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Four takeaways from No. 21 Xavier’s win over No. 11 Cincinnati

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The latest edition of the Crosstown Shootout was played Saturday afternoon, and the “first punch” was the most decisive as No. 21 Xavier jumped No. 11 Cincinnati from the start and went on to win by the final score of 89-76. Trevon Bluiett, who scored 40 points in last season’s meeting, led the way with 28 and Kerem Kanter added 17 off the bench for the Musketeers. While some Xavier turnovers led to Cincinnati making a run in the second half, the Bearcats were unable to truly threaten the Musketeers down the stretch.

Here are four takeaways from Xavier handing Cincinnati its first loss of the season.

1. Xavier turned the tables after getting dominated on the glass in last season’s meeting.

Given what happened in Cincinnati’s 86-78 win, with Mick Cronin’s team controlling the rebounding department, it wasn’t difficult to figure out what Xavier’s point of emphasis would be going into the rematch. And the Musketeer big men stepped up to the challenge, as Kaiser Gates grabbed ten rebounds while also scoring ten points and Kanter chipped in with 17 points off the bench. Outside of Gates the effort on the glass was a collective one, with Tyrique Jones, Naji Marshall and Sean O’Mara grabbing four rebounds apiece and Quentin Goodin (ten points, eight assists) finishing with five.

In last season’s meeting Cincinnati finished with an offensive rebounding percentage of 47.4 percent, while Xavier managed to grab just 28.1 percent of its misses. Those second chance opportunities made a difference then, and that was the case Saturday afternoon as well. This time around the Bearcats managed to corral just 22.0 percent of its misses, while Xavier finished with an offensive rebounding percentage of 41.9 percent.

2. Cincinnati will need more from Kyle Washington moving forward.

Washington entered Saturday’s game averaging 10.4 points and 5.6 rebounds per game, and while those numbers are lower than what the fifth-year senior produced in 2016-17 (12.9 ppg, 6.8 rpg) he’s still been a consistent contributor for the Bearcats. That was not the case Saturday, as Washington played just 15 minutes and went scoreless (0-for-4 FG) with just two rebounds. Gary Clark and Tre Scott held their own on the boards, grabbing seven rebounds apiece.

That being said, given the number of contributors in the paint for Xavier this was a game where Cincinnati needed more from Washington. He’s certainly capable of better performances, so it would come as no surprise if he were to bounce back from Saturday’s outing in short order.

3. Cincinnati is too talented to settle offensively as it did for much of the first half.

While Xavier’s excellent execution was a big reason why the Musketeers were able to jump out to a big lead, Cincinnati’s offensive issues did not help matters for the visitors. Far too often in the first half the Bearcats settled for challenged shots, on a couple occasions passing up open catch and shoot opportunities to dribble into a tougher shot. Cincinnati was better in this regard in the second half, with Jacob Evans III scoring 22 of his 23 points in the final 20 minutes and Jarron Cumberland (15 points) getting going as well.

If not for the production of Clark (ten first-half points) and Cane Broome (12 first-half points, 16 for the game) in the first half, the outcome could have been much worse for Cincinnati. While Wyoming should be a contender in the Mountain West, Saturday’s game at Xavier was Cincinnati’s first major test of the season. One lesson the Bearcats should take out of this defeat is that they’ve got too much offensive talent to not be “greedy” on offense.

4. Trevon Bluiett looked like his old self after two quiet outings.

After scoring at least 20 points in each of Xavier’s first five games, Bluiett scored a total of 21 points in games against Arizona State and Baylor. Bluiett’s been dealing with a lower back issue dating back to last week’s Las Vegas Invitational, but he looked to have that spring in his step against Cincinnati. Bluiett had it all working in the first half, hitting open jumpers and getting to the basket off the bounce as well.

Bluiett shot 7-for-14 from the field (5-for-10 3PT) and 9-for-11 from the foul line in what was an efficient performance reminiscent of his first five outings this season. When the back isn’t an issue Bluiett is one of the toughest offensive matchups in the country, because of his ability to find and make shots from anywhere on the court.

No. 5 Xavier advances to Big East semis with a 90-72 win

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NEW YORK (AP) Trevon Bluiett matched his career high with 24 points and No. 5 Xavier dominated from start to finish in a 90-72 victory over Marquette on Thursday night in the quarterfinals of the Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden.

The Musketeers took advantage of foul trouble by Marquette star center Henry Ellenson to have a big advantage in points in the paint early and finished with a 42-32 difference.

Xavier (27-4) advanced to Friday’s semifinals to face the winner of third-seeded Seton Hall and sixth-seeded Creighton.

It will be the Musketeers second straight trip to the semifinals. They lost to Villanova in last season’s championship game.

JaJuan Johnson had 19 points to lead the Golden Eagles (20-13), who have reached the semifinals twice (2008, 2010) but they have never made it to the championship game. They beat St. John’s 101-93 in the opening round.

This was the third time Xavier beat Marquette this season with the first two both decided by eight points.

Xavier opened on an 11-2 run with Ellenson, the conference’s freshman of the year and its leading rebounder, picking up his second foul just 3 minutes into the game. He was taken out of the game but when Xavier started having its way inside and took a 15-4 lead, he was back with 14:20 left in the half. The Golden Eagles went to a 2-3 zone to try and keep him from picking up another foul but it didn’t work.

Ellenson, who finished with 14 points and three rebounds, scored eight straight points for Marquette as the Golden Eagles drew within 26-21. With 2:44 left in the half Ellenson and Bluiett got tangled up near midcourt and both went down to the court. An official review found that Ellenson tripped Bluiett and he was assessed a Flagrant 1 foul – his third.

Bluiett’s free throw and J.P. Macura’s 3 on the ensuing possession were part of a 13-0 run that gave the Musketeers a 43-25 lead and Macura hit a long 3 with 4 seconds left to give Xavier a 46-30 lead.

Xavier shot 59.4 percent (19 of 32) in the half while the Golden Eagles were 11 of 32 (34.4 percent).

The Musketeers opened the second half on a 10-3 run and the rout was on with Xavier leading by as many as 28 points. The closest Marquette got was 17 points.

TIP-INS:

Marquette: The Golden Eagles entered the game first in the conference in steals (7.8) and they are second in assists (16.3). … The 101 points against St. John’s in the opening round was the first time the Golden Eagles broke the century against a Big East opponent. They joined the Big East for the 2005-06 season.

Xavier: The Musketeers entered the game first in the conference in assists (16.4) and they are second in steals (7.2). … Myles Davis leads the Big East in free throw shooting percentage (85.9). … Seven players have led the Musketeers in scoring in at least two games this season. … Chris Mack was named national coach of the year by the U.S. Basketball Writers Association.

UP NEXT:

Marquette: good enough for an NIT bid.

Xavier: faces the winner of Creighton-Seton Hall in the semifinals on Friday.

LATE NIGHT SNACKS: No. 20 Duke wins at UNC, No. 3 Oklahoma falls

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GAME OF THE NIGHT: No. 20 Duke 74, No. 5 North Carolina 73

Duke, already shorthanded, lost Matt Jones in the first half to a left ankle injury and they couldn’t slow down Brice Johnson either. But they continued to fight, ultimately winning on two Grayson Allen free throws with 1:09 remaining. To say the least North Carolina’s execution down the stretch left much to be desired, as Johnson’s last shot attempt came with just under five minutes left in the game. He finished with 29 points and 19 rebounds, while Allen led Duke with 23 points and seven boards and Brandon Ingram added 20 and ten.

IMPORTANT OUTCOMES

Penn State 79, No. 4 Iowa 75: Within a two-week period the Nittany Lions have knocked off two of the three teams tied atop the Big Ten standings in the loss column (No. 22 Indiana being the other). Donovon Jack scored 19 points and Brandon Taylor and Shep Garner 18 each for the Nittany Lions, who won despite Peter Jok scoring 28 points and Jarrod Uthoff 19.

