the Big East Tournament. This group needs it right now.

6. Villanova Wildcats

Record: 15-14 (9-9)

Last week: 7

Villanova is the team no one wants to play right now. The Wildcats became the first time not beginning with "X" to win at Cintas this year before thoroughly defeating Creighton Saturday afternoon in front of a national audience. If you're a casual fan just tuning in for the first time, would you have any idea watching Saturday's game that this season has been anything but normal for Villanova?

The Wildcats travel to Newark Tuesday night to face Seton Hall and host UConn on Saturday. They'll need to win both to have their at-large resume considered. After the way this season started, Kyle Neptune has them with a real chance to finish above .500 in league play. Justin Moore has been tremendous, and he and Longino have given their defense a tremendous boost. Will it be too little, too late? Or will Villanova achieve the impossible?

7. Seton Hall Pirates

Record: 16-13 (9-9)

Last week: 6

The Pirates have lost four consecutive Quadrant 1 games, including two in the past nine days to UConn and Xavier. They lost them by a combined 65 points. Seton Hall has played itself off the bubble and is at risk of being swept by Villanova and dropping into seventh place in the conference. This team has a real chance at losing six of seven heading into the Big East Tournament. The schedule this week has Seton Hall facing Villanova on Tuesday night and traveling to face Providence on Saturday. You can see glimmers with this team, and the identity is there, but there just isn't enough talent on the offensive end to be competitive against the top teams right now. I'm curious to see how this group looks in year two of Shaheen Holloway's tenure.

8. St. John's Red Storm

Record: 17-13 (7-12)

Last week: 8

St. John's beat Georgetown and lost to UConn this week. We didn't really learn much about this group. The most interesting stories involving this team are off the court, with the drama involving suspensions for Andre Curbelo and Rafael Pinzon and the reports that Mike Anderson's job is in jeopardy. The Red Storm have one more game at Marquette on Saturday before the regular season mercifully comes to a close.

9. Butler Bulldogs

Record: 14-15 (6-12)

Last week: 10

Butler picked up a close win at DePaul on Wednesday night in a game that came down to the final seconds. The Bulldogs close an underwhelming season with a final home game against Marquette before visiting Cincinnati to take on the Musketeers. Can Hinkle Magic work one more time against Marquette? The Bulldogs did play them close on National Marquette Day.

10. DePaul Blue Demons

Record: 9-20 (3-15)

Last week: 9

The Blue Demons beat Villanova and Xavier in an eight-day span and then decided to peace out. DePaul has lost ten in a row after showing some promise in January. Somehow, this group managed to play Butler at home and Marquette on the road to somewhat similar margins this week, although the decision to not take threes down the stretch against the Golden Eagles was certainly interesting. Year two for Tony Stubblefield ends with a pair of games at UConn and against Creighton, with the team attempting to play spoiler before the Big East Tournament.

11. Georgetown Hoyas

Record: 7-23 (2-17)

Last week: 11

Sunday marked what should have been the final home game of the Patrick Ewing era. It was far from ceremonious. The Hoyas get an early end to the regular season, with the team's final game set for Wednesday night at Creighton. Barring an unexpected run in the Big East Tournament, we're two games away from ushering in a new regime at Georgetown. Will it bring better fortunes?


Players of the Week: Tyler Kolek, G, Marquette

20 points, 10 assists per game this week

Kolek scored 18 points at Creighton on Tuesday, but it was the final two that mattered the most. Kolek hit a floater over Ryan Kalkbrenner with under thirty seconds to play, giving Marquette the win and the inside track on a conference championship. It was a moment that almost certainly sealed his Player of the Year campaign. Kolek followed that up with 14 assists against DePaul on Saturday. He scored 17 of Marquette's final 20 points to hold off a late Blue Demon charge.


Five Thoughts

  1. Do They Have A Case? What would it take for Villanova to get an at-large bid? Let's say Villanova wins out to the Big East Championship before losing that. It would mean wins over Seton Hall, UConn, Georgetown, Providence, and Xavier in this hypothetical, and we'll say the loss is a Q1 one. Villanova would be 5-10 in Q1, 3-3 in Q2, and 12-2 in Q3+4 with a record of 20-15. That's a very similar resume to the one Texas A&M had last year that was boosted by a conference tournament run, and the Aggies failed to get a bid. Obviously, Villanova has the injury caveat, but will the committee listen? If I were a Wildcat fan, I'd be very nervous about getting an at-large bid even with things going perfectly over the next two weeks. I think this team will need to win four in a row at Madison Square Garden next week.

  2. Bynum Is Back. Jared Bynum had a torrid stretch last season, shooting 55.8 percent from deep last February. He'd gone cold for most of this year though, exacerbated by missing time with an injury. It seems he's heating up again at the perfect time for the Friars, though. Bynum went 10-for-17 from 3-point range this week and played with a higher level of confidence. If he can continue that into March, Providence is a very dangerous team.

  3. Razor Thin. It really is amazing how an entire season can tilt on these tiny moments. Marquette won games against Xavier in Creighton both thanks to baskets in the final seconds, which is both a testament to how ready Shaka has his group for these moments and close this conference is at the top. Should O-Max Prosper not put back that basket against Xavier and Tyler Kolek not get a shot to fall at Creighton, and we could be talking about the meeting between Providence and Xavier this week as a conference championship.

  4. Balance. Only two Big East teams are in the top four of the conference in both offensive and defensive efficiency as we head into the final week of the regular season: Providence and UConn. The Huskies are third in offense and fourth in defense, with the Friars in fourth for offense and third for defense. Marquette and Xavier sit at the top for offense, but both are in the middle of the pack for defense. Creighton and Seton Hall are the best defenses, but neither has an offense in the top tier. Will the team that wins the Big East Tournament be one with an elite unit carrying them to victory, or will it be one that gets it done at both ends?

  5. Bottom of the Barrel. St. John's and DePaul are each headed for their worst KenPom efficiency ranking since 2017. The Hoyas are set for their worst since the website launched. Butler is currently exactly where it finished last season under LaVall Jordan. All four programs had at least some hope for this year, at least for improvement over the previous year. None saw it happen. Barring something incredible, those four programs are less than two weeks from being done for the season. What they do in the coming months will be something to watch as they attempt to turn their situations around.


Games of the Week

Every week, our staff will be picking our most anticipated game. If you only have chance to watch one game, this is the one you'll want to set aside some time for.

Xavier at Providence - Wednesday, March 1; 6:30 p.m. ET; FS1

What better way is there to welcome us into March than with a meeting of the two teams tied for second in the Big East? This is a battle with a lot of recent history. The last two meetings have gone to overtime, and two of the other five most recent have been decided on the final shot. Eight of the last ten meetings have been decided either in overtime or by two possessions or less. Five overtimes have been played in those ten games, including three overtimes the last time they met in the Ocean State.

Providence has won the last three meetings at home, all in the final two weeks of the regular season. The 2020 meeting featured Luwane Pipkins sinking a pair of shots in the final 90 seconds to put the nail in the coffin. The 2021 matchup saw the Friars pick up a big win in their annual pink-out. And last season had the three-overtime, water-leaking-from-the-roof, Paul-Scruggs-buzzer-beater, Jared-Bynum-dagger marathon that lasted nearly three-and-a-hours. Safe to say this is a time and a place that has held a lot of heartbreak for Xavier, especially Zach Freemantle who played in all of those games. Can Providence deliver a dagger again, or will Xavier finally get the best of the Friars in one of these late-season games?


Quote of the Week

“In those situations, 18,000 people screaming at you, you got to have some big balls to step up and make a play and that’s what I did.”

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