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Big East Basketball: conference starts the season strong

Checking in on the league after the Thanksgiving tournaments.

NCAA Basketball: Battle 4 Atlantis Championship-Villanova vs Northern Iowa Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

This college basketball season is off and running. We have learned a lot about the Big East’s other teams before the calendar has turned to December. Teams across the league have already secured significant out-of-conference victories, which will help the whole league come Selection Sunday.

Last week, ESPN’s Jeff Borzello went as far as calling the Big East basketball’s best conference.

Before teams enter the second half of their nonconference slate, let us reflect upon each team in the league.

#4 Villanova Wildcats

Once again, the Wildcats seem to be the premier team in the Big East. Since the new Big East conference began, Villanova has gone 63-9 in conference play. It does not appear the Wildcats reign over the conference will end anytime soon.

Entering December with a 7-0 record, the Wildcats already have a Battle 4 Atlantis Championship under their belt. Although not the tournament they had hoped for, they picked some decent wins against Western Kentucky, Tennessee, and Northern Iowa. Before kicking off conference play, they will have to take on tough opponents like Gonzaga, Saint Joseph’s and Temple.

This team has been led by one of the best players in all of college basketball. Junior guard Jalen Brunson has excelled, averaging about 19 points, four assists and three rebounds per contest. His hot start has earned him accolades as Big East Player of the Week, and also earned him Battle 4 Atlantis Tournament MVP.

NCAA Basketball: Battle 4 Atlantis Championship-Villanova vs Northern Iowa Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

The Wildcats frontcourt is led by 6-foot-8 freshman Omari Spellman. Weighing in at 255 pounds, Spellman is averaging about seven points and seven rebounds per game. He is also averaging nearly two blocks per contest. His added bulk has helped Villanova with a presence down low.

#21 Xavier Musketeers

Fresh off an appearance to the NCAA Tournament’s Elite Eight, the Musketeers have aimed to sustain success into this season.

So far, Xavier has found that sustained success on the offensive end. They lead the nation in two-point field goal percentage. Additionally, they have fared well from behind the arc, converting on 38% of their shots from deep. Besides hot shooting, Xavier is very disciplined with the ball and efficiently gets to the foul line.

Defensively, Xavier has been solid. Due to their exceptional height, they have rebounded reasonably well. Furthermore, opponents have struggled to shoot efficiently against the Musketeers. Opponents are shooting 44% from two-point range, and 30% from beyond the arc. The only issue with the Xavier defense has been their inability to create turnovers, based on their packed-in defensive style.

Balance on the court has propelled them to a nice 6-1 record so far. Xavier has already won at Wisconsin and beat #16 Baylor in Cincinnati. However, they did take a significant beating at the hands of Arizona State over Thanksgiving weekend.

Xavier will have an opportunity to secure a few more key wins. Home games against #11 Cincinnati and Colorado still loom before Big East play. Also, coach Chris Mack’s team still has to travel to Iowa to face a stingy Northern Iowa team that made the Battle 4 Atlantis finals.

NCAA Basketball: Baylor at Xavier
Xavier forward Tyrique Jones
Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sports

#25 Creighton BlueJays

The Bluejays are off to a hot start at 5-1. Creighton already has a road victory at Northwestern and a neutral site victory against UCLA. Although they missed another opportunity against Baylor, the Bluejays still have to play #15 Gonzaga, and also Nebraska - wins that will enhance the perception and RPI of the league overall.

Creighton’s high-octane offense averages 14 seconds per possession, a fast pace. They are also very smart with the basketball and highly efficient from two-point range.

Senior guard Marcus Foster has acted as a leader on this team. He is averaging 18 points per contest while shooting 58% from within the arc. Listed as 6-foot-3 and 205 pounds, his size makes it incredibly tough for defenses to keep him in front of them.

Seton Hall Pirates

The local NJ.com wrote before the season that a Final Four appearance was more than a pipe dream. But as the team enters December 5-1, the jury is still out on Seton Hall, partly because of a soft schedule. The Pirates picked up a comfortable victory against Indiana and another against Vanderbilt, but disappointed in an upset loss to Rhode Island last week.

Over the next three games, we should learn more about Seton Hall. Their next three opponents are #22 Texas Tech, #17 Louisville, and VCU respectively.

Angel Delgado has been a force to be reckoned with. In his senior season, he is averaging 14 points and nine rebounds, a hard force to stop.

NCAA Basketball: NIT Season Tip-Off-Seton Hall vs Vanderbilt
Michael Nzei throws it down for Seton Hall
Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Providence Friars

Expectations are high for Ed Cooley’s Friars once again, but like with Seton Hall, how high they can ascend on a national scale and in the Big East is still unknown.

Sitting at 6-1, their best victory to date appears to be a home win against Boston College. Otherwise, they have not notched notable victories and nearly lost to Belmont. Their lone loss came in Providence against an excellent Minnesota squad. Before Big East play starts, the Friars still have to take on Rhode Island (who defeated Seton Hall) and Houston.

The Friars have relied heavily so far on senior forward Rodney Bullock. He is averaging 14 points and six rebounds per game.

Butler Bulldogs

Led by first-year head coach LaVall Jordan, it appears that Butler has taken a step back this season.

While the 5-2 Bulldogs do play stingy man defense and force a lot of turnovers, they have struggled to shoot and defend from the perimeter. Additionally, the Bulldogs have had a tough time creating opportunities on the foul line.

They like to slow down their opponents and play more half-court basketball as opposed to getting out on the break.

After losing soundly to both Maryland and Texas, the Bulldogs won back to back games against Portland State and Ohio State. Butler still has Utah and Purdue before kicking off conference action at Georgetown.

NCAA Basketball: Princeton at Butler
Kamar Baldwin looks to attack
Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports

Marquette Golden Eagles

Marquette, 5-2 on the season, relies heavily on the three-point shot. About 37% of their total points come from behind the arc. They are shooting as a team 36% from deep.

But since Marquette is so dependent on the three ball, they can either win or lose to anybody; their defense is still a work in progress (and possibly the worst in the Big East).

This season they have jumped out to a 5-2 start. While they have lost to Purdue and Witchita State, they also hold victories over VCU and LSU. Both the Georgia Bulldogs and Wisconsin Badgers await Marquette before conference action.

Georgetown Hoyas

Led by first-year head coach Patrick Ewing, the Hoyas are at the beginning of a rebuild.

Georgetown scheduled a remarkably easy out of conference schedule, aimed at building up wins and confidence, not positioning for an NCAA berth. So far, they have beat every team they have faced and are 5-0. The only real challenge was a road bout with Richmond. However, the Hoyas will play Syracuse before Big East action.

Georgetown is shooting 43% from downtown, and 56% from the two. They love to play quick, attacking basketball and would rather go on the break than run a half court set.

The Hoyas main struggle so far has been turnovers. They have turned the ball over 22% of the time on offense, but only force a turnover 18% of the time.

DePaul Blue Demons

The Blue Demons may be slightly better than years past, but still look to be a mainstay in the Big East’s basement at 2-4.

DePaul took Oregon to overtime before losing in the PK 80 Tournament. Outside of that game, they have not threatened opponents. Their only two wins came against Delaware State and Portland.

This team has had a tough time hitting shots. They are shooting 42% from two and 30% from three-point land.

The Blue Demons are still a very young team, bringing in players to be the core for the future under Dave Leitao.

NCAA Basketball: DePaul at Michigan State Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports