By Kyle Beery
Selection Sunday is less than two weeks away, and it’s time to start getting a feel for teams around the country. I’ll be writing a series of posts to give fans a snapshot of each “Power Conference” team that has a shot of making the NCAA Tournament — as well as a handful of mid-major teams.
I’ll look at each team’s best wins and worst losses, a key stat for each team, and a wild-card fact to know about each squad. Check back all the way up until the tournament tips off, as posts will be updated periodically to reflect most recent results.
(Updated through games of March 2)
(Note: * Denotes game played at neutral site)
Villanova Wildcats (27-3 overall, 14-3 Big East) — No. 1 RPI
Best wins/worst losses
Best wins: Virginia (No. 16 RPI); at Purdue (No. 20); *Notre Dame (No. 23); Creighton (No. 25) twice
Worst loss: 74-72 at Marquette (No. 58)
Coming off the conference’s first national title since realignment, the Wildcats had high expectations and were believed to have aspirations of capturing a repeat title. And Jay Wright’s bunch has definitely lived up to those expectations. They are tied with Butler for the most RPI top-50 wins in the country with 10.
Aside from a tough loss at Marquette, the Wildcats’ only other two losses have come against a Butler team now ranked 10th in RPI. Even after the recent loss to Butler, Villanova is still projected as a No. 1-seed.
The Wildcats are ranked fifth in the nation in raw offensive efficiency (117.8 points per 100 possessions) according to kenpom.com.
What’s more impressive is that Villanova is third in the country in adjusted offensive efficiency, which takes kenpom’s formula for offensive efficiency and adjusts it to the pace of the opponents a team plays.
Adjusted to its competition, Villanova scores 123.2 points per 100 offensive possessions. To simplify things, the Wildcats score on a lot of their possessions, which means they not only shoot a high percentage, but also turn the ball over at a low rate.
Villanova lost a fair amount of talent — point guard Ryan Arcidiacono and center Daniel Ochefu — from last season’s title team, but guys like Wooden Award candidate Josh Hart and last year’s buzzer-beating hero Kris Jenkins haven’t missed a beat this season. Both guys are playing at elite levels, combining for 31.8 points, 10.8 rebounds and 5.1 assists per game. Villanova’s hopes of becoming the first repeat champion since Florida did it in 2006-07 are very much alive, and the Cats are for real.
Butler Bulldogs (23-6, 12-5) — No. 10 RPI
Best wins/worst losses
Best wins: Villanova (No.1) twice; *Arizona (No. 9); Cincinnati (No. 14); Xavier (No. 35) twice
Worst losses: at Indiana State (No. 221); at St. John’s (No. 128)
The Bulldogs have 17 wins against the RPI top-100, tops in the country. As previously mentioned, Butler is also tied for the most top-50 wins (10), as well as the most against the AP Top 25, with six.
But those two terrible losses are definitely an eyesore on an otherwise excellent tournament resume. It will be interesting to see how the Selection Committee views those losses stacked up with a plethora of good wins.
The Bulldogs are one of the best teams in the country when it comes to ball security. Butler turns the ball over on 15 percent of its possessions, ninth-best in the country, and fifth-best among power conference schools, according to kenpom.
In simpler terms, Butler turns the ball over just 10.3 times per game. Translation: you’re going to win a lot of games when you take care of the ball.
Butler got into a pretty bad funk in late January and early February, losing three of four games. Coach Chris Holtmann made a pretty drastic change to the lineup following consecutive home losses by playing star guards Kelan Martin and Tyler Lewis off the bench, with freshman Kamar Baldwin and graduate transfer Avery Woodson starting in their place.
Holtmann has stuck with that lineup over the last six games, and it is paying dividends. The Bulldogs are 5-1, with the lone loss during that stretch coming at Providence, and Martin and Lewis are both playing much better basketball.
Martin is averaging 20 points and eight rebounds per game over the last four outings, up from 10.5 points and 4.5 rebounds during the stretch when Butler lost three of four.
