Conference Resets

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Big East Conference Reset: It’s still Villanova’s league, but for how long?

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The NBA Draft’s Early Entry Deadline has come and gone. Just about every elite recruit has decided where they will be playing their college ball next season. The coaching carousel, which ended up spinning a bit faster than initially expected, has come to a close. The transfer market is slowly winding down.

In other words, by now, we have a pretty good feel for what college basketball is going to look like during the 2017-18 season. With that in mind, let’s take a look at what has happened — and what will happen — in the Big East over the next six months.

OFFSEASON STORYLINES 

1. Patrick Ewing returns to Georgetown: The Hall of Fame center who took the Hoyas to three Final Fours — winning the 1984 national championship — returns to his alma mater for his head coaching debut after 14 years as an NBA assistant coach. He replaces John Thompson III, who was relieved of his duties following a second straight losing season, the third time in four years Georgetown failed to reach the NCAA Tournament. Ewing’s hire shows that John Thompson Jr. still has a lot of pull in the university but Ewing has been praised for his work ethic and player development during his decade-plus as an NBA assistant. But he has an uphill battle on the Hilltop.

2. NBA Draft didn’t hurt the league: Angel Delgado, who reportedly was set to stay in the draft, decided to return to Seton Hall for his senior season. That made the Pirates a realistic threat to knock Villanova off the throne it sat upon since the relaunch of the Big East Conference. Trevon Bluiett, who averaged 20.4 points per game during the conference and NCAA Tournament, also returned. With Villanova point guard Jalen Brunson as another option, both Delgado and Bluiett should find themselves on every single preseason All-American team. Not every team was as lucky as Seton Hall and Xavier, Justin Patton, a redshirt freshman who flew under the radar for much of the season, decided to remain in the draft. He’s projected to be a first round pick.

3. Recruiting classes: At the moment, Xavier commit Paul Scruggs is the highest ranked recruit joining the Big East, according to Rivals. In fact, the Musketeers have two of the top three prospects joining the league, both of whom are listed in the top-50. Butler, according to the Indy Star, has the school’s best recruiting class coming in, headlined by Kyle Young, Christian David, Jerald Butler and Aaron Thompson. Four seasons ago, both programs were in the Atlantic-10.

Trevon Bluiett (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

IMPORTANT ADDITIONS

  • Omari Spellman, Villanova: Expected to replace Daniel Ochefu in Villanova’s quest for a repeat, the heralded freshman big man was forced to academically redshirt due to his freshman year of high school when he transferred from a public high school and reclassified at a prep school several months later. Spellman is a better offensive player than his would-be predecessor, even capable of scoring from the perimeter. Rivals had the 6-foot-9 Spellman listed as a top-20 recruit in the Class of 2016.
  • Makai Ashton-Langford, Providence: One of the most coveted point guards in the Class of 2017 had originally committed to UConn. He decommitted in March. Ed Cooley, who was in early on the likes of Donovan Mitchell and Wenyen Gabriel before seeing them commit to bluebloods, got a second chance and landed the New England native several weeks later. Whether it be with Mass Rivals on the grassroots circuit or Brewster Academy (N.H.) in the prep school scene, by the time Ashton-Langford debuts for the Friars he’ll have played a year and a half without losing a game.
  • Harry Froling, Marquette: With Luke Fischer exhausting his eligibility, the Golden Eagles, who weren’t deep on the frontline to begin with, needed some help. Marquette was able to land Froling, the SMU transfer following a visit in mid-January. Due to NCAA transfer rules, he’ll be eligible for the second semester. In 10 games, the 6-foot-10 Froling averaged 4.3 points and 3.2 boards per game. Matt Heldt and newcomers Theo John and Ike Eke will hold down the fort while Froling continues to sit out until late December.

SURPRISING DEPARTURES

  • L.J. Peak, Georgetown: Currently, Peak is projected as the last pick in the 2017 NBA Draft according to DraftExpress.com. That didn’t stop the Georgetown junior from forgoing his final season of eligible. The 6-foot-5 power guard averaged 16.3 points, 3.8 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game for the Hoyas. His departure means Georgetown has lost its top two scorers from a season ago, as Rodney Pryor, a graduate transfer, exhausted his eligibility.
  • Duane Wilson, Marquette: It’s clear that the program is focused on building around rising sophomore guard Markus Howard. Moreover, Wilson had seen his role diminished for the majority of the 2016-17 season but worked his way into the starting lineup as the Golden Eagles made their run at the program’s first NCAA Tournament under head coach Steve Wojciechowski. Wilson, the Milwaukee native, who redshirted his first season due to injury, elected to use his final season of eligibility at Texas A&M.
Patrick Ewing (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)

COACHING CHANGES

  • Patrick Ewing, Georgetown: As mentioned above, Ewing replaces John Thompson III after 13 seasons with the program, leading the Hoyas to the Final Four in 2007. By all accounts, this appears to have Big John’s fingerprints all over it. However, Ewing at least had coaching experience, 14 as an NBA assistant, before he got his first coaching job. That wasn’t the case two years ago when Chris Mullin took over at his alma mater. Arguably Ewing’s biggest task will be filling out a coaching staff that can hit the recruiting trail, especially the greater Washington D.C. area.

WAY-TOO-EARLY ALL-CONFERENCE PREDICTIONS

Trevon Bluiett, Xavier (Player of the Year)
Jalen Brunson, Villanova
Angel Delgado, Seton Hall
Marcus Foster, Creighton
Kelan Martin, Butler

