In case you haven’t been paying attention, the “new” Big East is very good again this year.
Who knows how long we’ll keep having to refer to the league as new, but there are still many who refuse to take the league as seriously as warranted, based in part on how formidable and iconic the old Big East was.
But hey, living in the now, the Big East has been at worst a top three conference in college basketball this season. Not only does reigning National Champion Villanova dwell in the Big East, but the league currently has four teams in the top ten of the still all important R.P.I. and is the top rated R.P.I. conference as of today (despite the large number of R.P.I. naysayers, it remains the number one predictor of NCAA Tournament selection and seeding).
On the court, Villanova has picked up where they left off last season, thanks to the return of five key contributors from last season’s championship team, including three guards who made a living hitting big shots during their run. The biggest shot of all (and maybe of all-time), of course came from senior Kris Jenkins who remains one of the Wildcats’ unflappable leaders.
In a sport so dependent on solid guard play, it’s tough to imagine a team more equipped to make a run in the NCAA Tournament than Villanova, with their collection of guards who have been there and done that.
But wait, there’s much more.
Butler, who handed Villanova its first loss since March on Wednesday, is a deep, tough-minded team led by junior Kelan Martin, with non conference wins over Arizona, Cincinnati and Indiana.
Creighton is a legitimate threat to win the conference, with one of the best backcourts in the nation. They have a big win over Wisconsin on their resume along with solid victories over NC State and Nebraska.
Xavier was expected to be very good and they haven’t disappointed. Led by their own outstanding backcourt, the Musketeers have been a top 15 team all season with solid non conference wins over Clemson and Wake Forest.
After those four NCAA Tournament and likely high seed locks, the 10-team league has four other formidable squads that will be fighting for two realistic NCAA Tournament spots. Seton Hall, Providence, Georgetown and Marquette are all solid teams that have decent resumes to date, while also possessing room for improvement.
Even the very bottom of the Big East has shown improvement. Chris Mullin’s young St. John’s team suffered a couple of horrible losses to Delaware State and LIU Brooklyn, but the Red Storm have raised eyebrows recently, with a 33-point win at Syracuse and a win over Butler as an encore.
Even DePaul, who has had little to boast about, took Villanova down to the wire in a 3-point loss before the new year.
I say all of that to say this: the Big East is going to be a bloodbath this season. There are no easy games and no days off. This new Big East will be the same old Big East grind.
Nationally, this is one of the best leagues in the country. Expect 60% of the conference to be playing in the big dance come March and don’t be too surpback-to-back National Champion.
For more college basketball analysis follow Jamal Murphy on Twitter: @Blacketologist