Saint Joseph’s 79, No. 15 Dayton 70: Phil Martelli’s Hawks picked up a big win, as they ended Dayton’s nine-game win streak to force a three-way tie atop the Atlantic 10. DeAndré Bembry led five Hawks in double figures with 16 points while also grabbing 13 rebounds, and it was the combination of their offensive balance and solid defense that won the game for Saint Joseph’s.

BUBBLE BANTER: Wednesday’s key results

Texas Tech 65, No. 3 Oklahoma 63: The Red Raiders picked up their third straight win over a ranked opponent, holding off the Sooners in Lubbock. Aaron Ross scored 17 points and Keenan Evans 14 for the Red Raiders, who limited Buddy Hield to 16 points on 6-for-16 shooting. Jordan Woodard led Oklahoma with 25 points, but with everyone else struggling it wasn’t enough.

No. 8 Xavier 85, No. 23 Providence 74: The Friars lost for the fourth time in their last five games Wednesday, falling by nine in a game that wasn’t as close as the final margin would lead one to believe. Myles Davis posted his first career triple-double (11 points, 12 rebounds and 12 assists), Trevon Bluiett scored 23 points and Jalen Reynolds went for ten and 15 boards. Kris Dunn led the Friars with 23 points, 11 rebounds and six assists, but he also turned the ball over seven times on the night.

STARRED

Retin Obasohan, Alabama: 35 points, four rebounds and three assists in the Crimson Tide’s win at LSU, shooting 11-for-18 from the field and 11-for-11 from the foul line.

Myles Davis, Xavier: Davis posted a triple-double, going for 11 points, 12 rebounds and 12 assists to lead the Musketeers to a comfortable win over No. 23 Providence.

Brice Johnson, North Carolina: Johnson finished with 29 points and 19 rebounds. Why he didn’t get more touches down the stretch in their loss to No. 20 Duke is something that will be discussed for quite some time.

STRUGGLED

Eli Carter, Boston College: Carter had a miserable night at Clemson, shooting 1-for-17 from the field in the 64-55 loss. He finished with five points and six assists.

Marcus Paige and Joel Berry II, North Carolina: Paige and Berry combined to shoot 4-for-22 from the field in their loss to No. 20 Duke.

Starters not named Khristian Smith, Indiana State: Smith shot 5-for-12 from the field and scored 14 points in the Sycamores’ 78-50 loss at Illinois State. The other four starters combined to score ten points on 3-for-25 shooting.

THE REST OF THE TOP 25

  • Top-ranked Villanova won for the 15th time in their last 16 games, as they beat Temple 83-67 at the Liacouras Center. Jalen Brunson, whose father played at Temple, scored 25 points on 9-for-11 shooting from the field as the Wildcats won the Big 5 title outright.
  • No. 11 Miami got going in the second half as they beat Virginia Tech 65-49. Jim Larrañaga’s Hurricanes outscored the Hokies 44-27 in the second half.
  • No. 12 Arizona steamrolled rival Arizona State, beating the Sun Devils 99-61 in Tucson. Allonzo Trier scored 20 points, and the Wildcats scored 52 points in the paint.
  • No. 18 Louisville rebounded from a slow start and blitzed Syracuse in the second half, beating the Orange 72-58. Damion Lee scored 15 points and Chinanu Onuaku added 13 points and 15 boards for the Cardinals.
  • No. 22 Indiana rebounded from its loss at Michigan State by taking care of business at home, beating Nebraska 80-64. Troy Williams led four Hoosiers in double figures with 18 points on the night.

OTHER NOTABLE OUTCOMES

  • Clemson, which is looking to play its way back into the NCAA tournament discussion, avoided a bad loss by beating Boston College 64-55.
  • St. Bonaventure’s hopes of getting into the bubble conversation took a major hit, as they lost 71-64 at La Salle. The Bonnies are now two games out of first in the Atlantic 10 as a result of this loss.
  • Stony Brook’s 18-game win streak came to an end as they were beaten soundly at Albany, 82-70. The Great Danes sent double teams at Jameel Warney all night long, which helped them limit the Seawolves to less than 40 percent shooting.
  • Bucknell retained sole possession of first place in the Patriot League with an 87-52 win over Loyola (MD). Trailing the Bison by a game are Lehigh, which beat Navy 77-74 on the road, and Boston University (71-68 win over Colgate).
  • Seton Hall continued its run towards an NCAA tournament bid with a 72-64 win over Georgetown. Isaiah Whitehead scored 22 points, Khadeen Carrington 18 and Desi Rodriguez 17 for the Pirates.
  • Alabama picked up a nice win on the road, as they beat LSU 76-69. Retin Obasohan, who’s been one of the best guards in the SEC this season, scored a career-high 35 in the win.
  • Chris Mullin picked up his first conference win as head coach at St. John’s, as the Red Storm beat DePaul 80-65. The Red Storm had lost 16 straight games before tonight.
  • Trailing by 15 with 6:01 remaining, New Mexico close the game on a 19-2 run as they beat Boise State 80-78. Elijah Brown scored 26 points and Tim Williams 18 for the Lobos, who are now in sole possession of second place in the Mountain West.
  • USC came back from a 15-point deficit to beat Colorado 79-72, moving to 15-0 at the Galen Center this season. Julian Jacobs, who sparked the run, scored 17 points and Jordan McLaughlin finished with 25 points, four rebounds, five assists and three steals.

No. 5 Xavier finds shooting touch in 74-57 blowout at Butler

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) No. 5 Xavier learned its lesson.

To keep winning, it must continue do the dirty work.

Four days after stumbling at Creighton, the Musketeers got back to basics and used a balanced offense and a smothering defense to run away from Butler 74-57 on Saturday.

“We played much better today and after about the first four or five minutes, we defended,” coach Chris Mack said. “Our shots were, in my opinion, really good ones because we got in the lane, we made the extra pass and I thought that was the difference.”

Whatever the explanation, the Musketeers (22-3, 10-3 Big East) certainly looked worthy of the highest ranking in school history.

After making a season-low 30 percent from the field and just 1 of 21 3-point attempts in Tuesday’s loss, Xavier rebounded by shooting 56.9 percent and going 9 of 18 beyond the arc. J.P. Macura led the way with 13 points while Edmond Sumner and Remy Abell each had 12.

But the biggest improvements showed up in other areas – defense, rebounding and effort. They allowed 36 points over the final 31 1/2 minutes.

“Everybody was boxing out and rebounding, and on the offensive end we have so much talent we could get whatever we wanted,” said Abell, who started his college career playing for the Indiana Hoosiers.

The difference was obvious.

Butler (17-8, 6-7) was held almost 25 points below its season average.

Kelan Martin, with 15 points, and Andrew Chrabascz, with 12, were the only players to score more than 10. And the top three scorers – Martin, Kellen Dunham and Roosevelt Jones – were a combined 11 of 39 from the field as the Bulldogs’ three-game winning streak came to an end.

Xavier crushed the Bulldogs so thoroughly that chants of “Let’s Go X” resounded throughout sold out Hinkle Fieldhouse over the final minutes.

“We didn’t have near the effort, the juice, the purpose defensively and we didn’t move the ball offensively and that was actually the case from the opening minute,” Butler coach Chris Holtmann said. “We mentioned that in the four-minute media and said that had to improve and when it doesn’t these things happen.”

Butler used a 9-0 first-half run to take a 21-13 lead midway through the first half.

Xavier answered with a 27-6 run that included four 3s and a three-point play in a 27-6 run to make it 40-27. The Bulldogs got as close as 47-39 early in the second half, which later became a seven-point deficit after a replay review gave Dunham a 3.

But the Bulldogs couldn’t get closer.

“You can go 1 for 21 one game, and then the next game it’s – I’m sure it was better,” Macura said. “That’s basketball.”

POINTERS

Xavier’s dominance showed up in two key stats on the box score. The Musketeers outscored Butler 36-14 in points off the bench and 36-18 in the paint despite having only two offensive rebounds. Xavier has won six of its last seven.

