"My rule was I wouldn't recruit a kid if he had grass in front of his house.
That's not my world. My world was a cracked sidewalk." —Al McGuire

Monday, December 05, 2022

Unbiased Data & the Big East

Sanogo is an All-American Batman with an able Robin in Jordan Hawkins

Photo by Ian Bethune | The UConn Blog

Savvy college basketball fans may have noticed that Bart Torvik's T-Rank site allows you to sort teams by using only this season's data. Typically, advanced metrics such as T-Rank, kenpom, Sagarin, and others use historical data at this point of the season because the generally accepted knowledge tells us that the best predictor of future results is looking at past results, both in terms of programs and players. This old data is usually part of the equation until late January, when sites catch up to the current year alone. If kenpom (or T-Rank with old data), you're looking at a small helping of what's happened this year with additional portions of multiple past seasons.

If you really want to know how teams have been without past seasons biasing the results, changing one factor on the T-Rank main page allows you to do that. Simply change the "End" date to anything earlier than the listed "20230501" (May 1, 2023). You can bring it all the way back to today, but even changing it to April 30 will get the desired result. So what does the data tell us? Let's take a look at where the teams come in nationally, within the Big East, and in terms of Adjusted Offensive and Defensive Efficiency rankings.


Not surprisingly, UConn jumps to the top of the league, as they have in all the metrics and rankings, but in a more pronounced way. Marquette has been the second-best team in the league, while Creighton and Xavier are in the top-40 area that is usually safe for high-majors to get at-large bids. If this was Selection Sunday, Butler and Seton Hall are in the bubble range, while the rest of the league wouldn't be close to the at-large discussion. Though while the bottom is bad, it's worth noting that Georgetown is in a class by themselves. They are truly awful.

First, let's talk about a couple league takeaways.

Bids are Limited: No one wants to hear it the first week of December, but the Big East is going to have a hard time getting more than 5 NCAA bids, and 3-4 is probably a more realistic number. Why? Because everyone that isn't UConn or St. John's has taken multiple losses, and St. John's 8-1 looks like a sham. We'll get to that later. Going a combined 7-11 in the Gavitt and Big 12 Challenge series hurt the league compared to their high-major peers, and while Connecticut and St. John's won their MTEs, Creighton was the only other team with a winning MTE record. The other eight teams went a combined 5-16 in MTEs. Overall, the Big East is 15-25 against the other high-major leagues with 8 losses outside those leagues. That's going to make it tough come March because quality wins are hard to come by when few teams proved to be potent in the first month of the season.

Four Tiers: I know the AP has Creighton at #7 until the new poll, but UConn has been in a class of their own. Based on this year's numbers, they are a legitimate Final Four and National Title contender. After that, Marquette and Creighton, despite their non-con slip-ups this weekend, are playing like solid tournament teams. Then there's Xavier, Butler, and Seton Hall as at-large contenders while everyone else looks like NIT at best. There's certainly time for things to change, but at this moment, you don't want to be a St. John's, Providence, or Villanova because none of them are close to sniffing a bid, unless you count the NIT.

Is This Meaningful? Last year at this point, Marquette was 7-2 but their overall efficiency was #118 in T-Rank. There's time for teams to turn this around, especially teams with winning records. But with close to a third of the season done, this also isn't a small sample size. On December 5, 2021, Villanova (#5), Xavier (#20), UConn (#30), and Seton Hall (#31) were in the safe range where at-large teams are typically picked and 3/4 made the NCAA field. Providence (#151), Creighton (#101) and Marquette were outside that range, but managed to put together solid finishes to the season. A month into 2020, the only three Big East 2021 at-large teams were Villanova (#14), UConn (#15), and Creighton (#16) while everyone else was already outside the top-40. If you're outside the safe range with a decent record, there's time to turn things around.

We're also going to look team-by-team and compare what we said in the preseason to what's happened since:

Connecticut

What We Said: "They should finish in the top-half of the Big East and earn a tourney bid, but whether Sanogo is a legit BEPOY contender, whether the returners deliver on their promise, and how well the newcomers fit in will determine the difference between a possible protected seed and a team closer to a double-digit seed."