Martin eclipsed the 20 point mark in a pair of road victories for the Bulldogs pic.twitter.com/M37C3ZPVBP
— #BIGEASThoops (@BIGEASTMBB) February 27, 2017
Martin and Lewis coming off the bench makes Butler one of the deepest teams in the country, and the Dawgs are starting to fire on all cylinders, which is a scary thing for opponents.
Creighton Bluejays (23-7, 10-7) — No. 25 RPI
Best wins/worst losses
Best wins: Butler (No. 10) twice; at Xavier (No. 35); Wisconsin (No. 33)
Worst losses: Marquette (No. 58); at Georgetown (No. 98)
Creighton won its first 13 games of the season and reached as high as No. 7 in the AP poll at 18-1. Things went south when the Bluejays lost Maurice Watson, Jr. (13 PPG) to a torn ACL on Jan. 16.
They are 5-6 without Watson, and he has since found himself in trouble with an alleged sexual assault case.
The win over Wisconsin is starting to lose some weight as the Badgers have started to slide, but the Bluejays beat them early in the season when Wisconsin was ranked No. 9 in the AP Poll.
Creighton averaged 87.5 points per game with Watson in the lineup before he got hurt. The Bluejays are averaging 77.8 points per game without him.
It’s safe to say that his absence has made a negative impact on the team. Marcus Foster has been able to shoulder much of the load with 18.8 points per game, but it hasn’t been enough to keep up the elite level the Jays were playing at before the injury.
Creighton ranks just outside the top 25 in kenpom’s adjusted offensive efficiency (No. 26), and just inside the top 50 in adjusted defensive efficiency (No. 48). The Jays can most likely keep up with any team in the country on the offensive end of the floor, but their defense is a little suspect, though it has seemed to improve over the last several games.
Xavier Musketeers (18-12, 8-9) — No. 35 RPI
Best wins/worst losses
Best wins: at Creighton (No. 25); Wake Forest (No. 40); Seton Hall (No. 48)
Worst losses: at Colorado (No. 115); Marquette (No. 58) twice
Much like Creighton, Xavier started its season hot. The Musketeers won their first seven games before a brief two-game slide at Baylor and at Colorado, but they quickly rattled off six more wins in a row.
And also much like Creighton, Xavier now finds itself in a downward spiral, thanks in part to an injury. Starting guard Edmond Sumner also suffered a season-ending ACL injury in late January, and Xavier is 3-6 since it happened, currently riding a six-game losing streak.
The Musketeers were in a bit of a funk before the injury, but losing Sumner compounded their problems and added blemishes to their resume like three straight road losses at Providence, Marquette and Seton Hall.
— Pat Brennan (@PBrennanENQ) February 27, 2017
Trevon Bluiett has undoubtedly been a bright spot for Xavier. Despite an injury scare of his own, Bluiett is averaging 17.9 points and 5.6 rebounds per game.
Bluiett’s near 18 points a game are good enough for fourth in the Big East. He is a bona fide scoring threat and can cause a lot of problems for teams, even if Xavier is scuffling down the stretch.
Xavier had an outstanding 2015-2016 season that ended in a second-round upset in the NCAA Tournament at the hands of Wisconsin. Much of the core of that team still remains, so the Musketeers are most definitely capable of heating back up down the stretch and making some noise in March.
Chris Mack has the experience to rally his troops, but he will have a lot of work to do to overcome this brutal six-game skid his team is on.
Seton Hall Pirates (19-10, 9-8) — No. 49 RPI
Best wins/worst losses:
Best wins: Creighton (No. 25); *South Carolina (No. 27); Xavier (No. 35)
Worst losses: at St. John’s (No. 128); *Stanford (No. 73)
Seton Hall has a nice trio of RPI-top 50 wins, but has failed to get a true signature win that sends its resume over the top. The Pirates came within five points of beating Florida on a neutral court back in November, and within seven of beating Butler in January.
