Marquette Wire

Big East conference power rankings midway through conference play

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Photo by Cassie Rogala/cassierogala@gmail.com

Photo by Cassie Rogala/cassierogala@gmail.com

Photo by Cassie Rogala/cassierogala@gmail.com

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The Big East conference has been one of the most pleasant surprises at the halfway point of the college basketball season. The conference has seven teams in the NCAA Tournament in Joe Lunardi’s most recent bracketology. The Big East also has seven teams ranked inside the top 50 in RPI and five of those teams are inside the top 26.

February marks the beginning of the home stretch, as games become more critical by the week. Here are the Trib’s midseason rankings and selections for player of the year, coach of the year and rookie of the year.

1. Villanova Wildcats (19-2, 6-2)

Georgetown nearly got the top spot because the Hoyas dominated their rival Wildcats by 20 on the road, but Villanova has been the more consistent bunch. Villanova is second in the conference in scoring offense and defense. Only Darrun Hillard averages double figures in scoring, but five Wildcats are in the top 30 in the conference in that category.

The Wildcats recovered nicely after getting drubbed by Georgetown with convincing victories against Creighton and DePaul. Villanova should pick up another conference victory at home against Marquette before welcoming Georgetown for a grudge match that could decide the regular season conference champion.

Villanova is not very deep, but the Wildcats have arguably the best starting five in the nation and should be the front-runners to win the conference championship.

2. Georgetown Hoyas (15-6, 7-3)

Georgetown has been a strange but talented team to watch. The Hoyas were riding a four-game winning streak last week, but came out flat in a 13-point home defeat to Xavier to spoil the momentum.

The Hoyas are 0-2 against Xavier, but 5-1 against everyone else in the conference. D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera has not quite lived up to the hype of his Preseason Player of the Year selection, but he has been Georgetown’s leader with 15.6 points per game, good for fifth in the conference. Big man Joshua Smith is a load in the paint and is averaging 12 points and 6.7 boards per game.

When Georgetown struggles, it’s usually because the supporting cast fails to give its star players much help. Two Hoyas aside from Smith-Rivera and Smith have scored in double figures in Georgetown’s three conference losses. Georgetown will need more from its role players going forward to be a serious challenger for the Big East crown.

3. Providence Friars (16-6, 6-3)

Providence has a scary duo that could carry the Friars to another strong finish. LaDontae Henton is the leading scorer in the conference with 20.4 points per game, and the red-hot Kris Dunn has moved into sixth in the conference at 15.5 points per game. Dunn earned the first triple-double in a Big East game in school history with his 27 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists in the team’s victory against DePaul.

Providence’s offense ranks eighth in the conference because the Friars do not get much production outside of Henton, Dunn, Tyler Harris and Carson Desrosiers.

The Friars were swept in the season series by St. John’s after a 75-66 loss Saturday afternoon. The Friars may have the toughest remaining conference schedule, as Providence travels to Georgetown and has two games against Villanova and Seton Hall. The Friars will need Henton and Dunn to continue their extraordinary play to carry the team through a daunting second half of the conference schedule.

4Butler Bulldogs (16-6, 6-3)

The Bulldogs do not boast an explosive offense, but they can shut opponents down with the conference’s best defense. Kellen Dunham is the fourt-best scorer in the conference with an average of 16.1 points. Roosevelt Jones and Andrew Chrabascz also chime in with double figures in scoring.

Butler is riding a three-game winning streak, but two of those wins were squeaked out against conference bottom-feeders Creighton and Marquette.

The Bulldogs are not an overwhelming team, but they have a talented starting five with a really good scorer in Dunham who can take over a game at whim.

5Seton Hall Pirates (15-6, 5-4)

Seton Hall has been quite tumultuous this season, and has not been at full strength during conference play. The Pirates got a boost when freshman Isaiah Whitehead returned in the team’s 90-82 victory against Xavier. Whitehead scored 19 points in his first game back after suffering a stress fracture in his right foot near the end of non-conference play.