What We've Seen: The Huskies backed up their buy game beat-downs with four straight wins over high-major opponents by double-digits. Sanogo doesn't just look like a BEPOY contender but the prohibitive favorite and an All-American. Jordan Hawkins has looked like a star, Andre Jackson is rounding into form, and their newcomers are fitting well. Based on this year's numbers, only one team in the country is ranked in the top-15 both on offense and defense in T-Rank, and this is that team. UConn is the clear Big East favorite to date. It's not close.

Marquette

What We Said: "If this team stays healthy, sustains their defensive form, and is marginally effective on offense, they should be fighting for an NCAA berth. And if one or two players really break out, the way Lewis and Morsell did a year ago, there's no reason they can't be a top-4 Big East team and in the mix for a safe single-digit seed."

What We've Seen: The defense is about on par with last year but the offense has been way ahead of schedule. Kam Jones and O-Max Prosper are having star turns while plenty of other players have shown the ability to step up, which puts this team in the mix for the 2-4 range we thought was possible. We do need to caveat that these numbers are likely heavily impacted by the Baylor romp, but no one has played undefeated Purdue or Mississippi State closer than Marquette, so even the losses right now aren't as bad as the raw percentage looks. Putting aside the sour taste of the Wisconsin loss, this year's results alone indicate Marquette to be the biggest threat to UConn at the top of the Big East at this point.

Prosper is having a Justin Lewis type breakout season

Photo by Jeff Haanisch | USA Today

Creighton

What We Said: "While the Kansas game left Jays fans on a promising note, last season's results as a whole, the need for so many players to have simultaneous breakout seasons, and the expectation of defensive consistency from a coach that has never shown an aptitude for that would strongly indicate they won't get close to those top-10 projections. There's a reason none of the computer metrics have Creighton in the preseason top-20."

What We've Seen: At their best, Creighton has looked like that top-10 team, putting on a show in Maui. At their worst, they struggled with St. Thomas, were beat down at Texas, and lost at home to a mediocre (#76 adjusted for this year) Nebraska team. Sure, they can be that team they were at the Big East Tournament, but they still have tendencies from the team that T-Rank had #71 last year going into the BET. This is a good team, but this year's data shows the defense regressing, the offense not quite at the level McDermott is known for, and a team more like the fringe top-25 team we expected than the juggernaut their fans thought they were.

Xavier

What We Said: "But if they can figure out how to get the ball inside and Miller can put out two-big lineups that work on the defensive end, this team is a threat to win the Big East and make the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament. Don't sleep on Xavier, if it all comes together, they are the team to beat in the Big East."

What We've Seen: Miller has managed Freemantle and Nunge on offense, but defensively this team just isn't there yet. They don't rank in the top-100 on any of the defensive Four Factors (eFG%, Turnover Rate, Rebound Rate, Free Throw Rate). The biggest problem has been the inability to close out games, losing winnable games against Indiana and Gonzaga while getting close but not quite against Duke. This is still pretty clearly a top-half Big East team and NCAA bid contender, but not as good as we thought they could be so far.

Butler

What We Said: "If everything comes together and they hit their peak, this could be a tourney team come March. Expect them to land in the middle of the Big East, somewhere in the 6-8 range where they spend the season bouncing around the bubble."

What We've Seen: This one feels prescient. Chuck Harris has been a star, Manny Bates is a monster, and the pieces fit together well. They're not great on either end of the floor, but good enough to fight for a bid with no really bad losses and a couple decent wins. Their position at fifth in the league is a little ahead of expectations, but that's more a product of bad Big East teams than them overachieving what we saw coming.

Manny Bates is driving a resurgent Butler

Photo from Butler Athletics

Seton Hall

What We Said: "The Pirates will have a tough defense that gives them a shot to beat most of the teams they face. But it's hard to see who will be the shot-makers that push them over the edge when a game is tight down the stretch. I've seen some people touting this as a tourney team, but that feels like projection based on last year's improbable St. Peter's run. There just isn't enough offense here to get to the postseason."

What We've Seen: The offense is indeed bad. Al-Amir Dawes has been okay but turns it over too much, Tyrese Samuel is great on the offensive glass but can't create for himself and no one else can create for him either, and KC Ndefo is as bad as expected on offense. The defense has kept them in some games and the combination of the two has them far ahead of our overall expectation (we said only ahead of DePaul and Georgetown). This isn't a NCAA tourney team at this point, but it's not unthinkable and the NIT is certainly within reach. If they can improve their offensive efficiency and Kadary Richmond can become an actual game manager they could fight for a bid.

