Big East Conference review, part 2

As promised, here’s the second half of my survey of the Big East “preseason” results. For the first seven teams, see my previous post. This post will cover the exploits of the nine teams predicted by the coaches to finish in the top…uh, eight. I’ll quote myself from the last post to explain the concept: “This will enable us to get a feel for who’s been better than expected so far, who’s crapped out a bit, and who’s right on pace. I’ll look at how each school handled opposition from other BCS conferences, how they handled the tougher mid-majors, and whether or not they had any disturbing cupcake losses. Then I’ll give a little interpretive blurb of varying length, depending on whether or not the team in question did anything interesting.  I’m hampered in my observational ability by virtue of living in China and not being able to see any of these teams play with my own eyes — so consider this a pure numbers-oriented review. (All RPI and Strength-of-Schedule info is drawn from RealTimeRPI.com)”

So, without further ado:

Team: Louisville
Coaches predicted finish in Big East: tied for 8th
Record as of Dec 27: 11-1
RPI and SoS going into league play, just out of curiosity: 30th, 80th
Record against BCS opponents: 0-0*

  • TBD: December 31st vs. #14 Kentucky

Record against tough mid-majors: 3-1

  • Beat then #18 Butler at home
  • Beat Marshall at home
  • Beat UNLV at home
  • Lost to Drexel at home

Disturbing losses?: none
How are they away from home?: 1-0.  Hmmm.  And that one road game was in-state at struggling Western Kentucky.  Apparently Ricky P was not in the mood for a challenge this year.
Verdict: Louisville’s resume doesn’t look legit at first glance, but dig a little deeper and you can see this team is probably for real. While the 0-0 next to the BCS column looks shady, in reality the Cards scheduled 4 top-line opponents this year, and they’re 2-1 in those games so far — with Kentucky still to come. Butler has fallen a bit since last year, but they’re still a high-level and dangerous mid-major.  More importantly, UNLV and Drexel are mid-major uber-studs this year (RPIs: 13, 17).  So even though the Lou has played not a single “big” team this year, we can see their SoS is only a little off the pace.  And that will clear itself up in short order once the Wildcats come and go.  The one concern we can point to is that bizarre road record:  one game?  One game all year?  What is that all about?  Does Dick Vitale know about this, or does he only make fun of Syracuse for that kind of thing?

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Team: Marquette
Coaches predicted finish in Big East: tied for 8th
Record as of Dec 27: 9-3
RPI and SoS going into league play, just out of curiosity: 168th, 278th
Record against BCS opponents: 0-2*

  • Lost to Duke on neutral court
  • Lost to Wisconsin at home
  • TBD: at Vanderbilt on Dec 29th

Record against tough mid-majors: 0-1

  • Lost to Gonzaga on neutral court

Disturbing losses?: none
How are they away from home?: 1-2, with the Vandy game pending
Verdict: Alarm bells!  Alert, alert, alert — we have our first real signals of an upper-tier Big East team that may have been overrated. I’m not going to say Marquette sucks — we have no evidence of that — but the Golden Eagles have failed every big test they’ve faced.  With only one game left before the Big East season, Marquette has zero quality wins.  None, zippo, zilch.  They have done not an iota of a thing to impress anyone.  Their best win is…ummm…on the road against 6-7 Wisconsin-Milwaukee?  Most of their nine wins have come against the likes of Prairie View A&M (0-10), Longwood (2-11), Centenary (0-11), and Miss Valley St (1-10). Hence Marquette’s atrocious RPI, which currently sits at 2nd worst in the league.  Most of the Big East bottom feeders have at least one or two wins they can be proud of; only Marquette has none. Their Strength of Schedule is a mess, and with this kind of sad resume the Gilded Eag’s are going to have to overperform in league play to even have a shot at being on the bubble. The only bright spots: their losses to Duke, Gonzaga, and Wisco were all by close margins, and that road game at 9-2 Vanderbilt gives them one last shot to partially make amends.

