Big East Tempo-Free Metrics: Week Two

The Big East has become a bit clearer in the second week of conference play, but the conference’s gut — teams ranked fourth through sixth in the chart below — is still considerably murky. The efficiency margin separating Georgetown, Marquette, and Providence ranges up to .05, too small a margin to predict which team might pose a challenge to the conference’s top tier.

We will have a post on this at some point next week, but St. John’s struggles so far this season have largely been defensive, a shock to those who assumed the Johnnies’ inability to shoot straight in 2013 had just continued into this season. Creighton continues to demonstrate an ability to run their offense unabated against Big East opponents; one of those teams, though, was Xavier, a dark-horse contender that we mentioned last week whose offensive efficiency ranks just behind the Bluejays in conference play.

Team Record PPP OPP
Creighton 5-0 1.23 0.96
Villanova 4-0 1.17 0.96
Xavier 4-1 1.19 1.08
Georgetown 2-3 0.97 0.97
Providence 1-2 1 1.05
Marquette 2-2 1.01 1.06
DePaul 2-3 0.98 1.07
Seton Hall 1-3 1.02 1.13
St. John’s 0-4 0.96 1.1
Butler 0-5 1 1.16

Again, a few takeaways from an analysis of the tempo-free metrics and game film from the Big East’s second week.

Can Seton Hall make a mid-season run?
Seton Hall’s next four opponents are St. John’s, DePaul, Butler, and a reeling (and short-handed) Georgetown — all winnable games — and while the Pirates currently have just one Big East win, a double overtime victory against Providence, their recent play suggests an potential surge. Similar to last year’s team, the Pirates are heavily dependent on their perimeter shooting — Kevin Willard’s squad ranks second in three-point attempts percentage during conference play, and SHU converts nearly 40% of their threes. What is more intriguing, though, about the 2014 squad as opposed to the 2013 iteration is their ability to generate points from the free throw stripe. The Hall’s Big East free throw rate is almost 40% (the rate was just 33% in 2013), and the Pirate whose play has factored heavily in the rise is Sterling Gibbs. The transfer guard is drawing a whopping eight fouls per 40 minutes, attempting more than 140 free throws this season, and has helped boosted SHU’s percentage of points from the free throw line (22.1%, up from 17.9%). Some may argue SHU’s defense is too porous to actually challenge the Big East’s top three, and while losses to Creighton and Villanova were lopsided, the Pirates did hold Marquette to just 1.02 PPP, and that one-point loss was played without Gene Teague, a forward who might be able to take the court on Saturday against Georgetown. The combination of a healthy Teague and Gibbs’ savvy sophomore play could boost Seton Hall.

Josh Hart is the conference’s top freshman.
Of the eleven Big East prospects ranked within ESPN Recruiting’s top 100 database, Villanova’s Josh Hart was arguably the one recruit without a defined role entering his freshman season. The Wildcats possess a deep backcourt — not only did Tony Chennault decide against transferring during the offseason, but Dylan Ennis, a transfer from Rice, is eligible and competes for minutes with Ryan Arcidiacono and Darrun Hilliard. During fall practices, it was unknown where Hart would fit in Jay Wright’s rotation. That uncertainty has changed: the 6’5″ guard won his second straight Big East Rookie of the Week award this week, and Hart is drawing raves for his play. While the guard has scored in double-digits the past seven games, we are more interested in his rebounding, particularly his defensive boards. Hart is grabbing more than four defensive rebounds per 40 minutes, and has so far cemented his spot in the Wildcats’ second-most used rotation (per Ken Pomeroy). Nova is not a large squad — Daniel Ochefu is essentially the team’s lone big — but Hart’s timing and uncanny ability to locate a rebound’s projected carom has earned the frosh coveted minutes (it also doesn’t hurt that he is making 69% of his twos and 44% of his threes).

Lack of defense fueling Butler’s lack of luck?
Five of Butler’s games have ended in overtime this season, and the team has only won one of those contests. Along with Butler’s two-point loss to Oklahoma State, one might easily proclaim Brandon Miller’s team is the nation’s unluckiest. But are the Bulldogs merely unlucky? Or has the team’s historically stingy defense been less than stellar in 2014? Butler is allowing opponents to score a stratospheric 1.16 PPP, and while the team is still as physical on the defensive side of the ball — says one assistant who scouted Butler this season, “The one thing I didn’t notice on the tape, but immediately noticed during the game, is that they are really physical. Their bigs root out the post, they bump cutters, and sag in the middle” — Butler is struggling to stop teams from scoring within the arc. Opponents have been converting 58% of their twos, and the combination of unforced turnovers and additional possessions (their turnover rate and defensive rebounding percentage rank near the bottom of the conference), have resulted in their poor defensive efficiency ranking.

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