Big East Week: Checking in on the new Big East

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Villanova head coach Jay Wright, center, greets a member of the Philadelphia Police Department following a parade celebrating his team’s NCAA college basketball championship, Thursday, April 5, 2018, in Philadelphia. Villanova defeated Michigan on Monday for the NCAA men’s basketball title. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Divorce is considered sinful in Catholicism, but none of the “Catholic Seven” and their newfound compatriots seem to be looking for an annulment. Since the Big East split and rebirthed a couple years ago, the league has gotten better and better; noticeably this season as Villanova won a national championship and Xavier was a No. 1 seed.  Coach movement has been a major factor (Buzz Williams leaving Marquette and numerous firings and hirings) in the story of the new Big East and is an important variable to consider when observing trajectories. Here is a further look:

The Conference At-Large:

The most recent version of the contemporary Big East prior to its split was 2006 when several institutions such as Marquette, Louisville, USF, DePaul and Cincinnati joined the conference. According to KenPom’s Conference Ratings, the league was first out of 32 conferences with a +14.27 rating. The following chart shows the conference’s rise and fall in those rankings, with the split indicated in bold.

(Courtesy/Matt Barresi)

Prior to the big split in 2014, the contemporary Big East had an average rank of 2.75 and produced 1.125 No. 1 seeds per year, topped off one Final Four team per year and two national championships via now ex-members Louisville and UConn. Since the breakup, the average rank is worse at 3.2, but they do have two national championships via Villanova, who obtains them one Final Four team per year and 0.6 No. 1 seeds per year on average. They’re definitely worse, and without Villanova, things could be quite ugly.

Villanova: Two National Championships, three No. 1 seeds and an adulation of the entire college basketball word. Not much more to be said. From 2006 through 2013 the Wildcats had an average KenPom rank of 33.5, faring far better in the earlier portion than the latter. Their 2014 and beyond average rank is 4. Needless to say, any paradigm shifts have not been harmful in Philly.

Georgetown: Patrick Ewing wasn’t walking through that door– until he did. The problem was it was as a replacement for John Thompson III as the Hoyas struggled late in his regime. In Ewing’s first year their KenPom rank was 94th; the past five years it has been 60.8 (2006-2013: 16), emblematic of the underachievement in the DMV. The 2015 Hoyas were a source of pride for the new Big East until Otto Porter and co. lost as a two seed in the first round to Dunk City aka Florida Gulf Coast University. Their recruiting base is still fertile, and academics are still strong, but mediocrity has plagued Georgetown in this new era.

Marquette: Marquette lost two accomplished head coaches, Tom Crean and then Buzz Williams, as they produced many an NBA standout, and recently hired Duke star Steve Wojciechowski. Wojo, who took over in 2015, has been meh at best. He has double-digit losses every season and their KenPom rank average under him is 68.75. Buzz Williams’ last rank in 2014 was No. 68 on the dot. The previous eight years it was 25.13. Another casualty of the schism? Perhaps, but the timing and maybe even hiring could be at fault more than anything else.

DePaul: From 2006 to 2014 DePaul was bad. A 166.75 average rank and no NCAA tourney appearances. Since then? 123 and no NCAA tourney appearances. So still bad, just slightly less so. However, this year’s No. 99 rank was their first time in the Top 100 since 2007, so maybe they are on the up and up.

St. John’s: St. John’s was frankly a marginally better DePaul for awhile there. In that eight year stretch their average was 109.38 with one NCAA tournament appearance. They brought in the legendary alum Chris Mullin to steer the ship and he has recruited exceptionally. However, like the infamous Seinfeld scene, the key part is holding the talent and he has been equally exceptionally horrible at doing that. It has manifested on the court. In Steve Lavin’s last two years they were around 50; under Mullin they have gone from 211 in 2016, to 99 in 2017, to 74 this year. But under Mullin they have been sub .500 every year.

Providence: Talent often leads to success and under Ed Cooley’s lead, the Friars have had some of both. They have still underwhelmed in the Big Dance, but are landing heralded recruits, knocking quality opponents and being a leader in the new Big East. Since its creation they’ve made the NCAA tournament every year with a KenPom rank average of 48.4. A far cry from an 85.5 average and no NCAA tournament bids. Change has been a positive.

Seton Hall: The Pirates mirror the Friars. A pre-division KenPom average rank of 83.88 and one NCAA tournament appearance, in Louis Orr’s last year in 2006. Kevin Willard wasn’t quite as successful and quick as Cooley, but he brought talent to Seton Hall and since 2014 their rank is 56.6 with three NCAA tournament bids. However, Isaiah Whitehead is long gone, and his classmates, Desi Rodriguez, Khadeen Carrington and Angel Delgado, who were all dynamic, are all graduating as well. The Pirates could easily regress to their old ways.

The Newbies: The Big East added Xavier and Butler from the A-10 (Butler was in the Horizon prior to one year in the A-10) and Creighton from the MVC. All three have been strong consistent programs. Xavier just lost Chris Mack which will sting a lot, but they were also just a No. 1 seed. 2006-2013 average KenPom rank: 38.5 (under Mack and Arizona Head Coach Sean Miller). In the Big East: 26.6. Did they need the Big East? No, but it has certainly increased their prestige and credence nationally. In Omaha, Dana Altman left for Oregon and there was reasonable doubt Creighton would crash once superstar Doug McDermott left his dad, head coach Greg McDermott. He has kept a talent pipeline and the winning alive in the Big East as they have boosted each other’s value and respect. Their eight years prior to Big East rank was 59.75; since joining it is 38.8, a tidy improvement. Butler is a head scratcher. They made two national championship games and had a culture of winning. But Brad Stevens left to rule the NBA. Their league, the Horizon, was a nonfactor on the macro level. Their pre-Big East average KenPom rank was 42.5, but they were 116 in 2012, a major outlier. Cut out that outlier and it improves to 32, a very good mark. Lavall Jordan had them at 20 this year and a Big East average of 38.8 is strong. Brandon Miller’s lone year at the helm, 2014, was another major outlier, where they were ranked No. 99. Remove it and their average has been 23.75. Like the other new fellows, Butler membership has cemented the new Big East and being in the new Big East has cemented Butler.


Matt Barresi is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at matthew.barresi@uconn.edu.

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