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Big East Conference Reset: Is this the best Villanova team we’ve seen?


College basketball’s non-conference season is finally coming to a close.

To help you shake off post-holiday haze and the hangover of losing in your fantasy football playoffs, we’ll be providing you with some midseason primers to get you caught up on all the nation’s most important conferences.

Who has been the best player in the biggest leagues?

Who is on track to get an NCAA tournament bid?

What have we learned about the conference hierarchy, and what is left for us to figure out?

We break it all down here.

Today, we’ll be taking a look at the Big East.


Picking between Brunson and his Villanova teammate, Mikal Bridges, is not an easy thing to do. Bridges jettisoned himself into the conversation when he went for 28 points in a win over Gonzaga in the Champions Classic, but it’s been Brunson that has been Villanova’s best, and most important, player throughout the season. Brunson’s efficiency is inhuman – he’s shooting 65.8 percent from two and 53.1 percent from three on more than four threes per game – but what is more relevant is that he’s the engine that makes this Villanova team go.

I also think he’s the most irreplaceable player on the Villanova roster. If Bridges goes down with an injury or is in foul trouble in a given game, Jay Wright still have guys like Donte Divicenzo and Phil Booth at his disposal. There isn’t a like-for-like replacement from Brunson, mainly because there aren’t many point guards that can do what he does.


  • JALEN BRUNSON, Villanova
  • MARCUS FOSTER, Creighton: It is tougher than you might think picking between Foster and Khyri Thomas, but I lean Foster because of the volume and efficiency he is scoring with playing on a team that doesn’t have great point guard play.
  • MIKAL BRIDGES, Villanova: The most versatile defender in the Big East is also averaging 17.3 points and shooting 46 percent from three for the No. 1 team in the country.
  • TREVON BLUIETT, Xavier: I think you can make the argument that Bluiett is the best all-around scorer in the Big East, and with Xavier looking like a top ten team this season, he’s in the first-team all-american discussion.
  • ANGEL DELGADO, Seton Hall: Picking Delgado over his teammate Desi Rodriguez might be wrong, but I value Delgado’s yeoman’s work on the glass. Combine that with the attention he commands defensively being a major reason Rodriguez gets the chances he gets, and Delgado is my pick.


  • NCAA: Villanova, Xavier, Seton Hall, Creighton, St. John’s, Marquette
  • NIT: Butler, Providence, Georgetown
Jalen Brunson (Elsa/Getty Images)


1. THIS IS THE BEST VILLANOVA TEAM OF THEIR DYNASTY: For the first time in this five-year run of utter dominance, I can honestly look at the Villanova roster and refer to them as the best team in college basketball. Think about it. The year they won the title, many – including myself – thought that Michigan State was the best team in the sport. Last year, my money would have been on Kansas or Gonzaga. In 2015, Kentucky went 38-0. In 2014, Villanova wasn’t even really in the conversation.

But this year?

This year they are the nation’s best team.

Their versatility is almost unfair. In Eric Paschall and Mikal Bridges, Villanova has two players that can, quite literally, guard any position on the court. This allows them to play big – with Omari Spellman at the five – or small – with Jalen Brunson, Phil Booth and Donte Divincenzo on the floor at the same time. They have shooters at every position, including Spellman, and a point guard that can score in the post. They’re old, they have pros and they know exactly what their coach expects out of them.

It may be hard to believe, but Villanova is at a point where they can lose an all-american first round pick, the man that hit the national title-winning three and their starting center and get better.


Trevon Bluiett (Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

2. THE TOP OF THE BIG EAST IS AS GOOD AS EXPECTED: We expected there to be four top 25 teams in the Big East and there are four top 25 teams in the Big East. Villanova we know about. Xavier, at this point in the season, looks like they belong in the conversation as a Final Four contender and a top ten team; the combination of Chris Mack and Trevon Bluiett has won a lot of games and will when a few more before the season is over. Seton Hall has had their hiccups but they are right on track to end up being a top four or five seed in the NCAA tournament come March. The fourth top 25 team is something of a surprise, as Creighton has played their way into the polls on the shoulders of a pair of talented wings, Khyri Thomas and Marcus Foster.

