Talk about a start to the season.
Big East teams have won 15 of 16 games played this year. The conference’s only loss so far was Georgetown falling to top 25 Maryland by a single point.
I don’t think there has been any surprise with the top dog, Villanova. Their road win against Purdue was a fantastic game, but the experienced Wildcats were able to pull away towards the end. Josh Hart, a Preseason All-American, looked absolutely unstoppable driving to the rim.
Yes, Xavier did only beat Lehigh by 3 in the first game of the year. However, I don’t really see this as any cause for concern. They followed that up with a 33-point blowout vs Buffalo. Trevon Bluiett and Edmond Sumner have been playing just as well as we expected, both averaging 19 PPG through the first couple games.
Now what I do want to talk about it the surprises. The Big East can’t be considered a top conference if other teams don’t step up, but teams like Marquette, Creighton, and even St. John’s have done that so far.
In my conference preview, I talked about Haanif Cheatham being one to watch for this season. The sophomore guard is leading the team in rebounds and assists, and is second in the team in scoring. Although Cheatham is certainly the motor of the team and Luke Fischer is more than a serviceable big man, the Golden Eagles needed help scoring. Though it’s been just 2 games, JaJuan Johnson has filled that role. Last season, Coach Woj made comments throughout the year regarding Johnson’s inconsistency and lack of basketball maturity even as a junior. Well the senior has opened this season hot, leading the team in scoring at 17.5 PPG, scoring 21 in a blowout vs Vanderbilt in the season opener. They aren’t on the same level as Villanova and Xavier, but you have to be impressed with the Golden Eagles so far.
Coming into this season, no one really expected St. John’s to pose any threat in the Big East. And through two games with blowout wins vs Bethune Cookman and Binghamton, it’s too early to know. But Chris Mullin’s squad now has an identity with a backcourt of Marcus LoVett and Shamorie Ponds. Both are extremely quick guards that are great playmakers. What I’ve been most impressed with is the perimeter shooting these two have displayed considering neither of them were really known as incredible shooters coming out of high school. Both are shooting over 50% from behind the arc, making a combined 7 triples a game. Coach Mullin has clearly given his guys the green light this season, and it seems to be paying off. Again, featuring a couple of freshman guards they most likely do not stand a chance against the top teams in the conference, but it is nice to see that the Red Storm have improved since last year.
Player of the Week
Marcus LoVett G, St. John’s
There’s been quite a few players that you could argue deserve the season’s first award, but I have to give it to LoVett for carrying the Red Storm through two games. Shooting 50% from behind the arc, 61% from the field, averaging 21 PPG and 5.5 APG, LoVett looks like an absolute stud. I’m curious to see how he matches up with other top point guards in the conference such as Jalen Brunson and Maurice Watson. It’ll also be interesting to see if he can garner any NBA attention this year. I don’t think anyone can deny this kid’s athleticism, but being listed at 6’0 (in reality I think he’s a little shorter) might be a little bit of an issue. However if he can perform like this consistently, I wouldn’t be surprised if he began to turn scout’s heads.
Khadeen Carrington G Seton Hall
You can;t ask for much more than what Khadeen Carrington has provided so far. With the loss of Isaiah Whitehead to the NBA, everyone expected Seton Hall to take a few steps back this season. However, Carrington has stepped up drastically, leading the team in scoring with 22.5 PPG shooting 68% from the field and 90% from beyond the arc (no that is not a typo). There’s no way he can keep those numbers up, but it appears the Pirates have some firepower that can make up for the loss of Whitehead. Their first two games have been against weak opponents, so make sure to tune in Thursday as they take on Iowa and see if Carrington continues his hot streak.
Billy Garrett Jr. 6-5 G DePaul
It was expected that the Blue Demons would struggle this year. However, Garrett Jr. was supposed to be the one player DePaul could rely to score this year. Shooting 2-10 in his first game, the Blue Demons only defeated Robert Morris by a margin of 6. I’m sure the Blue Demons are happy to be 1-0, but if defenses are able to zone in on Garrett knowing he is the primary weapon on offense, expect DePaul to have serious problems scoring the ball this season and Garrett’s shooting numbers to be low.
Top Five Must-Watch Non-Conference Games
1. Xavier @ Cincinnati (January 26th)
There’s no secret there’s bad blood between these two teams after the brawl a few years back. Cincinnati is a top 25 team that is sort of flying under the radar right now, and could easily take down Xavier at home. We’ll also have to see the status of Myles Davis at this time in the year, as he is serving an indefinite suspension right now. If cleared to play, he could be the difference in this game.
2. Villanova vs Notre Dame (December 10th)
After Purdue days ago, Villanova does not have a particularly strong non-conference schedule. However, Mike Brey will certainly have his experienced squad ready to take down the defending champions.
3. Marquette vs Wisconsin (December 10th)
Another in-state matchup. Wisconsin has already fallen to Creighton, another team trying to take that next step in the Big East. At home, Marquette certainly has a good chance to win this game. We’ll have to see how they can contain Wisconsin’s size down low.
4. Xavier @ Baylor (December 3rd)
Baylor made a strong statement this week taking down no. 4 Oregon. Yes, Dillon Brooks was out, but Baylor won by such a large margin that it’s hard to make a case Brooks would have such a big difference to sway the outcome. I don’t think the Musketeers match up with the Bears particularly well either, so look for this to be Baylor’s second home upset of the season.
5. Butler vs Indiana (December 17th)
An in-state battle! Indiana has played terrific so far, in part because James Blackmon has been on a tear. With a win over no. 3 Kansas, the Hoosiers proved they are a serious contender this season. However, the experience of Butler is nothing to look past, starting 4 seniors and Kelan Martin (averaging 21.5 PPG).