At mid-January we’ve completed the non-conference portion of the season, and have seen just enough Big East play to start another round of heated discussions. There’s no doubt about it, top to bottom this is the toughest conference in the country; even 6-10 South Florida has given fits to Syracuse and Pitt! This mid-season report card gives a taste of how well teams have weathered the Big East storm thus far, but know this: March is a long ways away right now, with every team having a brutal schedule between now and then.
BIG EAST MID-SEASON REPORT CARD: PART TWO
Key wins: Rhode Island, at Cincinnati Key losses: Northeastern
New coach Keno Davis has the Friars off to a solid start, winning 3 of their first 4 Big East games. With 72 possessions per game, they have the 29th best tempo in the country. Other than that, they’re in the middle of the Big East pack for just about everything stats-wise. What I do like about this team is scoring distribution, as 7 players are scoring 9 ppg or more. It seems like Weyinmi Efejuku has been on the team for about 7 years now, so all of that experience can benefit the team through leadership. Crazy as it sounds, Providence has one of the easier conference schedules, because they don’t have to play more than 2 or three top-tier opponents without playing a weak team. As long as they beat the teams they should beat, the Friars will be in good position for a first-round bye in the Big East tourney.
Key wins: At Rider Key losses: St. Bonaventure, Lehigh, Binghampton
At 9-9, this team has had some ugly losses (but at least they beat winless New Jersey Tech!), and haven’t won in almost a month. Like DePaul, this is a very young, poor shooting team, with a FG% of 43 and 3-pt% of 29. To complement their poor 3-point shooting, they actually defend the 3-ball well too with a rate of 28%, tops in the conference, which makes for very dull basketball. The bright spot on the roster is the back court, with 30 ppg coming from Mike Rosario and Anthony Farmer. The tough part about the rest of their schedule is they never go more than 2 games without playing a top-tier conference opponent, thus making it incredibly tough to gain any momentum. The ’08-09 campaign for the Scarlet Knights seems to be a flop at this point; wait ‘til next year fans.
Seton Hall: C
Key wins: USC, Virginia Tech Key losses: Vs IUPUI, at James Madison
Boy, that upset victory over USC in November seems like a distant memory, doesn’t it? Since then, the Pirates have struggled defensively, and have lost their first four Big East games by an average of 16 ppg. They lead the conference in steals with 9.6 per game, and Jeremy Hazell is second in scoring in the conference with 22 ppg. But clearly a team that’s 2 games over .500 is going to have a few weaknesses. Giving up 74 ppg, this team has the worst defense in the Big East. Two main reasons for this: one is the lack of rebounding as the Pirates rank 14th and 15th in offensive and defensive rebounding, respectively. Like Villanova and Marquette, Seton Hall is undersized as well. The other is fouls, as they have a FTA/FGA ratio of nearly 50%, that’s way too many shots from the charity stripe for the opposition. This team needs to turn things around defensively in a hurry to have a shot at a first-round bye in the Big-East tourney.
South Florida: F
Key wins: None Key losses: Wright State, Oral Roberts
Ladies and Gentlemen, I bring to you the worst team in the Big East: The South Florida Bulls! Unless you’re Memphis, it’s very tough to beat teams when you’re the worst free throw shooter in the conference. Couple that with the worst scoring offense and arguably the worst rebounding in the conference makes for bad basketball. The only positive note for Stan Heath’s team is that they do play tough, and won’t roll over and give in easily; so far they’ve played Syracuse and Pitt close in conference play. Unfortunately for the Bulls this isn’t college horseshoes, so coming close doesn’t count. Playing Marquette, Providence, Notre Dame, Georgetown, and UConn all in a row next month won’t help their cause either. Savor the Magicjack bowl victory fans, there isn’t much to cheer for here.
St. John’s: B-
Key wins: Notre Dame Key losses: Virginia Tech, at Providence
After the last couple of years, the Red Storm have had nowhere to go but up, and they’ve certainly done that this year. Despite starting out a brutal stretch in conference play against Notre Dame, Pitt, UConn, and Villanova, St. John’s managed to pull out a big win at home against the Irish. Like Providence, this team has good point distribution with 4 players scoring in double digits each game. Wing man D.J Kennedy is the playmaker on this team, putting up 13 and 7 per game. St. John’s does have a break from playing the heavyweights for about a month, so they have plenty of time to turn around their shooting woes and get into the middle of the pack.
Key wins: Florida, at Kansas, at Memphis, Notre Dame Key losses: Cleveland State
Come March, the Orangemen might be the most balanced team in the conference. Big men Paul Harris, Arinze Onuaku, and Rick Jackson rank in the top 15 in the conference in field goal percentage. Jonny Flynn, who can do just about anything on the court, is making a strong case for top point guard in the Big East. 2-guards Andy Rautins and Eric Devendorf serve as two great long-ball threats, and should be competing for game time the rest of the season. The one negative the Orange have going for them is they came out flat in their first big conference game against Georgetown. While ‘Cuse did get a lot of good looks in the paint, nothing was falling, and the Hoyas easily took care of business. Fans got a scare when Rautins went down, worried that he re-injured his ACL. Luckily, his knee was hurt from hitting the floor, and was available to play had Jim Boeheim needed him. The Orange have the blueprints for success, but their main challenge at this point is execution.
Key wins: St. Joe’s, Temple Key losses: Louisville
The Wildcats seem to be running in the middle of the pack this year. They’re good enough that they’ll beat the teams that they should beat, but they’ll lose to any team that’s better than 8th in the conference. They’ve played three quality opponents this year in Texas, Marquette, and Louisville, and have lost all 3 games. The worst of them was the loss at home to Louisville, when 3 attempts at the game-winning shot underneath the basket all bounced out to give Villanova their second Big East loss. Like Marquette, they’re very under-sized in the Big East. The main way to get around this ailment is speed, however, ‘Nova is seriously lacking in this department with just over 65 possessions per game, good for 239th in the country. The weapons are there in Scottie Reynolds, Dante Cunningham, and Corey Fisher, but they’ll need a more up-tempo offense to beat the Pittsburghs and UConns of this conference.
West Virginia: B+
Key wins: Ohio State, at Ole Miss Key losses: Davidson
Fundamentally, this team is in the top 3 in the conference. In terms of efficiency, they rank 28th in the country on offense and 7th in the country on defense. Three players, Alex Ruoff, Darryl Bryant, and Joe Mazzulla, are all averaging at least 3 assists per game. This team has interesting size, in that none of the major contributors are over 6’9, but none of them are under 6’2, which gives them enough physical presence to play in a physical conference. The middle of their conference schedule is the toughest, which includes playing at Georgetown, Pitt, Louisville, Syracuse, at Pitt, ‘Nova, and Notre Dame. Like every other team in the conference, we’ll learn a lot more about the Mountaineers once they’ve played the top 5 teams in the conference.