All four of those teams have the horses to get to the second weekend of the NCAA tournament. At least two can make a run to the Final Four. It’s as good as advertised at the top of the Big East, but …

3. … IS THE MIDDLE OF THE LEAGUE WHAT WE THOUGHT?: It’s a legitimate question because the answer depends on what you thought the Big East would be this season. If you saw them pushing for seven bids to the Big Dance this year, then the conference, outside of the top four, has been a little underwhelming, right?

The biggest disappointment has been Providence, who found themselves in the mix for the top 25 early on this season but has started out the year 9-4, but they are far from alone. Marquette has not seemed to figure out the defensive issues that plagued them a season ago while Butler has looked like a team that is trying to replace one of the best young coaches in the game. The x-factor looks to be St. John’s, who has shown flashes of being a threat this season as they battle through a troublingly inefficient offense, but more on that in a bit.


1. WILL CREIGHTON’S POINT GUARD CONUNDRUM BECOME A PROBLEM? WHAT ABOUT XAVIER?: As it stands, the biggest question mark for each one of these teams is their point guard play.

As good as Quentin Goodin has been for Xavier this season, he leads the team in turnovers and has shot 1-for-15 from beyond the arc this year. I’m not a rocket scientist, but that does not seem like a good percentage. Creighton has never really replaced Mo Watson has he tore his ACL last season. They’ve played Davion Mintz and Kaleb Joseph at the point. They’ve played Mitch Ballock and Ty-Shon Alexander there.

Point-guard-by-committee is not generally a recipe for March success.

2. WHEN DOES MARCUS LOVETT RETURN?: This matters for St. John’s. As we mentioned, the Johnnies have not been the most efficient team offensively this season, but that could be helped with the return of Lovett, who was their second-leading scorer a year ago. He’s missed the last six games with a knee injury.

He was also the program’s best playmaker a season ago and is shooting it at better than 40 percent from beyond the arc this season. I’m not willing to say Lovett is the difference between St. John’s getting to the tournament and heading to the NIT – they can get there without him – but his absence certainly lowers their ceiling.

3. IS THERE TROUBLE BREWING IN NEWARK?: Let’s ignore the fact that Khadeen Carrington hasn’t been right all season long and that Myles Powell and Desi Rodriguez have been the most effective offensive weapons for Seton Hall this season. I don’t think that’s where the trouble lies. I think this team likes each other enough that they don’t really care where the points are coming from.

What’s concerning is that a team with aspirations of winning the Big East tournament and making a run in March is having the kind of personnel defections they are having. Freshman point guard Jordan Walker reportedly quit the team over playing time issues and then returned a day or two later. Then just a few days before Christmas, senior big man Ish Sanogo, a vital defensive piece for the Pirates, was suspended indefinitely for a violation of team rules.

It’s something to keep an eye on.

GREENVILLE, SC – MARCH 17: Angel Delgado ( Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)


1. VILLANOVA WINS ANOTHER NATIONAL TITLE: For the record, my “pick” to win the national is still Michigan State. I rode with the Spartans in September and I’m still riding with them today.

But for my money, Villanova is the best team in college basketball. I think they’re borderline matchup-proof. I think they have the best point guard in the sport. I think they are a nightmare to play against defensively. And I think they’re probably the favorite to win it all.

2. XAVIER JOINS THEM IN THE FINAL FOUR: I don’t know how many coaches there are that I would rather have in a win-or-go-home setting than Chris Mack.

I also don’t know how many players there are I would want in a tournament more than I want Trevon Bluiett.

I’m concerned about their point guard play, and the Musketeers have not been quite as good on the defensive end of the floor as I would have expected them to be entering the season, but the fact of the matter is that if you’re giving me Chris Mack and you’re giving me Trevon Bluiett, I like my chances.

3. THE BIG EAST ENDS UP WITH AT LEAST SIX TOURNAMENT TEAMS: There are two reasons that I can see this working out.

For starters, some of the other Power 5 leagues have just not been all that impressive to date. How many bids can we realistically expect out of the Pac-12? Or the Big Ten? Or the American? What about the WCC and the Mountain West? Can they get more than three teams into the dance combined? Even the SEC is coming back down to earth some what.

