NCAA Big East Review: Non-Conference Play

Ryan BrennanSenior Analyst IDecember 28, 2008

Big East conference play is about to begin, and seeing as how two months ago the world was proclaiming that the Big East was the best conference in college hoops and that as many as 10 teams would make it to the big dance, it only seems right to take an in-depth look at if that still holds true.

If you missed my Big East Preview, I suggest you take a look—this is going to be in a similar format.

Let's kick it off by taking a look at the numbers.

The Big East has gone 11-8 versus Top 25 teams. Compare that to the other top conferences in the nation—the ACC has gone 6-9, the Big Ten is 8-9, and the Big 12 is 6-7.

There are currently nine ranked Big East schools, five more then the next closest.

Seven Big East teams currently have double-digit wins.

Five different Big East teams have been ranked in the top 10 so far.

Four Big East teams have moved up in the rankings since preseason.

Three have moved down...

There are currently two undefeated Big East teams, and they are ranked second and third nationally.

One—the number of conference games occurring on Dec. 29, when Big East conference play begins (and it happens to be between two top 10 teams—No. 9 Georgetown at No. 2 Connecticut).

Tiering the Big East

Now that you have an idea of how the conference as a whole has done, let's move on and see how the teams are doing. I have decided to break the conference into five tiers based on performance thus far: Top Tier (three teams), Second Tier (three teams), Third Tier (four teams), Fourth Tier (three teams), Bottom Tier (three teams). To avoid any confusion, I will alphabetize each tier.


Top Tier


11-0 (3-0 vs. Top 25)
No. 2 AP Poll, No. 2 Coaches' Poll
Conference Play Begins: Georgetown (9-1, No. 11 AP, No. 9 Coaches), Dec. 29—7:00 PM EST

The Huskies are one of the two remaining undefeated teams in the Big East and ranked second in the nation, so it should not surprise anyone that they are in the Top Tier. In the process of staying undefeated during their non-conference schedule, they have taken down three Top 25 teams.

Unfortunately, they have spent the entire season sitting directly behind the top ranked Tar Heels (and it doesn't look like that is going to change any time soon), but they have certainly impressed many of their opponents.

Stats Leaders

15.5 Points Per Game—Jerome Dyson
11.1 Rebounds Per Game—Hasheem Thabeet
1.7 Steals Per Game—Jerome Dyson
3.7 Blocks Per Game—Hasheem Thabeet
4.7 Assists Per Game—A.J. Price



12-0 (0-0 vs. Top 25)
No. 3 AP Poll, No. 3 Coaches' Poll
Conference Play Begins: @ Rutgers (9-3), Dec. 31—2:00 PM EST

The Panthers are the other undefeated team in the Big East and they are currently ranked third in both polls (so it probably should not surprise you to find them in the Top Tier either). They began the season ranked 11th and have steadily worked their way up, and while they have not taken down any ranked teams, they have had some very impressive wins.

Stats Leaders

20.1 Points Per Game—Sam Young
13.0 Rebounds Per Game—DeJuan Blair
2.1 Steals Per Game—DeJuan Blair
1.1 Blocks Per Game—Sam Young
6.4 Assists Per Game—Levance Fields



12-1 (3-0 vs. Top 25)
No. 17 AP Poll, No. 14 Coaches' Poll
Conference Play Begins: Seton Hall (9-3), Dec. 30—7:00 PM EST

The Orange have been the most surprising team so far this season, upsetting two Top 25 teams at the end of November to win the CBE Classic. They began the season unranked and picked to finish in the middle of the pack, but at this point they have transformed themselves into one of the better Big East teams. So far the Orange have taken down three Top 25 teams, and their only loss has come on a 60-foot buzzer-beater.

