Big East Preview - Mulligan edition

Before the season tipped off, we did a pretty comprehensive BIG EAST Preview, but since the games actually have to be played before we really know what impact roster changes will have, it's only fair to take a midseason mulligan. Here is our second-chance at previewing the conference.

College basketball season is about a month and a half old, and from the preseason where only two BIG EAST schools were ranked in the top-10, we are now at a point where half of the top-10 teams in both polls hail from the conference.

Of eight undefeated teams in the country right now, three of them are in the BIG EAST, as well as five of thirteen one-loss programs. Despite the media threatening a down year for the conference, once again, the Big East has performed astonishingly-well in out-of-conference play.

A couple teams have had some issues early on. Notably, Seton Hall looked poised for a run this season before star guard Jeremy Hazell (who had been remarkably efficient) went down with an injury, and then got shot over the Christmas holiday. The Hall has now fallen to 6-6 on the season. Only Seton Hall, DePaul and South Florida have failed to earn a winning-record in the early portion of the season.

After absorbing the statistics and results so far, what can we divine about the impending conference schedule (which began tonight for UConn and Pitt)?

The Undefeated

Syracuse.jpgSyracuse (13-0): Syracuse broke with tradition this season, playing two early-season games outside the state of New York. They travelled all the way to Atlantic City, NJ to face underwhelming Michigan and Georgia Tech teams in a tournament at Boardwalk Hall. Michigan State has been their strongest opponent so far (on a "neutral court" in Madison Square Garden, and they scored a solid 14-point win over the Spartans (who also serve as a good-win for UConn).

Outside of the Spartans, however, the Orange haven't really been challenged yet. Their defense is strong (top-20 on KenPom.com) but their offense (ranked 8th) is as much a reason for their success.

KenPom rankings: Overall (7th), Offense (8th), Defense (20th)

Connecticut (10-0): With wins over Michigan State and Kentucky, UConn has certainly accomplished the most of the three undefeated teams. Their great start is owed in a large part to the early season scoring-explosion by Kemba Walker.

One game after their victory over Kentucky to take home the Maui tournament title. The Huskies needed a 30-point performance from Walker to escape with a 7-point home victory over an abysmal New Hampshire team (ranked 271st in the nation by Pomeroy, for those who were wondering).

Heading into conference play, two players are averaging double-digit points for the Huskies: Kemba Walker (26.5ppg) and Alex Oriakhi (11.3), though both Shabazz Napier (freshman guard) and Jeremy Lamb (freshman forward) have shown some potential to score in double digits as well.

KenPom rankings: Overall (26th), Offense (20th), Defense (49th)

Cincinnati (12-0): Probably the most surprising of the unbeaten teams, the Bearcats have played solid defense early on (ranked 24th by KenPom.com). Their best win, however, has been over Dayton and their only power-conference opponent so far has been Oklahoma. We can expect them to pick up a few losses in conference play.

KenPom rankings: Overall (36th), Offense (56th), Defense (24th)

One-loss teams

Pittsburgh (12-1): With wins over Maryland and Texas, Pitt has had a strong showing so far this season, but fell victim to the same Tennessee team that handed Villanova it's only loss so far this season. Tennessee later went on to sputter in December, losing three straight to unranked opponents (though USC is certainly a different team with Jio Fontan on the court).

KenPom rankings: Overall (4th), Offense (1st), Defense (46th)

Block_V.JPG

Villanova (10-1): Despite preseason expectations, defense has been the strength of this year's Villanova team, while it is the offense that appears to need more work. Perhaps Corey Fisher's hot shooting will help with that efficiency over the coming weeks, but it will likely require a team-effort to open things up. The 'Cats will compete for a spot at the top of the BIG EAST standings, but will need better play all-around from both Wayns and Fisher to take home a share of the title.

KenPom rankings: Overall (13th), Offense (37th), Defense (11th)

Georgetown (11-1): Georgetown's one loss came against Villanova's next opponent, Temple, making that game a good barometer for where the Wildcats stand. The Hoya backcourt has been as strong as expected early on, at least offensively.

Their best win came in overtime against Missouri in Kansas City. They also have a seven-point victory over Utah State and a 17-point win over a 9-2 Memphis team that has, frankly, underwhelmed me so far this year.

Georgetown is unlikely to escape the BIG EAST without a few losses, but you can expect them to finish the season near the top of the league.

KenPom rankings: Overall (8th), Offense (3rd), Defense (57th)

louisville.gif

Louisville (10-1): The Cardinals are something of a surprise this year. Expected to be in the middle of the pack, but have played better than expected so far. After opening the season with a win over national runner-up Butler, the Cardinals won their next 7 before dropping a home game to Drexel on December 14th.

Despite the "bad" loss to Drexel, they held the Dragons to 52 points. The Louisville defense has been strong so far, achieving an offensive efficiency rated 7th in the nation on KenPom.com.

There are always a few surprises in Big East play and we shouldn't be shocked if Louisville makes a run to the top of the standings this season.

