Dick Vitale, Sean Farnham and Jay Bilas take a closer look at why the Spartans are the most dominant team in college basketball. (0:45)
This year’s Big East has the potential to be a bloodbath — just not the kind that the old Big East guard, the Jim Boeheims and John Thompsons of the world, so fondly and frequently remember.
The new-look league’s carnage is more likely to play out in the standings. The Big East has seven teams ranked in the RPI’s top 50. While they range from third (Villanova) all the way to 49th (Providence), seemingly every team in that group has the pieces to be a threat to everyone else. It’s hard to imagine any of these teams surviving the rest of the regular season without taking a couple of lumps. In a college basketball season that is shaping up to be rife with parity, the Big East may be the most treacherous among the “any given night” crowd. This weekend should provide a couple of opportunities to muddle the pecking order.
No. 23 Creighton(14-3, 4-1) is in prime position to announce its presence on Saturday with a trip to Xavier. The Bluejays are a dangerous team when they find their transition groove. They had assists on more than two-thirds of their field goals earlier this week in a win against Butler — their fourth straight league victory.
No. 10 Xavier has dropped two games in a row. A blowout at the hands of No. 1 Villanova came on the heels of an upset loss at Providence last weekend. That leaves Chris Mack’s team (15-3, 3-2) in need of a big win. Veterans like J.P. Macura and Trevon Bluiett have been at their best when emotions are high on their home court, which should make Saturday’s game (2 p.m. ET, Fox) an entertaining battle.
Marquette, projected as an NCAA tournament 10-seed according to ESPN’s Bracketology, might also prove to be another difficult out before the season ends. The Golden Eagles have a 12-5 record, but four of those losses have come against ranked teams.
They soundly beat No. 13 Seton Hall earlier this week, and with two players (Markus Howard and Andrew Rowsey) averaging 20-plus points per game, they have the potential to stick with any of the league’s other high-scoring teams in a shootout on a good night. Marquette travels to Butler on Friday night — speaking of teams capable of outshooting the best of the best — in a matchup of teams that both need a win to avoid falling in an early hole in league play.
Villanova for now remains the league’s alpha dog. The Wildcats will be in Madison Square Garden this weekend, which should make that old guard of the Big East smile to see, for what should be a comfortable game against St. John’s. They would be wise to treasure it while they can. Comfort won’t be a luxury that anyone in this league will get to enjoy for very long over the course of the next couple of months.
Others worth watching
ACC defense: Points are hard to come by in the ACC this season. The league boasts six of the top 14 adjusted defense ratings on KenPom, by far the most of any conference in college basketball and easily the most the ACC has had in a decade. No. 3 Virginia (catch the Hoos host N.C. State on Sunday at 6 p.m. ET on ESPNU) is a mainstay in this category and is allowing a nation’s lowest 53 points per game.
Miami, Clemson, North Carolina, Louisville and Syracuse are all not too far behind. That could lead to some closely contested games in the next six weeks. The one to watch this Saturday is No. 18 Miami vs. No. 19 Clemson. The Tigers (14-1, 3-0) haven’t allowed more than 70 points in a game since November and have a chance to prove they are a legitimate threat in the league with a good showing at home this weekend.
Top 10 again: A matchup of top-10 teams has become a weekly event for the Big 12 — a league that is as talented as it is wide open at the moment. More clarity (or more chaos) may come this weekend. One week after West Virginia took down Oklahoma to jump to No. 2 in the polls, the Mountaineers have to travel to Texas Tech. The Red Raiders snapped an eight-game winning streak this week. They nonetheless have a 76 percent shot of knocking off Bob Huggins & Co., according to ESPN’s BPI predictor. The Sooners, meanwhile, host the TCU Horned Frogs, who are in danger of dropping to 1-3 in conference play despite a terrific start to the year.
State pride: The Mitten State will draw its battle line Saturday afternoon when Michigan travels an icy, 70-mile stretch of highway to East Lansing for its only meeting of the regular season with No. 4 Michigan State. The Spartans are a favorite on their home court, but the teams seem to be trending toward each other at the moment.
Michigan State barely squeaked past Rutgers in overtime earlier this week after losing to Ohio State on Sunday. Michigan (14-4, 3-2) lost a tight, controversial finish to Purdue this week and seems to be developing a bit of a rhythm with freshman Isaiah Livers taking on a bigger role in the offense. The Spartans are still the obvious team to beat in the Big Ten, but a loss to their in-state rivals may have them looking over the shoulder with a little concern moving forward.