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Big East Basketball Early Projection

Had Otto Porter or Vander Blue returned, Georgetown and Marquette might have been in the Top 10 nationally. Unfortunately, the NBA draft was not as kind to the new Big East as it was to the Big 12. But even if the league does not have any true national title contenders, when the 8th place team (Xavier) is ranked 52nd nationally in my model, this could be the most entertaining bubble race in the country.

Click here for an explanation of column headings and click here for a description of the model that generated these results.

Team

Proj CW

Proj CL

Proj Off

Proj Def

Last Off

Last Def

T100

Ret Min

Ret Poss

Georgetown

12

6

109.8

88.5

107.7

85.4

6

82%

79%

Marquette

12

6

113.5

92.2

112.4

93.2

6

56%

53%

Creighton

10

8

117.1

98.7

116.8

94.3

0

65%

66%

Butler

10

8

108.7

91.6

108.5

93.4

1

66%

62%

Villanova

9

9

108.5

92.7

105.3

90.4

6

76%

78%

St. John's

9

9

104.7

90.5

97.9

92.2

6

89%

91%

Providence

9

9

110.6

95.7

107.0

95.3

3

86%

83%

Xavier

8

10

109.1

95.3

104.5

95.4

3

58%

63%

Seton Hall

7

11

105.2

94.7

102.9

97.5

1

70%

73%

DePaul

4

14

108.4

104.1

104.1

104.6

1

56%

66%

Georgetown: Greg Whittington was injured in January, and after his injury Georgetown refocused itself around Otto Porter. Porter’s PPG production almost doubled and Georgetown went from being a fringe bubble team to the Big East champion. But the Hoyas were still an over-achieving team and Georgetown lost to Florida Gulf Coast in their opening game in the NCAA tournament. That’s a fair narrative on the season. And given that narrative I understand why many people do not view Georgetown as a Top 25 team without Otto Porter.

But let’s remember that John Thompson III has taken the Hoyas to the post-season in seven of his eight seasons, and usually with a dominant Big East squad. His average NCAA tournament seed in those seven years has been just better than the 4-line. To do that he has had to replace a lot of NBA players over the years from Jeff Green to Roy Hibbert to Greg Monroe to now Otto Porter.

The real question is on offense. Georgetown might not quite be as good offensively as they were in February and March where they posted an adjusted offensive rating of 113.1, but the model expects them to come close at 109.8. Markel Starks and D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera are an elite offensive back-court. And Nate Lubick has been solid, if passive in his first three years.

The real question is which forward runs the high post attack the team utilized last year. Mikael Hopkins was truly dreadful in that role early in the year, but he was still a Top 100 athlete out of high school. It is possible Hopkins will learn from all his turnovers last season. And if Hopkins isn’t better, the team adds UCLA transfer Josh Smith mid-season. Smith was once a dominant player at UCLA but conditioning and effort issue have prevented him from reaching his full potential.

Regardless, the defense should be dominant again. The team brings back 82 percent of its minutes from one of the nation’s best defenses. And a healthy Greg Whittington should be able to replicate a lot of what Porter did defensively. JT3 often referred to Whittington as his best and most versatile defender before his injury.

Marquette: Juan Anderson had an ORtg of 89 last year, second worst among Marquette regulars. Anderson’s biggest problem was Marquette’s biggest weakness last year. He couldn’t make jump shots. And this spring Anderson announced he was transferring. But after evaluating the decision, Anderson decided to return to Marquette. The model isn’t in love with that decision. Buzz Williams (more than any coach except maybe Mike Brey) tends to rely heavily on his veteran players and not give time to freshmen. And the model fears that Anderson’s return will take playing time away from Buzz Williams’ best recruiting class yet. Elite recruits JaJuan Johnson, Deonte Burton, and Duane Wilson need a chance to see if they can be stars, and Anderson’s presence could hinder that.

PG recruit Duane Wilson is particularly critical this season because Derrick Wilson was not an effective PG last year. Derrick had the worst ORtg on the team due to his own shooting woes.

