2018-19 Big East expert picks: Predicted order of finish, overrated and underrated teams at mid-term
Is slumping Villanova still the best team? CBS Sports' expert panel makes their top-to-bottom picks for a conference in flux
The Big East has totaled 28 bids to the NCAA Tournament since 2013-14. That comes to 5.6 dance tickets per season.
Will the league hit the over or the under on that average in 2019?
It's a question no one can answer with much conviction at this stage. The Big East is a hodgepodge. There is no for-sure great team we can point to now, but collectively, the conference has some good things going for it. For example, it's the best league from deep. The Big East is shooting 37.02 percent from 3-pint range, the best of any conference in college basketball. That's led to some enjoyable scoring; the Big East is putting up 78.3 points per game, fourth-highest in college basketball.
But, as expected, it's been a dip of a season for the Big East. The conference hasn't depressed the way the Pac-12 or Atlantic 10 or Mountain West have, but because flagship Villanova has regressed, perception of the league has taken a hit. The metrics back it up as well. The Big East ranks fifth in KenPom -- its lowest since 2013-14, the first season the Big East morphed to 10 teams -- and fifth in Sagarin and only has one team (Marquette) currently in the top 25 of the NET.
As you'll see below with our expert picks, Villanova's success in recent seasons is still carrying weight. Marquette rates as the best team in most metrics, St. John's is still undefeated -- but Jay Wright's Wildcats are getting the benefit of the doubt. Here's how our crew envisions the Big East playing out by March. The predictions reflect how unpredictable this league is. Teams slotted third through eighth feel interchangeable.
St. John's remains undefeated, Marquette has looked the strongest overall, but Villanova is still getting the respect of a program that's won the Big East four of the past five seasons. Jay Wright's team is reconstructing itself after losing four NBA picks, but the culture and 3 point-oriented offense could put the Wildcats atop the Big East once more. It all comes down to guard play.
Most overrated: Creighton
Not an easy pick here, but since Villanova's been a high-profile stumbling team, I'll pick Creighton. The Bluejays (84.8 points) are the conference's highest-scoring squad, led by a league-best 12.2 3s per game. That's been nice, and needed, but with an 8-4 record you look a bit closer and see that they haven't amassed much on the dossier.
There's a nice neutral-court win over Clemson, but I'm a bit surprised this team is No. 39 at KenPom, No. 44 at Sagarin and No. 45 in KPI. (A very good strength of schedule is helping matters, and I do acknowledge Greg McDermott's ambition there. I love to see this.)
I'm not yet a believer that this is a top-50 team in college hoops. It has one top-100 win and has fallen to the four toughest teams it's faced by an average of 13.0 points. In order to feel secure in making the NCAA Tournament, I think every Big East team needs to target at least 12 wins in the league -- conference tournament play included -- and I don't see Creighton reaching that threshold.
Most underrated: St. John's
Oh, it's an easy call. The Red Storm are still undefeated (12-0), one of only five teams left in college hoops without a scar and are still yet to crack the top 25 in the polls or the top 30 of any prediction-based metrics. So yeah, they're the most underrated for me.
The Johnnies boast a +14.3 scoring margin, best in the Big East and in fact they're only team in the league in the top 50 nationally in that category. The Red Storm are also No. 1 in the conference, and the only school in the top 50, in steals per game (9.2). Because they've been so good at swiping the ball, Chris Mullins' team is +6.3 in turnover margin, one of the best rates in the nation. The Red Storm have played a weak nonconference schedule, which has led to them being undervalued.
Chris Mullin is in his fourth season as the coach of his alma mater. The first three all ended under .500. That won't be the case in 2019. St. John's (12-0) could finish with as little as 20 or as many as 27 wins by the time the NCAA Tournament starts. And yes, this team is going to be in the field of 68. It's too talented not to break through, particularly since the Big East is good-not-great this season.
Player of the Year: Markus Howard, Marquette
Marquette's Markus Howard is the runaway choice at the mid-term mark. He's the best player and shooter on a team that put up 79.6 points per game. Howard is averaging 25.0 points, 4.5 assists, 4.3 rebounds, is shooting 40.2 percent from 3-point range and has a true shooting percentage of 59.9. His PER checks in at a quality 26.0, according to College Basketball Reference.
Howard is No. 8 in KenPom.com's Player of Year algorithm, sandwiched between Tennessee's Grant Williams and Murray State's Ja Morant, both of whom I'd have alongside Howard in my top five overall NPOY list through eight weeks of the season.
Howard's unbelievable 40-point eruption in the second half against Buffalo on Dec. 21 was a true rarity. Scoring 40 in a game in college basketball is uncommon. Forty in a half? Practically unheard of.
Coach of the Year: Steve Wojciechowski, Marquette
The 10-2 Golden Eagles are the only team ranked from the Big East in the AP Top 25. Marquette coach Steve Wojciechowski has a star in Howard, but he's also built/recruited a roster that boasts a lot of options and talent. Sam Hauser and Joey Hauser are dependable, while Ed Morrow and Joseph Chartouny have adapted well after coming in as transfers.
If any team is going to overthrow Villanova, Marquette's going to be the majority pick. It's eked out overtime wins against Louisville and Wisconsin, plus has wins over Buffalo and Kansas State. The losses are rough but mostly understandable: a blown lead in Brooklyn to Kansas and a 23-point loss at Indiana. Wojciechowski is not coaching for his job this season, no way, but he's put the program in a spot to make the NCAA Tournament, which if/when it happens would mark the second time in his five seasons the Golden Eagles got there.
Freshman of the Year: A.J. Reeves, Providence
Good competition for this one. Villanova's Saddiq Bey, Creighton's Marcus Zegarowski, Marquette's Joey Hauser and Georgetown's frosh duo of Mac McClung and James Akinjo (Georgetown's at a Big East-best 16.8 assists per game) have all been quality players to this point. It's a solid sign for the league's future, as none of those players figure to be one-and-doners. But Providence's A.J. Reeves has been the best freshmen in the Big East to this point. He is on the mend, though, after suffering a foot injury early in December. He's expected to be back for the Friars by mid-January.
If Reeves returns to full health and continues from his pace prior to the injury, Providence's roster should be strong enough to make the NCAA Tournament for a sixth straight season.
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