Big East Basketball Power Rankings: First 6 Weeks Roundup

(AP Photo/Darren Hauck)

Welcome to the first edition of RoundTable Time’s 2018-19 Big East East Power Rankings. Look out for new rankings out every week, typically on Sundays or Mondays.

1. Marquette: 8-2 (0-0)

Key Wins: Louisville (neutral site), vs. Kansas State, vs. Wisconsin

Losses: @ Indiana, Kansas (neutral site)

Marquette’s home win vs Wisconsin tells you a lot about this year’s team. Markus Howard shot just 7-29 from the field, but Marquette overcame that to beat a very good Wisconsin team. Unlike last season, this year’s Marquette team can afford that kind of game from Howard and is not totally reliant on heat checks from both Howard and the now graduated Andrew Rowsey. Much of this is due to their much improved defense that supports their explosive offensive attack.

Howard teams up with the Hauser brothers to form maybe the best trio in the conference, but this team is still much more than those three, and when needed, they can legitimately go 10 deep.

The Golden Eagles have quietly been very good since that dreadful second half vs Kansas, and Marquette boasts the best resume of any team in the conference thus far with a trio of really good wins vs Louisville, Kansas State and Wisconsin.

Right now it’s a six team tier 1 of teams who can win the conference, but at this point, Marquette is leading the pack.

2. St. John’s: 9-0 (0-0)

Key Wins: @ Rutgers, VCU (neutral site), Georgia Tech (neutral site)

Losses: none

St. John’s has of course completed their first nine games undefeated. It’s their first 9-0 start since the 1990-91 season, when they advanced to the Elite 8 before Malik Sealy and company got bounced from the tourney at the hands of Bobby Hurley, Christian Laettner and the Duke Blue Devils.

This St. John’s team once again possess the potential to make another deep tournament run. Whether they play up to that potential is the question, and it seems a lack of discipline and lack of size could contribute to their downfall.

Despite a couple flaws, this team has shotmakers and athletes at every position and it never hurts to have the best player in the conference on your roster. Shamorie Ponds has had a phenomenal year driven by much improved efficiency compared to last season. He is scoring the same amount of point per game while taking four less shots a game and has increased both his field goal percentage and 3-point percentage by 10 percentage points. He has also taken better care of the ball and is averaging one less turnover a game.

The improvements this team has made around him have helped contribute to Ponds’ leap. Auburn transfer Mustapha Heron looks like a terrific player and JUCO transfer LJ Figueroa has been a great addition as well.

Sloppy, careless play for stretches at a time have bogged them down, but this team’s talent has been enough to overcome their fairly weak non-conference schedule. They’ll need to clean up their game as the Big East season approaches.

3. Villanova: 8-4 (0-0)

Key Wins: Oklahoma State (neutral site), Florida State (neutral site), vs. Temple

Losses: vs. Michigan, vs. Furman, @ Penn., @ Kansas

Since Big East realignment in 2013, Villanova has won the conference regular season or conference tournament in each of the five seasons. While it’s certainly feasible that their streak will continue, it’s going to be an slight uphill battle for Jay Wright and company this year.

This version of Villanova basketball struggles on both ends of the court. Their offense lacks both ball movement and motion off the ball. Because of this, far too many possessions end in isolation, with the other four off-ball players watching a lone driver from the perimeter. This stagnant offense is not creating too many open looks in the halfcourt for the Wildcats. Defense has also been a work in progress. This team doesn’t have many lock down individual defenders and as a unit this squad is still gelling.

Despite their issues, this team is still finding ways to win. Sophomore Jermaine Samuels is starting to emerge, after a rough freshman year and freshman Saddiq Bey has been a pleasant surprise and a nice addition to the starting lineup. Sophomore guard Collin Gillespie has also taken a big step forward, but his game is probably better utilized away from the ball rather than as a team’s primary ball handler. This team’s lack of a lead guard and playmaker is a clear weakness. Hopefully Jahvon Quinerly can help fill this void as he adjusts to the college game.