St. John's

What We Said: "Expect the Johnnies to finish in the bottom half of the league once again. If all breaks right and Curbelo and Jones have transformative seasons, they may find themselves on the right side of the bubble, but more likely this is a team that will be playing in the NIT, hoping to end their season at home in MSG."

What We've Seen: Don't be fooled by the 8-1 record, this has not been a good basketball team. They beat Nebraska at home for their best win, but narrow wins over poor Temple (#86) and Syracuse (#134 in OT) teams aren't what NCAA resumes are made of. They lost their only meaningful game at Iowa State. This looks like another classic Mike Anderson team that goes 9-2 in non-conference play, mostly beating up on weak opposition, then sputters to a 7-13 Big East mark but the 16-15 overall is enough to maintain his non-losing record streak and put them in the NIT mix.

Providence

What We Said: "If all goes well, they'll be on the right side of the bubble, if not they'll likely be in the NIT, somewhere in that 6th-9th in the Big East range that looks like a throw of the dice at this point of the season."

What We've Seen: While the 6-3 record matches Marquette, Creighton, Xavier, and Butler, the substance is vastly different. Their 3 losses are to the only top-100 teams they've faced, and all three in ranked lower than 50 for the current season. Not the worst losses, but not good. And their best win was the season opener over now #239 Rider. With two buy games left against sub-300 teams, the non-con resume is trash. Cooley has turned it around in conference play before, but in a down Big East, Providence will likely need to win 13-14 Big East games just to get in the at-large discussion. Last year's Marquette turned it around with a monster January. Providence will likely need the same, but it's a tougher task this year because last year's Big East was a much stronger league so there were more resume boosting opportunities.

Villanova

What We Said: "Neptune was left a great roster but keeping them healthy and getting the freshmen to blend in will determine how far this team can go. On paper, they should be a league title contender and if not the champs, certainly in the top three. But if they can't overcome their injuries, they could be closer to the bubble."

What We've Seen: We were way off on Villanova. Freshman Mark Armstrong wasn't ready, Chris Arcidiacono has been an every game starter, and there's no consistent point guard play. Despite that, the offense has been passable thanks to Caleb Daniels and Eric Dixon carrying heavy loads efficiently. The defense, on the other hand, good God. In twenty-one seasons at Villanova, Jay Wright only one one sub-100 defense, and that was the 2011-12 team that ranked #132. That was the floor. In his first year, Kyle Neptune has jackhammered through that floor, through the basement, and replaced the foundation with dirty sponges soaked in anchovy juice. They are ranked an absolutely abysmal #301. That is the worst of any high-major team, a full 54 spots behind 0-9 California. 'Nova fans will hope that Cam Whitmore and a possible Justin Moore return can turn things around, but at this point Villanova isn't even in the NIT mix, much less contending for the bubble. The drawback, like it is for Providence and St. John's, is they are out of meaningful non-con opportunities and a down Big East makes it harder to climb up the seed list as the season goes on.

Villanova hopes Cam Whitmore will drive them back into NCAA contention

Photo by Matt Slocum | AP Photo

DePaul

What We Said: "DePaul was one of the worst teams in the league, so if the new pieces come in and equal them, this is still a bad team. It must be hard to find optimism in Chicago when the best case scenario looks like bottom-3 in the league and there's a good chance 6 starters or rotation players will be gone at the end of the year."

What We've Seen: At a cursory glance, there seems to be reason for optimism. Umoja Gibson, Javan Johnson, and Eral Penn have been high efficiency offensive players while none of the major pieces have been bad. Those numbers may be a bit of fool's gold, however, as DePaul has only faced one defense ranked inside the top-100 and they lost to Oklahoma State. They've lost or gone to overtime with three sub-100 teams already and their defense, while not Villanova-bad, hasn't been good. If these guys can keep up their efficiency in conference play and they win the rest of their non-con matchups (including a trip to Northwestern) they could be an NIT team. More likely, however, it's just DePaul. They'll be in the bottom-3 and every player mentioned by name in this paragraph is ineligible to return beyond this season.