WAY-TOO-EARLY POWER RANKINGS

  1. Villanova: All-American Josh Hart is gone but Jalen Brunson, a floor general who will end up on many preseason All-American lists, is back, as is Mikal Bridges, Eric Paschall and Donte DiVincenzo, a two-guard many peg as a breakout star next season. Jay Wright brings in a pretty good recruiting class but the biggest new addition is redshirt freshman Omari Spellman. The Big East Conference belongs to Villanova until someone proves it can knock it off.
  2. Seton Hall: Angel Delgado’s decision to return to for his senior season makes the Pirates the biggest threat to Villanova’s conference dominance. Delgado, the nation’s leading rebounder, rejoins Khadeen Carrington, Desi Rodriguez, and Ismael Sanogo. Madison Jones is gone but Myles Powell is a strong replacement after averaging double figures his freshman season. The Pirates are the most experienced team in the Big East. They are tough as nails and are likely the best defensive team in the league.
  3. Xavier: The Musketeers lost six of seven to close out the regular season but found themselves in the Elite Eight thanks in large part to the play of Trevon Bluiett. The 6-foot-5 wing returns, which puts Xavier in another good position for 2017-18. Edmond Sumner remained in the NBA Draft but that tournament run was made after his season ended following an ACL tear. J.P. Macura is back while Quentin Goodin and Tyrique Jones both made strides in their freshmen seasons. Chris Mack is also bringing in arguably his best recruiting class, headlined by Paul Scruggs and Naji Marshall.
  4. Providence: The most surprising team in the Big East last season was the Friars. Despite losing Kris Dunn and Ben Bentil, Providence went to its fourth straight NCAA Tournament under Ed Cooley. The Friars bring back everybody of value (sorry, Casey Woodring) for this season. I’ll catch heat for leaving Rodney Bullock off all-conference predictions but I’ll end by saying Kyron Cartwright, who averaged 6.7 assists per game, may have a better chance of earning that postseason honor.
  5. Butler: Despite losing Andrew Chrabascz, Avery Woodson, Tyler Lewis, and Kethan Savage, it’s hard to bet against Chris Holtmann. The Bulldogs retain Kelan Martin, one of the league’s top scorers, in addition to rising star Kamar Baldwin. Butler’s Class of 2017 is considered the best in program history.
  6. Creighton: The Bluejays are in a much different place if Justin Patton returns to Omaha for a sophomore season. That isn’t to say Creighton isn’t in line for a second straight NCAA Tournament appearance. Greg McDermott is hoping to strike gold again as Kaleb Joseph, the Syracuse point guard, spent several months practicing against Maurice Watson Jr. He’ll pair up in the backcourt with Marcus Foster, a fifth-year senior who will make sure the Bluejays have one of the conference’s most potent offenses.
  7. Marquette: Depth took a hit with the graduation of Luke Fischer, Katin Reinhardt and Jujuan Johnson, in addition to the departure of Duane Wilson. But Marquette has Markus Howard, who is expected to have a big sophomore season, while the frontline gains a boost at midseason with Harry Froling debutting after sitting out the spring and fall semester following his transfer from SMU.
  8. St. John’s: Shamorie Ponds, Marcus LoVett and Bashir Ahmed, the team’s three top scorers, return while Tariq Owens and Kassoum Yakwe are back to man the frontline. The Johnnies add transfer Justin Simon to the perimeter and Marvin Clark to the frontcourt. Sidney Wilson, like Ponds, is another coveted New York City recruit, will be joining the program. Chris Mullin had a lot of work to do when he took the job at his alma mater but has landed talented, especially local ones.
  9. DePaul: One of the biggest offseason additions, which resulted in immediate results, was when DePaul hired Shane Heriman, head coach of prep powerhouse La Lumiere. Northern Illinois graduate transfer Marin Maric, a potential starter for next year’s team, and 2019 point guard Tgyer Campbell both committed to DePaul this spring. Both played at La Lumiere under Heriman. Billy Garrett Jr. is gone but leading scorer Eli Cain is back in Lincoln Park.
  10. Georgetown: The Hoyas have lost their two leading scorers and the top incoming recruit since season’s end, one that resulted in the school parting ways with John Thompson III. The cupboard isn’t bare for Patrick Ewing’s first season. Jessie Govan and Marcus Derrickson return while Trey Dickerson joins the program as a graduate transfer. Nonetheless, Georgetown was 14-18 last season, in a league where seven teams made the tournament. This is a realistic placement, as odd as it seems, to slot the Hoyas.

Big 12 Conference Reset: Get Caught Up On All The League’s Offseason Wheelings And Dealings

Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images
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The NBA Draft’s Early Entry Deadline has come and gone. Just about every elite recruit has decided where they will be playing their college ball next season. The coaching carousel, which ended up spinning a bit faster than initially expected, has come to a close. The transfer market is slowly winding down.

In other words, by now, we have a pretty good feel for what college basketball is going to look like during the 2017-18 season. With that in mind, let’s take a look at what has happened — and what will happen — in the Big 12 over the next six months.

OFFSEASON STORYLINES

1. Kansas, again: In most of the previous 13 years, there was at least an argument to be made about a team that could challenge Kansas and end the Jayhawks’ reign atop the league. You can’t even pretend to believe that’s the case heading into the summer before this season. Yes, West Virginia will be good and Texas is interesting, but the Jayhawks, well, they’re on another level.

Nearly everything went according to plan this offseason for Kansas, which lost Frank Mason and Landen Lucas to graduation and Josh Jackson to the draft but Devonte Graham and Svi Mykhailiuk are both coming back. Those two make for an experienced and skilled core, and when it’s paired with Mississippi State transfer Malik Newman, high-level recruits Billy Preston and Marcus Garrett and a healthy Udoka Azubuike, Kansas’ talent is among the best in the country.

2. What’s Bruce Weber’s status?: When Kansas State got blasted by 30 points in late February by Oklahoma – a Sooners team that won just 11 games on the year – it looked like be curtains for Bruce Weber’s tenure in Manhattan. Rather than fade to black, though, the Wildcats won their next three to nab a spot in the First Four, where they beat Wake Forest.

So what’s next for Weber? The fan base is unsettled, even after the third NCAA tournament in his five years there, and Kansas State has a new athletic director, Gene Taylor. Kamau Stokes, Barry Brown and Dean Wade return after successful seasons, but is there enough talent there to get back to the NCAA tournament? And is that even the bar to clear, both for Wildcat fans and the new AD? Weber may not be on the proverbial hot seat – there’s even talk of an extension for him this summer – but his situation is an interesting one, especially if Kansas State struggles out of the gates.

Shaka Smart (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

3. Texas’ reinvention: Yeah, Texas made the NCAA tournament in Shaka Smart’s first season leading the Longhorns, but it’s hard to look at his two seasons there without some disappointment, especially after an 11-22 season in which Texas finished last in the Big 12 last season despite having a potential lottery pick in Jarrett Allen on the roster. The Longhorns were young and had a roster that didn’t really fit, but, still, a 4-14 Big 12 record is unsightly.

This year, though, Smart has a truly intriguing and, more importantly, talented group that would appear to fit together well. Andrew Jones tested the draft waters before coming back to Austin and Kerwin Roach and Eric Davis are a year older and more seasoned. But it’s the newcomers that really make Texas a team to watch. Mo Bamba picked Texas over Duke and Kentucky, giving the Longhorns not only a 7-footer who may be the top 2018 NBA draft pick but also a massively important symbolic recruiting victory. Four-star recruit Matt Coleman gives Smart the point guard he so desperately missed, and Smart secured three other four-star players in the class. Texas probably won’t win the Big 12 this season, but it’s not hard to think this will be the season we all look back on as truly the start of the Smart era.

4. Country roads lead to victories: West Virginia lost a lot, namely Tarik Phillip and Nathan Adrian, but Jevon Carter and Esa Ahmad might be the best one-two punch in the conference outside of the city limits of Lawrence. Bob Huggins is going to get the most out of this group, and that’s likely going to mean a bunch of wins. Kansas is the toast of the league, but the Mountaineers are worth raising a cup for as well, though it should probably be filled with something stronger than champagne.

