Hind Sight: Non-Conference Play

One thing that has always intrigued me when it comes to college basketball and the media in general, is how people jump to such bold conclusions early on in conference play. If team A loses to team B in the first week of the season it is automatically hailed a “bad loss” when neither team has really played a game yet. They tend to be right, sure, but these rash judgments are certainly not 100 percent accurate. The Big East is claimed to be lacking quality non-conference wins, but how true is that?

For that reason, today I’m going to take a look at every Big East team’s non-conference schedule in hind sight, and see the truth behind their games before Big East play got underway. All rankings will be as of February 2, 2014.

1. Creighton 18-3 (8-1 Big East, 12-2 Non-Conference) Grade: A-… Doug McDermott has led his Blue Jays to a great start in the new Big East. Now that we are at the end of January their out of conference resume looks even better. They don’t have that big time win, but they did have 4 solid wins against top 100 KenPom teams (Arizona St. 28, Cal 45, Nebraska 73, and St. Joe’s 78). St. Joe’s was on the road and ASU was on a neutral floor so both those carry a little extra weight.

However, what is significant in looking back at Creighton’s schedule isn’t the wins, but the losses. Back to back games in the Wooden Legacy Tournament in Anaheim against San Diego State and George Washington raised a lot of eyebrows on December 1st. Would anyone be questioning those losses today? I don’t think so. The Aztecs are 19-1 with the number 5 ranking in the AP Poll and the Colonials of George Washington are 17-4, on the brink of the top 25, and are serious contenders in the top 25. Both of these teams were unranked when they played McDermott & CO. but have since come into more of the spotlight. All in all Creighton did absolutely nothing to damper their resume in non-conference play.

2. Villanova 19-2 (7-1 Big East, 12-1 Non-Conference) Grade: A+… What can you say? The Wildcats did anything and everything they could to solidify themselves as the Big East favorites going into conference play. Alright, fine. They did lose to the 21-0 Syracuse Orange on the road, but you’d be crazy to hold that against the Wildcats. Why? Neutral court wins in the Bahamas over Kansas and Iowa will do just that. Furthermore, the fighting Jay Wright’s have made the tough Philadelphia Big 5 a snooze fest this year, beating La Salle, Penn, St. Joe’s, and Temple by a combined 90 points!

This Philadelphia school has gone from a middle of the pack preseason prediction to becoming an elite team. Along with Creighton, Nova has received the target on their backs for the rest of the conference in order to boost their resume’s come March.

3. Providence 16-6 (6-3 Big East, 10-3 Non-Conference) Grade: B…  Ed Cooley’s Friars had a ho-hum non-conference schedule. Nothing to really help them. Nothing to really hurt them. A pair of top 100 KenPom wins (87 Vermont and 95 La Salle) matched with 3 losses to Maryland (74 Kenpom), Kentucky (15 KenPom and 11 AP), and UMass (37 KenPom and 21 AP). None of those wins or losses are going to make or break the Rhode Island school.

Providence got hurt by the fact that a few of their wins that were supposed to be nice resume boosters haven’t really panned out. Boston College has been abysmal and Vanderbilt’s roster has been completely depleted. In hind sight, Providence’s non-conference schedule won’t help them on Selection Sunday so they need to continue to play well in the Big East the rest of the way.

4. Xavier 15-6 (5-3 Big East, 10-3 Non-Conference) Grade: A-… As much as Villanova loved the time they got to spend in the hot sun at Paradise Island, the Musketeers loathed it. What a forgettable Thanksgiving for Chris Mack’s squad. It all started with an overtime loss to Iowa and the emotional toll from that game cost them two losses at the hands of Tennessee and Southern California each of the next two nights. Obviously there’s no shame in the Iowa loss (5 in KenPom 15 in AP) and Tennessee (25th in KenPom) is on their way to the Big Dance. The loss to Andy Enfield’s USC team hurts, but it probably ended up motivating the X-men more than hurting their resume.

So why does Xavier get an A-? They never lost a game in the U.S.A! A perfect 10-0 on American soil! Maybe this team is just patriotic, what’s so wrong with that? They beat the same Tennessee team that took them down in Atlantis and they beat a solid Wake Forest squad. Most of all they took down their arch rival Cincinnati by 17 points on a neutral floor! Cincinnati was unranked at the time, so the public viewed it as a solid win but nothing earth shattering. Fast forward to the end of January and Cincinnati is 20-2, the number 13 team in the AP poll coming off a win on the road at Louisville the other night! That’s called a huge win, a marquee win. Besides a forgettable weekend at the Bahamas, Xavier had an extremely successful Non-Conference season.

5. Seton Hall 13-9 (4-5 Big East, 9-4 Non-Conference) Grade: F…  When your best win in non-conference play is to the team ranked 193rd in KenPom, it is not a nice resume to look at. Nothing against the Kent State Golden Flashes, but a Big East Team needs better. Much better. Then two 250+ KenPom losses to Fairleigh Dickinson and St. Peter’s are horrible too. Sure they almost beat Mercer (Mercer?!) and Oklahoma, but this is not horseshoes or hand grenades.