Sterling Gibbs carried the load during Whitehead’s absence and emerged as one of the best scorers in the league. Gibbs is third in the conference with 17 points per game and third in assists, averaging four helpers per game. Freshman Angel Delgado is a talented big man and leads the conference in rebounding.

The Pirates cracked the top 25 after upsetting Villanova at home, but followed that win with four losses in five games. Seton Hall is now on a two-game winning streak after defeating Marquette and Xavier.

Seton Hall is a middling team right now, but the Pirates might be the conference’s most dangerous team going forward.

6. Xavier Musketeers (14-8, 5-5)

Xavier leads the Big East in scoring offense, but is eighth in scoring defense. The Musketeers are 4-0 at home in conference play, but 1-5 outside of Cincinnati. The good news for Xavier is five of its final eight conference games are at the Cintas Center.

Xavier has five players scoring in double figures and also possesses one of the best big men in the conference. Center Matt Stainbrook leads the Musketeers with 12.7 points and 6.8 rebounds per game. Trevon Bluiett leads all freshmen in scoring in the conference and is 15th overall with 12.5 points per game. Dee Davis is one of the better point guards in the conference with a 2.5 assist-to-turnover ratio.

Xavier is a talented team that will need to take care of business on home court in order to finish in the top half of the conference.

7St. John’s Red Storm (14-7, 3-5)

St. John’s entered conference play with only one loss, but has since fallen apart in the new year. The Red Storm has four players inside the top 16 in the conference in scoring. D’Angelo Harrison is second in the conference with 18.9 points per game.

St. John’s is a tricky team to figure out. The talent is there and it shows in multiple ways on the stat sheet, but the one glaring weakness is a poor rebounding margin.

The Red Storm still has plenty of time to make a run, but it’s tough to trust this talented team.

8DePaul Blue Demons (11-12, 5-5)

Eighth place is a surprise for DePaul, who started the conference season 3-0. The Blue Demons have since fallen back to earth and are 2-5 in their last seven games.

DePaul has four players inside the top 25 in conference scoring, but the Blue Demons are ninth defensively. A big reason the Blue Demons are competing this season is they are the best 3-point shooting team in the conference.

Billy Garrett Jr. is one of the top guards in the conference and leads the Blue Demons with 13.2 points and 3.9 assists per game.

DePaul probably isn’t a legitimate contender this season, but the trio of Garrett Jr., Myke Henry and Tommy Hamilton IV could be a nice nucleus for next season.

9. Marquette Golden Eagles (10-11, 2-7)

Marquette is the coldest team in the conference right now and the only reason the Golden Eagles are ninth is because they beat Creighton on a buzzer-beater in their last victory before a five-game losing streak.

The Golden Eagles typically live and die by Matt Carlino, who is seventh in the Big East with 14.7 points per game. Freshman Duane Wilson has shown some signs of great potential, but is still adjusting to the physicality of conference play.

Marquette has lost five conference games by single digits and has only been blown out once against Big East foes. Closing games down the stretch is a big issue for the competitive Golden Eagles.

Coach Steve Wojciechowski did not inherit much talent in his first season, and this team does not have enough firepower to contend right now.

10. Creighton Bluejays (10-13, 1-9)

The Bluejays followed up their first conference win with a 27-point home loss to Georgetown. It just isn’t clicking for Creighton and the Bluejays have failed to overcome the departures of Doug McDermott and other talented contributors.

The lone bright spot for Creighton is Austin Chatman, who is averaging 10.7 points and 3.9 assists per game.

Creighton is in a clear rebuilding situation and will need to reload quickly in a growingly competitive conference.

Postseason awards

Big East Player of the Year – LaDontae Henton, Providence.

Big East Coach of the Year – Chris Holtmann, Butler.

Big East Rookie of the Year – Trevon Bluiett, Xavier.

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