ON THE ROAD

Even the road has been kind to the Musketeers this season. They have won seven times in true road games, their highest season total since 2010-11. They have also won five Big East games on the road – more than they won in either of their first two seasons in the league and they have won 10 of the last 13 at Hinkle.

MOVING UP

Dunham continues his ascent on the Bulldogs’ career scoring list. After moving from 14th to sixth on the list in the first 23 games this season, Dunham moved passed Lynn Mitchem (1,798) for fifth and within one point of A.J. Graves (1,807) for fourth. Matt Howard is third (1,939) and the only 2,000-point scorers in school history are Chad Tucker (2,321) and Darrin Fitzgerald (2,019).

TIP-INS

Xavier: Former Indiana prep star Trevon Bluiett had 11 points and four rebounds and James Farr had 12 rebounds. … Each of Xavier’s 22 wins has come by at least seven points. … The Musketeers were the highest-ranked team to play at Hinkle Fieldhouse since No. 3 DePaul visited Feb. 23, 1981.

Butler: Shot 33.3 percent overall and was 8 of 22 on 3s. …. The Bulldogs only have three wins at home against Top 10 teams – No. 8 Gonzaga in January 2013, No. 3 Michigan in 1965-66 and No. 5 Tennessee in 1958-59. … Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens and Indiana Gov. Mike Pence attended the game.

UP NEXT

Xavier hosts No. 20 Providence on Wednesday.

Butler hosts Creighton on Tuesday.

Bluiett helps No. 7 Xavier cruise past DePaul 86-65

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ROSEMONT, Ill. (AP) Trevon Bluiett scored 15 points and No. 7 Xavier used an impressive burst spanning the halves to put away DePaul for an 86-65 victory on Saturday.

The Musketeers trailed 32-25 before they ripped off 29 of the next 34 points to grab control. J.P. Macura made a 3-pointer and two free throws during a 17-1 run over the final 3:43 of the first half, and Bluiett had two layups and a jumper to help Xavier open a 54-37 lead with 16:13 remaining.

Macura and Larry Austin Jr. had 12 points apiece for the Musketeers (19-2, 7-2 Big East), who have won three in a row since their 81-72 home loss against Georgetown on Jan. 19.

DePaul (7-14, 1-8) lost for the eighth time in its last nine games.

The Blue Demons struggled to score after Xavier switched to a 1-3-1 zone late in the first half and never recovered.

Tommy Hamilton IV scored 13 of his 15 points in the first half, and Billy Garrett Jr. finished with 18 points. But DePaul committed 15 turnovers and its reserves finished with just 12 points, compared to 42 for Xavier’s backups.

The Blue Demons also were hurt by a pair of costly fouls on Joe Hanel late in the first half. The sophomore forward was called for over the back while going for a rebound, and then went chest to chest with Jalen Reynolds, drawing a technical.

The result was a pair of free throws for Myles Davis and Reynolds and a 40-32 lead for Xavier with 1:14 to go. Edmond Sumner tacked on a jumper for the Musketeers with 22 seconds left, and the Blue Demons trailed by nine at the break after leading by as many as nine in the early going.

Reynolds and Davis each scored 10 for Xavier, which led by as many as 26 on its way to its five win in the last six games in the series. The Musketeers also beat the Blue Demons 84-64 on Jan. 12.

TIP-INS

Xavier: Bluiett had two points on 1-for-4 shooting in the first half. … The Musketeers earned their fourth consecutive Big East road win. They also improved to 9-1 away from Cintas Center this season. … Xavier missed its first nine shots of the game and 11 of its first 12 overall.

DePaul: Women’s basketball coach Doug Bruno was recognized during the first half with a commemorative ball in honor of his 600th career win on Jan. 15 at Butler. … Hamilton fouled out with 5:35 left.

UP NEXT

Xavier hosts St. John’s on Wednesday night.

DePaul hosts No. 10 Providence on Tuesday night.