Stats Leaders

17.5 Points Per Game—Jonny Flynn
8.8 Rebounds Per Game—Paul Harris
1.8 Steals Per Game—Jonny Flynn
1.8 Blocks Per Game—Arinze Onuaku
5.3 Assists Per Game—Jonny Flynn

Second Tier


9-1 (1-1 vs. Top 25)
No. 11 AP Poll, No. 9 Coaches' Poll
Conference Play Begins: @ Connecticut (11-0, No. 2 AP, No. 2 Coaches), Dec. 29—7:00 PM EST

After losing two starters and three backups at the end of last season to either graduation or transfer, the Hoyas have been surprisingly successful in non-conference play. Their only loss came at the hands of Tennessee during a late-game surge, and they followed that game up with a 27-point defeat of Maryland.

They have held the opposition to 50 points or less in half of their games so far, while also keeping all of their opponents to 33.45 percent from the floor.

Stats Leaders

14.3 Points Per Game—DaJuan Summers
5.6 Rebounds Per Game—Greg Monroe
1.7 Steals Per Game—Greg Monroe
2.1 Blocks Per Game—Greg Monroe
4.0 Assists Per Game—Chris Wright


Notre Dame

9-2 (1-1 vs. Top 25)
No. 8 AP Poll, No. 11 Coaches' Poll
Conference Play Begins: @ DePaul (8-5), Dec. 31—8:00 PM EST

The Irish were handed their first loss of the season in the finals of the Maui Invitational by the top ranked Tar Heels. They began the season ranked ninth, but slipped on that loss and their subsequent loss to Ohio State. Reigning Big East Player of the Year Luke Harangody missed two games due to pneumonia, with both losses coming on either end of his sickness (he was not expected to play against Ohio State but wound up taking the floor).

Since their Buckeye loss, Notre Dame has looked very strong, beating their next three opponents by an average of 25.6 points.

Stats Leaders

22.7 Points Per Game—Luke Harangody
12.0 Rebounds Per Game—Luke Harangody
1.9 Steals Per Game—Tory Jackson
1.2 Blocks Per Game—Luke Harangody
5.8 Assists Per Game—Tory Jackson



11-1 (0-1 vs. Top 25)
No. 18 AP Poll, No. 16 Coaches' Poll
Conference Play Begins: @ Marquette (10-2, NR AP, No. 25 Coaches), Jan. 1—2:30 PM EST

The Wildcats' dreams of a perfect season were crushed by a sixth-ranked Texas team during the Jimmy V Classic. This is only a small blemish on their impressive résumé for this year, which includes winning the Philly Hoops Classic. They lost no starters from last year's squad, so the chemistry between the players has been extremely evident.

Dante Cunningham has stepped up under the basket, something that Guard U will need him to continue to do into conference play.

Stats Leaders

17.3 Points Per Game—Dante Cunningham
7.8 Rebounds Per Game—Dante Cunningham
1.8 Steals Per Game—Dante Cunningham
1.3 Blocks Per Game—Dante Cunningham
4.5 Assists Per Game—Scottie Reynolds

Third Tier


10-2 (0-1 vs. Top 25)
NR AP Poll, NR Coaches' Poll
Conference Play Begins: @ Marquette (10-2, NR AP, No. 25 Coaches), Jan. 4—2:00 PM EST

The Bearcats have been very impressive in non-conference play, especially considering they lost their freshman phenom point guard to a torn ACL before the season began. Their two losses have come at the hands of a top 10 Xavier team and a borderline-ranked Florida State team, while they have taken down teams such as UNLV and UAB.

The Bearcats will have their work cut out for them this season against a very tough Big East, but if they can continue to play at the caliber they have been, then they should be rewarded with a trip to March Madness or a very high seed in the NITs.

Stats Leaders

15.1 Points Per Game—Deonta Vaughn
6.3 Rebounds Per Game—Mike Williams
1.5 Steals Per Game—Deonta Vaughn
1.5 Blocks Per Game—Anthony McClain
4.8 Assists Per Game—Deonta Vaughn



8-2 (0-0 vs. Top 25)
No. 19 AP Poll, No. 19 Coaches' Poll
Conference Play Begins: @ South Florida (5-7), Jan. 7—7:00 PM EST

The Cardinals have turned out to be one of the most disappointing teams during non-conference play. After starting the season ranked third, they dropped their third game of the season to Western Kentucky and saw their ranking plummet. They watched their ranking fall again when they were out-hustled by Minnesota.

