Conference play has begun and this is the second most important time of the basketball season: Big East play. Villanova suffered their first loss of the season to a gritty Butler team and has Xavier right on their tail. There are several other teams playing well and vying for a top spot by the regular season’s end and will have to prove it over the next couple months.
Player of the Week
Kelan Martin, F, Senior, Butler Bulldogs
Martin was inconsistent, just like Butler, to start the season and had some good and bad games. Now that Martin has turned into the scorer and leader he was expected to be this season, Butler is playing much better.
He is averaging 18.9 points and 7.1 rebounds per game and has scored 20 or more points in four straight games. Butler has rebounded to a 12-3 record and took care of business beating #1 ranked Villanova on Saturday. Martin was perfect from three going 4-for-4 and finished with a team high 24 points, and contributed 8 boards. Butler notched their first Big East win in a two-overtime barnburner on the road at Georgetown on Wednesday. Martin came up huge in that game as well, scoring 27 points on 50% shooting and hit the game-winning shot with three seconds left. This is the second time this season where Martin hit the game-winning shot in the final seconds, previously doing it against Ohio State earlier in the year. Martin is the main catalyst pumping energy into this Bulldog team for first-year coach LaVall Jordan and he is playing his best ball of the season at the best time.
Martin Krampelj, F, Sophomore, Creighton Bluejays
In the No. 25 ranked Bluejays Thursday Big East opening road matchup against No. 25 Seton Hall, Krampelj made his presence know in his best game of the season. The Slovenian big man racked up 23 points, 10 rebounds and shot 68.8% from the field. All night, he used his speed and quickness to burn by Big East star center Angel Delgado. Krampelj has a unique combination of speed, power and tenacity to beat bigger forwards and centers. Creighton already has the guards and backcourt to be successful, but if the frontcourt and Krampelj show up each night, Creighton could be a very hard team to wrestle with.
Seton Hall Backcourt
Speaking of the Pirates backcourt, they came up huge in the Pirates close, overtime victory over Creighton Thursday and proved themselves almost on the level as Villanova’s guards. Led by Myles Powell, Khadeen Carrington and even Desi Rodriguez (who is an undersized forward who plays like a guard), they combined for 58 points of their 90 points. Delgado was effective all throughout, but he fouled out close to three minutes left in the second half and it came down to the guards to close out the game from the field and at the free throw line. Creighton was a huge opponent to open conference play with for Seton Hall, who was projected to rival Xavier and Nova for the top spot in the Big East. A close, come from behind win is a big confidence booster for the Pirates to compete with anyone else in their way.
Marcus LoVett, G, Sophomore, St. John’s Red Storm
I’ve preached up St. John’s all year so far for their great, improved play to start the season. Props go to Shamorie Ponds and coach Chris Mullin for the turnaround and second year guard LoVett was a big factor in taking the next step. He and Ponds formed a lethal backcourt combination last season and he got off to a very good start this year, averaging 14.9 points in seven games. Then injury struck when he came down with a sprained left knee that has kept him sidelined the last six games, including Thursday’s loss to Providence. LoVett provides a huge spark of scoring to the lineup and without him, Mullin’s offense isn’t the same.
Top Surprises So Far
Georgetown was predicted by myself and many others to finish at or near the bottom of the Big East, but it has been everything but that. They already 10-2 to start under first year coach Patrick Ewing and center Jessie Govan is a candidate for Big East Player of the Year. They’re competitive and put up a good fight each and every game and Ewing has them surprising many.
2. St. John’s
The Red Storm are another team who are playing above expectations. Sitting at 11-3, St. John’s boasts one of the best offenses and defenses in the conference. They rank first in multiple defensive categories and Ponds is one of the deadliest guards in the country. Mullin’s teams have been mediocre the last two teams, but their jump so far this year has been very impressive.
Creighton lost their star point guard Maurice Watson Jr. after last season and they prospects for 2017-2018 seemed hazy. Head coach Greg McDermott is proving to be one of the best coaches in the conference by the way he is surprising many. With great guards in Khyri Thomas and Marcus Foster, the frontcourt and Krampelj have complimented the rest of the team.
4. Butler’s Bounce Back
Butler under LaVall Jordan started the season just 3-2 with two losses to other Power 5 schools and didn’t show potential to compete with other Power 5 schools early on. Then they beat Ohio State at the last second and since, it has jumpstarted this team. They now sit at 11-3, with Kamar Baldwin and Martin leading the charge. Jordan has done a great job to right the ship and get Butler playing strong.
5. Providence’s Inconsistencies
Providence, making the NCAA Tournament each of the last two seasons, was supposed to finish at least middle of the pack and maybe even better in the Big East. However, they have been marred by inconsistent performances and streaks all season by their best players, most notably Rodney Bullock. Providence is one of the most intriguing and unknown teams in the Big East so far, mainly because they have so much potential and talent but surprisingly haven’t seemed to put it all together yet.