IMPORTANT ADDITIONS

  • Malik Newman, Kansas: Newman underwhelmed in his first collegiate season, averaging 11.3 points and shooting 39.1 percent as a Mississippi State freshman, but he’s a former top-10 recruit that’s spent a year away from competition under the tutelage of Bill Self. He seems to be a prime candidate to turn a fresh start into a dynamic season
  • Mohammed Bamba, Texas: As mentioned above, Bamba’s decision to come to Texas is a potential game-changer. He adds some serious star power to the Big 12, a league that’s lacked that some in recent years outside of Kansas’ one-and-done players.
  • Billy Preston, Kansas: Preston isn’t thought of as highly as recent top Kansas recruits like Josh Jackson, Kelly Oubre or Andrew Wiggins, but the kid can really play. He won’t be asked to play a starring role, but if he can be an impactful contributor, that’s all Kansas will need
  • Trae Young, Oklahoma: The post-Buddy Hield wasn’t kind to Oklahoma last season, but Lon Kruger and the Sooners don’t figure to stay down long, especially with the hometown five-star prospect in the fold.
  • Lindell Wigginton, Iowa State: The Cyclones have enjoyed one of the steadiest point guards in recent college basketball history for the last four years with Monte Morris setting the sport’s career assist-to-turnover ratio record, but they’ll now turn the team over to Wigginton, the program’s best-rated recruit in a generation. Wigginton will probably have to be special if Iowa State is to make a seventh-straight NCAA tournament.
Devonte’ Graham (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

SURPRISING DEPARTURES

  • Al Freeman, Baylor: Freeman saw his role slashed last year, so it’s not entirely surprising, but losing an experienced and talented player like Freeman always stings.
  • Tevin Mack, Texas: He was Texas’ leading scorer last year, but seemed to find himself at odds with Shaka Smart. Texas has an infusion of talent coming, but losing Mack is losing production, even if it also means dispatching with some headaches
  • Carlton Bragg, Kansas: Maybe not so surprising after Bragg averaged 13.8 minutes per game last year, but definitely noteworthy as he’s a former top-25 recruit. Kansas should have plenty of frontcourt talent anyway.

COACHING CHANGES

  • Mike Boynton, Oklahoma State: Oklahoma State got one of the most coveted coaches on the market in 2016 when it pulled Brad Underwood from Stephen F. Austin. Then the Cowboys promptly lost him to Illinois reportedly largely over monetary concerns, and turned around and hired his assistant for a $1 million salary this upcoming season. Boynton may turn out to be a wildly successful head coach, but Oklahoma State certainly signaled that it doesn’t prioritize spending on basketball with this whole ordeal.

WAY-TOO-EARLY ALL-CONFERENCE PREDICTIONS

Devonte Graham, Kansas (Player of the Year)
Jevon Carter, West Virginia
Andrew Jones, Texas
Esa Ahmad, West Virginia
Mohammed Bamba, Texas

Bob Huggins (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

WAY-TOO-EARLY POWER RANKINGS

  1. Kansas: After 13-straight titles, this doesn’t need much explanation. The Jayhawks are, as always, the team to beat.
  2. West Virginia: Bob Huggins has turned Press Virginia from gimmick to way of life in Morgantown. The Mountaineers have plenty of turnover, but the talent, and coach, are still in place for a high league finish.
  3. Texas: The Longhorns looked like a team in the tier below the league’s top squads, but adding Mo Bamba late gives them the appearance of being a cut above. If Andrew Jones can take a big step forward as a sophomore and Matt Coleman can deliver at the point, Texas could be a very dangerous team.
  4. TCU: Jamie Dixon already had the Horned Frogs looking like a vastly improved group in Year 1, and he’s bringing just about everyone back in his second season. They might be light in high-end talent, but the continuity could go a long way.
  5. Texas Tech: Chris Beard may have been two overtime losses and two one-possession defeats in February away from getting the Red Raiders into the NCAA tournament last year. He’ll lose Anthony Livingston, but otherwise returns a solid core. Florida transfer Brandone Francis and DePaul transfer Tommy Hamilton IV might be the difference makers for Beard.
  6. Baylor: Losing Johnathan Motley early to the draft was a major loss for the Bears, but Manu Lecomte and Jo Lual-Acuil should keep Scott Drew and the Bears competitive.
  7. Oklahoma: Last year was a rough one for Oklahoma as it looked to rebuild after a Final Four season led by seniors, but it led to valuable experience for its young players. Now, Trae Young enters the fray hoping to take his hometown team back to the top-half of the Big 12.
  8. Iowa State: The Cyclones graduated four starters and six rotation players overall and will now be rebooting the roster in Year 3 under Steve Prohm. Iowa State is adding three well-regarded prep recruits, highlighted by five-star Lindell Wigginton, along with graduate transfers Hans Brase (Princeton) and Jeff Beverly (UTSA), but a step back seems inevitable.
  9. Kansas State: The Wildcats return some nice pieces in Kamau Stokes, Dean Wade and Barry Brown, but it’s going to be hard to make up for the losses of Wesley Iwundu and D.J. Johnson.
  10. Oklahoma State: Jeffrey Carroll is a potential all-league player, but the rest of the roster would suggest that the Cowboys will have their work cut out for them a year removed from making the NCAA tournament after an 0-6 start in the Big 12 under Brad Underwood, who now resides in Champaign, Ill.

College Basketball Conference Reset: The Big 12’s best players and biggest story lines

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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 12.

PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Frank Mason III, Kansas

Josh Jackson is the Jayhawks’ top draft prospect, but Mason is their most important, and though 12 games, their most productive. He’s shooting 50 percent from 3-point range and dishing out 4.7 assists while quarterbacking an offense that ranks in the KenPom top five. He’s the Big 12 player of the year and on the short list for contenders for national player of the year.