Georgetown

What We Said: "It's hard to fire a legend, but if Ewing couldn't make a tournament with James Akinjo, Mac McClung, Jessie Govan, Josh LeBlanc, and Jamorko Pickett, why would anyone trust him to do it with this cobbled together roster of role-players and losers, at least in terms of record? If they make it to tenth in the Big East, it should be considered a massive accomplishment, but still shouldn't be enough to save the job of the worst coach in the league."

What We've Seen: Their season opener was better than last year, as an overtime win over lowly Coppin State is still better than a loss to Dartmouth. That was probably the high point of the season. They haven't beat a team in the top-200 and have three sub-100 losses. Ewing just threw his entire team under the bus, saying "This isn't the NBA where you can trade and get other players in" despite the facts that thus far, he has seven players that have started a game for him this year, those seven are the only players to average 10 minutes per game, and NONE of them were on the roster last year. Meanwhile, of the nine players that started a game last year, this weekend's transfer by Dante Harris means only one is still left and that's Ryan Mutombo, who started just one game, has played 29 minutes this year with 4 DNPs, and hasn't been deemed important enough to play a single minute in three games against high-majors this year. Ewing did trade his roster and it still sucks. As far ahead of the rest of the league as UConn is, Georgetown is even further behind the next worst teams and until Patrick Ewing is fired there is no end in sight.

Sunday, December 04, 2022

It was a solid week, just not an amazing week

Well #mubb fans, it was good, but it could have been amazing. We're going to work from bad to great so we'll start with the Wisconsin game result. We talk about the OT loss to Wisconsin, how much it hurts, and what it didn't go the way we all hoped. We also talk about some of the individual plays and players and how we may extrapolate for the rest of the season. We then revisit the amazing win against Baylor and how that happened. With the week that was covered, we turn to the week to come which includes a maturity tester of a buy game and a catholic Sunday fight against Notre Dame. We also spend a little time talking about how we see the balance of the season going. It's a wide ranging 2 drink minimum podcast so spend some time with us and enjoy! https://mcdn.podbean.com/mf/web/trh7jm/ScrambledEggs_Editted_120322.mp3

Monday, November 28, 2022

What have we learned, top 10 opponent and Badger Hate Week

#mubb fans, it is that most wonderful time of year again, BADGER HATE WEEK. Before we get to that, we have to talk about a few things. First, we want to talk about the week that was where MU went 2-1. We talk about the loss at Mississippi State and what we've learned about this team and the Big East so far. We then preview the Baylor game (and implore you to attend) and talk about what MU's path to an upset victory looks like. Finally, we turn to the red menace, and talk about how this year, even more than most years is a shocking contract in styles. https://mcdn.podbean.com/mf/web/inhh62/ScrambledEggs_Editted_112822.mp3

Sunday, November 20, 2022

Win some you lose some, but during Feastweek everyone wins

We're back for another week of #mubb discussion including the first challenging game of the season. We spend the beginning of the pod highlighting the success of both the Women's basketball program and Volleyball program. We then turn to focus on the results of the Purdue game, what we liked and what leaves us with concerns. Finally we pivot to upcoming FeastWeek (3 games!) and talk about what the week looks like for MU. Happy Thanksgiving and Enjoy! https://mcdn.podbean.com/mf/web/cs4x4j/ScrambledEggs_Editted_111922.mp3

Friday, November 11, 2022

This was a good week, Jopwagon edition

The #mubb season is underway and we have some things to say about it. We review the two games this week as well as discuss that surprised us in both good and bad ways. We also spend some time reviewing the Purdue game, what to expect, and what we hope happens then close out with the briefest preview of LIU possible. As always, enjoy! https://mcdn.podbean.com/mf/web/uaemny/ScrambledEggs_Editted_111122.mp3

Sunday, November 06, 2022

Marquette Preview, 2022-23

Marquette Golden Eagles

Head Coach: Shaka Smart (19-13 at Marquette, 291-155 overall)

Three-Year NET Average: 56.3

Three-Year kenpom Average: 56.7

Projected 2022-23 T-Rank: 70

Projected Starters: PG Tyler Kolek (6'3" Jr), SG Stevie Mitchell (6'2" So), SF Kam Jones (6'4" So), PF Olivier Maxence-Prosper (6'8" Jr), C Osasere Ighodaro (6'9" Jr) 

