The key topic during this week’s Big East teleconference was parity. This idea is paraded a few times each year either nationally (when there isn’t a clear leading team) or within certain conferences (when squads are bunched together), and as evidenced by yesterday’s call, Big East coaches feel parity is directly applicable to conference play this season. Creighton is the only team to snub all opponents in Omaha — each of the other nine teams have lost at home at least once — and while one could make a case for parity, what seems more evident is that the Big East is struggling to define its middle ground, boasting four teams with six losses in their conference record. It’s mid-February, and there are somehow so many questions still to be answered. Is St. John’s for real? Has Xavier’s defensive stinginess been a mirage? Can Georgetown continue this offensive surge? Can Marquette shake off their early conference doldrums and make a run for the Big East title?
Butler’s bright future. Only two Bulldogs lose their eligibility after this season: Erik Fromm and Khyle Marshall. While both forwards have contributed steadily to the squad, the reality is that Butler is a team dotted with youth and high-major experience. Kellen Dunham, Alex Barlow, and Roosevelt Jones are all likely to return, and the 2013 recruiting class, the current freshmen, should provide an offensive base for a team that will be one of the most improved in the conference in 2014-15. In the loss against Xavier earlier this week, the only Bulldogs to score during the game’s final nine minutes (other than four points registered in the closing seconds by Jackson Aldridge and Devontae Morgan) were newcomers. Elijah Brown provides instant offense from the bench, a scorer whose eyes constantly focus on the rim and whose low offensive rating belies the defensive attention he deflects from Dunham (and other Bulldog scorers). Nolan Berry hasn’t seen often seen the floor — Butler’s frontcourt is stacked and one would assume Berry has yet to benefit from consistent weight training — but the big did play ten minutes versus the Musketeers. The gem, though, of this recruiting class appears to be Andrew Chrabascz — the 6’7″ forward became a starter at the end of January, and has provided an efficient scoring presence around the rim. Three-quarters of Chrabascz’s shots come at the bucket, per Hoop-Math.com, and he is converting 67% of those attempts; even when moved away from the paint, Chrabascz still possesses an effective mid-range game. While the frosh’s defense will need some serious fine-tuning (he has so far grabbed just eight percent of opponent’s misses, which, for a forward who uses more than half of his team’s minutes, is significantly underwhelming), he should provide some balance next season, creating an inside counter for Butler’s perimeter game.
Xavier’s three-point disdain. Only one other Big East team (St. John’s) relies on three-point attempts less than Xavier. Over the past several seasons, coach Chris Mack has stressed scoring within the perimeter, and only a handful of Musketeers are given free-range to seek their shot beyond the arc. This season is no exception: Dee Davis and Myles Davis are the only two Musketeers to use more than 50% of their overall attempts from long-range. What is fascinating about this statistic, though, is that Xavier is one of the Big East’s better shooting teams, converting 34% of their threes (while Justin Martin does take a high number of threes, his game is better suited when he concentrates on converting mid-range jumpers and getting to the rim). In the win against Providence, XU only attempted nine three-pointers, and the squad has clearly been coached that a two is much better than a three, a philosophy underlined by the presence of Matt Stainbrook and Semaj Christon, two players who are most effective when using their natural abilities to score within the paint or off the bounce, respectively.
Explanation behind Georgetown’s rise. Whenever Georgetown is mentioned, one immediately thinks of their (potentially) Princeton-esque offense and stingy man defense. However, those two qualities don’t necessarily define this season’s squad: currently in the midst of a three-game winning streak, their triumphs against DePaul, Butler, and Providence should be credited to their overwhelming offensive prowess. During those three contests, John Thompson III’s team held teams to a slightly-above average 1.01 points per possession; over that same stretch, the squad scored a whopping 1.20 PPP. Compared with their conference offensive efficiency rating Georgetown posted before dispatching of Michigan State — .96 PPP — and this squad is vastly different from the one that took the court in the first half of Big East play. Why the change? The team is valuing the ball: of the 187 or so possessions in the last three games, the team has committed just 19 turnovers, yielding in a turnover rate of 10.1%. The combination of giveaway free play and solid defense has the Hoyas primed to potentially make a title run, but it is worth noting the end of the Hoyas’ schedule is just brutal — Marquette, Villanova, and St. John’s, all on the road (not to mention Creighton in D.C.).