Someone is going to have to earn those at-large bids, and I fully expect the Big East teams to be in the mix.

And part of the reason why is I think that the middle of the league will land some upsets during conference play. St. John’s will get right when Lovett returns, and there’s a very real chance that Providence returns to form once they get fully healthy. Throw in Marquette and Butler, and my guess is at least two of those teams win enough to go dancing.

Weekend Preview: Big East showdown headlines an interesting slate of games

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*(NOTE: Lines are not posted for Saturday or Sunday games as of publication. Spreads referenced are via

No. 11 XAVIER at No. 19 SETON HALL (-1), Sat. 2:30 p.m. (FOX)

The only game this weekend featuring two teams that are currently ranked in the top 25, Xavier and Seton Hall square off in a battle of programs trending in opposite directions. Now that Trevon Bluiett has rediscovered his shooting stroke, the Musketeers have reeled off back-to-back wins, including a beatdown of then-No. 25 Creighton. Seton Hall, on the other hand, lost by a combined 37 points at Marquette and Creighton in the last 11 days and struggled with a Georgetown team that was down 44 points at home against Villanova.

  • PREDICTION: Xavier’s new starting lineup will be interesting. The Musketeers are much more offensively oriented right now, but Kerem Kanter and Naji Marshall are not exactly known for their defense and physicality. Seton Hall has a big, old, tough and strong front line. I think they get this win they badly needed in front of a packed out. Seton Hall (-1)

No. 14 ARIZONA (-5) at STANFORD, Sat. 4:00 p.m. (CBS)

First place in the Pac-12 is on the line as 5-1 Arizona squares off with 5-1 Stanford. And yes, you read that correctly. In their last five games in league play, the Cardinal have swept the LA schools at home, the Washington schools on the road and beaten Arizona State in their place. Now they get the best team in the Pac-12. Stanford is healthy and playing the best basketball they’ve played in a long, long time.

  • PREDICTION: If Stanford is getting five points at home I am all over the Cardinal. The problem is that I don’t think they will be. KenPom’s projections don’t factor in that Stanford is healthy and hot. I think the line will be closer to Stanford (-2), and I would still probably take them. Stanford (-5)

FLORIDA at No. 18 KENTUCKY (-3), Sat. 8:15 p.m.

This matchup is fascinating. Two teams that still have quite figured things out that play polar opposite styles of basketball. Florida is loaded with quick, veteran guards that fire up threes. Kentucky is loaded big, athletic forwards that can’t really shoot. Coming off of a loss at South Carolina, I think this game is probably more important for Kentucky, who finally looks like they are going to be healthy.

  • PREDICTION: Can Kentucky overwhelm Florida with their size or will the Gators exploit the mismatches with their guards? That answer really comes down to whether or not the Gators get hot from deep. I’m going to guess that they will since they have a tendency to show up in big games. Florida (+3)


  • No. 1 Villanova (-17) at UConn, Sat. 12:00 p.m. (CBS): The big question in this game for me, beyond “Will UConn lose by enough for UConn to fire Kevin Ollie on the spot?”, is whether or not Villanova is the elite team in college basketball that we swear doesn’t exist. Villanova (-17)
  • No. 7 Wichita State (-1) at Houston, Sat. 12:00 p.m. (ESPNU): The Shockers have turned into a defensive liability out of nowhere, and on Saturday they will be traveling to visit a Houston team that badly needs this win. Wichita State (-1)
  • No. 4 Oklahoma (-3) at Oklahoma State, Sat. 2:00 p.m. (ESPN): Trae Young hasn’t been right for a couple of weeks, and now he gets a rival on the road. Is this the game that he figures it out? Oklahoma (-3)
  • BAYLOR at No. 10 KANSAS (-8), Sat. 6:00 p.m. (ESPN): Kansas has actually had some issues at home this season, more than they’ve had on the road. Baylor tends to play the Jayhawks tough. Is this a letdown spot after that massive win at West Virginia? Kansas (-8)

No. 10 Jayhawks back on top of Big 12 with fresh approach

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LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — The hallmarks of Kansas under Bill Self over the years have been inside-outside post play and gritty defense, the kind of in-your-shorts man-to-man that leaves opponents gasping for air.