The Kansas 3-point road loss was encouraging, even with Kansas playing without center Udoka Azubuike. Phil Booth showed he can be a leader for this team scoring a career high 29 points and running the offense nicely. Booth and fellow senior Eric Paschall are still adjusting to their new lead roles, but both seem to improve with each game. If Gillespie can continue to score effectively, he can help take off some of the scoring load from these two which should help open up the offense.

Despite the lack of cohesion and at times poor decision making on the floor, this team is still finding ways to win games. Coach Jay Wright and the Wildcats should eventually figure out how their talent fits together and become a contender in the Big East and beyond.

4. Seton Hall: 7-3 (0-0)

Key Wins: Miami (neutral site), Kentucky (neutral site), vs. Rutgers

Losses: @ Nebraska, vs. St. Louis, vs. Louisville

2018-19 looked like it had the makings of a down year for the Pirates after graduating four senior starters, but this team looks very capable of making it four straight trips to the NCAA Tournament this season.

Seton Hall took a big step forward toward that goal by beating Kentucky at Madison Square Garden last weekend. Coach Kevin Willard really challenged his squad this year with an exceptionally difficult non-conference slate, and leading up to the Kentucky game, they hadn’t had much success against the other high major programs on the schedule. The Kentucky win of course changed that in a big way and gave them a signature win for their resume.

For such a young team, the Pirates showed great composure and toughness in this one. Their maturity was exemplified in their final offensive possession of overtime, where after several shot fakes and extra passes, Taurean Thompson found Myles Cale in the corner for what became the game winning 3. Cale, who up to that final shot was shooting just 3-17 from the field, put his shooting struggles beyond him to nail the game winner. Even with a deflating Kentucky half-court buzzer beater to send the game to overtime and with three Pirates fouled out, the Hall stayed strong and gutted out a key win.

Seton Hall then followed up the Kentucky win by beating Rutgers in the Garden State Classic. It’s certainly not always easy to handle success, which is something they struggled with after last season’s NCAA Tournament win over NC State, but the Pirates pulled this rivalry game out in fairly convincing fashion.

This team is certainly still developing, but the improvements throughout the year have been noticeable, and this young team should only get better as time goes by. At the end of the day, it’s a tough team with a star in Powell and just enough around him to make a run in the Big East.

5. Butler: 7-3 (0-0)

Key Wins: vs. Ole Miss, Florida (neutral site)

Losses: Dayton (neutral site), @ St. Louis, Indiana (neutral site)

The Butler way is still going strong in LaVall Jordan’s second year at the helm for the Bulldogs. This team certainly embodies the traits of Butler teams of year past as a tough team that defends and always gives themselves a chance to win games.

As we close out the non-conference, their resume certainly is not bad with a couple nice wins against Florida in the Bahamas and Ole Miss at Hinkle, but it could be a bit better. They let one slip away late against Indiana in the Crossroads Classic after leading virtually the entire game and missed out on a meeting with Virginia after falling to Dayton in the Battle for Atlantis first round. Of course, the loss to Dayton and the subsequent win over Middle Tennessee allowed them to match up with Florida in the fifth place game, but they did lose an opportunity to play a top tier team at a neutral site, an opportunity that does not arise too often.

Sean McDermott has picked up his scoring this year to go along with all the little things he does, and Paul Jorgensen has found the consistency he lacked last season and is shooting and scoring at a very high clip in his senior year. Kamar Baldwin has played well overall but has turned the ball over more and missing more shots as he adjusts to a bigger role as the number one guy for Butler. On the interior, Nate Fowler and Joey Brunk have filled in for the graduated Tyler Wideman. And while they have been productive on the offensive end, they are not quite as strong defensively, which Indiana’s Juwan Morgan exposed effectively, scoring 35 points on just 14 shots. Integrating talented wing and Duke transfer Jordan Tucker will be the next step for this squad.

While they let a couple of opportunities go by the wayside, this team does a lot of things well and should definitely be a factor in the conference.

