by Dan Gardella
We meet again, old friend.
Another year of conference play is upon us. There is arguably no conference as balanced and as deep as the Big East. As the calendar turned to a new decade, there was plenty of buzz that the conference was deep enough to send seven, maybe even eight teams to the Big Dance come March. However, they have to beat each other up first to see if that aspiration becomes a reality.
This Week’s Rankings
- Butler – Won @ St. John’s, Won vs. Creighton
- Seton Hall – Won @ DePaul, Won vs. Georgetown
- Providence – Won vs. Georgetown, Won @ DePaul
- Marquette – Lost @ Creighton, Won vs. Villanova
- Villanova – Won vs. Xavier, Lost @ Marquette
- Creighton – Won vs. Marquette, Lost @ Butler
- Xavier – Lost @ Villanova, Won vs. St. John’s
- DePaul – Lost vs. Seton Hall, Lost vs. Providence
- St. John’s – Lost vs. Butler, Lost @ Xavier
- Georgetown – Lost @ Providence, Lost @ Seton Hall
There is no question that Butler entered Big East play as the top team in the conference. With their lone blemish in their 14-1 start to the season being a tight two-point loss at Baylor, the Bulldogs sit sixth in this week’s AP Top 25. LaVall Jordan’s team have gotten out of the gates strong in conference play behind their continued impressive defensive effort, and their senior leader.
The Bulldog’s defense has been as stingy as any team has over the first half of the season, only giving up an average of 54 points per contest, and have held opponents under 60 points in 11 of their first 15 games. The Big East has plenty of dynamic scoring teams that have the ability to run up the score and make any given game a shootout. It will be imperative for Butler to remain consistent defensively to hold serve near the top of the conference.
Another key to Butler’s 2-0 start to Big East play has been Kamar Baldwin finding his shooting stroke. In the final three non-conference games, Baldwin scored a total of 10 points and never got anything going offensively. In the first two games against St. John’s and Creighton, Baldwin scored 19 and 20 points respectively. While other pieces such as Bryce Nze, Sean McDermott and Jordan Tucker support Baldwin’s game nicely, the team goes as Baldwin goes.
It has been quite the up and down season for the Friars. Providence never found much consistency in non-conference play, which consisted of a three game losing streak against Penn, Long Beach State, and College of Charleston. However, Ed Cooley’s team finished non-conference play with a bang, handling Texas by 22 before winning at home to Georgetown followed by a thrilling one-point victory to DePaul in Chicago.
While a lot of people have been down on the Friars so far this season, they are beginning to play well at the right time. Providence will certainly get tested this upcoming week, with a trip to Marquette followed by a showdown with Butler. If Providence can split this week or even remain perfect, it will certainly open some more eyes early in January.
It has been a tough week for the Blue Demons. Entering Big East play 12-1, DePaul lost both of their matchups by a combined nine points. Throughout non-conference play, Dave Leitao’s team has shown that they have plenty of weapons along with the “Bend, not Break” mentality to win close games. However, Myles Powell could not be stopped in Seton Hall’s victory over the Blue Demons, and Nate Watson sank the game-winning free throw for Providence with a tenth of a second left to make DePaul fall to 0-2 to start conference play.
With just one game this week against St. John’s, DePaul has plenty of depth. With four players averaging double figures, the Blue Demons certainly have enough firepower to leave New York with a win on Saturday.
It also helps that they have the leading rebounder in the conference in Paul Reed on their side. The junior averages just over 11 rebounds per game and has 11 double-doubles already on the season. Since last season, he has turned into one of the many stars the Big East has.
The Hoyas have fallen on hard times this season. Halfway through the non-conference season, Patrick Ewing lost starters James Akinjo and Josh LeBlanc, leaving the Hoyas with just seven scholarship players as the rigorous conference schedule approached.
Georgetown rung in the new year with a 16 points loss on the road against Providence, a game that saw them trailing by as much as 33 in the first half. They followed that game up with another 16-point loss. This time, the Seton Hall Pirates in a game that featured tensions flaring between Mac McClung and Quincy McKnight. In the postgame press conferences, Ewing eluded to the fact that the lack of depth on the team has impacted how they play and the pace at which they play at, yet they will continue to fight on and look for players to step up.
One player that has stepped up amid the tough times has been McClung, who has upped his scoring to 16 points per game. This team is led by the sophomore and Omer Yurtseven, who is nearly averaging a double-double on the season. The Hoyas host St. John’s on Wednesday before traveling to Villanova on Saturday. The biggest question is if and when will players begin to follow their leadership.