Mat Mlodzinski gives his Big East basketball power rankings for week 14 of the season.
Matchup of the week: Marquette vs. UConn
Sneaky good matchup of the week: Creighton vs. Seton Hall
All games listed are EST
1) Marquette Golden Eagles
Last week’s ranking: 1 (-)
Record: 19-5 (11-2)
Last week: Villanova (W) 73-64, Butler (W) 60-52
Next week: @ #21 UConn (Feb. 7 – 6:30 p.m.), @ Georgetown (Feb. 11 – Noon)
Best wins: Baylor, Providence, UConn, Creighton, @ Seton Hall
Worst losses: N/A
Two wins later and Marquette has now won five games in a row and 16 of their last 19 games. Make no mistake – the Golden Eagles have been one of the most consistent teams in college basketball since Thanksgiving.
If you still have any reason to doubt what this group is capable of, just remember that Shaka Smart is the head coach. His team’s defense has been outstanding, and the offense hasn’t dropped off from last year, despite a big change in the roster makeup. Marquette means business.
2) Xavier Musketeers
Last week’s ranking: 3 (+1)
Record: 19-5 (11-2)
Last week: #17 Providence (W) 85-83, St. John’s (W) 96-71
Next week: @ Butler (Feb. 10 – 7 p.m.)
Best wins: Marquette, Providence, UConn (x2), Creighton, Florida
Worst losses: @ DePaul
Xavier might lose some games over the next few weeks – and that’s okay – because it’s expected with Zach Freemantle out.
But then again, they did just take down #17 Providence WITHOUT Freemantle. So while injuries are never good, they can bring out the best in other players. Freshman Desmond Claude could be that guy. Seven points against the Friars were his most since game two of the season against Montana. He followed that up with 11 in the win over St. John’s. More shot opportunities to get a freshman more confidence before a March run when Freemantle DOES return could make Xavier that much stronger.
3) Creighton Bluejays
Last week’s ranking: 4 (+1)
Record: 15-8 (9-3)
Last week: @ Georgetown (W) 63-53, Villanova (W) 66-61
Next week: @ Seton Hall (Feb. 8 – 6:30 p.m.), #21 UConn (Feb. 11 – 2 p.m.)
Best wins: Xavier, Providence, Arkansas, Seton Hall
Worst losses: Nebraska, BYU
Six wins later and Creighton is not only back to the top tier of the Big East, but they’re running through the conference. The Jays were the favorites to win the conference to begin the season, so they’re also saving people like myself, who consider ourselves experts.
The upcoming schedule could prove to be difficult. This week, Creighton will meet a Seton Hall team playing very well, and a UConn team starting to come back to reality. Even a 1-1 split would not be the end of the world for a Bluejays team that shouldn’t have to worry about the bubble.
4) Providence Friars
Last week’s ranking: 2 (-2)
Record: 17-6 (9-3)
Last week: @ #16 Xavier (L) 83-85
Next week: Georgetown (Feb. 8 – 8 p.m.), @ St. John’s (Feb. 11 – Noon)
Best wins: UConn, Marquette, @ Seton Hall, St. John’s
Worst losses: N/A
It almost seems unfair to drop the Friars down a spot after losing by two points to a team ranked ahead of them. But that’s just life in the Big East, and while Xavier may be solving playing without one of their best players, Providence probably should’ve taken advantage of that.
Regardless, there should be no panic from the Friar faithful, who could very well lock up a spot in the NCAA Tournament with a 2-0 week against Georgetown and St. John’s.
5) UConn Huskies
Last week’s ranking: 5 (-)
Record: 18-6 (7-6)
Last week: @ Georgetown (W) 68-62
Next week: #10 Marquette (Feb. 7 – 6:30 p.m.), @ #23 Creighton (Feb. 11 – 2 p.m.)
Best wins: Alabama, Iowa State, Creighton, Oklahoma State, Florida, Oregon
Worst losses: St. John’s
UConn has actually only played one game since I last did the Big East basketball power rankings, and it was not an ideal win. While technically, all wins are equal, surviving Georgetown just doesn’t get it done for me.
But in reality, UConn has so many quality wins, the least of their worries should be about anything other than improving their seed in the Big Dance. And with a week that includes games against Marquette and Creighton, the Huskies can do exactly that – or the opposite, too.
6) Seton Hall Pirates
Last week’s ranking: 6 (-)
Record: 15-9 (8-5)
Last week: @ St. John’s (W) 84-72, DePaul (W) 69-64
Next week: #23 Creighton (Feb. 8 – 6:30 p.m.), @ Villanova (Feb. 11 – 8 p.m.)
