Big East mid-season report card

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By MATT BARBATO
College Contributor Network

The Big East conference has been a pleasant surprise during the non-conference portion of the season. The conference ranks second in RPI, just slightly behind the Big 12, and accumulated a 92-30 record heading into 2015.

The Big East also scored some impressive wins during the first half of the season and showed there are more tournament-worthy teams than projected.

Below are my conference power rankings as the calendar turns to January and the Big East season tips off on New Year's Eve.

1. No. 6 Villanova Wildcats (12-0)

Villanova came in reloaded and was the preseason favorite in the conference. The Wildcats have certainly lived up to the billing with marquee victories over then-No.14 VCU, then-No.19 Michigan and tournament hopeful major schools Illinois and Syracuse.

Darrun Hillard is the leading scorer, but the Wildcats don't have one player who dominates the production. Hillard is one of four Villanova players who is scoring in double figures for an offense that is 25th in the nation with an average of 77.9 points per game.

Jay Wright's club backs up its scoring potency with an impressive defense, which ranks 33rd in points allowed per game.

Villanova is the clear favorite heading into its first conference match against Butler. If it keeps up its strong play, it could be more than just a conference championship team.

2. No. 25 Georgetown Hoyas (8-3)

Hard to knock the Hoyas too much for their 8-3 record considering they've played the 12th-hardest schedule in the nation in their non-conference slate. The Hoyas lost to Kansas, Wisconsin and Butler, all of which are ranked inside the top-35 in RPI. The silver lining is they competed well in each matchup, their largest loss of the three was by six points.

Georgetown's best RPI win came against Charlotte, but their 66-65 overtime win over Florida should come in handy come tournament selection time.

It hasn't been a tremendous start for preseason conference player of the year D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera, but he has put up good numbers. The junior guard is averaging 14.7 points, 4.3 rebounds and 3.8 assists on just over 40 percent shooting. Smith-Rivera is getting help from Joshua Thomas, who is averaging 12.8 points and 6.5 boards, but there is no other player averaging double figures thus far.

Georgetown has a good team and has played tough against quality competition, but the Hoyas will need another consistent scorer if they expect to win the conference.

3. No. 15 St. John's Red Storm (11-1)

St. John's is off to a tremendous start. The problem is they haven't really beaten anybody. The Red Storm's best win came against Minnesota, who is ranked 62nd in RPI. St. John's did play Gonzaga close, however, losing that contest 73-66.

The Red Storm is an insanely talented bunch and it all starts with D'Angelo Harrison, who is second in the conference with 19 points per game. Rysheed Jordan joins Harrison in the top 10 in league scoring with 14.3 points per game while Sir'Dominic Pointer and Phil Greene IV each average over 11 points per game.

St. John's may be talented offensively, but their defense has been more impressive. The Red Storm is surrendering only 58.2 points per game, which ranks second in the conference and 26th nationally. Chris Obepka is first in the Big East in blocks per game (3.8) and is third in rebounds with 8.8 boards per game.

The Johnnies have enough talent to give Villanova and Georgetown a run for the money. The question is whether head coach Steve Lavin can put it all together. This fast start should allude to a fortuitous showing in Big East play.

4. Providence Friars (10-3)

The Friars were supposed to miss the absence of Bryce Cotton, but LaDontae Henton has more than made up for it as he is the only player in the Big East to average 20 points per game. Kris Dunn has also done his part and leads the league with seven assists per game.

Providence handed No.14 Notre Dame its only loss of the season in a 75-74 contest, but other than that hasn't taken on any stiff competition. The Friars did complete a series with Kentucky, but was held to just 38 points and lost by 20. Providence did defeat once-ranked Miami by 14 points on a neutral site.

Despite losing arguably one of the best players in school history, the Friars are moving along quite nicely. Providence will certainly be in the hunt for their second-consecutive NCAA Tournament if Henton and Dunn keep up their stellar play.

5. Butler Bulldogs (10-3)

Butler has been one of the most pleasant surprises of the season despite the mysterious disappearance of head coach Brandon Miller, who left the program for medical reasons. Chris Holtmann has done an admirable job as the interim and Kellen Dunham is third in the conference with 16.6 points per game.

Butler has scored some impressive victories, specifically in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament when it knocked off North Carolina and Georgetown in an unofficial Big East bout.

The Bulldogs have the conference's leading rebounder in Kameron Woods, who is averaging nine boards per game. Butler isn't an overwhelming offensive team, but is 17th nationally in scoring defense allowing just over 56 points per game.

