The inaugural season of the reformed Big East conference is nearing as teams wrap up their non-conference schedules over the weekend.
The conference has fared relatively well in the first third of the 2013-14 season with a couple of surprises emerging along the way.
The Villanova Wildcats have ascended into the top five thanks to an 11-0 start and wins over Kansas, Iowa and USC. Butler, Xavier and Providence, who some predicted to finish in the bottom half of the conference, each have at least nine victories. Favorites Marquette and Georgetown have stumbled out of the gates and DePaul and Seton Hall have distinguished themselves as bottom feeders.
Non-conference play does not dictate how a team will finish its season come March, but in the case of the Big East, it has muddled the picture of who the top teams are in the league.
This article will rank each of the 10 teams in the Big East based off of their non-conference play performances.
It’s hard to argue against an unblemished record.
The Wildcats were seen as a middle-of-the-road squad in preseason predictions, but stunned the nation with a four-point victory over Kansas in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament.
JayVaughn Pinkston, James Bell and Darrun Hilliard are the big three for the Wildcats, who average 82.5 points as a team, the most in the conference. Pinkston is the seventh-highest scorer in the Big East, averaging 16.5 points.
Jay Wright’s squad is also the fourth-best defensive team in the conference, allowing 64 points per contest. The Wildcats rank eighth in the RPI and have the 60th best strength of schedule in the nation. Villanova’s undefeated record will be at risk when they face former Big East foe, Syracuse, on Saturday afternoon.
Conference newcomer Creighton will enter league play as one of the front-runners to win the regular season title.
Doug McDermott is the Big East’s leading scorer with an average of 24.8 points per game, which is the most in the league by almost five points. Ethan Wragge is scoring 12.2 points a game and is lethal from beyond the arc with a three-point percentage of 48.2.
The Jays haven’t played the toughest schedule and lost to its two highest-ranked RPI opponents (George Washington and San Diego State). Despite those losses, Creighton does have quality wins over Arizona State and California, who are two top-75 RPI schools.
Creighton has one last cupcake on its schedule, Chicago State, before playing its first Big East game on New Year’s Eve against Marquette.
Two of Georgetown’s three losses have come against teams inside the top six in RPI (Kansas and Oregon).
D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera and Markel Starks have picked up the scoring after losing Otto Porter to the NBA. Georgetown is not statistically imposing—they rank seventh in the league in points scored per game and eighth in points allowed per game. John Thompson III’s squad only has one victory inside the RPI top 50 (Virginia Commonwealth).
The Hoyas wrap up their non-conference schedule with Florida International University.
Despite only having one impressive win, the Hoyas have two of the top players in the conference who are capable of carrying the team during conference play.
The second most pleasant surprise in the conference is Butler.
The team lost Rotnei Clarke and Brad Stevens in one offseason, but has managed to stay afloat early in the 2013 season.
Kellen Dunham and Khyle Marshall are both in the top five in scoring in the Big East. Butler also possesses the best rebounder in the conference, Kameron Woods, who is averaging 9.5 boards. The Bulldogs are the third best team in the conference defensively, allowing just 63.8 points a game.
The Bulldogs are 31st in the RPI with their quality wins against Princeton and Vanderbilt.
Butler also lost by two points to both Oklahoma State and LSU, who are ranked inside the RPI top 20. The two surprise teams in the conference will begin their conference schedules against each other, as the Bulldogs will host Villanova in Indianapolis on New Year’s Eve.
Similar to Butler, Xavier quietly performed well in non-conference play.
Semaj Christon is the guy for the Musketeers and averages 14.9 points, but depth may be an issue for Xavier, who has only two players averaging in double figures.
Xavier bounced back nicely after dropping three straight to Iowa, Tennessee and USC in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament by winning four straight, including a neutral-court victory over in-city rival Cincinnati.
The Musketeers will be an interesting team to watch in the Big East.
