Surprise Villanova leads reformed league
One shot from a point guard in a slump has helped change the perception of the new Big East.
Ryan Arcidiacono has been in a shooting funk before Villanova coach Jay Wright drew up a play for him in the waning seconds against Kansas in the Battle 4 Atlantis. Arcidiacono hit the 3 to beat Kansas, moving Villanova to the final against Iowa.
The pair of wins is the shining moment this season for a Big East still finding its way. The league will have its share of NCAA Tournament teams, but no team in the league has a single win as good as as the pair Villanova picked up in the Bahamas.
We can’t call the league a disappointment, though. Doug McDermott remains an All-America candidate. Georgetown remains in contention despite the departure of Greg Whittington. Xavier is poised to make a run in the NCAA Tournament despite missing the postseason a year ago. Preseason favorite Marquette has four losses, but those have come against four quality teams, including two who remain undefeated.
Early Season Report Card: Big East
Bubble watch: Marquette, Butler
Best win: Villanova 63, Kansas 59
Worst loss: Fairleigh Dickinson 58, Seton Hall 54
Power rankings so far
7. St. John’s
10. Seton Hall
Important non-conference games remaining
Georgetown at Kansas (Dec. 21)
Xavier at Alabama (Dec. 21)
Marquette vs. New Mexico (Dec. 21)
Cal at Creighton (Dec. 22)
Villanova at Providence (Dec. 28)
In the year of superstar freshmen, Doug McDermott remains one of the few upperclassmen in National Player of the Year contention. McDermott has done what he’s done throughout his career, averaging a Big East-best 25.3 points per game. A couple of question marks though: McDermott is averaging a career-low — but still very good — 50.3 percent form the floor. And George Washington may have given McDermott’s new Big East completion some ideas on limiting the Creighton forward. McDermott had trouble finding his shot in a 2-of-12 performance against the Colonials.
Top freshman: Myles Davis, Xavier
The Big East is not a league flush with high-profile freshmen. The top-scoring freshman in the league ranks 24th and plays for DePaul. Davis, though, has become a key rotation player for Xavier with a knack for the big shot. The 6-2 guard hit two 3-pointers in overtime to avoid a bad loss to Bowling Green in addition to a 3-pointer during the decisive run against Cincinnati. Davis is averaging 9.5 points in 22 minutes off the bench for the Musketeers.
Top newcomer: Joshua Smith, Georgetown
Smith so far is delivering on his talent in a way that rarely happened at UCLA. He’s playing fewer than 20 minutes per game, but he’s averaging a career-high 13.6 points. He’s still huge (6-10, 350 pounds), so his pace will be worth monitoring once the Hoyas get into conference play.
Surprise player: James Bell, Villanova
Villanova is usually at its best with big-time point guards, but this season, the Wildcats are led by their wings. No one has been a bigger revelation than Bell. A bit player last year, Bell is averaging 16.1 points per game. After scoring 20 points with nine rebounds against Iowa on Nov. 30, Bell was named the MVP of Villanova’s breakout performance in the Battle 4 Atlantis.
Early season flop: Marquette
The preseason conference favorite has started 6-4 with only one decent win (George Washington). Marquette doesn’t have any awful losses according to the rankings, but it’s tough to forget the utter futility of a 52-35 loss at Ohio State. The Eagles are missing Vander Blue and Junior Cadougan, but Marquette also ranks ninth in the Big East in 3-point shooting (30.1 percent) and free-throw shooting (64.5 percent).
Lingering concerns: Besides Villanova, who has big wins?
Villanova is one of the surprise teams of the season after knocking off Kansas in the Battle 4 Atlantis, but the rest of the Big East is short on marquee wins despite ample opportunities. Georgetown has defeated VCU (but lost to Northeastern), Creighton has defeated Arizona State, and Xavier has defeated Tennessee and Cincinnati (but lost to the Volunteers on a neutral court weeks later). Our guess is that a Big East team or two will get burned by this by selection Sunday.
Best NCAA resume: Villanova
Villanova used wins over Louisville and Syracuse during the Big East season to seal an NCAA bid. The Wildcats this season have picked up two wins over ranked teams on neutral courts (Kansas, Iowa) and three Big 5 wins (Penn, St Joe’s, La Salle) during a 10-0 start. Villanova will have a shot at a major road win when it faces Syracuse on Dec. 28 during a stretch of four of five games on the road.