 

Tyler Kolek looks to lift Marquette to new heights

Photo from Marquette Athletics

Expectations were pretty low for Marquette in Shaka Smart's first year, with the team picked 9th in the Big East and outside everyone's NCAA Tournament projections. The early season was highlighted by a win over then #10 Illinois. While the team suffered through a 1-5 December thanks to a brutal schedule, they rebounded to win 7 in a row in January, including becoming just the second Big East team not named Villanova to win at the Finneran Pavilion and the first Big East team to sweep Villanova since 2017. That was the high, the low was a 3-6 finish, including losses to open both the Big East and NCAA Tournaments. While the team overachieved, it was a disappointing finish that guaranteed a ten-year NCAA tourney win drought for both Marquette (March 28, 2013 over Miami) and Shaka Smart (March 21, 2013 over Akron). Compounding the ugly finish, leading scorer and rebounder Justin Lewis declared (and went undrafted in) the NBA Draft while starting seniors Darryl Morsell and Kur Kuath exhausted their eligibility.

The strength of 2022-23 Marquette looks to be the back court. Tyler Kolek was the Big East assist leader, winning over fans with his visionary passing and trash talking. They are hoping he'll improve his scoring, where his 40.0 eFG% simply wasn't good enough. Kam Jones looks most likely to take the alpha scorer mantle. This team will likely score by committee, but Jones is the guy who is most likely to get double-digits on any given night and is one of the best returning shooters in the league at 39.2% from deep. His improvement needs to come inside the arc, where he struggled with contact and didn't draw a single free throw in league play. O-Max Prosper is the other incumbent starter. He's a long, athletic defender who takes valuable seconds off the shot clock with his one man press. Marquette will need him to be more aggressive both in terms of hunting his shot and particularly in attacking the glass. Oso Ighodaro might be Marquette's most important player, simply because there are so few options behind him. He's a capable low-post scorer and savvy passer for a big man who Shaka says will play extensively with the ball in his hands. The last starter feels like an open question, with perimeter defensive ace Stevie Mitchell, high-ceiling forward David Joplin, and NAIA Player of the Year Zach Wrightsil in the mix. For the moment, we are expecting Smart to go with Mitchell's defense. He's a very good on ball defender who provides additional ball-handing. Wrightsil is expected to be one of the first front court options. He was a tremendous rebounder and interior scorer, though it remains to be seen if it will translate up to the Big East. The biggest wildcard may be David Joplin, who has shown the kind of aggressive scoring tendencies that helped Justin Lewis shine, but who also needs to tighten up his defensive play to get the reps necessary to show that capability. Offseason reports sound like Joplin may be the player ready to break out and don't be surprised if he works his way into the starting lineup before too long, but we don't think that will be opening night. The most likely freshman to be in the rotation is Sean Jones. He's an undersized point with blazing quickness (Smart says he's the fastest player he's ever coached) and the ability to create for both others and himself. Three other freshmen have a chance to crack the rotation; Chase Ross is an athletic but raw wing, Ben Gold is a 6'11" stretch forward whose shooting can create mismatches, and Keeyan Itejere is a high level athlete with size but maybe not enough polish yet to reliably platoon with Ighodaro.

Offensively, Marquette runs a lot of pick and roll, with the goal being to get open looks from three or shots at the rim. If players are solid in the midrange, the coaches will encourage those shots, but last year Morsell and Lewis were the only two that seemed to have much freedom in that regard. Kolek will likely lead the way with drives, seeking to either dump it off to Oso once he draws the defender or kick it out to an open shooter. Smart has also talked a lot about Ighodaro playing with the ball in his hands and becoming more of a distributor from the low post. On defense, despite what pundits like to say this is not the Havoc Smart ran at VCU. That system was a highly aggressive full-court press designed to turn teams over at all costs. His Violence defense is different. The real focus here is on time. Whereas the offense plays lightning fast (15.1 seconds per possession was #5 nationally) the defense does whatever they can to slow down possessions (18.3 seconds, #326). They often run a press, but it's designed to take seconds off the shot clock and shorten the time the offense has to get into their sets once they cross half court. They have recruited a number of long, athletic players that can switch and apply pressure all over the court. Last year they had a safety valve with the elite shot-blocker Kuath at the back. Ighodaro isn't as prodigious a rim protector so he will have to be better positionally. This may be where Itejere can help as he has the athleticism, but he's very raw so his minutes may be limited particularly once conference play begins.