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Team: Notre Dame
Coaches predicted finish in Big East: 7th
Record as of Dec 27: 11-1
RPI and SoS going into league play, just out of curiosity: 37th, 147th
Record against BCS opponents: 3-1

  • Beat Georgia on neutral court
  • Beat Cal on neutral court
  • Beat Wisconsin on neutral court
  • Lost to then #16 Kentucky on neutral court

Record against tough mid-majors: 1-0

  • Beat Gonzaga at home

Disturbing losses?: none
How are they away from home?: 3-1, all neutral court
Verdict: Solid. Notre Dame’s raw SoS numbers look bad because they played a few too many teams like Georgia Southern, Chicago State, and MD Baltimore City (combined record: 2-33); but the Irish clearly have a wealth of solid achievements to hang their hat on. They have very good wins against 3 quality BCS teams and that Zags win as well, so there’s no reason to think Notre Dame isn’t for real.  On the other hand they got blown out of the water against Kentucky, so we can probably assume the Irish are not elite this year; but they’re in fine position to put together an NCAA resume and live up to this 7th place prediction. The only concern is that they didn’t play a true road game even once…but they’re hardly the only Big East team to commit that particular sin.

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Team: St. John’s
Coaches predicted finish in Big East: 6th
Record as of Dec 27: 7-3
RPI and SoS going into league play, just out of curiosity: 24th, 19th
Record against BCS opponents: 2-0

  • Beat Arizona State on neutral court
  • Beat Northwestern at home

Record against tough mid-majors: 2-2

  • Lost to St Mary’s on the road
  • Beat Ball St on neutral court
  • Lost to St Bonaventure at home
  • Beat Davidson at home

Disturbing losses?: one: at Fordham.  Why is St John’s playing games in Fordham’s gym?  That’s asking for trouble.
How are they away from home?: 3-2, with the 3 wins being neutral court wins in Alaska and the 2 losses being their real road games
Verdict: I count myself as one of the haters at the beginning of the year who could not fathom why St John’s was picked so high in the Big East and why it was getting so much national attention. I refuse to accept that Steve Lavin is some kind of miracle worker and that he can simply snap his fingers and turn this sad program back into something respectable in the blink of an eye — regardless of his oft-mentioned nine seniors.  So what does the evidence show to date? Results are mixed, but so far haters like me are on the losing end. The Johnnies have been reasonably impressive. They went to the Great Alaska Shootout and brought home the trophy — though admittedly they didn’t go up against a murderer’s row. They have two nice-looking BCS results against winning teams, though probably neither of those W’s will have legs since AZ St and NW are both lacking in any impressive wins themselves and are unlikely to be NCAA teams. The Red Storm’s quality mid-major wins are also not exactly banner-level; Ball State and Davidson are not royalty this year. Additionally, St John’s ruined its own momentum several times with head-scratching losses to the likes of Fordham on the road and the Bonnies at home. Here’s the trick though: St John’s scheduled not a single real cupcake this year. So even though the Storm didn’t go up against any NCAA beasts, they find themselves with a fancy SoS and an RPI that’s right where it needs to be. Lavin definitely knows how to work the system: play enough 6-4 teams and eventually the computer will start to like you. But where does this leave the Johnnies in terms of challenging the upper half of the Big East? There isn’t any real evidence yet that they can live up to this lofty #6 prediction.  Lets not forget one thing: last year St. John’s came out of the preseason 10-2, and promptly laid down their usual 6-12 in the Big East. So I’m not abandoning my skepticism just yet.