After being praised as one of the preseason favorites to win the Big East regular season title, it seems that they are now destined to finish in the middle of the pack.

Stats Leaders

15.2 Points Per Game—Samardo Samuels
8.9 Rebounds Per Game—Terrence Williams
2.1 Steals Per Game—Terrence Williams
1.7 Blocks Per Game—Earl Clark
5.0 Assists Per Game—Terrence Williams



11-2 (1-1 vs. Top 25)
NR AP Poll, No. 25 Coaches' Poll
Conference Play Begins: Villanova (11-1, No. 18 AP, No. 16 Coaches), Jan. 1—2:30 PM EST

The Golden Eagles have had some great games, such as their victory over nationally ranked rival Wisconsin, and some very disappointing ones, such as their loss to Dayton. Overall, though, Marquette has been strong during non-conference play, and Wesley Matthews has stepped up and shown the world what he is capable of.

Stats Leaders

19.1 Points Per Game—Wesley Matthews
9.4 Rebounds Per Game—Lazar Hayward
1.9 Steals Per Game—Dominic James
0.6 Blocks Per Game—Wesley Matthews
5.4 Assists Per Game—Dominic James


West Virginia

10-2 (1-1 vs. Top 25)
NR AP Poll, NR Coaches' Poll
Conference Play Begins: @ Seton Hall (9-3), Jan. 3—4:00 PM EST

The Mountaineers first fell prey to Kentucky, and then next to Davidson (more specifically Stephen Curry) during the Jimmy V Classic. They did, however, defeat Ohio State on the road, a feat that some of their "strong" Big East brethren were unable to accomplish. West Virginia has looked strong so far this season, and considering they lost their star player a year early to the draft, they have had a successful non-conference schedule.

Stats Leaders

17.0 Points Per Game—Alex Ruoff
6.6 Rebounds Per Game—Devin Ebanks
2.2 Steals Per Game—Alex Ruoff
1.1 Blocks Per Game—Wellington Smith
3.7 Assists Per Game—Joe Mazzulla

Fourth Tier


8-4 (0-0 vs. Top 25)
NR AP Poll, NR Coaches' Poll
Conference Play Begins: St. John's (9-3), Dec. 31—4:00 PM EST

After signing reigning Coach of the Year Keno Davis during the offseason, the Friars have to be disappointed with their performance thus far. Their non-conference schedule has been far from difficult, yet they have managed to slowly add ticks to the L column. If something doesn't click within the team soon, it could be a very long season for them.

Stats Leaders

13.8 Points Per Game—Weyinmi Efejuku
8.2 Rebounds Per Game—Geoff McDermott
1.5 Steals Per Game—Jeff Xavier
1.0 Blocks Per Game—Geoff McDermott
4.3 Assists Per Game—Sharaud Curry


Seton Hall

9-3 (1-1 vs. Top 25)
NR AP Poll, NR Coaches' Poll
Conference Play Begins: @ Syracuse (12-1, No. 17 AP, No. 14 Coaches), Dec. 30—7:00 PM EST

The Pirates gained national attention when they upset ranked USC early in the season, but fell out of the spotlight the next day when Memphis proved that they might be a one-hit wonder. They strung together a few losses in a row, which hurt their tiering status, but they have shown that they have the ability to win. Seton Hall is another school that can still surprise a lot of people, especially if they do so coming from the Fourth Tier.

Stats Leaders

22.4 Points Per Game—Jeremy Hazell
8.2 Rebounds Per Game—John Garcia
2.8 Steals Per Game—Paul Gause
1.7 Blocks Per Game—John Garcia
4.5 Assists Per Game—Eugene Harvey


St. John's

9-3 (0-0 vs. Top 25)
NR AP Poll, NR Coaches Poll
Conference Play Begins: @ Providence (8-4), Dec. 31—4:00 PM EST

The Red Storm were off to a fantastic start before having a two-game slide to end non-conference play. In the midst of still trying to turn the team around, St. John's is still ready to begin conference play with a much better record than last year (when they were 6-5). It appears that the Red Storm have a fighting chance to get double-digit Big East wins for the first time since the '90s.