That trusted formula has produced 13 straight Big 12 championships.

But if the No. 10 Jayhawks are going to break a tie with the UCLA teams of the 1960s and ’70s for the most consecutive conference titles, their formula will look quite different this season: They are going to pour in 3-pointers, race around the court and simply outscore their foes.

“I do think you can get tougher. I do think you can get harder. I do think you can become more competitive and learn how to compete as you go,” Self said, “but the reality of it is we’re not changing right now playing four guards. Our second-best rebounder is 6-foot-5, 180 pounds. We’re not changing that. We’re not changing our next-best rebounder weighs 200 pounds. We’re not changing that fact.

“We’re playing four really average-sized guards,” Self said. “We’re not going to change that.”

So, best to adapt to it.

It helps that those four guards — Devonte Graham, Svi Mykhailiuk, Lagerald Vick and Malik Newman — form one of the best backcourts in the nation. Graham is a do-everything floor general, Mykhailiuk one of the best sharpshooters in the nation, Vick the most athletic of the bunch and Newman is capable of getting to the rim with as quick of a first step as anybody in the league.

It also helps that they’re experienced: Graham and Mykhailiuk are seniors with three title rings on their fingers, Vick is a junior and Newman is a third-year sophomore who redshirted last season.

Together, they’ve led the Jayhawks (15-3, 5-1) to four consecutive wins, including road wins over then-No. 16 TCU and sixth-ranked West Virginia. They’ve pushed Kansas back to the top of the league standings headed into Saturday’s game against Baylor, and back into the discussion of a No. 1 seed for the NCAA Tournament when the bracket is revealed in about six weeks.

In other words, they have Kansas right where it is accustomed to being.

But the route has been much different, and that was evident in the Jayhawks’ comeback victory over the Mountaineers on Monday night. Graham and Mykhailiuk combined for 20 of their final 26 points, most of them on 3s and pull-up jumpers — each of them knocked down three from beyond the arc.

The comeback in years past would have featured a big man such as Darrell Arthur or Thomas Robinson in the post, or an elite guard such as Frank Mason III going right to the rim.

Different styles, even if the results have been the same.

“I think we assume some things because of the past,” Self said. “You look at the past, I mean, Landen Lucas was tough. We’re not replacing him with the same toughness. Josh Jackson was a monster. He was an assassin. We’re not replacing him with the same type of mentality. Certainly, you can’t match Frank’s mentality in that area. Which is OK. We were so spoiled with that in the past.”

Those past teams may have had bruising big men, tough guard play and pure scorers all over the floor, and they may have been one of the best defensive teams in the country. But they also had deficiencies, and in many cases, they are the same areas where this year’s team excels.

The Jayhawks have already hit 195 shots from beyond the arc, tops in the Big 12, and are shooting 41 percent from that range. They are among the league leaders in assists and shooting percentage, numbers that help to offset the fact that Kansas ranks ninth out of 10 teams in the league in rebounding.

“We’re going to be scrappy, tough. We got to do a way better job of rebounding, obviously,” Graham said. “But yeah, basically we’ve just got to get way tougher, like I’ve been saying.”

That toughness could get a boost now that Silvio De Souza, a five-star prospect from Florida’s IMG Academy, has been cleared to play. He graduated in December and promptly joined the Jayhawks, and Self is hopeful the big man will be up to speed by the time February rolls around.

It could get another boost if Billy Preston, another five-star prospect, is ever cleared. The school and NCAA have been looking into the ownership of a car he was driving on campus last fall.

In the meantime, the Jayhawks head into their game against the Bears on Saturday riding a win streak, winning high-scoring affairs thanks to 3-pointers and an offensive flair.

“We don’t have the same team we’ve had in the past,” Self said, “and we have to understand that.”