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Team: West Virginia
Coaches predicted finish in Big East: 5th
Record as of Dec 27: 8-2
RPI and SoS going into league play, just out of curiosity: 5th, 7th
Record against BCS opponents: 1-2

  • Beat Vanderbilt on neutral court
  • Lost to Minnesota on neutral court
  • Lost to Miami (FL) on the road

Record against tough mid-majors: 3-0

  • Beat Oakland at home
  • Beat Davidson on neutral court
  • Beat Cleveland State at home

Disturbing losses?: none
How are they away from home?: 4-2
Verdict: Quietly impressive. West Virginia’s scheduling game plan is like St John’s, but writ large. Of the Mountaineers 10 opponents so far this year, 7 of them are in the RPI top 80. They’ve also played 6 out of 10 games away from home. The Huggy bear has no interest in your cupcakery! West Virginia’s idea of a weak opponent is American U, which sports a nice 7-5 record. Huggin’s boys have two elite wins against Vandy and Cleveland State (for real — Cleve St is tough as nails this year), but they missed their chance against Minny and Miami to vault themselves up to the dizzying heights. If they had snagged either one of those games, WV probably would have found itself in the Big East Top Ten party that’s happening in the national polls right now. As it is, they’re in fine shape. The RPI and SoS numbers are ridiculous, so West Virginia will surely be dancing and probably live up to this #5 prediction. Whether they can climb higher has more to do with whether any of the teams above them slip up or not.

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Team: Georgetown
Coaches predicted finish in Big East: 4th
Record as of Dec 27: 11-1
RPI and SoS going into league play, just out of curiosity: 2nd, 2nd
Record against BCS opponents: 2-0

  • Beat NC State on neutral court
  • Beat then #8 Missouri in Kansas City

Record against tough mid-majors: 4-1

  • Beat Old Dominion on the road
  • Beat Coastal Carolina on neutral court
  • Beat Utah State at home
  • Lost to Temple on the road
  • Beat then #17 Memphis on the road

Disturbing losses?: um, no
How are they away from home?: 6-1, wtf
Verdict: What am I supposed to say? Georgetown appears to be insanely good this year. It sucks, but that’s reality. They played the 2nd hardest preseason schedule in the nation and beat basically everyone.  They lined up a crazy array of opponents, played them all over the country, and pretty much smacked them all down. With that kind of a schedule, of course you’re going to lose one every once in a while, so their lone blemish means little.  Old Dominion is 9-2 and 12th in the RPI; for some reason Georgetown played a road game against them, and they won it. Utah State is 11-2. Missouri is 11-1 and in the top ten, their only loss was to Georgetown, and it was right in Mizzou’s backyard. The Hoyas schedule was ridiculous.  I don’t think they played a single home game. I don’t want to talk about this anymore.

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Team: Syracuse
Coaches predicted finish in Big East: 3rd
Record as of Dec 27: 13-0
RPI and SoS going into league play, just out of curiosity: 6th, 59th
Record against BCS opponents: 4-0

  • Beat Michigan on neutral court
  • Beat Georgia Tech on neutral court
  • Beat NC State at home
  • Beat then #8 Michigan State on neutral court

Record against tough mid-majors: 3-0

  • Beat Northern Iowa at home
  • Beat Iona at home
  • Beat Drexel at home

Disturbing losses?: what part of undefeated do you not understand?
How are they away from home?: 3-0, all neutral court
Verdict: As anyone who is reading this post already knows, the Cuse has been studly, matching or exceeding the most optimistic visions from before the season started. Although the route Syracuse has taken to 13-0 was not what anyone expected — especially with regards to how the lineup has shaken out and which players are, and are not, contributing — undefeated is undefeated, and the Orange have plenty to brag about. That Northern Iowa win on day 1 looks like it has some legs, as the Panthers are cruising at 8-3 with a top 50 RPI. Michigan has put together a 9-2 campaign so far. Iona is solid. And as I mentioned in an earlier blurb — the Drexel Dragons (RPI: 17) might be this year’s Butler and that win is an elite caliber notch is SU’s belt. Given that Michigan State has crapped out a bit in the early going, it’s to SU’s benefit that it has played a wide array of BCS teams and potentially good mid-majors.  As the fortunes of those teams rise and fall throughout the year, Syracuse is in a good position for at least some of these wins to look very impressive by March.  Was SU’s schedule like Georgetown’s?  No, it was not.  But it was pretty good, and you can’t get any better than a zero in the L column.  I do feel obliged to mention, however, that SU is one of the 4 teams in the Big East that did not play a true road game (along with Notre Dame, UConn, and Pitt).  Sorry folks, but it’s true.  While MSG and NJ are not home games for Syracuse, neither can we say SU has experienced an actual enemy crowd.  That’s the only question mark yet to be answered.  Otherwise #3 in the Big East seems to be exactly accurate for SU so far, if not an underestimation.