Best wins: @ Rutgers, UConn, Memphis
Worst losses: Siena
Maybe it’s because the Pirates’ wins didn’t come too easy this week, but I sense that Seton Hall isn’t getting enough credit. The fact of the matter is, SHU started out the season 8-8 with a bad loss against Siena and losing without putting up much of a fight against Iowa and Kansas.
Since then, something has changed. The Pirates have now won six of their last seven games, including a win over UConn. But don’t let that fool you from the fact that a tournament bid is far from secure. While a 1-1 split would prove beneficial no matter what this week, the win being over Creighton instead of Villanova would actually help out a lot more, even if SHU fans would rather have the win over the Wildcats.
7) Villanova Wildcats
Last week’s ranking: 7 (-)
Record: 10-13 (4-8)
Last week: @ #14 Marquette (L) 64-73, @ Creighton (L) 61-66
Next week: DePaul (Feb. 8 – 8:30 p.m.), Seton Hall (Feb. 11 – 8 p.m.)
Best wins: Oklahoma, St. John’s (x2), Boston College
Worst losses: Portland, Temple, @ DePaul, @ Butler
We’re starting to see how much good coaching really matters. Sure, excuses like year one without Collin Gillespie and injuries to Cam Whitmore and Justin Moore are legitimate. But the fact of the matter is, Villanova has lost all but one of their 13 games by ten points or less, with six of the losses within five points.
Now, I want to make something clear. I’m not saying Kyle Neptune is a bad coach and I also understand that a coaching change takes time – sometimes a few years. But closing out games goes hand in hand with having clutch players and having a coach to guide them down the stretch. It seems like Villanova has neither.
8) St. John’s Red Storm
Last week’s ranking: 8 (-)
Record: 14-10 (4-9)
Last week: Seton Hall (L) 72-84, @ #16 Xavier (L) 71-96
Next week: Seton Hall (Feb. 1 – 8:30 p.m.), @ #16 Xavier (Feb. 4 – 5 p.m.)
Best wins: @ UConn, Syracuse, Butler
Worst losses: Villanova
When St. John’s won at UConn, I thought it was the Johnnies making a statement that they were who we thought they were in the preseason. But at this point, that just seems like a fluke. The Johnnies lost both games last week in different ways.
Against Seton Hall, the Red Storm surrendered a seven-point lead with under 11 minutes to play. Then, at Xavier, St. John’s didn’t stand a chance, getting blown out by 25 points.
NCAA Tournament talks seem to be long gone in Queens, and even the NIT looks like a bit of a long shot.
9) DePaul Blue Demons
Last week’s ranking: 9 (-)
Record: 9-15 (3-10)
Last week: @ Seton Hall (L) 64-69
Next week: @ Villanova (Feb. 8 – 8:30 p.m.)
Best wins: Xavier, Villanova, Minnesota
Worst losses: Duquesne, @ Butler, @ Georgetown
Talk about closing games – DePaul has had two chances to top Seton Hall, losing to them at home by six in January, and then in Newark by five on Sunday.
When it comes down to it, DePaul just can’t find a way to regularly compete with the best of the Big East. And the win over Xavier is puzzling at the very least.
10) Georgetown Hoyas
Last week’s ranking: 10 (-)
Record: 6-18 (1-12)
Last week: Creighton (L) 53-63, #24 UConn (L) 62-68
Next week: @ #20 Providence (Feb. 8 – 8 p.m.), #10 Marquette (Feb. 11 – Noon)
Best wins: DePaul, Siena, La Salle
Worst losses: Loyola Marymount, American, @ Texas Tech, South Carolina, @ DePaul, @St. John’s
In a season where Georgetown has only won six games, they’ve still found a way to compete with teams here and there. On Saturday, the Hoyas held a lead over the Huskies until Alex Karaban hit a three-pointer with 3:03 left in the second half. Clearly, Georgetown has some potential bottled up that Patrick Ewing just can’t find.
11) Butler Bulldogs
Last week’s ranking: 11 (-)
Record: 11-13 (3-10)
Last week: @ #14 Marquette (L) 52-60
Next week: St. John’s (Feb. 7 – 8:30 p.m.), #13 Xavier (Feb. 10 – 7 p.m.)
Best wins: Kansas State, BYU, Yale
Worst losses: @ St. John’s
At least this time Butler didn’t get absolutely blown out by a team. Instead, Marquette just played well enough in the second half to halt Butler’s 32-28 advantage in the final 20 minutes.
St. John’s does give the Bulldogs a real opportunity at a win this week.