Depending on how the depth around Christon forms, Xavier could rank as high as third or as low as eighth in the conference. Xavier will get one more decent test against Wake Forest before kicking off the Big East schedule against St. John’s.
Marquette has been the biggest disappointment in the conference thus far.
Buzz Williams loaded up his schedule with four teams inside the RPI top 50, but lost four of the five to Wisconsin, Ohio State, San Diego State and New Mexico. The team’s strongest victory is over George Washington, who is 36th in the RPI. After that, Marquette’s best win is against Southern, who is ranked 226th in RPI.
The Golden Eagles have one of the best big men in the conference, Davante Gardner, who is averaging 13.8 points and 6.5 rebounds. Perimeter play has been the problem for Marquette as consistency has been hard to find from the outside.
One thing Marquette has going for it is its defense.
The Golden Eagles are first in the Big East and 24th in the nation with 62.7 points allowed per game. Marquette will wrap up its brutal non-conference schedule with Samford before traveling to Omaha to face Creighton on New Year’s Eve.
The Providence Friars may have compiled the second-best record in the conference, but they haven’t done it against great competition.
Providence lost handily to Kentucky, who is the only team the Friars have played inside the RPI top 50.
Bryce Cotton is a star in the making for Providence.
Averaging 19.1 points, Cotton could finish as the conference’s player of the year if he can carry his Friars to a top-four finish in the conference. Tyler Harris, Kadeem Batts and LaDontae Henton each average over 12 points, but the Friars are dead last in the conference in scoring.
Providence is defined by its defense, which ranks second in the league in points allowed per game. The Friars have held opponents to under 50 points three times this season, albeit against three schools ranked outside of the RPI top 200.
If Providence’s stingy defense continues, the Friars may have what it takes to be a big sleeper who could finish in the upper third of the conference. They certainly have the star in Cotton, but haven’t been able to get the job done once league play comes around.
The Red Storm’s non-conference results have been unspectacular.
St. John’s played Wisconsin and Syracuse tough, but did not come out with victories in their only opportunities for quality wins. The best win on the team’s resume is over Bucknell, who ranks 86th in the RPI.
Despite its lackluster strength of schedule, St. John’s has a lot of talent.
D’Angelo Harrison is the second-highest scorer in the conference with 19.9 points per game, while Jakarr Sampson averages just under 13 points and seven rebounds.
St. John’s has been a squad whose potential doesn't come to fruition.
The talent is there, but the Johnnies haven’t made the Big Dance since the 2010-11 season, which was Steve Lavin’s first year as the head coach. The Storm open up conference play with Xavier on New Year’s Eve.
The Pirates are led by Sterling Gibbs, who is scoring over 16 points per game and Gene Teague, who is the second-leading rebounder in the conference with 9.3 boards per game. Fuquan Edwin is another solid contributor, averaging just under 14 points.
Seton Hall lost its two toughest non-conference games to Oklahoma and Mercer by a combined four points and has only one victory against an RPI top-100 team, Virginia Tech. The Pirates have also dropped inexcusable games to 3-10 Fairleigh Dickinson and 3-7 St. Peter’s.
The Pirates are the second-worst team in this conference by a long shot and likely will be competing with DePaul to stay out of the cellar.
The Blue Demons were a popular pick to finish in the basement of the inaugural Big East, and their non-conference performance did not do much to change that.
The Blue Demons went 0-4 against teams ranked inside the RPI top 100, and its best win is against the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
One positive for DePaul is Cleveland Melvin, who is one of the most prolific scorers in the Big East.
The forward averages 16.5 points while shooting 47 percent from the floor and 50 percent from beyond the arc. Melvin could be a dark horse for conference player of the year.
The Blue Demons usually score with ease, but surrender points just as easily.
DePaul ranks last in the Big East with 72.4 points allowed per game. It will likely be another long season for the Chicago-based school, which means change may be coming on the coaching staff.