ALL BIG 12 FIRST TEAM

  • Frank Mason III, Kansas
  • Jawun Evans, Oklahoma State
  • Manu Lecomte, Baylor
  • Jo Lual-Acuil, Baylor
  • Johnathan Motley, Baylor

RESETS: ACC | Big Ten | Big East | Pac-12 | SEC | Big 12

WHAT WE’VE LEARNED

  • 1. The league is much better than anticipated: The thought coming into the season was that it was Kansas and everybody else. Well, the thought was it was like that more than it usually is in a league the Jayhawks have won 12-straight times. Instead, the league looks again as tough as any in the country and in some sense, maybe the deepest it has ever been. Baylor and West Virginia have established themselves as top-10 teams, but what’s maybe even more interesting is there appear to be no bottom feeders. TCU is vastly improved, and Oklahoma State looks for real. There doesn’t look to be an easy night on the schedule for anyone.
  • 2. The Scott Drew jokes have to stop: Drew has been among the sport’s favorite punching bags for some time. Whether it was questions about his high-level recruiting, his ability to turn talent to wins or his sometimes odd in-game decisions, there’s not much of a more mocked coach in the country. Rarely do his two Elite Eight appearances come into the conversation, and if they do, they’re qualified by an easy path. What about this Bears team, though? They’ve got one of, if not the, best resumes in the country with an undefeated record and wins over Oregon, Xavier and Louisville. And it’s not like Drew and the Bears are doing it with a ton of guys that topped recruiting boards. It’s more of a rag-tag group. Drew, and his guys, are getting it done.
  • 3. Press Virginia is maturing: When Bob Huggins pulled the handbrake on his program and quickly shifted directions into a full-court pressing team in 2014, it was unclear if Huggins would stick with it beyond that year or if it would even be sustainable. It’s looking like the Mountaineers are just starting to perfect it. Their turnover rate of 35 percent is by far the best of the Press Virginia era. Yes, it’ll come down in conference play, but that’s an astounding number.

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KEY STORY LINES IN LEAGUE PLAY

  • 1. Is there a contender to Kansas?: Probably not, right? Every year we ask this question and for the last 12, the answer has been no team has been good enough to knock off the Jayhawks. Tie them in some instances, yes, but never best. Baylor and West Virginia look like the real deal, but Kansas still would appear to be a tier better – plus they still play nine games at Allen Fieldhouse.
  • 2. Is the Big 12 still tops?: The conference has been the consensus top league in the country in recent years, but was expected to take a step back this season. The ACC might have more better teams, but it’s also got 14 members to the Big 12’s 10, which, as of Christmas day, all were ranked in the KenPom top-70. With Kansas carrying the banner, Baylor and West Virginia following closely behind and a host of solid squads, the Big 12 could once again be the country’s top league.
  • 3. How many bids?: Last season the league sent 70 percent of its members to the NCAA tournament. For that to be repeatable, Oklahoma State, Kansas State and Texas Tech all have to prove to be more than just good-looking records against soft schedules and none of the other league’s expected dancer can take a step back. It’s doable for the Big 12, but also a tall task.
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 25: Tarik Phillip #12 of the West Virginia Mountaineers talks with head coach Bob Huggins of the West Virginia Mountaineers against the Temple Owls in the second half during the championship game of the NIT Season Tip-Off at Barclays Center on November 25, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
Tarik Phillip (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

BETTER THAN THEIR RECORD: Oklahoma sits just a game above .500 with a 6-5 mark, but two have their losses have come in overtime, another two were by a combined seven points (and leading scorer Jordan Woodard missed one of those game) and then there was a 20-point loss to Wisconsin. If the Sooners can get Woodard back healthy, they’re good enough to compete for a top-half finish in the conference behind one of the country’s most underrated coaches, Lon Kruger.

BEAT SOMEONE AND WE’LL TALK: Chris Beard has led Texas Tech to an 11-1 record in his first year in Lubbock, but the schedule is as soft and nondescript as a blanket of snow. Right now, the Red Raiders’ top KenPom win is Rice, which is ranked 112th. Texas Tech might be OK-to-good, but its resume doesn’t reveal much.

COACH UNDER PRESSURE: Since sharing the league title in his first season of 2013, Bruce Weber and Kansas State have seen their fortunes steadily decrease over the last three seasons. Oklahoma State snapping up Wildcat alum Brad Underwood after his dominating run at Stephen F. Austin only ratcheted up the scrutiny. Weber has the Wildcats at 11-1 this season, but they don’t have anything close to a “good win.” The win total looks nice, but it’s not really indicative of much growth.

LAWRENCE, KS - DECEMBER 10: Josh Jackson #11 of the Kansas Jayhawks dunks he ball against the Nebraska Cornhuskers in the second half at Allen Field House on December 10, 2016 in Lawrence, Kansas. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
Josh Jackson (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)

POWER RANKINGS, POSTSEASON PREDICTIONS

Tourney teams

  • 1.Kansas: The Jayhawks continue to be the toast of the league and look every bit the part of a national title contender. The backcourt of Mason and Devonte Graham has been superb and while the loss of Udoka Azubuike (wrist) hurts the front line, Josh Jackson has been as good as advertised.
  • 2. Baylor: It’s been one of the best stories this season in the country as the Bears remain undefeated with some serious wins to their name. Despite not having the five-star recruits that powered the early part of his tenure, Scott Drew might have his best team in Waco.
  • 3. West Virginia: Bob Huggins just got win No. 800 for his career and has the Mountaineers looking like another Final Four possibility for Huggs. West Virginia’s success over the last three years is proof enough their new style of play is sustainable against even the best teams in the country. The Mountaineers will be one of the most difficult matchups for any team on its schedule.
  • 4. Oklahoma State: The return from injuries of Jawun Evans and Phil Forte has allowed first-year coach Brad Underwood to hit the ground running in Stillwater. The defense is still a concern, but the Cowboys look to have a formula that works.
  • 5. Iowa State: The Cyclones have struggled some to adjust to a post-George Niang world, but their defense has been markedly improved and the offense figures to catch up at some point. Iowa State really needs Monte Morris to be a bigger scorer and its wings to shoot it consistently from deep.
  • 6. Texas Tech: It’s been a Charmin-soft schedule for the Red Raiders, but their offense – especially their offensive rebounding – will probably translate enough to the Big 12 to put them in a position to hear their name called for a second-consecutive Selection Sunday.

NIT teams

  • 7. Oklahoma: The Sooners enter conference play on a down note of three-straight losses, but getting Jordan Woodard healthy should help them steer out of the skid and finish above .500.
  • 8. TCU: Jamie Dixon’s first season at his alma mater is making the school look smart for bringing him back home, but the schedule has allowed them to pile up wins without too much resistance. An NIT bid would be a nice start to his tenure with recruiting picking up.

Autobid or bust

  • 9. Kansas State: The Wildcats have exceeded expectations through the non-conference portion of their schedule but they haven’t been tested at all, either. Their younger players will certainly be put to the test in the grinding 18-game conference slate.
  • 10. Texas: How about this? Seeing the Longhorns struggle so mightily in Year 2 under Shaka Smart is pretty shocking, especially given he’s bringing McDonald’s All-Americans to Austin, but the total lack of guard play has been crippling to Texas. The Longhorns can’t really shoot it, either, which in basketball is a problem, I’m told. It’s hard to see them being able to correct that enough to climb the conference ladder.

