by Dan GardellaFollow @gardelladan
It took until week three of conference play, but we have begun to have chaos settle over the entire conference. While there is some separation between the top of the conference and the bottom, the middle of the pack is as crowded as a Metro North train during rush hour.
This Week’s Rankings
- Seton Hall
- St. John’s
It seems that the Big East has been waiting for the Pirates to begin to come into the Final Four expectations that were made at the beginning of the season. Now winners of eight straight and a perfect 6-0 start to conference play, Kevin Willard has his team playing at the highest level.
After Seton Hall’s loss to Rutgers on Dec. 14, the Pirates were just 6-4 and on the verge of entering conference play sluggish. The tide would turn after an upset victory over then seventh ranked Maryland and a 20-point victory over Prairie View. The return of Myles Powell from injury has sparked the Pirates to six straight victories in the Big East, with four of them coming on the road. Through the team’s first six conference games, Powell has scored 23+ points in five of them and had the World’s Most Famous Arena in the palm of his hand after a 29-point showcase in the team’s latest win against St. John’s.
According to Kenpom, Seton Hall are favorites over their next three games, which could bring them to a 9-0 start to conference play. With Sandro Mamukelashvili returning on Jan 29, there’s no more exciting time in South Orange than right now.
It’s tough to say that any team needed a strong week in conference play so early in the year, but Marquette sure needed one. After winning just one of their first four games in Big East play, Markus Howard did Markus Howard things on the way to wins over Xavier and Georgetown. Howard scored a total of 77 points, 42 of which came in their victory against the Hoyas on Saturday. It was one of those games that every step back, drive to the hoop, and mid-range shot seemed to go in. What is most important for the Golden Eagles is making sure that the players around Howard do their jobs.
Sacar Anim has been a nice second option, Brendan Bailey and Jamal Cain are athletic wings who can crash the glass, and Theo John is a defensive presence in the paint. If these four, as well as the other role players fill in around Howard, the Golden Eagles can still reach the top of the conference. They have to get through St. John’s at home followed by a matchup with Butler at Hinkle Fieldhouse.
It certainly has not been the start that Travis Steele and company were hoping for. The Musketeers are 1-4 through five games in conference play, including two double-digit losses to Creighton and Marquette. The biggest problem for Xavier has been their struggles from behind the three-point line. In their two losses this week, they shot a combined 11-51 from beyond the arc, which won’t get the job done against team’s like Creighton and Marquette, who can run circles around a team at any time.
Xavier looks to right the ship against Georgetown at home followed by a trip to Omaha on Sunday afternoon.
After reaching their highest ranking in school history, the Bulldogs hit a bit of a speed bump this week. Butler lost more games this week (2) than they did through their first two months of the season (1). For a team that was ranked near the top of the country in scoring defense, the Bulldogs uncharacteristically allowed 78 and 79 points in their losses to Seton Hall and DePaul, by far the most points allowed in a game this season.
It was only a matter of time before we would see a lapse in defense. A defense as good as LaVall Jordan’s has to have an off day or two throughout the course of the season. It just so happened that they had two in one week. The schedule certainly does not do Butler any favors this upcoming week. They travel to face off with Villanova followed by hosting an ignited Marquette squad at home.