The Big East has been one of the most disappointing conferences in the country this season.
UConn lost to Central Florida over the weekend after spending their first five games of the year struggling to put away their season-opening cupcakes. With Alex Oriakhi struggling and neither Shabazz Napier or Jeremy Lamb ready to play the role of the star for the Huskies, it was only a matter of time until UConn blew a lead and lost a game. The same can be said for Pitt, who lost to Long Beach State and followed that up with an underwhelming performance against La Salle. The Panthers have always been a good-but-not-great defensive team. This year, they are currently sitting at 156th in the country in defensive efficiency.
That’s not it, either.
West Virginia dropped a game to Kent State. Cincinnati’s dropped two, to Presbyterian and Marshall. Notre Dame was blown out by Missouri, lost to Georgia and then lost Tim Abromaitis for the season with a torn acl. St. John’s basically did away with their impressive start by losing two close games to Arizona and Texas A&M before losing by 14 to Northeastern over the weekend. Louisville has remained undefeated, but they have done so while battling injuries to what feels like 75% of their roster.
I’d go as far as to say that Georgetown, who lost to Kansas in the Maui Invitational and needed overtime to beat Memphis, has been the most impressive team in the conference. And they haven’t even been impressive enough to warrant a place in the top 25.
Perhaps the most disappointing team in the Big East this year has been Villanova.
The Wildcats were one of the favorites to win the 76 Classic out in Anaheim this weekend, but left the west coast with a 1-2 record and a pair of ugly losses. After building up a 26-16 lead just 10 minutes into their semifinal game against St. Louis, Villanova completely collapsed. They allowed the Billikens to shoot 14-27 from beyond the arc and eventually ended up losing the game 80-68.
The loss to Santa Clara was even more puzzling. Villanova was up nine with three minutes left and up seven with just over a minute left, but they managed to give the game away down the stretch. They twice missed the front-end of a one-and-one, and after a controversial foul with under 10 seconds left — the Villanova bench was told that they had a foul to give with 10 seconds left when, in fact, they were already in the bonus — Villanova’s JayVaughn Pinkston committed fouled a Santa Clara player 75 feet from the basket trying to chase down a missed FT. The Broncs hit both free throws and took a 65-64 lead with 3.5 seconds left. Villanova could only muster a half-court prayer that bounced harmlessly off the backboard.
What’s the issue for the Wildcats?
Well, for starters, their defense just simply isn’t there. What made Villanova so special during their run to the Final Four was that they were able to completely lock down their opponents with their switching man-to-man defense. Their roster make up this season is quite similar to that of the 2008-2009 team. But the results — Villanova currently sits at 101st in defensive efficiency — haven’t been there yet this season.
The Wildcats have also looked terrible offensively. Their offense is stagnant. Maalik Wayns is having a good year as a penetrator and a creator, but he needs help. After a terrific start to the season, Dominic Cheek went just 4-21 from the floor and scored only 17 points in the three games out in Anaheim. As good as Mouphtaou Yarou was against Santa Clara, he was that bad against St. Louis. Even Wayns has a couple of issues he needs to work out, particularly protecting the ball on the offensive end of the floor and extending his range beyond the three point line.
The good news is that this group is young. Wayns, Yarou and Cheek are all juniors playing their first minutes in a starring role. The supporting cast is made up almost entirely of freshmen and sophomores.
This group has a lot to learn, yes.
But there is still plenty of time for them to figure it out.
Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @ballinisahabit.