Big East Power Rankings and Thoughts: Week 7
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.
Merry Christmas everyone! For the first time in Big East history, we had a conference game on Christmas Day. More on that later.
This week also featured another multiple-overtime thriller in Providence for the second time in three Big East games there. Ed Cooley may have a new group, but they seem just as prone to causing heart attacks for Friar fans as the last one.
A short week of games was action-packed thanks to a pair of home rallies on Wednesday and Thursday nights. We learned a little more about Villanova and St. john's, and Creighton's losing streak ended despite a strong start from Butler.
As voted on by our staff weekly.
1. Connecticut Huskies
Record: 13-0 (2-0)
Last week: 1
For a brief period Tuesday night, it appeared that the unthinkable may happen. Was this undefeated, juggernaut, No. 1-team-in-KenPom UConn team really going to hand Georgetown its first Big East win in 647 days in Storrs? Then, Joey California ignited a 20-3 run, and the Huskies coasted to another double-digit victory. It was, however, enough to drop the Huskies to No. 2 on KenPom after Houston's win on Wednesday.
2. Xavier Musketeers
Record: 10-3 (2-0)
Last week: 3
The Musketeers struggled to shoot the ball against Seton Hall's defense, hitting just five of 20 attempts from the arc. Still, they did enough to hold off the Pirates and get a home victory. Jack Nunge not making a basket is something unlikely to be a regular occurrence, so finding a way to win anyway is big. Xavier is very good. Exactly how good remains to be seen. Hosting UConn on New Year's Eve should tell us a lot about what year one of the Sean Miller 2.0 era has in store.
3. Marquette Golden Eagles
Record: 9-4 (1-1)
Last week: 2
I'm not going to penalize Marquette much for its performance Tuesday night. A double-overtime conference road loss is nothing to worry about, especially when it comes at the hands of a 49-19 free throw disparity. What is a concern, though, is how cold the offense got late in the second half. This is the second time now that the Golden Eagles have lost a winnable road game because the offense got stopped on eight consecutive possessions down the stretch. Tyler Kolek and Kam Jones were awesome, but a goose-egg from Stevie Mitchell is hard to swallow in a game that could have been decided by a single basket.
4. Creighton Bluejays
Record: 8-6 (2-1)
Last week: 6
At long last, the skid is over. It turns out, getting your best player back is a pretty big deal. Creighton currently sits at No. 24 on KenPom.com, and the team started the year at No. 23. They've been as high as 19 and as low as 29. All of that matches the eye test and my preseason expectation that the Bluejays would be the second-best team in the Big East. They've played like that when at full strength. This team is clearly good, but maybe not great. After the Christmas game, the team is off for over a week, which gives Kalkbrenner plenty of time to get healthy.
T-5. Providence Friars
Record: 10-3 (2-0)
Last week: 5
Another Providence game, another game with career-highs on both sides. One game after allowing Seton Hall's Kadary Richmond to score 28 points, the Friars allowed Marquette's Tyler Kolek to put up 29. On the other end, Bryce Hopkins set a new high-watermark for the third time in his last four games with 29 points. Add in 23 rebounds, and you've got the first 20-20 game in Big East play since Seton Hall's Angel Delgado in 2017 versus St. John's. Coincidentally, like Hopkins, Delgado also finished that one with no fouls. Hopkins became the first Friar with a 20-20 game since Jamine Peterson in 2010 against Rutgers. Providence's offense is humming along nicely now with the Kentucky transfer as the focal point. The defense, however, leaves something to be desired. That's the next area of focus for Ed Cooley.
T-5. Villanova Wildcats
Record: 7-5 (1-0)
Last week: T-7
The season started in December, right? Villanova is 5-0 since the calendar flipped and Cam Whitmore returned. It took the Wildcats some time to settle into their Big East opener, but once they did, they looked dominant. Villanova outscored St. John's 60-34 over the final 26 minutes, turning a 29-18 deficit into a 78-63 victory. It was Eric Dixon and Brandon Slater who led the 20-2 run that flipped the game. Don't look now, but KenPom has Eric Dixon as the second best player in the conference right now. He dominated Joel Soriano for long stretches of this one. Also of note, Jordan Longino played his best game of the season so far. Watch out for him.
7. St. John's Red Storm
Record: 11-2 (1-1)
Last week: 4
St. John's currently has played just two games in the top two quadrants. The results? Two losses. After crumbling against Villanova in the second half during the Big East Tournament last year, the Red Storm decided to do so in the first half at the Finneran Pavilion on Wednesday. Once Mike Anderson's defense stopped forcing turnovers, everything fell apart and Villanova took control. A home game against Xavier in between Christmas and New Year's feels like one the team must win to take that win total seriously.
8. Butler Bulldogs
Record: 8-5 (0-2)
Last week: T-7
Drawing UConn and then Creighton on the road is a brutal start to Big East play. The Bulldogs have hung in there, but they weren't expected to win either of these. Like St. John's, they did give the home team a scare early, racing out to a 16-7 lead in the early minutes. Unfortunately, there was no follow-up to the strong first punch. Butler was outscored 71-40 over the next 32 minutes. The shooting woes continued for Thad Matta's bunch who managed just two made 3-pointers. That isn't going to cut it.
