Tempo-Free Big East: Week One

After two months of non-conference play and guarantee games, the Big East slate tipped last week. It is still ridiculously early to begin evaluating these squads — other than Creighton and Seton Hall, the remaining eight teams have played just two games — we can still begin to identify potential trends, possible standout players, and break down which team(s) to closely monitor in the coming weeks.

Team (Ranked Based on Record) Pace PPP OPPP
Villanova 67 1.16 0.94
Creighton 64 1.17 0.92
Xavier 64 1.16 0.96
Georgetown 70 0.98 0.79
Marquette 62 0.92 0.97
Seton Hall 62 1.04 1.12
Butler 66 0.99 1.09
St. John’s 66 0.90 1.13
Providence 65 0.96 1.17
DePaul 67 0.85 1.05

A few takeaways:

1. Georgetown is playing at an obscene — for a JTIII-led team — pace. Against DePaul and St. John’s, Georgetown used an average of 70 possessions, shattering unofficial records for the Hoyas. In the eight years Thompson has coached in D.C., his teams would often use 60 to 65 possessions per game, attempting to control the game’s flow with their deliberate halfcourt offense. However, even with Josh Smith and the 64 possessions he has participated in during conference play, the Hoyas are attempting to run opponents out of the Verizon Center. According to Ken Pomeroy, the average length of a Hoya possession is 17 seconds (compared to 19 seconds a year ago), and far fewer possessions have reached the shot clock’s 30 second mark. Per Hoop-Math.com, nearly nine percent of the team’s attempts have occurred at the end of the shot clock, a reversal from the percentage (14%) the Hoyas posted in 2013.

2. Can any Big East team derail Creighton’s offense?
Even though DePaul ‘held’ Creighton to 37 points in the first half during Tuesday’s loss, the Bluejays ultimately scored more than 1.20 PPP on Oliver Purnell’s squad. Creighton has the most unique offensive profile of any DI team: only two other teams score a higher percentage of their overall points from beyond the arc than Creighton, and CU isn’t apt to score from two-point range (40.9% of their scoring, 345th in DI) or from the stripe (17.3%, 339th). Yet Greg McDermott’s squad isn’t pigeon-holed: when opponents try to aggressively body and play up on the Bluejays, the squad often relies on pick and rolls, staggered screens, and textbook-perfect post-ups from Doug McDermott to create openings within the half-court. There aren’t many teams that have a player who makes more than 40% of his threes (and who also uses a majority of minutes), and Creighton has five, including Ethan Wragge, a forward we have previously written about. Wragge has taken just six two-point field goals this season while attempting 114 threes, making 49.1% of those bombs. Even if Grant Gibbs is lost for the majority of Big East play — the wing sustained a knee injury against DePaul and is awaiting the results of an MRI — Creighton’s offense should continue to hum until (at least) the team travels to the Main Line to face Villanova.

3. Xavier a dark-horse contender?
In mid-October, when I predicted the future order of finish for the new-look Big East, I thought Xavier would ultimately fall outside the top five, a good team but one who wouldn’t contend this season. I already knew that Semaj Christon was due for a breakout year, but it was unclear how Matt Stainbrook would mesh with his new teammates, or whether Justin Martin would finally become a much-needed third offensive option. And while Xavier was a top defensive team in the Atlantic 10, some — including myself — wondered if this would carry over the Big East. It is still early, but Xavier’s physicality on the defensive side of the ball has been very unexpected. Stainbrook has bolstered the frontcourt defensively, adding another shot-blocking element and a force on the glass (24.2%), and the Musketeers have (so far) limited teams to less than 35% from within the arc. Xavier has struggled to keep teams from securing additional possessions, and could be a defensive aspect worth monitoring, but it is imperative to note the play of James Farr; the sophomore forward barely played in 2013, but is the first forward off the bench. While he still uses limited minutes, both his defensive rebounding percentage and block rate lead the team.

4. Marquette’s alternative lineup
Cries continually echoed throughout Milwaukee last season: why doesn’t Davante Gardner start? Coach Buzz Williams preferred to use Chris Otule in the game’s opening minutes, bringing Gardner off the bench where the 6’8″ forward could use his nimble footwork and stellar touch to torch opponents. Marquette’s sub-par offensive showing this season has forced Williams to experiment, and against DePaul (a game the Golden Eagles ultimately won), Williams started the forward, relying on a massive starting lineup featuring Jamil Wilson, Otule, and Gardner. When asked at the conference’s media day whether Derrick Wilson was ready to start at the point, Williams said he believed the junior guard would adapt to the new role, but the combination of turnovers, an inability to connect offensively, and troubles entering the ball to the post has severely limited Wilson’s minutes in recent games (Wilson has been on the floor for just 35 of Creighton’s Big East possessions). In the win over the Blue Demons, Marquette’s ‘backcourt’ consisted of Jamil Wilson and Jake Thomas, and not only did MU register 15 assists but Gardner recorded his best game of the season, scoring 24 points. It will be worth monitoring the extent of Derrick Wilson’s minutes as Big East play continues, and whether Gardner will be a mainstay in the starting lineup (MU next plays Xavier on Thursday).

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