They suffered their worst loss of the season earlier in February when they had 18 turnovers and got out-rebounded by 12 against St. John’s.
Seton Hall has one more shot at a signature win before the Big East Tournament when it travels to Butler on Saturday for the last game of the regular season.
The Pirates play at a pretty slow tempo, averaging about 68 possessions per game, ranked 199th in the country, according to kenpom. This is a deliberate tempo for Kevin Willard’s team because they lack a real lethal scoring threat, though they are a pretty balanced offensive team with four players averaging double figures
That slow tempo could help them go on a bit of a run in the conference tournament and gain a few more resume-boosting wins.
In order to make such a run in the Big East Tournament — and perhaps even repeat as conference champions — the Pirates will need to take better care of the ball. They rank 250th in the country in ball security, owning a -1.1 turnover margin.
Providence Friars (19-11, 9-8) — No. 26 RPI
Best wins/worst losses
Best wins: Butler (No. 10); at Creighton (No. 25); Xavier (No. 35); Rhode Island (No. 44)
Worst losses: at DePaul (No. 229); at Boston College (No. 209); St. John’s (No. 128)
Providence has been a bit of a polarizing team this season, earning solid wins against teams like Butler, Creighton and Xavier, but they’ve also laid down some stinkers against teams like DePaul, Boston College and St. John’s.
To the Friars’ credit, they put up two good fights against Villanova and came agonizingly close to beating Seton Hall earlier in February before Myles Powell hit a game-winning shot with nine seconds left in overtime.
The Friars have won five in a row since that loss, including their three best wins of the season, all in consecutive games.
Providence plays at an even slower tempo than Seton Hall, averaging just 66 possessions per game, which ranks 270th in the country. Playing in a half court set is a little easier for the Friars, though, with a solid post presence in guys like Rodney Bullock and Emmitt Holt.
Bullock and Holt, though just 6-foot-8 and 6-foot-7, respectively, are the two tallest guys in the regular rotation, but they provide an inside-out option, as both have the ability to hit three-pointers, and both average more than five rebounds per game.
During their five-game hot streak, the Friars are shooting bettern than 45 percent and own a 1.46 assist-to-turnover ratio.
Ed Cooley’s team has proved that they are capable of playing with the big boys and will need to stay hot heading into the Big East Tournament in order to secure a bubble berth to the NCAA Tournament.
Marquette Golden Eagles (17-11, 8-8) — No. 72 RPI
Best wins/worst losses
Best wins: Villanova (No. 1); at Creighton (No. 25); Xavier (No. 35) twice; *Vanderbilt (No. 49)
Worst losses: at St. John’s (No. 126); Georgetown (No. 92)
Marquette got off to a pretty good start this season at 10-3, but has been very up-and-down throughout the Big East season.
At its peak, Marquette won back-to-back games over AP top-10 opponents at Creighton and against Villanova. But the Golden Eagles have also had some agonizing games, including a loss at Butler in which they led by 18 points before the Bulldogs exploded for 63 second-half points.
The Golden Eagles also let a big lead slip away last week at Providence. They led the Friars by 12 points with under eight minutes to play, but could not hold onto what would have been a solid resume win.
Marquette is one of the best offensive teams in the country, ranked seventh in kenpom’s adjusted offensive efficiency. That can be attributed to six players averaging double figure points per game, and a 1.3 assist-to-turnover ratio that ranks second in the conference.
Freshman Markus Howard’s hot shooting has kept the Golden Eagles afloat this season. He leads the team in scoring (13 PPG) and leads the Big East in three-point field goal percentage (55.6 percent). The freshman scored a season-high 34 points in a recent win over Xavier and has eclipsed 20 points seven times.
Since 1992-93, one Big East freshman has shot .500 or better from beyond the arc in a season (min. 50 attempts).
His name is Markus Howard.
— Big East Coast Bias (@becb_sbn) February 19, 2017