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Big East Power Rankings and Thoughts: Week 2

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.

Joel Soriano had a career performance against Nebraska on Thursday. (Photo by Sara Kiernan.)

Well, that was a rough week. Only Creighton, UConn, and St. John's escaped unscathed, and none of those three played a team inside the KenPom top-100.


It wasn't all bad, though. This week featured triple-doubles from two different Big East players, plus a big win for DePaul. The losses weren't all bad, either, with both Xavier and Villanova coming inches away from getting big victories.


Things don't get easier for the conference this week. Everybody plays in an MTE this week, including three teams at PK85. Most of these tournament fields are loaded, which should mean quality basketball and opportunities for resume wins all over the conference. We'll learn a lot about who can make adjustments and who can't this week.


Power Rankings


As voted on by our staff weekly. First-place votes are in parentheses.

1. Creighton Bluejays

Last week: 1


After a closer-than-expected opener against St. Thomas, Creighton has turned it on. The team has won its last three by a combined margin of 92 points. Ryan Kalkbrenner has put himself firmly in the Big East Player of the Year conversation, and his backup, freshman Fredrick King, has been excellent as well. In addition to all that, what other team is going to give you a free PS5? Creighton could face as many as three ranked teams this week, so we should have a better idea of exactly how good this team is after Thanksgiving.


2. Connecticut Huskies

Last week: 2


85, 86, 84, 85. Those are UConn's point totals each game this season. That's some nice consistency. The team is finally getting healthy, too, and that comes just in time with PK85 coming up this week. The Huskies have faced one of the easiest schedules in all of college basketball, but they've also dominated that stretch like any good team should. UConn gets Oregon on Thanksgiving and either Alabama or Michigan State on Black Friday. I'm excited to see how they fare against some other teams that should be playing well into March.


3. Xavier Musketeers

Last week: 3


This team is still coming together, and the performance against Fairfield shows just how dependent the offense is on Colby Jones. That said, a gutsy performance in a home loss to No. 12 Indiana is as close to a moral victory as you'll find. Adam Kunkel came inches away from putting home the tying layup late. Sean Miller's impact is apparent in how much better the paint defense has been this season despite having the same personnel as the unit that struggled last year. Trayce Jackson-Davis had 30 points because he's that good, not because Xavier is bad. There's certainly work to do, but the Musketeers will have a chance to take a step forward when they play in the Phil Knight Legacy later this week. First up? A Florida team that went on a 35-5 run against Florida State to overcome an early deficit.


4. St. John's Red Storm

Last week: 6


A 20-point first half against Nebraska had St. John's had fans worried. Then, the Red Storm hit the gas and surpassed that mark in each of the next ten minutes en route to a 50-point second half and a 70-50 victory. Andre Curbelo is rocking the shades on the court and looking smooth out there as the team's assist leader. Most importantly, Joel Soriano has taken his game to a new level. He's averaging a double-double right now, including a 17-point, 18-rebound performance last time out. Soriano is playing the best basketball of his career, and that's pivotal in taking St. John's to the next level. Next up is a chance to claim the neighboring borough at the Empire Classic in Brooklyn.


5. Villanova Wildcats

Last week: 5


A 10-point deficit to Delaware State is not what people expected as the response after Villanova lost to Temple. Still, the team gritted through that deficit to earn a 10-point victory despite a poor night from the field. Then, the Wildcats put together a tough performance at Michigan State on Friday night. It may have ended in a loss, but the team stuck with it and battled back in a rowdy environment. After starting 4-for-21 from deep, the Cats made four of their final eight shots from deep and cut a 16-point deficit down to just one. The team could not execute the final play out of the timeout and Eric Dixon's 3-pointer bounced off the back of the rim. Had it gone in, Villanova would have notched a win over the team that just beat Kentucky and came down to the wire with Gonzaga. The heart and the talent are there, but this team feels about one player short of being the team it usually is. Thankfully reinforcements are on their way in the form of Cam Whitmore and Justin Moore. Villanova could see Michigan State again next Sunday in the Phil Knight Invitational.


6. Seton Hall Pirates

Last week: 4


Man, did this Seton Hall offense look rough against Iowa. This roster has a lot of guys on it, but it is currently lacking THE guy. Three games in, no player has scored more than 13 points in a game. Combine that with the fact that defense gave up 83 points to Iowa despite being the team's calling card on paper, and the Pirates are in this weird no man's land. Alexis Yetna will be a welcome sight when he does return at some point, but this team needs someone to take their game to the next level at either end of the floor. This might be the deepest team in the Big East, but I'm not sure if there's any group of five players I feel particularly confident about. Fortunately, there's a lot of season to come. All of these issues can be ironed out.


7. Providence Friars

Last week: 7


Tuesday against Stonehill, the Friars looked like a well-oiled machine. On Saturday against Miami, they looked like a group that had never played together. That's life for a team with five new starters. In their first real test, the offense looked anemic after opening with 15 points in the first seven-and-a-half minutes. Jared Bynum and Ed Croswell are not off to the start many expected, and Bryce Hopkins does not look like a borderline five-star player right now. Seven assists on 21 made shots with 14 turnovers is not a recipe for success. Providence gets a chance to bounce back against Saint Louis later this afternoon. Then, a pair of home games against 300-plus KenPom teams offers an opportunity to build chemistry.


8. Marquette Golden Eagles

Last week: 9


The Golden Eagles led by as many as nine in the second half at Purdue before the lid on the basket closed. Marquette shot 3-18 down the stretch, including a 1-15 stretch that began with the team up by six and ended with the team down by six. It took Marquette 16 more looks to make as many shots as Purdue did, and, despite a +9 offensive rebounding advantage, the Golden Eagles scored less second chance points than the Boilermakers. The good news is that Purdue is a really good team, and Marquette played a close game on the road despite an imperfect performance. This non-conference schedule is chock-full of opportunities for good wins, starting with a matchup against Mississippi State in the Rocket Mortgage Tip-Off this week.