Stats Leaders

14.0 Points Per Game—Anthony Mason Jr.
7.2 Rebounds Per Game—D.J. Kennedy
1.6 Steals Per Game—Malik Boothe
1.7 Blocks Per Game—Anthony Mason Jr.
5.0 Assists Per Game—Malik Boothe

Bottom Tier


8-5 (0-1 vs. Top 25)
NR AP Poll, NR Coaches' Poll
Conference Play Begins: Notre Dame (7-5, No. 8 AP, No. 11 Coaches), Dec. 31—8:00 PM EST

The Blue Demons were poised to have a great season and finish as a middle-tier Big East team, but after starting 4-0 they have since gone 3-5 (and four of those losses happened in a row). The Blue Devils are up for a long season, especially if they post numbers similar to their 36 points against Northeastern earlier this season.

Dar Tucker and Mac Koshwal, DePaul's two Big East All-Rookies from last season, have been very solid so far, but their supporting cast really needs to step it up a notch.

Stats Leaders

19.4 Points Per Game—Dar Tucker
11.2 Rebounds Per Game—Mac Koshwal
1.6 Steals Per Game—Will Walker
2.2 Blocks Per Game—Devin Hill
2.1 Assists Per Game—Will Walker



9-3 (0-0 vs. Top 25)
NR AP Poll, NR Coaches' Poll
Conference Play Begins: Pittsburgh (12-0, No. 3 AP, No. 3 Coaches), Dec. 31—2:00 PM EST

The Scarlet Knights have fought some very tough battles this season, but many of them should not have been as challenging as they were. They have defeated unknown teams by very small margins and have been slayed by others. With the way Rutgers is playing right now, they are going to have a very long season ahead of them.

Stats Leaders

16.8 Points Per Game—Mark Rosario
9.5 Rebounds Per Game—Gregory Echenique
1.7 Steals Per Game—Corey Chandler
4.3 Blocks Per Game—Hamady N'Diaye
2.6 Assists Per Game—Mike Coburn


South Florida

5-7 (0-0 vs. Top 25)
NR AP Poll, NR Coaches' Poll
Conference Play Begins: Syracuse (12-1, No. 17 AP, No. 14 Coaches), Jan. 2—8:30 PM EST

The Bulls are the only team in the Big East with a losing record after non-conference play, so it should not surprise anyone that they fall where they do. They have had a tough couple of seasons since joining the Big East, but there was a small glimmer of hope that this year would be different. It seams that this is not the case and they will have a long road ahead.

17.1 Points Per Game—Dominique Jones
5.3 Rebounds Per Game—Augustus Gilchrist
1.8 Steals Per Game—Dominique Jones
0.8 Blocks Per Game—Augustus Gilchrist
4.3 Assists Per Game—Dominique Jones

Awards from Non-Conference Play

Best Player: Luke Harangody
Runner-Up: Sam Young

Both players have been crucial to their teams' success, but the tip of the hat goes to Harangody only because the Irish faced tougher opponents.


Best Rookie: Greg Monroe
Runner-Up: Samardo Samuels

Monroe has stepped up and filled the void left by the graduation of center Roy Hibbert and the transfer of center Vernon Macklin. Monroe also gets the nod because the Hoyas' sole loss has come to a top ranked team, while the Cardinals have some embarrassing losses that they need to try and forget.


Most Surprising Team: Syracuse


Most Disappointing Team: Louisville


Most Likely to Repeat Last Season's TitleGeorgetown Season or Pittsburgh Tournament

I'm tipping the needle in favor of the Hoyas for this one, although I'm not sure how likely either is going to be. Sure, the Panthers are ranked third nationally right now, but they haven't faced anyone overly challenging yet, which makes me think that they are going to get a big shock once conference play begins.

The Hoyas, on the other hand, have faced two Top 25 teams so far, and also have a very good conference schedule this season.


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