Tempo-Free Big East: Feb. 11th Edition

Is Villanova the Big East’s best team? Based on win-loss record and efficiency margin, the answer is clear. The Wildcats are certainly bound for the NCAA tournament, but digging deeper into the numbers suggests another squad might surpass Nova.

Butler seems to have the most momentum in the conference, and based on a combination of the Bulldogs’ analytical profile and watching the squad the past few games, they are poised for a March run – a far cry from the many preseason predictions.

Butler has the Big East’s second best efficiency margin, and have steadily improved their defensive efficiency rate through the first five weeks (from 1.03 points per possession to .99). Much has been made about Alex Barlow’s torrid three-point shooting (47% in Big East play) and the continued offensive excellence of Kellen Dunham, but what hasn’t been as examined is the role of Andrew Chrabascz and Roosevelt Jones’ return

During the past five games, all Butler wins, Chrabascz is converting 62% of his twos and has provided the squad with a reliable and consistent interior presence. The 6’7” forward is scoring more than one point per post-up possession, and along with Jones, has fueled Butler’s attempts at the rim – only two other Big East teams attempt more shots around the bucket.

Even though Jones’ offensive rating is below 100, his ability to drive and power his way to the rim creates numerous perimeter openings for Dunham and Barlow, and even if Jones doesn’t convert around the basket, he is strong enough to grab his or any other Bulldog miss.

A key matchup with Villanova this Saturday will be an illuminating test for Chris Holtmann’s group, and in their inaugural match-up, which Nova won 67-55, the Bulldogs managed to hold VU to just 1.02 PPP.

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Here are several thoughts about the Big East during the second week of February:

Seton Hall picked a horrible time to slump, but Angel Delgado though.

The cracks that began to form when Seton Hall lost three straight in mid-January have now splintered and are threatening Kevin Willard’s foundation. The team is again in the midst of a multi-game losing streak, the latest loss an embarrassing 86-67 defeat to Georgetown.

Senior wing Brandon Mobley was blunt after the team’s loss to Marquette over the weekend, saying, “Everybody’s got to look in the mirror and ask themselves, do they want to keep playing just to get through the season, or do they want to play with a purpose? Right now, we’re just going through the motions … Right now winning doesn’t matter — everybody is upset about who’s taking their shots.”

While the Pirates’ offensive and defensive rates have significantly regressed since the first Big East tempo-free post, and Willard has a lot of work to do to right the team – “I’ve got to find some guys that are going to battle and figure it out,” he said during the Georgetown post-game press conference – there have been several bright spots. One is Sterling Gibbs, and the other is Angel Delgado, who played especially well against the Hoyas.

Isaiah Whitehead has overshadowed the freshman big, but Delgado has been unstoppable on the glass. He is the only freshman to rank in Ken Pomeroy’s top 50 for both offensive and defensive rebounding percentages, and he grabbed 15 rebounds – five offensive – during Tuesday’s loss. His offensive game is still a work in progress, but Delgado has demonstrated all the signs for a massive sophomore leap for Seton Hall (provided he remains a Pirate).

//platform.twitter.com/widgets.jsIsaac Copeland and the Big East Rookie of the Year award.

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That’s all you need to know, really, about Georgetown freshman Isaac Copeland. The highest rated of the Hoyas’ 2014 recruiting class, the 6’9” Copeland seemed lost within the John Thompson III’s rotation. In mid-January, though, Copeland has arguably been JTIII’s most crucial player, making 56% of his twos.

The forward was inserted into the team’s starting lineup against Seton Hall, and registered his most impressive outing, scoring 20 points and grabbing eight boards. Despite Mikael Hopkins’ defensive contributions, Copeland is a vast improvement – he isn’t an offensive black hole and can actually contribute away from the bucket, and he has proved himself defensively, grabbing nearly eight defensive rebounds per 40 minutes – so it wouldn’t be surprising if Hopkins finishes his career at Georgetown coming off the bench.

Spurious arguments about three-point statistics.

Only one other Big East team attempts more threes than Creighton. The Bluejays’ three-point field goal attempts percentage hovers about 42%, and while the team has ten conference losses, we have written that Greg McDermott’s squad is the unluckiest in the league (five of those losses are within single-digits).

During the past four games, Creighton’s long-range rate has remained above 40%, but the team’s luck slightly shifted – they began to actually convert those perimeter shots. Against St. John’s and Xavier, CU’s first two Big East wins, the Bluejays made 42.6% of their threes. Of course, in losses to Georgetown and SJU, that accuracy flagged – 22.7% — so a defense’s ability to hamstring an opponent’s perimeter shooting is really determined by the opposing team, not by any sort of defensive pressure.

Why can’t Big East teams score from deep?

This is a minor point, but one I find fascinating. The Big East is putrid from long-range. Collectively, the league attempts a high number of threes – eighth nationally (per Ken Pomeroy) – but the conference average ranks near the bottom (33.4%). Four teams that shoot more than 35% of their field goals from beyond the arc are boosting the attempts rate, and other six teams would prefer to focus on scoring from 19’ in.

The two most interesting case studies are Butler and Providence. Despite possessing two prolific three-point talents and the conference’s most prolific offensive rebounding frontcourt, the Bulldogs are loathe to attempt threes – their rate ranks last in the Big East and only one other team (St. John’s) takes a higher percentage of two-point field goals (per Hoop-Math.com).

Providence, however, hardly takes any threes which hides the Friars’ biggest secret – they are not a good shooting team. LaDontae Henton and Jalen Lindsey are the only Friars to attempt more than 70 threes, and it’s clear that coach Ed Cooley considers perimeter shooting to be the provenance of a select few.

Matt Giles writes about the Big East and other conferences for Big Apple Buckets. You can follow him on Twitter at @HudsonGiles.

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