9. DePaul Blue Demons

Last week: 11


Down Nick Ongenda and Caleb Murphy, the Blue Demons managed a win at Minnesota to open the Gavitt Games. Then, without that pairing and Yor Anei, they played a good Santa Clara team close. Tony Stubblefield has this group playing well, certainly better than the talent-level would suggest with three starters out. There's good reason to be optimistic in Chicago risght now. DePaul is improving on last season despite key losses in the offseason.


10. Butler Bulldogs

Last week: 8


Butler's first real test of the season did not go as planned. On the good side, the Bulldogs hung tough despite struggling to put the ball through the basket. On the bad side, the Bulldogs really struggled to put the ball through the basket in what has been a trend the past few seasons. Whenever Ali Ali returns, the shooting should improve. In the meantime, the other scorers need to step up. To their credit, they did so by shooting 23-46 from deep in the two other games this week. Butler will get another chance to prove itself this week in the Battle 4 Atlantis. The Bulldogs dropped here mostly because of what other teams did, not because they did anything particularly wrong. They've moved up from 130 to 87 in KenPom since the start of the season.


11. Georgetown Hoyas

Last week: 10


Can we put Georgetown lower than 11th? The talent is clearly there for this team to be competitive, but the team's only wins have come over Green Bay (355th on KenPom) and against Coppin State in overtime (297th). Losses to Northwestern (58th) and Loyola Marymount (145th) by a combined 30 points are simple inexcusable. With a very easy schedule, Georgetown's point differential at the end of the regulation is just +4.


 

Players of the Week: Ryan Kalkbrenner, C, Creighton; Joel Soriano, F, St. John's

Kalkbrenner: 17 points per game, 15-16 from the field, 13-13 inside the arc

Soriano: 17 points, 18 rebounds vs. Nebraska


Ryan Kalkbrenner has made 22 consecutive 2-pointers, including a perfect 13-for-13 this week. Last year's top defensive player has become an offensive weapon. Soriano, meanwhile, has taken his game to a new level this season and played a huge part in defeating Nebraska with his dominant double-double.


 

Five Thoughts

  1. Work To Do. Going 2-6 in the Gavitt Games is less than ideal, but, in context, it isn't so bad. Butler, Villanova, and Seton Hall are all missing starters, and Marquette is missing a key role player in Zach Wrightsil. The conference came six points away from tying the series, with both Villanova and Xavier missing on final possessions to tie or go ahead. The games proved what we all knew - the middle of the Big East is in transition and finding a new identity. Half of the conference's representatives in the series have new coaches this season, and two of the remaining four have coaches in their second seasons. DePaul picked up a nice road win against Minnesota down some players, too. The Big East is clearly competitive with some really good teams; the next step is to build on that and put up a better showing agains the Big 12 after Thanksgiving. The non-conference resume was not built in a day, as they say. None of these losses will break a resume in March, excluding Georgetown.

  2. Resurgent. Xavier's Zach Freemantle posted a triple-double this week against Fairfield with 15 points, 13 rebounds, and 10 assists. It was the first triple-double by a Musketeer since 2016, and it couldn't have come at a better time. Without Colby Jones, Sean Miller needed someone to step up, and Freemantle did just that. It's nice to see him bounce back like this after a rough season last year.

  3. Not Just One. Freemantle was not the only Big East player to get a triple-double on Tuesday. UConn's Tristen Newton did it, too, with 22 points, 11 assists, and 10 rebounds against Buffalo. He was the first Husky to get one since 2015. Performances like that are why Dan Hurley got him this offseason, and having a guard who can impact the game in so many ways raises the ceiling for that offense.

  4. Looking Forward. This is a fun week for college basketball. With so many events taking place, most Big East teams will have to get right back off the mat and be ready for another tough opponent. Creighton and UConn will face their first tough opponents of the season, and how those two teams perform is the storyline to watch. Regardless of which teams you're watching, though, there's more than enough basketball on this week to give you an out from any political discussions around the dinner table on Thanksgiving.

  5. Food Season. Speaking of Thanksgiving, we decided to power rank the best dishes for this week. Stuffing was a nearly unanimous No. 1, with mac and cheese and potatoes also receiving first-place votes. Green bean casserole at No. 9 is too high for my liking, but it is what it is. Turkey and Brussels sprouts can end up much higher when cooked properly. If you've never smoked a turkey, you should try that (safely, of course). That's the best way to do it.

Staff Thanksgiving food rankings:

  1. Stuffing

  2. Mac and Cheese

  3. Potatoes

  4. Dinner Rolls

  5. Gravy

  6. Corn

  7. Turkey

  8. Sweet Potatoes

  9. Green Bean Casserole

  10. Carrots

  11. Cranberry

  12. Brussels Sprouts

 


Game 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.


Creighton vs. Texas Tech - Monday, November 21; 2:30 p.m. ET; ESPN2


Creighton's first big test also features as a nice escape from work in a short week. Block off a little time on your calendar tomorrow afternoon so you can enjoy this one.


Texas Tech is a very good team with one of the best defenses in college basketball. Kalkbrenner against Daniel Batcho should give us a good idea of just how good Kalkbrenner is. If his shooting streak continues through this one, Bluejay fans should feel very good about where Creighton stacks up.

 

Quote of the Week

"It's early, we'll learn from it, and we'll get better because of it."
 

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