College Basketball Conference Reset: The SEC’s best players and biggest story lines

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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 SEC.

PLAYER OF THE YEAR: De’Aaron Fox, Kentucky

Malik Monk is the guy that everyone loves on Kentucky. He’s the high-volume scorer, the shooter that can hit eight threes in a game and pop off for 47 points on national television against North Carolina. That performance was unbelievable. But Monk hasn’t played like that every game, while Fox has been terrific basically every night that he’s step foot on the court for the Wildcats. His numbers are terrific – 16.3 points, 6.8 assists, 5.0 boards, 1.8 steals – but it’s the totality of what he provides Kentucky that gets him the nod over Monk. He’s Kentucky’s engine offensively, particularly in their lethal transition game, and he’s arguably the best perimeter defender in the country. As good as Lonzo Ball and Frank Mason II have been, there’s an argument to be made that Fox has been the best point guard in college basketball.

ALL-BIG TEN FIRST TEAM

  • De’Aaron Fox, Kentucky
  • Malik Monk, Kentucky
  • P.J. Dozier, South Carolina
  • Sebastian Saiz, Ole Miss
  • Yante Maten, Georgia

RESETS: ACC | Big Ten | Big EastPac-12 | SEC | Big 12

WHAT WE’VE LEARNED

  1. Kentucky is going to steam-roll through the league: This has more to do with Kentucky than it does the SEC, although the fact that the SEC is the weakest of the power conferences is a good thing for the Wildcats. But regardless of the reason, the Wildcats are the safest bet of any team in any league to win their conference. And that is a good thing for John Calipari, because it should afford him plenty of chances to try and cure what ails his team. Their biggest issue at this point is perimeter shooting because Cal is still figuring out how to effectively work Mychal Mulder and Derek Willis into the rotation. The other issue is Bam Adebayo, who has shown flashes of dominance but has been more or less anonymous for the first six weeks of the season. The Wildcats already are Final Four good, and they can still get better.
  2. A full strength South Carolina is the second-best team in the conference: The Gamecocks were terrific through the first month of the season, posting a perfect record and dominating the likes of Michigan and Syracuse. They are tough, they are athletic, they defend and they have a pair of really talented guards in Sindarius Thornwell and P.J. Dozier. All in all, Frank Martin’s club is just a misery to play against, as Frank Martin clubs tend to be.
  3. The young talent in the conference needs more time to mature: Entering the season, there were three teams that were really intriguing given the amount of talent that had joined the program: Texas A&M, Mississippi State and Auburn. The Aggies should be good enough to earn themselves an NCAA tournament bid despite the fact that they are playing without a point guard, but both the Bulldogs and the Tigers look like they’re a year away from getting Bruce Pearl and Ben Howland back into the NCAA tournament.
NASHVILLE, TN - MARCH 13: Yante Maten #1 of the Georgia Bulldogs shoots the ball against the South Carolina Gamecocks during the quarterfinals of the SEC Basketball Tournament at Bridgestone Arena on March 13, 2015 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Yante Maten (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

KEY STORY LINES IN LEAGUE PLAY

  1. So how many SEC teams are going to get bids to the NCAA tournament?: Kentucky’s going dancing, that’s for sure. Beyond that? Nothing is a given. Part of the reason is that the league, has a whole, did not land many great non-conference wins. Kentucky picked off North Carolina. Beyond that? South Carolina has wins over Syracuse and Michigan, Florida beat Seton Hall and Miami, Arkansas beat Texas, Georgia beat Georgia Tech, Ole Miss beat Memphis, Texas A&M beat … Denver. What that means is that, as of today, not only are these SEC teams in a bad spot today, there are only so many quality wins available in conference play. Just how much can you improve your résumé if you don’t land a win over the Wildcats? The league sent three teams to the tournament last season. Can they better that number this year?
  2. When will Sindarius Thornwell return?: Thornwell was deservedly in the conversation for all-americans seven games into the season, averaging 18.7 points, 6.1 boards and 4.3 assists. But then he got suspended for an offseason arrest, and the Gamecocks have gone just 2-2 in his absence. Yes, it’s given a chance for P.J. Dozier to shine, but if Thornwell is out for any significant amount of time, South Carolina is going to have a significantly lower ceiling than they would otherwise.
  3. Is there a challenger to Kentucky in the conference?: If there is going to be one, it’s going to be South Carolina. But we won’t have an answer to that until we know when the Gamecocks will be back to 100 percent. Even then, in order for Kentucky to blow the league title, something weird is going to have to happen.

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BETTER THAN THEIR RECORD: Georgia is checking in at 8-4 on the season, which is the kind of non-conference record that is usually reserved for teams that are going to be mired somewhere near the bottom of a power conference. The Bulldogs are better than that – J.J. Frazier is one of the better point guards in the conference and Yante Maten is one of the best big men in the country – but just how much “better than that” they are depends on just how good their supporting cast ends up being.

BEAT SOMEONE AND WE’LL TALK: Four games into the season, Arkansas went to Minnesota and lost by 14 points. At that point, it looked like the Razorbacks were destined for another .500 season, but fast forward a month and that is still the only loss Arkansas has suffered while Minnesota is sitting at 12-1. Moses Kingsley hasn’t been as good as he was as a junior, but that may be a good thing for Mike Anderson’s club as they look to be more balanced.

COACH UNDER PRESSURE: Kim Anderson climbed out of a coffin at Missouri’s Midnight Madness, which is not the imagery that a coach who won 19 games in his first two seasons and went 6-30 in the SEC in that span wants to invoke. The Tigers have already lost to NC Central and Eastern Illinois this season. Yikes.

LAS VEGAS, NV - DECEMBER 17: Malik Monk #5 of the Kentucky Wildcats drives against Kenny Williams #24 of the North Carolina Tar Heels during the CBS Sports Classic at T-Mobile Arena on December 17, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
Malik Monk (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

POWER RANKINGS, POSTSEASON PREDICTIONS

Tourney teams

  • 1. Kentucky: What else is their left to say about the Wildcats? They are a second consistent three-point shooter away from being an absolute terror. The good thing about playing in the SEC is that they shouldn’t have their chances of a No. 1 seed hurt if they focus on developing the likes of Bam Adebayo, Wenyen Gabriel, Mychal Mulder and Derek Willis.
  • 2. South Carolina: The Gamecocks are a misery to play against. They’re as tough and physical defensively as every Frank Martin team has been, but this group actually has some skill of the offensive end of the floor. P.J. Dozier has been fantastic this month, but the Gamecocks have a ceiling if they don’t get Thornwell back.
  • 3. Florida: I’m still trying to figure out this Florida team. They have the pieces that would allow them to thrive in Mike White’s system and they have some impressive computer numbers, but this was the case last season as well. The on-court product has yet to match the on-paper potential.
  • 4. Texas A&M: The Aggies are a point guard short of being really good. They have a really good front line – namely Tyler Davis and Robert Williams – and some solid shooters around them, but they don’t have a playmaker to set the table. The Aggies are in a tough spot in terms of getting a tournament bid after a non-conference season where they lost close games to Arizona, UCLA and USC.