If Butler can improve slightly offensively, it could become a dark horse to make some noise in the Big East.

6. Seton Hall Pirates (10-2)

Seton Hall strung together a 10-win non-conference slate including an impressive win over George Washington, who is ranked 25th in RPI. Seton Hall also has two quality losses against Wichita State (8th in RPI) and Georgia (23rd in RPI).

The Pirates are far from a juggernaut offensively, averaging only 71.7 points per game, but Seton Hall does have the fourth-best scorer in the conference in Sterling Gibbs. The junior guard is averaging 15.6 points per game and 3.3 assists. Seton Hall has only two players scoring in double figures.

The Pirates could be in big trouble as freshman Isaiah Whitehead is out indefinitely with a stress fracture in his right foot. The highly touted recruit was Seton Hall's only other scorer in double figures with 11.9 points, 4.3 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game.

Seton Hall will need someone to step up in production or else they could drop to the bottom of the conference.

7. Xavier Musketeers (9-3)

Xavier had a quiet first half of the season. The team's best wins came against Alabama, Long Beach State and Stephen F. Austin. Alabama is the only team within the top-50 in RPI. Xavier played the 87th strongest schedule in the country and has lost to mediocre teams in Long Beach State, UTEP and Auburn.

The Musketeers possess one of the best big men in the conference in Matt Stainbrook. The senior center is averaging 13 points and seven rebounds in about 26 minutes. Trevon Bluiett leads Xaver in scoring with 13.3 points per game and Remy Abell is the only other player averaging double figures.

Xavier has a high-powered offense that is averaging 81.8 points per game, which is good for the 14th-best offense in the nation. Xavier ranks 101st in the nation and is surrendering 67.6 points per game.

The Musketeers have been unspectacular thus far this season, but their scoring ability could keep them in the hunt for a tournament bid.

8. Marquette Golden Eagles (8-4)

Aside from a bad loss to Omaha, the first year of the Steve Wojciechowski era has gotten off to a decent start. There's been plenty of comings and goings for the Golden Eagles, who lost forward Deonte Burton and guard John Dawson when they transferred out of the program at the end of the semester.

Marquette's scoring is sparse and sporadic, but Indiana transfer Luke Fischer's arrival has had a major impact on the offense. The Golden Eagles rank 70th in the country with a 70.6 points per game average. Since Fischer started his career in Milwaukee, the Golden Eagles have been averaging 77 points per game and Fischer is averaging 15.5 points in those games.

The Golden Eagles have scored some nice RPI victories against Georgia Tech, Tennessee and Arizona State and they have lost respectfully to three Big Ten teams: Wisconsin, Ohio State and Michigan State.
Wojciechowski will need to do wonders with only eight players on the active roster. It will be an uphill battle to the NCAA Tournament, but not an impossible one.

9. Creighton Bluejays (9-4)

The Bluejays were ranked briefly after its best win of the season at home against Oklahoma, but has faltered since. Creighton is 6-4 since its upset over the Sooners and is currently ranked 123rd in RPI. Creighton concluded its non-conference slate with a bad loss on the road to North Texas.

Austin Chatman has taken the reigns as the leading scorer for the Bluejays with 13.9 points per game. The only other scorer in double figures is sophomore Isaiah Zierden with 12.2 points per game.
Creighton is mediocre on both sides of the ball and could have a hard time in the conference after losing so much firepower from last year's club.

10. DePaul Blue Demons (6-7)

DePaul is off to another disappointing start. The Blue Demons showed potential with a 7-1 start that included a 15-point victory over Stanford, but is entering conference play riding a six-game losing streak. Their most recent losses came by 21 points against Ohio and a three-point defeat against Loyola-Marymount.

The Demons are ranked 257th in RPI and haven't beaten a team better than 259th in RPI aside from Stanford.

The Blue Demons can put the ball in the basket, but are struggling mightily on defense. DePaul ranks 39th in scoring offense with just under 75 points per contest, but are 161st in scoring defense with an average of 75.5 points allowed.

DePaul is getting plenty of production from Billy Garrett Jr. and Tommy Hamilton IV, but junior Myke Henry has emerged as the leading scorer with 14.5 points per game.

It looks like another bad season in Chicago and if Oliver Purnell doesn't right the ship immediately, it could cost him his job.


Matt Barbato is a senior at Marquette University. His favorite sport is football and is an avid New York Jets fan, for better or worse. You can follow him on Twitter @RealMattBarbato
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