Marquette seems to be a mystery this year. Many have pointed out that none of these players scored in double-digits last year for D1 programs, but last year Kolek was the only player on the roster who had scored double-digits at the D1 level previously. That didn't stop Lewis and Morsell from blossoming into consistent offensive options. In our Who Will Score? series earlier this summer, we learned that losing volume scoring is not closely correlated with a loss in team offensive efficiency. And in terms of volume, there's enough options that there will likely be numerous players around double-digits. Marquette lost 56.1% of their scoring, but last year, offense was never really the problem. When the team fell apart late, it was the defense that caved in. Per T-Rank, from the start of the season through February 3rd, Marquette's defense was ranked #35 nationally. From February 4th through the end of the season, it was ranked #177. The team's collapse was almost entirely because of defensive issues. If you want to worry about this team, I would point you toward the excellent Paint Touches article that points out the impact of Lewis, rebounding issues, and youth, among other concerns. Those concerns are legitimate. However...

This Marquette team also returns two more starters than it did a year ago. It returns four players that were significant contributors to last year's team, which is four more than they had a year ago when they surprised everyone with an NCAA bid. In terms of age, this team is young, but in terms of experience they are light years ahead of where they were a year ago. Last year was the first time in 11 years that Smart didn't have a top-40 defense, and it stands to reason with a more experienced roster he will once again have a top-40 defense this year. Offensively, Smart has had 10 teams rank in the top-100 per kenpom. 8/10 earned NCAA bids and the other two both won second tier tournaments (CBI in 2010, NIT in 2019). In the preseason, this team beat Loyola-Chicago in a scrimmage comfortably behind 27 points from Kam Jones while David Joplin's 28 points led the way over Missouri. If this team stays healthy, sustains their defensive form, and is marginally effective on offense, they should be fighting for an NCAA berth. And if one or two players really break out, the way Lewis and Morsell did a year ago, there's no reason they can't be a top-4 Big East team and in the mix for a safe single-digit seed.

Saturday, November 05, 2022

Xavier Preview, 2022-23

Xavier Musketeers

Head Coach: Sean Miller (120-47 at Xavier, 422-156 overall)

Three-Year NET Average: 48.7

Three-Year kenpom Average: 54.7

Projected 2022-23 T-Rank: 20

Projected Starters: PG Souley Boum (6'3" RS Sr), SG Adam Kunkel (6'4" RS Jr), SF Colby Jones (6'6" Jr), PF Zach Freemantle (6'9" Sr), C Jack Nunge (7'0" RS Sr)

It's Jones on Jones as Xavier's Colby lifts a floater over Marquette's Kam

Photo by Katie Stratman | USA Today Sports

2021-22 was the best of times and worst of times for Travis Steele and the Xavier Musketeers. They opened the season 11-1, and pushed that to 14-3 and a #17 AP Poll ranking despite a tough pair of losses to Villanova. Then the cracks started to show. They alternated winning two, losing two, winning two, and losing two before notching a win over UConn that had them 7-6 and still looking like a comfortable NCAA team. Then it all fell apart as Xavier lost 5 straight, managing only a win over Georgetown before bowing out to lowly Butler in the Big East Tournament opener. Steele found himself four years into his tenure with zero NCAA appearances. After struggling with Cleveland State in the first round of the NIT Tournament, Steele was fired. Typically, that would end the story, but Xavier played on, led by assistant Jonas Hayes, who was a perfect 4-0 en route to a NIT title when they defeated St. Bonaventure and Texas A&M at Madison Square Garden. That run landed Hayes the Georgia State job, as the back court trio of Paul Scruggs, Nate Johnson, and Dwon Odom all left.