The other big question for Marquette is the forward rotation. Buzz Williams has been reluctant to play traditional “bigs” together in his offense. He prefers versatile players who can drive the ball. But with Chris Otule getting a 6th year of eligibility, Davante Gardner proving to be an elite offensive force, and Top 100 JUCO recruit Jameel McKay joining the team, Buzz will almost certainly find it favorable to play a bigger lineup at times next year.

The rotation is a question mark, but there are a lot of very nice parts. And with five straight NCAA appearances, an average NCAA seed just better than the six line, and fewer NCAA tournament flops than John Thompson III, Buzz Williams will get it figured out. The model views the race between Georgetown and Marquette as a coin flip.

Creighton: Last year Grant Gibbs was Doug McDermott’s super pick-and-roll partner. If the NCAA gives Gibbs a 6th year of eligibility, I’ll move Creighton into the Top 25. Unfortunately, it currently seems likely that Austin Chatman, JUCO guard Devin Brooks, and JUCO guard James Milliken will have to fight it out to become Doug McDermott’s new pick-and-roll partner. I currently have Creighton at 29th nationally without Gibbs.

The loss of Gregory Echenique means Creighton’s defense is going to be worse. Defense has rarely been head coach Greg McDermott’s calling card. But let’s not dwell on the negative. Doug McDermott didn’t declare for the draft. Creighton’s explosive offense will be back. And if I’m right about the depth of this league, Creighton will be playing NCAA caliber teams on a regular basis on Fox Sports One. Life is good.

Butler: I’m not in love with the roster on paper. With a different coach and these players, Butler might be projected for 7th or 8th in the league. But my model really respects Brad Stevens at this point. Very few coaches could lose Rotnei Clarke and Andrew Smith, bring in a bunch of 3-star recruits, and expect to finish 4th in the Big East. But Stevens does a tremendous job of maximizing his talent. If the team doesn’t make Kellen Dunham into a national star, I will be shocked.

Villanova: The loss of Mouphtaou Yarou should hurt the defense a little, but this team is surprisingly loaded. Everyone will write about Ryan Arciando and JayVaughn Pinkston, but with Rice transfer Dylan Ennis and Top 100 recruits Kris Jenkins and Josh Hart joining the fold, the top 8 players in the rotation look very solid. You could argue that Villanova is a little thin on the front line, but Jay Wright’s teams seem to do their best when they are slightly under-sized upfront.

St. John’s: Three years ago Steve Lavin took a veteran St. John’s team to the NCAA tournament. Unfortunately, the last two years the team has had almost zero upperclassman. To say the young team struggled with growing pains would be an understatement. St. John’s would upset a Top 25 team one game, and then not show up the next game. But with a veteran lineup at last, the NCAA tournament should be the goal again. For fun, let’s discuss what the team’s best lineup might look like:

G – Rysheed Jordan – Elite PG prospect who should start from day one. He may make some mistakes in November and December, but given his ceiling the team needs to get him on the floor and see what he can do.

G – D’Angelo Harrison – A late season suspension might have cost him some All-Big East team votes, but he is still the most effective offensive player on the team. The fact that he is sticking around for a third season is huge.

G – Dominic Pointer – Given that Jordan’s scoring game is more developed than his passing game, having another starter with solid passing skills is critical. Luckily St. John’s has two solid options in Pointer and Jamal Branch. Pointer had the most steals on the team last year and was fantastic at getting to the free throw line. His minutes steadily increased as the season went on and I don’t know how you leave him out of the starting lineup at this point.

F – Jakarr Sampson – He needed an extra year to get his academics in order, but the star forward was the Big East Rookie-of-the-year last year. He took a few too many bad shots last year, but I expect him to make the sophomore leap and become a much more polished player this season.

C – Chris Obekpa – His offensive game still needs work, but the shot-blocking monster has unbelievable athleticism.

Bench

G - Phil Greene – I know it is blasphemy to say Phil Greene should be coming off the bench given that he has played the most minutes of any St. John’s player the last two years, but I think that time may be coming. And St. John’s fans should take this as a good sign. Greene is a solid player, but he isn’t a star by any means. He’s a below-average shooter, he doesn’t get to the line, and he doesn’t create turnovers. On a young team without a lot of talent, he was solid as a rock. But St. John’s is reaching the point where Greene probably isn’t one of the team’s top 5 options anymore.