NIT teams

  • 5. Georgia: The Bulldogs have the best one-two punch in the league this side of Kentucky in J.J. Frazier and Yante Maten,
  • 6. Arkansas: The Razorbacks are the great unknown in the SEC. They have a gaudy 11-1 record but they haven’t really beaten anyone that would make you believe that record is real. They could finish under-.500 in the league and they also could finish second in the league.
  • 7. Ole Miss: I like this Rebel team. Sebastian Saiz might be the best big man in the conference, but as long as Deandre Burnett has these bouts of inconsistency, Ole Miss has a ceiling.
  • 8. Auburn: The loss to Boston College is worrying, but with wins over Oklahoma and at UConn – and the recent addition of Austin Wiley – there’s reason to be bullish on the Tigers as we head into conference play.

Autobid or bust

  • 9. Tennessee: The Vols actually looked pretty good at North Carolina, when they had a chance to knock off the Tar Heels on the final possession. Four of their five losses this season have come to Wisconsin, Oregon, North Carolina and Gonzaga.
  • 10. Alabama: The Crimson Tide have played a pretty difficult schedule, but the only win of note that they have to date came against Arkansas State. It seems fitting that a team coached by Avery Johnson doesn’t have anyone averaging double-figures.
  • 11. Vanderbilt: The Commodores are sitting at 6-6 on the season, but they’ve had some promising performances of late, beating Chattanooga and losing by five at Dayton.
  • 12. Mississippi State: The Bulldogs got a boost last month when it turned out that Quinndary Weatherspoon didn’t actually need season-ending wrist surgery. That doesn’t, however, change the fact that this is a very young roster that Ben Howland is working with.
  • 13. LSU: The Tigers have a 35-point loss to Wichita State and a 36-point home loss to Wake Forest on their résumé.
  • 14. Missouri: During Missouri’s midnight madness festivities, Missouri head coach Kim Anderson made the decision to climb out of a coffin to introduce the crowd. I wonder at what point he’ll realize the symbolism.

College Basketball Conference Reset: The Pac-12’s best players and biggest story lines

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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 Pac 12.

PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Lonzo Ball, UCLA

This really shouldn’t be much of a discussion. He’s done so much to revamp who this UCLA program is, and it goes beyond the simple fact that he’s averaging 8.3 assists per game. There’s an unselfishness that has permeated this roster. Players are more likely to give the ball up because they know they’re going to get it back again. He’s the engine that makes their fast break offense work and he’s the reason why they are so difficult to defend in the half court. Throw in the fact that the Bruins are one of the five or six teams everyone has listed as a national title favorite, and he’s a shoe-in for this award.

ALL-PAC 12 FIRST TEAM

  • Markelle Fultz, Washington
  • Lonzo Ball, UCLA
  • Jordan McLaughlin, USC
  • Lauri Markkanen, Arizona
  • T.J. Leaf, UCLA

RESETS: ACC | Big Ten | Big EastPac-12 | SEC | Big 12

WHAT WE’VE LEARNED

  1. UCLA is awesome: Entering the season, the Bruins were one of the toughest teams to peg. It wasn’t hard to see them putting together this kind of a season, but it also wasn’t hard to see Lonzo Ball failing to acclimate to the college level while the Bruins continued to struggle defensively. A Final Four was always in their range of outcomes. So was a sub-.500 season, and if we’ve learned anything in the first six weeks of the season, it’s that the Bruins are decidedly the former. The biggest reason? Their ability to score. Not only do they play as fast as anyone, but they are one of the most efficient offensive teams in the sport, which is what tends to happen when you surround Ball with four guys shooting better than 39.3 percent from three.
  2. Oregon lost more than we realized they did: The Ducks are going to return to relevancy as Dillon Brooks returns to 100 percent, but there is no question that we underestimated just how valuable Elgin Cook and Dwayne Benjamin were to Dana Altman’s program. While the Ducks still have the talented weapons offensively, losing the kind of versatility and athleticism those two brought was not easy to replace.
  3. USC may not own LA, but Andy Enfield has another good team: Last year, the Trojans were the best program – and maybe the best basketball team – in LA. This year, with the way that the Bruins and the Lakers have played, they certainly are not, but that hasn’t slowed down Andy Enfield’s program. Despite losing Julian Jacobs and Nikola Jovanovic, and with Bennie Boatwright dealing with injury for much of the early part of the season, USC will enter league play without a loss to their name. Jordan McLaughlin has been terrific, but it’s been the emergence of players like Elijah Stewart and De’Anthony Melton that have really made the difference.
TUCSON, AZ - DECEMBER 20: Lauri Markkanen #10 of the Arizona Wildcats reacts after hitting a three point shot against the New Mexico Lobos during the second half of the college basketball game at McKale Center on December 20, 2016 in Tucson, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Lauri Markkanen (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

KEY STORY LINES IN LEAGUE PLAY

  1. Arizona is getting better even if they don’t get Allonzo Trier back: What Arizona has done given the amount of turmoil surrounding that program has been impressive. They lost Ray Smith for the year to year another torn ACL. They never got Terrence Ferguson on campus. Parker Jackson-Cartwright will be out for a while with an ankle injury. And yet, the Wildcats are 11-2 on the year and trending in the right direction. The big question now is whether or not Allonzo Trier will figure out his issues and be cleared to play at any point this season.
  2. Who’s the second-best team in the Pac-12?: UCLA is the best team in the league. We all know that. I think everyone in the Pac-12 would agree. Who is the second-best? Entering the season, Oregon was thought to be the best team in the league. Arizona was up there as well, but that was before the injuries and suspensions. USC wasn’t in the conversation but it’s impossible to ignore their start to the year. It’s certainly one of those three teams. But which one?
  3. Does Washington have any chance of turning this thing around?: Markelle Fultz is a ridiculous talent having a ridiculous individual season. But he’s stuck on a roster that doesn’t have enough talent, experience, defensive effort or coaching to beat Yale, Nevada or TCU (twice). Those aren’t bad basketball teams or programs, but they’re not the kind of teams that Washington and Fultz should be losing to.

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BETTER THAN THEIR RECORD: I still think that Oregon has a chance to be a Final Four team. Dana Altman is as good as any coach in the country at finding a way to get the most out of his roster, and by the time the Ducks are playing their first league game on Wednesday, Dillon Brooks should be back to 100 percent.