Jay Cohen can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/jcohenap

BIG EAST CONFERENCE RESET: Can anyone dethrone Villanova?

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

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

PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Kris Dunn, Providence

This decision was made somewhat difficult by the combination of Dunn missing some games due to illness and other players excelling in non-conference play. But it’s hard to overlook his influence on a team that enters Big East play ranked 12th in the AP poll after being projected as a bubble team in the preseason. Dunn’s averaging 16.5 points, 6.1 rebounds, 7.3 assists and 2.3 steals per game for the Friars, and his turnovers (2.9) are down more than one per game from last season’s average (4.2).

ALL-BIG EAST FIRST TEAM

  • Kris Dunn, Providence
  • Trevon Bluiett, Xavier
  • Josh Hart, Villanova
  • Ben Bentil, Providence
  • Henry Ellenson, Marquette

[2015 REVIEW: Best Dunks | Best Games]

WHAT WE’VE LEARNED

  1. The Big East is one of the nation’s best leagues: The preseason conversations regarding the best conference in college basketball centered on the ACC, Big 12 and Big Ten, but through non-conference play the Big East has stepped forward into that discussion. Xavier’s been one of the most impressive teams in the country to this point, two-time defending champion Villanova’s lone defeats came against two Top 10 teams in Oklahoma and Virginia, and Butler is 10-1. Joining those contenders has been 12-1 Providence, and both Marquette and Seton Hall are off to good starts as well.
  2. Xavier’s depth and talent make it Villanova’s biggest threat: The biggest question for the Musketeers entering the season was how they’d fill the hole left by the graduation of Dee Davis at the point. Would Edmond Sumner be ready to take the reins after redshirting last season? To this point Sumner has indeed been the answer Chris Mack needed at the point, giving the Musketeers an athletic finisher who continues to improve as a floor general. And he’s surrounded with a host of experienced options, including Trevon Bluiett, Myles Davis and Jalen Reynolds, who can put points on the board. That makes Xavier the team best equipped to challenge reigning Big East champ Villanova.
  3. To look at Providence as “Kris Dunn and some other dudes” would be a big mistake: While Dunn was a preseason favorite for National Player of the Year honors, many didn’t know what to make of the rest of Ed Cooley’s team. Heading into their conference opener against Butler the Friars are ranked in the top ten, and this has been no one-man operation. Sophomore Ben Bentil has been one of the nation’s most improved players, Rodney Bullock’s given them another quality front court option, and role players such as Junior Lomomba have been productive as well. Will the Friars be a top ten team throughout league play? That remains to be seen, but this has been an impressive group worthy of Big East contender status.

[CONFERENCE RESETS: ACC | Big Ten | American]

KEY STORY LINES IN LEAGUE PLAY

  1. Villanova’s perimeter shooting: For a team loaded with quality guards, the Wildcats’ shooting in non-conference play was a surprise. Jay Wright’s team is shooting just 31.1 percent from three on the season, with nearly 52 percent of their field goal attempts being three-pointers. Josh Hart (39 percent) and Ryan Arcidiacono (37 percent) have been the best of the bunch, and they’ll need players such as Jalen Brunson, Phil Booth and Kris Jenkins to raise their perimeter accuracy moving forward.
  2. Does Georgetown have what it takes to rebound: With two of their first three losses coming against very good Maryland and Duke teams, not too many worried about the Hoyas’ 1-3 start after a five-game win streak made John Thompson III’s team appear to be okay. But after dropping games to Monmouth and UNC Asheville and escaping with a win at Charlotte, there are some significant issues to be addressed. Paul White’s struggled with health, and D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera hasn’t been the player many envisioned him being when he changed course and decided to return for his senior year. Can they turn things around and be the contender many expected them to be?
  3. Marquette, Seton Hall looking to make NCAA tournament push: Both the Golden Eagles and Pirates put together quality records in non-conference play, which sets them up for run at NCAA tournament bids as conference play begins. And the strength of the Big East can help both in the quality wins department, with Seton Hall’s best win coming against Wichita State and Marquette’s being at the expense of Arizona State. Marquette’s Henry Ellenson has been one of the nation’s best freshmen, but their tournament hopes may hinge on the development of their perimeter rotation. As for the Pirates, this sophomore-laden group will lean on Isaiah Whitehead and Desi Rodriguez as they look for their first tournament bid since 2006.
Xavier's Edmond Sumner (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)
Xavier’s Edmond Sumner (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