If not for Jay Wright's retirement, Sean Miller's return to Xavier was the story of the offseason. In his first stint at Xavier, Miller went to four straight NCAA Tournaments with trips to the Elite Eight and Sweet Sixteen. He left for Arizona, where he had five second-weekend runs with the Wildcats, going to two Sweet Sixteens and three Elite Eights. Despite being involved in the ongoing FBI cases, Miller is regarded as an elite recruiter and game coach. In his seventeen seasons as a head coach, he's had nine teams finish in kenpom's top-20 and two of those were top-5 teams. He returns to Xavier with a talented roster. That starts in the front court, where Jack Nunge and Colby Jones were both preseason All-Big East selections. Nunge blossomed at Xavier, posting career highs in scoring, rebounding, blocks, and three-point percentage while having the lowest returning turnover rate of any player in the league. He's a viable Big East Player of the Year candidate, alongside obvious contenders like Adama Sanogo and Ryan Kalkbrenner, and also one of his teammates. Jones hit his apex in the NIT, averaging 14.8 ppg/6.0 rpg/4.4 apg while winning MVP of the NIT. Also in the front court is Zach Freemantle, who had a bit of a down year after his brilliant 16.1 ppg/8.9 rpg season in 2020-21. Freemantle had some off-the-court issues this summer, but it sounds like those were quickly resolved. If there are any questions, they are in the back court. UTEP transfer Souley Boum is expected to man the point. He was more of a combo guard at his last stop, but can create shots for himself and thrives both from the perimeter and attacking the rim. Adam Kunkel will likely be the other starter. He was a star at Belmont, but has been more of a rotation player with the ability to occasionally go off for big scoring nights. The first two off the bench are expected to be freshmen Desmond Claude and Kam Craft. Both project as shooting wings, with Claude considered the more skilled of the two and a possible point guard option if Boum isn't up to the task. There have been quiet raves about Claude as a future NBA player, so keep an eye on him as a possible All-Freshmen honoree if given the chance. In the front court, keep an eye on Dieonte Miles and former Indiana transfer Jerome Hunter, both of whom are expected to get minutes in multiple big man sets.

Offensively, this team has the potential to be devastating. All five starters can score from deep, they are all sure-handed with the ball, and Nunge/Freemantle/Jones might be the best offensive rebounding trio in the league. Miller's teams thrive at applying pressure, attacking inside, scoring, and getting to the line. His teams are often reticent to take threes, but when he has shooters his offenses tend to be elite, and this team has shooters. On defense, Miller has historically run pack line. His best defenses have multiple shot blockers (like Nunge and Freemantle), clog the interior, and try to bully opponents on the glass.

In terms of proven talent, Xavier deserves to be considered one of the favorites to win the Big East. Miller is a fantastic coach, he has a pair of bigs that have demonstrated high-level production, and a potential breakout star in Jones. But there are also question marks. Who will get the ball to the bigs? There might not be a true point guard on the roster and this team will need to get it inside. Defensively, can Freemantle and Nunge coexist? While both have the size and ability to be a defensive backstop, neither are the quick-footed type to get out on shooters when the opponent has forwards that stretch the floor. An inability to answer questions like these are the reason Travis Steele lost his job. And while Miller's best teams have been elite, he's had issues when his guards don't share the ball enough and there's big man overlap. The floor for this team should be the NCAA Tournament. They are simply too talented and Miller too good to miss. That said, they have been struggling in their preseason play, losing to Vanderbilt in a scrimmage and struggling with Kentucky Wesleyan in an exhibition. That could be working kinks out or it could be signs that the roster construction issues aren't a one-year fix. But if they can figure out how to get the ball inside and Miller can put out two-big lineups that work on the defensive end, this team is a threat to win the Big East and make the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament. Don't sleep on Xavier, if it all comes together, they are the team to beat in the Big East.

Marquette Memory: Two overtime losses for Marquette form interesting bookends. George Thompson scored 41 points on February 26, 1968, in an 88-83 loss at Xavier. On February 22, 1984, Xavier again defeated Marquette in overtime, this time 82-68. In between Marquette went on an incredible 26-game winning streak over the Musketeers. Not only was the streak impressive, but Marquette won those games by an average of 18.8 points per game, with none of the contests closer than an 8-point margin. That streak is the second longest winning streak over a single opponent in Marquette history, exceeded only by the ongoing 39-0 mark Marquette has against UW-Milwaukee.