KenPom rankings: Overall (9th), Offense (24th), Defense (7th)

NotreDame_guy.jpg

Notre Dame (11-1): The Irish lost their star, Luke Harangody, and so far have picked up only one loss, against a strong (but young) Kentucky team. Their best win was a 7-point victory over Wisconsin at a neutral site (and apparently played at the Big-Ten-iest of paces -- 56 possessions).

The Irish have won 11 games so far, but they have done it the hard way. Mike Brey remains a weak defensive coach, and his team have the fourth-worst defensive efficiency rating in the conference.

KenPom rankings: Overall (35th), Offense (10th), Defense (80th)

Two-Loss Teams

WestVirginia.gif

West Virginia (8-2): The Mountaineers' best win was over Vanderbilt on a neutral floor in San Juan. Their two losses are to Minnesota and Miami, and remain undefeated at home this season. The Eers have played a lot of games away from home so far, and perhaps their two losses may provide a learning experience that will help them during conference play.

KenPom rankings: Overall (17th), Offense (9th), Defense (58th)

Providence (11-2): Coach Keno Davis had his work cut out for him this season after star forward, Jamine "Greedy" Peterson, was dismissed from the team in May for a violation of team rules. They nonetheless made it this far with only two losses, to La Salle and Boston College. As usual though, their defense is among the worst in the conference. They will win a few in the BIG EAST, as they do every year.

KenPom rankings: Overall (68th), Offense (46th), Defense (94th)

Rutgers-Knight-NJ.jpg

Rutgers (9-2): Rutgers is still recovering from last season's implosion and spate of player departures. Their best-win this season was against Miami (who have only one quality win thus-far themselves). It shouldn't be surprising that Rutgers has only two losses, they scheduled one of the easiest out-of-conference schedules in the league (exceeded only by Cincy).

KenPom rankings: Overall (94th), Offense (118th), Defense (84th)

Everyone Else

Marquette_old.jpg

Marquette (9-3): Marquette lost a lot of talent from last season. Their 9-3 start is a testament to strong recruiting and effective coaching. They didn't shy away when making their schedule, taking a loss to a loaded Duke team on a neutral floor as well as a very strong Wisconsin team at home. All three of their losses were to teams ranked in the top-50 by KenPom.

KenPom rankings: Overall (40th), Offense (29th), Defense (62nd)

StJohns-old.jpg

St. John's (7-3): Rick Pitino may have been a little carried away when he voted St. Johns at the top of his preseason poll. They opened the season with a loss at St. Mary's and dropped two games in New York to Fordham ("away") and St. Bonaventure (home) earlier this month. They still project out to perform better than schools like Providence, but they are a lot closer to the Friars and Scarlet Knights of the world than to Georgetown and Villanova.

KenPom rankings: Overall (51st), Offense (40th), Defense (69th)

DePaul (6-6): What is there to say about DePaul? They won seven games out-of-conference last season and they won six this season. They will not be statistically favored to win any conference games this season. Last year's low-water mark for futility was a one-win conference record, however, and it won't be too hard to match that.

KenPom rankings: Overall (180th), Offense (225th), Defense (127th)

SetonHall-old.jpg

Seton Hall (6-6): Seton Hall went from a promising NCAA tournament contender to looking more like a team that will be struggling to get eligible for ANY postseason action. If Jeremy Hazell were to make a miraculous return from injury and gunshot wound, it would greatly improve their chances of winning going forward, but as it stands, they look pretty weak.

KenPom rankings: Overall (59th), Offense (80th), Defense (47th)

South Florida (6-7): South Florida always projected to go back to their losing ways after star guard Dominique Jones left school early to go pro. They should return to the bottom of the conference.

KenPom rankings: Overall (121st), Offense (227th), Defense (63rd)

Predictions:

I will do my predictions in quartiles, because it's easier to cop out than to rank a team higher than Villanova (or be wrong).

1st Quartile - of these four, I consider Georgetown the weakest candidate and Syracuse the strongest candidate to win the conference title. Any of the four can win it, however, if their development progresses in the right way going forward.

  • Georgetown
  • Pittsburgh
  • Syracuse
  • Villanova

2nd Quartile - Louisville and UConn are the strongest members of this group, but West Virginia has been put through a tough travel schedule early on, which may help them to find success later on.

  • Louisville
  • West Virginia
  • UConn
  • Notre Dame

3rd Quartile - The Johnnies may still be a reach in the third quartile, but they aren't bad enough to fall into the bottom-tier. Marquette always puts something together in the conference, so they're my candidate to break out of this group.

  • St. John's
  • Cincinnati
  • Marquette
  • Providence

4th Quartile - Rutgers and Seton Hall aren't completely hopeless programs, but expect USF and DePaul to compete for the title of "most-futile" program in the BIG EAST.

  • DePaul
  • USF
  • Rutgers
  • Seton Hall

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What did I get right? What did I get wrong? Is UConn for real or should I be more concerned about Georgetown?

Please also check out the East Coast Bias' blogger roundtable previewing the conference schedule:

ESPN tells you what to expect from conference play.

Jeff Eisenberg at Yahoo/Rivals also hit the reset button this week.

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