TCU PG Jaylen Fisher to miss rest of season following knee surgery

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FORT WORTH, Texas — TCU point guard Jaylen Fisher had surgery Thursday to repair a meniscus tear in his right knee and will miss the rest of the season for the No. 24 Horned Frogs.

Fisher got hurt Tuesday, the second time in less than six months he injured a knee in practice. He had surgery after a meniscus tear in his left knee in early August.

The sophomore guard missed the team’s trip to Australia after the previous surgery, but was ready for the regular season. He averaged 12.1 points and was fifth in the Big 12 with 5.4 assists while playing the first 17 games. He had a career-high 22 points in an overtime loss Saturday at No. 4 Oklahoma, and he made 11 of 20 shots from 3-point range his last four games.

Fisher will need three to four months of recovery.

“I feel bad for him. We all feel bad for him,” coach Jamie Dixon said.

Even with his knee locked in a bent position and having to use crutches, Fisher attended TCU’s 96-73 home win over Iowa State on Wednesday night. He sat in a chair near the TCU bench.

Bracketology: Searching for No. 1 seeds

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That search for No. 1 seeds?  It may take a while.  We have some very good basketball teams.  But, at least to this point, we’re absent that handful of elite teams we’ve seen in recent years.  So if you’re writing teams on seed lines – including the top line – you might want to use a pencil.

Kansas is squarely back in the race after beating West Virginia in Morgantown.  And keep eye on North Carolina, too.  The Tar Heels are quietly putting together the type of profile that Selection Committee members traditionally like.  They currently own the No. 1 overall SOS (strength of schedule) in the nation, and have six wins over “tourney” teams in today’s bracket update.

Here’s the latest:

UPDATED: January 19, 2018

FIRST FOUR PAIRINGS – Dayton (First Round)

  • LSU vs. SMU | Midwest Region
  • Texas AM vs. UCLA West Region
  • ROBERT MORRIS vs. NC A&T | East Region
  • FLA GULF COAST vs. JACKSON ST | Midwest Region


EAST Boston                           MIDWEST – Omaha     
Pittsburgh Detroit
8) Louisville 8) Miami-FL
9) Georgia 9) Providence
San Diego Boise
5) RHODE ISLAND 5) Arizona State
4) Ohio State 4) CINCINNATI
Dallas Nashville
6) Tennessee 6) TCU
11) Notre Dame 11) LSU / SMU
3) Texas Tech 3) Clemson
Nashville Wichita
7) Michigan 7) Florida
10) Missouri 10) Butler
2) North Carolina 2) KANSAS
WEST – Los Angeles SOUTH – Atlanta
Charlotte Charlotte
1) Duke 1) VIRGINIA
8) Texas 8) SAINT MARY’S
9) Arkansas 9) Marquette
Boise Dallas
5) Seton Hall 5) Michigan State
4) Wichita State 4) AUBURN
San Diego Detroit
6) Creighton 6) Gonzaga
3) ARIZONA 3) Xavier
Wichita Pittsburgh
7) NEVADA 7) Kentucky
10) Alabama 10) Florida State
2) Oklahoma 2) West Virginia

NOTES on the BRACKET: Villanova is the No. 1 overall seed – followed by Purdue, Virginia, and Duke

Last Four Byes (at large): Florida State, Missouri, NC State, Notre Dame

Last Four IN (at large): LSU, Texas AM, SMU, UCLA

First Four OUT (at large): Washington, Houston, Baylor, Boise State

Next four teams OUT (at large): Syracuse, Maryland, USC, St. Bonaventure

Breakdown by Conference …

ACC (9): VIRGINIA, Duke, North Carolina, Clemson, Louisville, Florida State, Miami-FL, Notre Dame, NC State

SEC (9): AUBURN, Tennessee, Kentucky, Florida, Arkansas, Georgia, Missouri, LSU, Texas AM

Big East (7): VILLANOVA, Xavier, Seton Hall, Creighton, Marquette, Providence, Butler