The Pirates wanted a better start in the new Big East, but they fell flat on their face. Improvement has definitely been made in conference play if you’re a Seton Hall fan looking for a silver lining. A solid finish and a top notch recruiting class can mean that the future is bright in West Orange, NJ.

6. Marquette 12-10 (4-5 Big East, 8-5 Non-Conference) Grade: C+… Missed opportunity after missed opportunity for the pre-season favorite in 2013-2014. 5 losses, none of them bad losses, but all of them would completely change Marquette’s outlook at this point of the season. Ohio State, Arizona State, San Diego State, Wisconsin, and New Mexico. All of them are solid, and at least 4 will be dancing in March (Arizona State is a bubble team, currently in Joe Lunardi’s “Last Four Byes”). Winning one of those would have been huge for Marquette’s overall psyche, but instead the Golden Eagles have to play the rest of the season with their backs against the wall. A good win against Providence is a good start for that.

Buzz Williams’ team has gotten one quality win this season, on a neutral court against the aforementioned George Washington Colonials. This shouldn’t be taken for granted, it’s just a lot easier and eye popping to see the 5 losses before this 1 win. The reasoning behind the C+ is that even though the Marquette had no bad losses, the compilation of losses hurt them. I’m sure if you got to Buzz he would tell you that he regrets scheduling so tough this year, but hind sight is 20/20!

7. St. John’s 13-9 (3-6 Big East, 10-3 Non-Conference) Grade B-… Much the same as Providence in that there isn’t anything exciting about this resume. When the best wins are against San Francisco and Georgia Tech there is still a great deal to be desired. St. John’s did look good in 2 of its 3 losses, however. Playing Wisconsin to the wire on a neutral floor and giving the current number 1 Syracuse all it could handle in Madison Square Garden.

The one that hurts the Johnnies most is the overtime loss at the hands of Penn State because the Nittany Lions have once again been pretty abysmal in Big Ten play. If the Johnnies want to be dancing on selection Sunday they will likely need to win the conference tourney on their home court come March.

8. Georgetown 12-9 (3-6 Big East, 9-3 Non-Conference) Grade B+… What a huge win on Saturday for the Hoyas against Michigan State! Yes, I get that the Spartans were without two of their better players in Adreian Payne and Branden Dawson, but that’s still a neutral court win against a top 10 team. JT3 has his team back in the mix for an at large bid with that kind of win. Especially when it is paired with wins against Kansas State (44 KenPom) and VCU (25 KenPom).

What brings the grade down to a B+? A horrible loss to a 7-15 Northeastern (193 KenPom). Also, they have two losses at the hands of Kansas and Oregon. It is a little unsettling how Oregon has been on the decline as of late, which can potentially hurt the quality of the loss for the Hoyas. The record against the top 50 in KenPom is 3-2 that is very solid. Overall, a good non-conference campaign for Georgetown that will get them into the dance if they can finish strong in Big East play without their Center, Josh Smith.

9. Butler 12-9 (2-7 Big East, 10-2 Non- Conference) Grade B… Oh Butler. The New Kids on the block that were completely forgotten once Brad Stevens left for the NBA and their best player, Roosevelt Jones, went down with an injury.  But the Bulldogs still looked like the same old Butler in their non-conference schedule! Only two losses both by two points. One to power house Oklahoma State (22 KenPom, 8 AP) and the next to LSU (53 KenPom) in overtime that is also in the hunt to be playing in the NCAA tournament. Besides those two losses, Butler took care of everyone else.

New coach Brandon Miller guided his team through a bunch of mediocre wins, but still the 10-2 was impressive. They get a B because there was no big win, but won’t get worse because the two losses still have weight to them and are excusable. It’s just a shame they’ve led it go to waste in their first year in the Big East.

10. DePaul 10-12 (2-6 Big East, 8-5 Non-Conference) Grade: C… The usual doormats of the Big East as of late are once again trailing the field, but there is some hope. For starters the new arena should finally help the Chicago school retain some of the abundance of talent in the area. More importantly the Blue Demons have finally shown some type of improvement under Oliver Purnell. In his 14th, it is clear that Purnell is just trying to get to a point where he will be able to coach when the new home court is built and ready in 2016-2017. I personally can’t see DePaul doing that, but who knows.

As far as their schedule is concerned, out of the 5 losses the Blue Demons suffered, 4 were to really good teams, and the 5th was to Illinois State (150 KenPom) who isn’t as terrible as some of the other losses by their conference foes. Two decent wins coming against Oregon State and Northwestern, who have both improved as the season has gone along, and that’s what builds the C rating.

-Buzz “DePaul on the Rise” Lightyear

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