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Team: Villanova
Coaches predicted finish in Big East: 2nd
Record as of Dec 27: 10-1
RPI and SoS going into league play, just out of curiosity: 34th, 154th
Record against BCS opponents: 1-1

  • Beat UCLA on neutral court
  • Lost to then #24 Tennessee on neutral court

Record against tough mid-majors: 0-0*

  • TBD vs Temple at home on Dec 30th

Disturbing losses?: none
How are they away from home?: 4-1, with some nice Big 5 road wins I guess
Verdict: Suspicious. Jay Wright’s cupcakery in recent years puts what Jimmy B used to do in the 1990s to shame. Villanova played one great team (Tennessee), and lost.  They also played one decent team (UCLA), and won. Other than that, they played no games of note other than the always challenging Big 5 atmosphere that they have to contend with in their intra-Philly matchups. Unfortunately for the Wildcats, none of those Big 5 teams are any good this year, except Temple who they haven’t played yet. Shouldn’t ‘Nova get on the Drexel bandwagon by now? At any rate, without the Temple game to look at, we really can’t say anything about Wright’s boys. The fact that they crapped out in their only true challenge is certainly disturbing, and their weak SoS and bubble-level RPI at this stage means they can’t afford any extended slip ups in Big East play or they’ll find themselves sweating on selection Sunday. A win against Temple would help a great deal, and in general I’m sure Nova will be fine. But if I had to bet I’d say 4th place or 5th place is more likely for them, with the Hoyas, Orange, and Mountaineers in a good position to move up.

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Team: Pittsburgh
Coaches predicted finish in Big East: 1st
Record as of Dec 27: 12-1
RPI and SoS going into league play, just out of curiosity: 15th, 68th
Record against BCS opponents: 2-1

  • Beat Maryland on neutral court
  • Beat then #22 Texas on neutral court
  • Lost to then #13 Tennessee at home

Record against tough mid-majors: 2-0

  • Beat Rhode Island at home
  • Beat Rider at home

Disturbing losses?: none
How are they away from home?: 2-0, both neutral at Coaches vs Cancer
Verdict: There’s two ways I could write this blurb: one way would involve writing it up entirely based on Pitt’s preseason results — as I’ve done with all the other teams — and thus pretending like I don’t know they smacked the crap out of UConn earlier tonight; the other way would be to acknowledge that their win over the Huskies makes it kind of ridiculous to talk about how their pre-Big East schedule isn’t exactly littered with amazing accomplishments. I’ll try to split the difference — the fact is Pitt put together a very solid but not-at-all spectacular early season resume, and if a person was inclined to find fault I’m sure they could have. No road games, and only two outside of Pittsburgh at all?  Weak. Also, Maryland is not particularly good this year and Rider barely qualifies as a “tough” mid-major. But really…why bother with the nitpicking?  Pitt has one very impressive win over Texas and a hand-full of decent other wins; and they have one surprising loss at home to a feisty Tennessee team.  No reason to panic, and also no reason to book Pitt’s trip the Final Four. They’re on pace, nothing more nothing less. Someone is going to win this nightmare of a conference, and Pitt remains as good a choice as a favorite as anyone — especially given what they just did to UConn. But there are at least 4-5 teams who could win the league without surprising me, and I’m betting this will be another year where two teams split the hardware: whoever gets the regular season probably won’t snag the tournament. Such is life in the Big East these days, where we have a unique phenomenon of Parity in Excellence.

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  1. [...] Georgetown: a couple weeks ago I wrote up a review of each Big East team’s performance against the rest of the country.  Here’s the blurb [...]

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