9. Seton Hall Pirates
Record: 7-6 (0-2)
Last week: 9
Seton Hall may be 0-2 in Big East play, but the losses came by a combined seven points. In both of them, the Pirates had a shot to tie the game in the closing seconds. It didn't fall in either, although I was impressed both by the play Shaheen Holloway drew up to get a shot at Xavier and at his team's execution of the call. The Musketeers were looking to foul up three, and some quick ball movement didn't give them a chance to do that. It may not show in the win total, but Seton Hall is playing better basketball as of late. This team could surprise people.
10. DePaul Blue Demons
Record: 6-7 (0-2)
Last week: 10
Asking this team to play on the road against the top team in the conference heading into the season on Christmas broadcast to a national audience was certainly something. At least Yor Anei came back? It feels hard to judge this team in its current state. Thursday night's game against Georgetown should be an interesting one, at least.
11. Georgetown Hoyas
Record: 5-8 (0-2)
Last week: 11
The Hoyas rose to the occasion against No. 3 UConn this week, putting together their best performance of the season. It wasn't enough, but a moral victory has to be worth something at this point, right? If anything, Tuesday night's loss showed that this team has more talent than it did last year. Most of these players can come back next season, and if they do, whoever is at the helm may have a group that he can build with. Unfortunately, the recent departure of Dante Harris for Virginia makes that "if" seem very large at the moment.
Player of the Week: Bryce Hopkins, F, Providence
29 points, 23 rebounds, 3 steals vs. Marquette
With the conference's first 20-20 game since 2017, Hopkins had to be the nod here. The jump he has taken in the past few weeks is simply remarkable to witness. He went from a nice piece with potential to an all-conference caliber star in the time it took for you to do your Christmas shopping. Hopkins became just the fourth player this season to have a 20-20 game. He joined the company of Zach Edey, the current player of the year frontrunner, Kris Murray, a member of the preseason All-Big Ten team with Edey, and Jake Stephens, a transfer from VMI to Chattanooga who is having a remarkable season.
Christmas Basketball. I have some serious questions about the thinking of the conference here. Christmas has been owned by the NBA for a while now, with the NFL also sharing the holiday this year with where it fell during the week. Those are two of the biggest media draws around. Who would expect the Big East to draw attention over Broncos at Rams or Celtics vs. Bucks? And even if people were planning on tuning in for the Big East on Christmas, they won't be doing so for DePaul at Creighton. Maybe UConn and Villanova would get national attention, but a DePaul at Creighton isn't a game that draws ratings on a weeknight. People certainly won't be opting for that over family dinner.
Defense Optional. Providence and Villanova, two of the best coached programs in the new Big East, have sported solid defenses year-in and year-out. That makes it especially startling to see them at eighth and ninth in the Big East in defensive efficiency thus far, with both outside the top 100. Neither has finished that far back since 2012, Ed Cooley's first year at Providence and the last year Jay Wright failed to reach the NCAA Tournament (if we exclude 2020). What's more, currently, seven Big East teams are outside the top 50 in defensive efficiency. Only UConn, Seton Hall, Creighton, and St. John's make the cut.
Do It All. Colby Jones is on a very short list of well-rounded players. He is the only player in the Big East averaging at least 10 points, five rebounds, and five assists per game, and Jones is one of just eight total players in the country who meet those marks. He is the best 3-point shooter of that group, too, with a 44.1 percent mark this season.
20-20 Vision. Angel Delgado was the last Big East player to have a 20-20 game in a conference game. He is also the only player in the new Big East to record multiple 20-20 games in his career. Delgado had 21 and 20 against St. John's in 2017 and 24 and 23 against Kansas in the NCAA Tournament in 2018. Xavier's Naji Marshall is the only other Big East player with a 20-20 game since 2013-14, doing so against Toledo in the NIT in 2019.
Top Dog For How Long? UConn's undefeated record may face its toughest test over the team's next five games. The Huskies host Villanova, the conference's perennial powerhouse, on Wednesday, before traveling to Xavier on Saturday. That is followed by a trip to Providence, a home game against preseason top team Creighton, and then a journey to Milwaukee to face Marquette. Xavier has one home loss this season, and it was by two points to Indiana. Marquette hasn't lost a home game in regulation since the last time it played UConn at Fiserv Forum. Providence is 27-1 in its last 28 games at the AMP, and that should be a rowdy environment for the first visit of the Huskies with fans since the team rejoined the conference.
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.
UConn at Xavier - Saturday, December 31; 12:00 p.m. ET; FOX
Wrap up 2022 with a nationally televised battle at the Cintas Center! This matchup between the only ranked Big East teams right now should tell us a lot about where Xavier is. The Musketeers have one of the best offenses in college basketball, and UConn has one of the best defenses. How that plays out when Xavier has the ball will be very interesting. But what may decide this one is how Sean Miller tries to defend these UConn bigs. Can Nunge and Freemantle provide enough resistance to keep the game close?
Also, Colby Jones against Andre Jackson should just be fun to watch. If you like do-it-all wings, keep your eyes on those two.
Quote of the Week
"We have to be better and we are much better of a team than you saw today."
- St. John's head coach Mike Anderson following the team's loss at Villanova.
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