BEAT SOMEONE AND WE’LL TALK: USC is one of just six undefeated teams left in college basketball, and as impressive as that is to say in the days after Christmas, I’m still not sure just how good the Trojans are. Is this a team that can actually compete for the Pac-12 title, or have they gotten the job done against a schedule that probably isn’t as good as it looks on paper? I’d lean towards the former, but we’ll know for sure on Friday, when USC pays a visit to Eugene to take on the Ducks.

COACH UNDER PRESSURE: Washington head coach Lorenzo Romar hasn’t been to the NCAA tournament in the last five seasons, and during those five seasons, he has sent five players to the first round of the NBA Draft. This year he has the potential No. 1 pick on his roster in Markelle Fultz and he appears destined for the NIT, at best. It’s impressive for a head coach at a high major program to be able to last five years without a trip to the NCAA tournament. It’s almost unheard of to go six years, especially when that includes six first round picks and the No. 1 overall pick.

EUGENE, OR - DECEMBER 11: Dillon Brooks #24 of the Oregon Ducks drives to the basket on Riley Norris #1 of the Alabama Crimson Tide during the first half of the game at Matthew Knight Arena on December 11, 2016 in Eugene, Oregon. (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)
Dillon Brooks #24 (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)

POWER RANKINGS, POSTSEASON PREDICTIONS

Tourney teams

  • 1. UCLA: What else is there to say about the Bruins that hasn’t been said yet? How about this: Aaron Holiday, their sixth-man, is the third-best player on the Bruin roster.
  • 2. Arizona: Playing without Allonzo Trier and Ray Smith, the Wildcats have been pretty impressive this season Lauri Markkanen lived up to the hype while Kobi Simmons and Rawle Alkins have developed into quality pieces. Sean Miller is getting a lot out of the limited pieces he has available. If they get Trier back, the Wildcats might actually be something.
  • 3. Oregon: The Ducks had a slow start to the year as they tried to work Dillon Brooks back from an injury. They’ve won nine in a row since a rough trip to Maui and will have a real test in their Pac-12 opener against UCLA.
  • 4. USC: The Trojans lost their only two seniors, both starters, this offseason, but that hasn’t mattered, as they are currently sitting at 13-0 this season. The most impressive part? Bennie Boatwright has basically been a non-factor this season, meaning the Trojans have done all this with just three players that played a second for USC in a game before this season.
  • 5. Colorado: The difference between the Buffaloes and some of the other teams that look destined for the NIT is that Colorado landed a win over Xavier during non-conference play. Combine that with the fact that the trip to the Mountain time zone is the most difficult in the league, and the Buffs are in a good spot to get back to the dance.

NIT teams

  • 6. Utah: Kyle Kuzma has been awesome all season long while Lorenzo Bonam has looked solid, but the difference for this team has been the addition of David Collette and Sedrick Barefield, who are both averaging better than 15 points since getting eligible four games ago.
  • 7. Cal: The Bears had a chance to poach an elite win at home against Virginia and let it slip away. Ivan Rabb hasn’t taken the step forward that many expected of him.
  • 8. Stanford: Reid Travis has been arguably the best big man in the conference this season, but this year looks like it going to be something of a work in progress for the Cardinal in Jerod Haase’s first season.

Autobid or bust

  • 9. Washington: The Huskies have the most talented player in college basketball on their roster and look like they’re destined for the NIT at best. It will be a shame if Markelle Fultz never plays a meaningful college basketball game on national television, because he is so talented.
  • 10. Arizona State: The Sun Devils were obliterated by Kentucky and Purdue on neutral courts, and then were called out by their head coach for not being tough enough. That probably won’t be the last time Bobby Hurley isn’t happy with his team’s play.
  • 11. Oregon State: The Beavers could end up being in last place in the league this season depending on when they get Tres Tinkle back from his wrist injury.
  • 12. Washington State: The Cougars are going to enter league play above .500 on the season, which is a positive and wasn’t a guarantee entering the year.

College Basketball Conference Reset: The Big East’s best players and biggest story lines

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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: Josh Hart, Villanova

Josh Hart, who began the season as the Big East preseason Player of the Year, has established himself as arguably the favorite for national player of the year honors. The 6-foot-5 senior wing, one of the best two-way players in the nation, is averaging 20.1 points, 6.6 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game. He recorded a triple-double (16 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists) against St. Joseph’s, scored a career-best 37 points against then-No. 23 Notre Dame, and helped neutralize the size of then-No. 15 Purdue en route to 24 points in a notable road win earlier in the season.

ALL BIG EAST FIRST TEAM

  • Josh Hart, Villanova
  • Trevon Bluiett, Xavier
  • Khadeen Carrington, Seton Hall
  • Kelan Martin, Butler
  • Maurice Watson Jr., Creighton

RESETS: ACC | Big Ten | Big East | Pac-12 | SEC | Big 12

WHAT WE’VE LEARNED

  1. Big East non-conference was impressive again: It seems to be this time every year, we talk about how well the Big East as a whole performed during the non-conference slate. This year is no different. The Big East will enter conference play with 40 percent of the league ranked in the top-20. Villanova, Creighton, Butler and Creighton have combined for a 45-3 record. The Musketeers own two of those losses — back-to-back L’s to Baylor and Colorado. The worst of those defeats was Butler’s true road loss to Indiana State. In addition to the win-loss records, Villanova, Creighton, Butler and Xavier all captured early-season tournaments.
  2. Villanova has a chance to repeat: No team in college basketball has repeated a national champions since Billy Donovan’s Florida Gators in 2006-07. You could make the case that this Villanova team, despite the graduation of Ryan Archidiacono and Daniel Ochefu, has the best chance to go back-to-back since the Gators. Josh Hart has emerged as a national player of the year candidate, the star in an offense that is ranked the most efficient in the nation this season, according to kenpom. The Wildcats were top-5 in both offensive and defensive efficiency a season ago. They are currently top-15 in both heading into the holiday weekend. The Wildcats also showed the versatility to defeat Purdue’s massive frontline, as well as the defensive prowess to hold Notre Dame to 25 points in a come-from-behind win. Both those marquee wins came away from the Pavilion.
  3. Creighton is appointment viewing: Many were bullish on Creighton entering the season, and so far, the Bluejays are proving them right. This is the most talented team Greg McDermott has had in Omaha, led by the backcourt of Maurice Watson Jr. and Kansas State transfer Marcus Foster. Khyri Thomas has made the jump as a sophomore, while redshirt big man Justin Patton has exceeded expectations. The Bluejays have scored 80 or more points in nine of their 12 games and is the best 3-point shooting team in the land at 45 percent. This team is fun to watch to put it simply.
OMAHA, NE - NOVEMBER 15: Maurice Watson Jr. #10 of the Creighton Bluejays drives to the hoop past Jordan Hill #11 of the Wisconsin Badgers during their game at the CenturyLink Center on November 15, 2016 in Omaha, Nebraska. (Photo by Eric Francis/Getty Images)
Maurice Watson Jr. (Photo by Eric Francis/Getty Images)