[NEW PODCAST | NEW TOP 25]

BETTER THAN THEIR RECORD: On Monday’s podcast, my colleague Rob Dauster said that he believed that Villanova was the fourth-best team in the conference, that their issues shooting the ball combined with their question marks in the front court left them susceptible to being picked off. Jay Wright’s club has their issues, but they also have a total of four losses in Big East play the last two years.

BEAT SOMEONE AND WE’LL TALK: On paper, Marquette looks like the real deal. They have a slew of highly-regarded guards surrounding a pair of NBA-caliber big men in Henry Ellenson and Luke Fischer. And as good as they’ve looked in bursts this season, their best wins are over a depleted LSU, Arizona State and a Wisconsin team that has already lost five games. They were also embarrassed on their home floor by Iowa and lost to Belmont in Milwaukee. I want to believe in Marquette, but they need to beat one of the top four teams in the league for me to get there fully.

COACH UNDER PRESSURE: Georgetown has been by far the most disappointing team in the Big East and one of the most disappointing teams in the country. They have top 20 talent on the roster, but they’ve lost at home to Radford, UNC Asheville and Monmouth, the latter of which was a blowout. Given who his father is, it’s going to be very hard for the program to jettison John Thompson III, but if he can’t turn this thing around, he’s going to be a name that pops up on hot seat lists.

POWER RANKINGS, POSTSEASON PREDICTIONS

Tourney teams

  • 1. Xavier: Chris Mack’s team, which reached the Sweet 16 a season ago, has everything a team needs to not only reach that point but go further. And if Edmond Sumner continues to develop at the point, Houston is possible.
  • 2. Villanova: The Wildcats do have to shoot better from the perimeter than they have, and with players such as Arcidiacono, Brunson and Hart they’re capable of turning things around on that front. But do they have enough in the post to play deep into March?
  • 3. Butler: The Bulldogs don’t defend as well as they did in years past, but they’re better offensively thanks to the presence of two playmakers in Tyler Lewis and Roosevelt Jones.
  • 4. Providence: Dunn and Bentil have been excellent, but Ed Cooley’s had many other contributors step forward as well. And their play with Dunn out of the lineup can only help the confidence of those supplementary players moving forward.
  • 5. Marquette: The Golden Eagles’ best wins have come over teams likely to land on the bubble (Arizona State, LSU, Wisconsin). They’ve got an extremely talented front court tandem in Ellenson and Fischer, but the key moving forward: the guards keeping the turnovers (19.6 percent turnover rate) to a minimum.

NIT teams

  • 6. Seton Hall: The progress made by Desi Rodriguez has been huge for the Pirates, who have wins over Ole Miss and Wichita State on their résumé. Kevin Willard’s team will go as far as their sophomore class, led by Rodriguez, Isaiah Whitehead and Angel Delgado, can lead them.
  • 7. Georgetown: The Hoyas have NCAA tournament talent, but they haven’t played to that level on a consistent basis thus far. The biggest issues have been on the offensive end, but they need to be better on the glass as well (7th in defensive rebounding percentage).
  • 8. Creighton: With Maurice Watson Jr. on the leading a balanced offensive attack, the Bluejays could surprise some people in league play. But in order to do so, they’ll need to improve defensively (last in field goal percentage defense, ninth in three-point percentage defense).

Autobid or bust

  • 9. DePaul: The Blue Demons did manage to knock off a ranked George Washington squad, but they’re unlikely to make a major move up the Big East pecking order.
  • 10. St. John’s: This is a rebuilding year for the Red Storm, who still hope to add Marcus LoVett Jr. at some point in the near future. That being said, they compete and are capable of pulling off some upsets in league play.