G - Jamal Branch – The Texas A&M transfer took over at PG after joining the team last year, but with Jordan coming in, I think he is better off coming off the bench. He displayed similar passing skills to Pointer, but struggled to make jump shots, making Pointer the better choice for a starter.

F – Orlando Sanchez – After initially declaring him ineligible, the NCAA finally granted the JUCO player a year of eligibility. He’ll provide another solid option in the paint.

Honestly, I’m looking forward to watching St. John’s more than just about any team in the country. Steve Lavin has a nice combination of athletes and scorers, and I am very curious to see if it all clicks. My model has St. John’s at 44th nationally which given the typical number of at-large bids each year puts them squarely on the NCAA bubble.

Providence: Random question: Is Sidiki Johnson ever going to play basketball? He played briefly for Arizona, was suspended, and transferred in December. Then he joined Providence, played a few games, and left the team for personal reasons. I can’t decide whether I should criticize him or have sympathy for him. On the one hand, it seems very selfish that he quit on two teams after only a handful of games. On the other hand, I think we are putting too much pressure on 18 and 19 year old kids to have everything figured out.

A lot of people will write Providence off with Ricardo Ledo declaring for the pros. That isn’t fair because it overlooks what Ed Cooley was building last year. Ed Cooley developed Bryce Cotton, LaDontae Henton and Kadeem Batts into three very good basketball players. And Top 20 recruit Kris Dunn only began to show flashes of his PG skills with Vincent Council playing at such a high level. With Council gone, Dunn learning from last year’s mistakes, and Dunn being such a high ceiling player, I expect him to make great strides this off-season.

This year the team adds Top 100 recruit Brandon Austin, and transfer Carson Desrosiers from Wake Forest and transfer Tyler Harris from NC State. With that seven player core, Providence will be much better than a lot of people think. But the margin for error is slim. If one of these guys gets hurt, or plays poorly, the drop off is pretty substantial. Providence could be a sleeper NCAA team, but they need all seven of these players to live up to their potential.

Xavier: I know a lot of people are excited about this team because of star PG Semaj Christon. And I agree he is a talented player. There are also some nice additions like Western Michigan transfer Matt Stainbrook and Top 100 freshman Brandon Randolph. But last year was Xavier’s worst season since 2005 and the Muskateers must replace three of their better players. (That includes two starting forwards, and SG Brad Redford who wasn’t a starter but who made 66 threes on the year.) I think Xavier will be in the hunt for an NCAA bid; I have them 52nd nationally. But the Muskateers could improve from last season and still miss the tournament.

Seton Hall: The model thinks that last year’s disaster was a bit of an outlier. Patrick Auda was injured early, Brandon Mobley was injured later in the year, and the lack of quality forwards definitely caused the defense to slip. Kevin Willard may not be a recruiting mastermind, but he’s a solid defensive coach, and a bounce-back on defense seems likely.

Also, did PG Tom Maayan have some incriminating pictures of Willard or what? How could Willard give so much playing time to a guy with a 50% TO rate who couldn’t shoot? Maayan is likely to leave the team, and this might just be the biggest case of addition by subtraction in the country. Texas transfer Sterling Gibbs might not be a star, but he’ll be a tremendous upgrade.

Meanwhile I expect SG Brian Oliver to bounce back. Oliver was a much better player for Georgia Tech but had a career low in ORtg last year, at least in part because the offense was broken without a PG last year.

And don’t forget the team’s best player, Fuquan Edwin, is back.

But even if many of Seton Hall’s problem areas will be better, this team still lacks elite talent. And all the blame for last year’s turnover prone offense can’t fall on the players. Some of that has to fall on Kevin Willard’s offensive system.

DePaul: At one time Oliver Purnell was a solid defensive coach. His teams used pressure defense, and while they sometimes gave up easy baskets, in the aggregate they caused enough chaos to be competitive. But it hasn’t worked at all at DePaul. DePaul’s defense under Purnell has been disastrous for three straight years. If the defense doesn’t start playing better, even a change in league membership won’t lead to more wins.

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