6. Creighton: 7-3 (0-0)

Key Wins: Clemson (neutral site)

Losses: vs Ohio State, vs Gonzaga, @ Nebraska

This Creighton team is a pretty typical Greg McDermott Creighton team. The offense gets up and down (Kenpom Adjusted Tempo – 74th), they shoot it well from 3 (44.8%, 4th in the nation), they score a lot (83.8 PPG, 30th in the nation, 15th in Kenpom offense) and struggle at times to get stops defensively (118th in Kenpom defense).

The Creighton offensive machine has been driven this year by sophomore guard Ty-Shon Alexander, who has taken a big step forward in year two in Omaha. With the departure of dynamic scoring guards Marcus Foster and Khyri Thomas, Alexander has upped his scoring from just 5.5 points per game last year to 18.2 points a game this year. This team is littered with fast guards and shot makers, but guys like Martin Krampelj and Damien Jefferson can give them a different look as well. Krampelj supplies some interior scoring while the New Mexico transfer Jefferson gives them a little more toughness and defensive ability on the wing, while fitting into their uptempo offensive attack.

Creighton won the Cayman Islands Classic with a highlight win in the final vs Clemson, but they missed out on a couple of chances for some other resume boosters. Of their three losses, their Ohio State home loss in the Gavitt Games was probably the most winnable. After trailing late, they battled back into the game, just to blow it late. They then later lost a shootout vs Gonzaga in Omaha, an understandable loss against a superior opponent, and finally got blown out on the road vs in state rival Nebraska. These three losses were probably their most challenging games thus far, and in a vacuum you can’t beat them up too much for dropping any one of them. But in the course of the season, you would have hoped they could have pulled out at least one of these games. The Blue Jays still have a very nice opportunity for a signature road win this week vs Oklahoma against a very good Sooners team.

This team has the looks of a good team, but they still have a lot to prove, especially on defense.

7. Providence: 7-3 (0-0)

Key Wins: South Carolina (neutral site), @ Boston College

Losses: Wichita State (neutral site), Michigan (neutral site), vs. UMass

It has been another slow start for the Friars this year as it was last season. When you consider this team is starting two freshman guards and three freshman overall, it’s not too much of a shock.

Despite playing one of the easier non-conference schedule of any team in the conference this team sits at just 7-3 after their first 10. The loss to UMass at the Dunk is particularity inexcusable, especially after leading by 18 at the half. Add another loss to an inferior team in Wichita State and that makes two fairly bad losses for this Providence team early. These aren’t quite back breaking losses at this point, but they certainly won’t help a team that figures to find itself on the bubble at season’s ends. There is no reason why this team is not 9-1 at this point.

The good news is there is reason to believe they’ll improve as their three freshman adapt to the college game. Freshman guard A.J. Reeves has been particularly impressive early with a number of high scoring performances and big shots late in games. He certainly looks like the best first year in the conference. The bad news is that Reeves is expected to miss at least a month with a foot injury. Ed Cooley should lean heavily on junior wing and All Big East 1st Team hopeful Alpha Diallo during this stretch.

This team seems to be lacking the toughness they had by the end of last season, however there is still plenty of time to turn it around and given their youth, talented roster and Cooley’s coaching prowess, I would expect them to make another late season push. But at this point, they’re a step back from the top six in the conference.

8. DePaul: 7-2 (0-0)

Key Wins: vs. Penn. State

Losses: @ Notre Dame, @ Northwestern

Yes! That’s right, DePaul may not be the worst team in the Big East this year! In fact, this is looking like the best DePaul men’s basketball team in a long time.

Max Strus is at the center of it all and looking like an All Big East candidate with improved production and efficiency from last season. Strus is of course joined on the wing by fellow senior Eli Cain. The biggest change from this year compared to last year has been the addition of graduate transfer Femi Olujobi and the return of injured Devin Gage. Olujobi gives DePaul a big body on the inside who can score out to the mid range. Gage gives DePaul something they sorely missed last season in a lead guard on offense and a hound on the defensive end.