BIG 12 (6): KANSAS, Oklahoma, West Virginia, Texas Tech, TCU, Texas

Big 10 (4): PURDUE, Ohio State, Michigan State, Michigan

Pac 12 (3): ARIZONA, Arizona State, UCLA

American (3): CINCINNATI, Wichita State, SMU

West Coast (2): SAINT MARY’S, Gonzaga

Atlantic 10 (1): RHODE ISLAND

Mountain West (1): NEVADA

ONE BID LEAGUES: Missouri State (MVC), Iona (MAAC), Western Kentucky (C-USA), Louisiana (SBELT), Penn (IVY), Montana (BSKY), Wright State (HORIZON), S.F. Austin (SLND), East Tennessee State (STHN), UC-Fullerton (BWEST), Buffalo (MAC), Florida Gulf Coast (ASUN), Belmont (OVC), William & Mary (CAA), Radford (BSO), North Carolina A&T (MEAC), South Dakota State (SUM), New Mexico State (WAC), Vermont (AEAST), Bucknell (PAT), Robert Morris (NEC), Jackson State (SWAC)

New coach, healthy star push Buckeyes to unexpected heights

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COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Ohio State’s elimination from the Big Ten tournament by lowly Rutgers last March showed the depths to which Buckeyes basketball had fallen in a just few short seasons.

First-year coach Chris Holtmann showed his players video cuts of that debacle before Sunday’s game, the first against the Scarlet Knights since the tournament. Ohio State then went out and routed Rutgers 68-46 .

On Monday the Buckeyes cracked the AP Top 25 poll for the first time in nearly three years. On Wednesday night they beat Northwestern to improve to 7-0 in the Big Ten — matching the number of conference wins they had all of last season.

Ohio State, 16-4 overall, is tied for first place in the conference with No. 3 Purdue and has forced its way into the NCAA Tournament conversation. Holtmann is the first coach in 95 years to win his first seven Big Ten games.

Who would have thought?

The Buckeyes missed the tournament for the second straight season last year. The loss of three of the top four scorers, transfers and a thin recruiting class led to a gloomy forecast for 2017-18. Thad Matta , who oversaw the rebuilding of Ohio State basketball in his 13 seasons, was fired and Holtmann, who had success at Butler, was brought in.

Holtmann managed to pull some pieces together but Ohio State lacked depth, especially at point guard. The coach did his best in the preseason to keep expectations low for what looked like another lost season.

He’s still trying to temper expectations, but the Buckeyes haven’t yet taken the lumps that he or anybody else were sure would come.

“Any coach that, through a third of the season, went undefeated would have to say they’re surprised,” he said. “I just think fortunately our team in general has played well and our really good players have led the way with that, both at home and on the road.”

None of those players has been better than Keita Bates-Diop , who missed all of the Big Ten schedule last season with a left leg injury that required insertion of a steel rod in his shin. He didn’t play again after Jan. 5 and not much went right for the Buckeyes after that.

Averaging 19.8 points per game, the 6-foot-7 forward has earned Big Ten Player of the Week honors for the past two weeks in a row.

Jae’Sean Tate, last year’s leading scorer, again is a major contributor. Point guard C.J. Jackson is second on the team in scoring, averaging 13.3 points per game. Freshman Kaleb Wesson, 6-foot-9 and 270 pounds, is providing needed bulk inside while averaging 11.2 points per game. His brother Andre, a sophomore, missed all of the summer and the first few weeks of fall practice with an illness but is contributing again.

Center Micah Potter, slowed by ankle injury this season, stepped up with a season-high 13 points on Wednesday as Northwestern applied pressure on Bates-Diop and Tate.

And Andrew Dakich, a graduate transfer who was a bit player for three years at Michigan, has been a bulldog at guard. His career high 11 points against Maryland Jan. 11 included three 3-pointers at the end of the first half that helped propel the Buckeyes to a 91-69 blowout. He is 12 of 18 for the season from 3-point range.

Holtmann, with an emphasis on defense and proper response to adversity, continues to publicly promote the theme that his team can’t possibly keep scoring at this pace and having this kind of success.

Don’t tell his players, though.

“I think it’s been all about approach,” Tate said. “Our approach every day in practice, our approach pregame. We always say we were picked (to be) one of the last teams in the Big Ten. We’re going to continue to play with that chip on our shoulder.”