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BIG EAST power rankings: Dunn and Bentil have Providence on top

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BIG EAST Conference play has started with a bang after the annual New Year’s opening games. The conference has already seen some of its best programs clash, leading to some surprising results. It’s arguably the best the BIG EAST has looked since the restructuring three years ago, making for an exciting season-long battle among the top seeds.

Providence logo1. Providence (14-1, 2-0 BIG EAST) – Everyone knew coming into the season that Kris Dunn was one of if not the most talented players in the conference this season. He was last year’s BIG EAST Defensive Player of the Year, a candidate for the Naismith Award this year and a likely top-10 pick in the NBA draft. He’s lived up to the billing, averaging 17.5 points and seven assists per game.

Yet, he’s not the only name capturing national attention. For as important as Dunn is, the reason the Friars have been able to make the jump to a potential top-10 team is sophomore forward Ben Bentil. He’s leading the team in scoring with nearly 19 points per game and is one of the most improved players in the country.

The win over No. 9 Butler, coupled by Villanova muddling the waters, propels the Friars to the top spot in our first power ranking of the year.

Villanova logo2. Villanova (12-2, 2-0 BIG EAST) – Those counting out Villanova after non-conference play weren’t respecting the talent on the two teams the Wildcats lost to: No. 3 Oklahoma and No. 5 Virginia. After falling out of the top 10, Villanova proved it is still a force in the conference with a 95-64 victory against No. 6 Xavier.

The Wildcats are tops in the conference in points allowed per game with 60, led by senior guard Ryan Arcidiacono.

Xavier logo 23. Xavier (13-1, 1-1 BIG EAST) – The New Year’s Eve game against No. 16 Villanova was an absolute disaster for the Musketeers. Not only did they get completely blown out, but they also lost Edmond Sumner, the team’s second leading scorer, when he was stretchered off early in the game due to a collision in the paint. The team just didn’t look like the national title contender they’ve been this season, playing with the level of intensity you’d expect from a team that lost by nearly 30 points.

Xavier saved face with a big 88-69 win Saturday against No. 9 Butler, which should halt an AP poll descent somewhat. The Musketeers will have to wait a few weeks before their next big challenge. They’ll face St. John’s, DePaul and Marquette before a Jan. 19 date with Georgetown. They’ll soon have Sumner back in the fold as well, as he’s only listed as day-to-day.

Butler logo4. Butler (11-3, 0-2 BIG EAST) – No. 12 Providence and No. 6 Xavier is a pretty tough way to welcome a team to conference play. One of the top teams was going to be knocked off their throne after the first week, and, unfortunately for the Bulldogs, they were the culprit.

Kellen Dunham, the team’s go-to scorer, struggled off the bench in the loss to Xavier, shooting 4-of-12 from the field. The team shot 38 percent, nowhere near Xavier’s 56 percent.

Butler may be down, but they aren’t out. Losses to two of the best teams in the conference won’t hurt their RPI tremendously. A win over Villanova on Jan. 10 would get them back on track.

Georgetown logo5. Georgetown (9-5, 2-0 BIG EAST) –  The Hoyas started conference play off with wins over DePaul and Marquette, solidifying their spot in the top half of the conference. However, it will take a lot for Georgetown to squeak into the top four after blaring non-conference losses to Radford, Monmouth and UNC Asheville.

Seton Hall logo6. Seton Hall (7-8, 2-0 BIG EAST) – The Pirates certainly bolstered their tournament hopes with conference opening wins against Marquette and DePaul. The conference is likely getting five bids this season. The four teams in the AP Top 25 rankings are locks barring a meltdown, meaning the rest of the conference is left to fight for that final spot.

Marquette logo7. Marquette (10-4, 0-2 BIG EAST) – The Golden Eagles played a weak non-conference schedule, featuring only one team in the top 50 according to KenPom.com’s rankings (No. 11 Iowa). They seemed a bit unprepared in their first two outings, dropping games to Seton Hall and Georgetown – two teams in the middle of the conference. The team’s leaders on offense, freshman forward Henry Ellenson and redshirt junior center Luke Fischer, shot 17-for-51 (33 percent) combined in the two outings.

If Marquette hopes to earn a tournament spot, it will need to take care of business the rest of the way against the middle and bottom of the conference. Since the Golden Eagles’ strongest win came against Arizona St., ranked No. 58 in KenPom, they likely will need to steal a win or two against the top four teams too. It isn’t looking too promising early on.

DePaul logo8. DePaul (6-8, 0-2 BIG EAST) – I nearly put the Blue Demons ahead of Marquette since they were able to hang with Seton Hall, but their poor non-conference performance keeps them in the bottom three. DePaul had a chance to send its game with the Pirates to overtime Saturday when the team’s best player, Billy Garrett, Jr., was fouled from three point range with less than a second to go. He proceeded to miss the first free throw, and when he attempted to miss on purpose to get a rebound on the third his shot didn’t catch rim. Not a good look for him.

DePaul isn’t a pushover, and has the talent to run with the teams in this conference. Don’t be surprised if the Blue Demons are able to get revenge on Seton Hall in the rematch, or even take down Marquette.

Creighton logo9. Creighton (10-5, 1-1 BIG EAST) – The Bluejays aren’t necessarily a bad team, which is a testament to how strong the conference is. There is some talent, but they lack a signature win. A loss to Loyola (IL) doesn’t help their case either.

Creighton’s upcoming schedule is a tough pill to swallow — Georgetown, Seton Hall and Providence.

St. John's logo 210. St. John’s (7-8, 0-2 BIG EAST) – Chris Mullin had the deck stacked against him when he came on to coach his alma mater. He had to assemble nearly an entirely new team, as only three scholarship players returned from last year’s squad. The Red Storm may not be as bad as some expected, but the season has still been bumpy.

The Johnnies’ most impressive win came against Syracuse, who is 0-2 in the ACC and also lost to Georgetown and Wisconsin. St. John’s has opened up conference play with losses to Creighton (also penned for the bottom of the conference) and Providence, who still managed to defeat the Red Storm by 18 despite some sloppy play. Mullin may be building up an historic program again, but Rome wasn’t build overnight.

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