This team is a bit thin and goes just seven to eight guys deep, but they have put out a pretty respectable product on the floor this year. The Blue Demons picked up the conference’s best win of the Gavitt Games with a home win vs Penn State, but they have yet to win away from home this year and outside of the Penn State win, they have yet to get any resume significant wins. Their next best win is a home win vs Illinois Chicago, ranked just 180th in Kenpom. After that it gets even worse with their next highest Kenpom ranked win coming over Cleveland State, ranked 274th in the nation. An upcoming home game vs Boston College is a must win at this point, but their resume is so devoid of even decent wins that they might have already buried themselves way too deep in the tournament discussion at this point. Of course their road struggles are not helping either. Overall, it’s disappointing that this senior laden team that was good enough to beat Penn State is not getting more opportunities to prove themselves against even mediocre competition.

There is so much balance in the Big East this year that they could have a good year and still finish last. But this team is improved from last year. As one of the few veteran led teams in the conference, I’d bet on the Blue Demons fighting out of the Big East basement this year. If they avoid a last place finish, that would make it just two finishes out of last place since the 2008-09 season.

9. Xavier: 7-4 (0-0)

Key Wins: Illinois (neutral site)

Losses: vs. Wisconsin, Auburn (neutral site), San Diego State (neutral site), @ Cincinnati

The Travis Steele era has gotten off to a bumpy start in Cincinnati. This team seems to be playing below their means, as their play so far has not matched their talent.

The Musketeers lost a ton of production from last year with the graduation of seniors Trevon Bluiett and J.P. Macura. These two did so much for this team throughout their four year run, however, X still returned a ton of talent from last season lead by the trio of Naji Marshall, Quentin Goodin and Paul Scruggs. However, when you consider all the turnover this team had from last season to this season, it’s clear why they’ve gotten off to a slow start this year. They are trying to replace the production of three senior starters with young former role players while simultaneously integrating three grad transfers. And all of this is happening under a rookie head coach.

I wouldn’t give up on this team, but it’s going to be hard to build a resume at this point. Even calling a neutral site win vs Illinois in the Bahamas a “key win” is probably a stretch, but at this point that is this team’s best win. The Maui invitational showed a lot about this team. In the first round they took a borderline nationally elite Auburn team to overtime before losing in OT. In the subsequent consolation game, they lost to an inferior San Diego State team. This team has potential and they have shown flashes, but they’re having a hard time putting it together to win games.

Xavier looks like the Big East team with the most upward mobility at this point. However, if the defense continues to struggle, ranked 123rd by Kenpom, there will be a hard cap on how good they can be. Despite this, there is reason to believe they will improve as the season progresses.

10. Georgetown: 7-3 (0-0)

Key Wins: @ Illinois

Losses: Loyola Marymount (neutral site), @ Syracuse, vs. SMU

Patrick Ewing has a pretty good foundation with his two freshman starting guards, James Akinjo and Mac McClung, and freshman forward Josh LeBlanc coming off the bench, but the Hoyas are still probably a year or more from really turning it around in DC. In Akinjo, Georgetown seems to have found its point guard of the present and the future and his athletic backcourt running mate McClung has shown some flashes of star potential as well.

Outside of the three freshman and senior standout Jessie Govan, this team is pretty thin. I do not think there is any clear cut worst team in the conference, but I’d pencil in Georgetown in that last spot at this point. Much like DePaul, this team’s resume is held back by a fairly weak non-conference schedule. Georgetown narrowly completed a road upset win vs rival Syracuse, but lost on a last second shot by ‘Cuse star Tyus Battle. Their win against Illinois was solid, considering it was a true road game, and was probably Ewing’s best non-conference win of his college coaching career. Their remaining victories are against fairly unimpressive competition and they dropped games they played against average teams in losses to Loyola Marymount and SMU.

This program is moving in the right direction, but they’re young and still a few years away from competing in the conference but the foundation of a good team is starting to form.

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