KEY STORY LINES IN LEAGUE PLAY

  1. Will anyone dethrone Villanova?: Since the relaunch of the Big East, Villanova, the nation’s current top-ranked team, has been sitting on the throne. In three seasons, the Wildcats are 48-6, winning regular season titles in each of those years. Creighton, like in 2013-14, will attempt to sit atop the conference standings. The Bluejays’ high-octane offense will make for two must-see matchups with Villanova. Xavier should also be a contender again, especially when Myles Davis returns from indefinite suspension. Butler, with an improved defense, also won’t be overlooked.
  2. Will another team take advantage of the home-and-home conference schedule?: The Big East has benefited from a home-and-home series since its relaunch. It allows for teams needing to boost its tournament resume with another contest with a ranked opponent. In 2015, St. John’s was able to overcome a 1-4 Big East start with three wins against ranked teams in February. Albeit not a great example since Seton Hall won the Big East Conference tournament title, but the Pirates bolstered its tournament profile with a late-season win over No. 5 Xavier. The Big East enters league play with four teams ranked. For teams like Georgetown and Providence, that could be eight games against top-25 teams. That could mean the difference between an at-large bid and a spot in the NIT.
  3. Xavier’s 3-point shooting: The Musketeers have struggled shooting the ball during the non-conference, primarily J.P. Macura and Edmond Sumner. Following back-to-back road losses to Baylor and Colorado, Xavier won three straight, connecting on 47 percent from three in a win over Utah and knocking down 11-of-25 from distance in a rout against Eastern Washington in the non-conference finale. The real hope for the perimeter shooting woes depends upon the return of Myles Davis, the senior guard who has been serving an indefinite suspension since September. Davis, who would also provide another ball handler for Xavier, has shot 38 percent over the past two seasons.

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BETTER THAN THEIR RECORD: As mentioned above, I think Myles Davis is Xavier’s X-factor. He’s a fifth-year senior who can provide shooting and ball handling, helping alleviate the load carried by Edmond Sumner and J.P. Macura. Moreover, RaShid Gaston, the transfer who needed to fill the production of both Jalen Reynolds and James Farr, is averaging 9.2 points and 8.0 rebounds per game, with a pair of double-doubles, in December. Kaiser Gates, a 6-foot-8 forward pegged to make the jump as a sophomore, missed the first five games of the season due to injury but finished the non-conference on a high-note: 12 points, off 4-of-7 from three, in a win over Eastern Washington. Expect Xavier to make this a three-team race with Villanova and Creighton.

BEAT SOMEONE AND WE’LL TALK: Providence is better than their projected ninth-place finish. Providence has a win over Rhode Island, a team that was ranked No. 21 in the nation at the time. However, that win doesn’t look quite as good as the Rams are 3-3 in their final six non-conference games. The Friars are 10-2, and their rivalry win over URI serves as their only top-50 win, per kenpom.com. Providence also enter Big East play on the heels of what Ed Cooley called, “probably the worst loss since I’ve been at Providence College.” While you could make the case it was a trap game — a road game at the end of the non-conference slate and the fall semester — Boston College dominated offensively en route to a 79-67 win. The Eagles had previously lost to Nicholls State, Hartford and Fairfield, just two days prior, on the same floor.

COACH UNDER PRESSURE: Georgetown lost home games to Radford, Monmouth and UNC Asheville last season en route to a 15-18 (7-11 Big East) finish. Fans must have felt a sense of deja vu when Arkansas State dominated the Hoyas in a wire-to-wire 78-72 win on Nov. 17. The Hoyas have bounced back, defeating rival Syracuse — which has struggled as well — during a six-game win streak heading into Big East play. But still, John Thompson III and Co. have an uphill battle to avoid missing out on the NCAA Tournament for the second straight season, and for the third time in four years.

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - DECEMBER 17: Kelan Martin #30 of the Butler Bulldogs dribbles the ball during the 83-78 win over the Indiana Hoosiers during the Crossroads Classic at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on December 17, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Kelan Martin (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

POWER RANKINGS, POSTSEASON PREDICTIONS

Tourney teams

  • 1. Villanova: There isn’t really much to say here. The Big East is a top heavy conference overall, but there really isn’t any way to pick against the Wildcats winning the league. They’ve won three straight regular season titles. They’ve lost two league games in each of the last three years. They’re the reigning national champs and they have the league’s best player on the roster in Josh Hart. Villanova is as sure of a bet to win the Big East as Kentucky is to win the SEC.
  • 2. Creighton: The Bluejays are a thrilling team. They play fast, they spread the floor, they shoot the leather off the ball and they have as good of a back court as anyone in college basketball. Throw in the fact that Justin Patton is morphing into a first round draft pick before our eyes, and Creighton may be better than the team that featured Doug McDermott.
  • 3. Xavier: It’s tough to truly have a feel of who Xavier is at this point, but the bottom line is this: They are one of the most talented teams in the conference and they can defend as well as anyone in the league. Their issue is perimeter shooting and a stagnating offense.
  • 4. Butler: The Bulldogs are the surprise of the league. I think we all figured they could get back to the NCAA tournament, but Butler looks like a legitimate top 15 team at this point. Who had that back in November?
  • 5. Seton Hall: The Pirates are one of those teams that just seem like a nightmare to play against. They have tough, athletic veterans that play as hard as anyone in the country. Khadeen Carrington and Desi Rodriguez are both underrated, and Angel Delgado is one of the best rebounders in college basketball.

NIT teams

  • 6. Providence: The Friars are interesting. They are 10-2 heading into conference play but their only really notable win came against a Rhode Island team that isn’t as good as we thought they would be. Rodney Bullock and Kyron Cartwright look like the new Ben Bentil and Kris Dunn.
  • 7. Marquette: Steve Wojciechowski has already had two players transfer out of the program during the middle of the season. The Golden Eagles have a lot of good pieces, but we’re still waiting to find out if those pieces fit.
  • 8. Georgetown: The Hoyas have, once again, lost a couple of games they probably shouldn’t have lost, but they also own a win at Syracuse, which, at the least, will give them bragging rights in that rivalry for some time.

Autobid or bust

  • 9. DePaul: The Blue Demons seem to battle a constant uphill battle towards relevancy.
  • 10. St. John’s: The Johnnies were the easy pick for last place in the Big East … until they went into the Carrier Dome and pasted Syracuse by 33 points. Now we at least have to think about whether or not they’re the worst team in the league.