Big East Tournament: Preview & Odds

March 10th, 2009


This is one in a series of conference tournament previews, in which I run down all the teams involved, give a brief statistical review and present the log5 projections, using in-conference offensive and defensive efficiency. The basic log5 methodology comes from Bill James, and this is an area Ken Pomeroy has looked at in the past as well. I claim nothing new in the application, but obviously with slightly different methodologies, these numbers may differ from others you find.  I don’t claim to be an expert on any particular conference, and I’m sure there are some mis-characterizations on some players I’ve seen sparingly at best, so please add your thoughts in the comments. Anyway, with no further ado, the preview follows below:


Big East Tournament

The first season of a 16-team tournament makes for the busiest five days in college basketball at Madison Square Garden. Incidentally, the Big East tournament has fond memories for me, as it was the first NCAA games I ever attended.




















































West Virginia





















Notre Dame







Seton Hall














St. John's







South Florida





















There’s a fairly wide-open battle between the four teams that get byes into the quarters, and another block of three that could cause a surprise upset. That extra game really will handicap teams like Marquette and Syracuse though. The reason Pitt’s semifinal odds are so low is that West Virginia is particularly dangerous potential quarterfinal opponent. For those wondering, DePaul’s odds of taking the crown are about 1.5 in one hundred million.


#1 – Louisville Cardinals (25-5, 16-2) ; Efficiency Margin: +0.133

Last NCAA Tournament bid: 2008 (Elite Eight)


The Big East regular season champion, Louisville is the second favorite for the tournament, but comes in hot, having not lost since getting blown out by Notre Dame. The Cardinals have one of the nation’s best defenses, a balanced unit that defends all over the floor and does a lot of things well. They force a lot of turnovers, and are among the country’s elite shot-blockers, but are also good at defending the outside. Louisville’s weakness has been its offense, as it has ranked just 8th in the league in offensive efficiency. The problems it has had have been free throws and turnovers; the Cardinals have shot under 63% at the stripe, and have given the ball up pretty often. They can definitely win the tournament, but their offensive woes may handicap them in the latter stages of the NCAA Tournament.


Players to watch:

6-6 SR Terrence Williams, 12.8 PPG, 8.5 RPG, 5.1 APG, 2.3 SPG, 50.5 eFG% -  Williams is an incredibly versatile player, excellent both inside and out. He’s great on the defensive glass, but also is the team’s best in assist rate, and excels on the defensive end. He doesn’t take a huge number of shots, but he’s pretty effective when he does shoot.


6-9 JR Earl Clark, 13.6 PPG, 8.8 RPG, 1.5 BPG, 46.9 eFG% - Clark leads the Cardinals in both scoring and rebounding, but isn’t a particularly efficient player, shooting under 45% from the field and under 30% from three.



#2 – Pittsburgh Panthers (28-3, 15-3) ; Efficiency Margin: +0.148

Last NCAA Tournament bid: 2008 (2nd Round)


Pitt’s three road losses are the only blemishes on a spectacular season, and an excellent win over UConn brings it in on a major high. The Panthers have been an elite offensive team, primarily due to their spectacular offensive rebounding, the best in the country. They don’t have a lot of chances to practice that skill, either, as they shoot 54% from inside the arc. Defensively, Pitt have been solid, again thanks to rebounding, but they are vulnerable on the perimeter and don’t force a lot of turnovers.


Players to watch:

6-7 SO DeJuan Blair, 15.6 PPG, 12.4 RPG,1.5 SPG, 1.0 BPG, 59.6 eFG% - There’s no question in my mind that Blair is the Big East player of the year, mostly because of his spectacular rebounding. Blair grabs a quarter of Pitt’s misses when he’s on the floor, an astounding number. He also puts up great rates in both steals and blocks, and has committed just 38 turnovers all season. When he’s on the floor, Pitt is a different, much better team, and he’s the key to the Panthers having sustained success.


6-6 SR Sam Young, 18.8 PPG, 6.1 RPG, 55.2 eFG% -  Young is Pitt’s main offensive weapon, and leads the team in scoring. He’s a good inside scorer who can hit the occasional three, and is a decent rebounder when you consider he has to compete against Blair in his own frontcourt.  



#3 – Connecticut Huskies (27-3, 15-3) ; Efficiency Margin: +0.180

Last NCAA Tournament bid: 2008 (1st Round)


The Huskies will surely hope for a upset of Pitt before a potential semifinal; two of their three losses came against the Panthers. Connecticut is the only Big East team that defends better than Louisville, despite being one of the nation’s poorest teams at forcing turnovers. They make up for not getting these possessions by defending shots ferociously, allowing just 41% on twos and under 30% on threes, and have the nation’s best foul rate, averaging only 12 per game. A huge inside shot-blocking presence also often forces teams to change up their offensive strategy. On the offensive end, the Huskies have an above-average group that pound the ball inside, and are rewarded not only with a good percentage of made shots, but with a lot of offensive rebounds and trips to the line as well.


Players to watch:

7-3 JR Hasheem Thabeet, 13.2 PPG, 10.3 RPG, 4.2 BPG, 65.5 eFG% - There may be no one in college basketball as potentially game-changing as Thabeet, who is one of only three Big East players to average a double-double and is an elite shot-blocker. His offensive game has improved, he’s a 65% field goal shooter who doesn’t get quite as many chances as he should. If his role in the offense increased, he could be an even more dominating force than he is right now. He has the occasional tendency to ‘disappear’ from the offense, a trend that is much to UConn’s detriment.


6-7 SR Jeff Adrien, 13.7 PPG, 9.9 RPG, 50.5 eFG% - Adrien is another excellent forward who would be the #1 inside option on most teams in the country. He lags behind Thabeet in all the major statistical rates, but not by much, and plays a bigger role in the offense, which makes him the team’s leading scorer.



#4 – Villanova Wildcats (25-6, 13-5) ; Efficiency Margin: +0.114

Last NCAA Tournament bid: 2008 (Sweet Sixteen)


Villanova is the last of the Big East teams to earn a bye to the quarters, and is a serious threat to claim the tournament title. It doesn’t have a dominant unit like the top three teams do, but is the conference’s only team to have a top-4 ranked offense and defense. The Wildcats are excellent three-point shooters, and get to the free throw line a lot, but aren’t great with turnovers on the offensive end. They do manage to force a lot of turnovers themselves, something they need to make up for average defending on their opponents’ shot attempts. Villanova tends to face a lot of threes from their opposition, so a team that can really shoot from  long-distance may be able to take advantage of it.


Players to watch:

6-8 SR Dante Cunningham, 16.4 PPG, 7.3 RPG, 1.3 BPG, 53.7 eFG% - Cunningham leads the Wildcats in scoring and rebounding, and its harder to pick out areas where he struggles than ones where he’s strong. A great percentage shooter from the floor who can battle well inside and doesn’t cough the ball over much, he is well deserving of the most improved Big East player award.


6-2 JR Scottie Reynolds, 15.7 PPG, 2.7 RPG, 3.7 APG, 51.2 eFG% - Reynolds is a good lead guard for Villanova, a strong outside shooter who puts up a lot of assists. There are some areas of his game that need work, as he doesn’t shoot a great percentage inside and turns the ball over too often, but overall he’s a very effective player.



#5 – Marquette Golden Eagles (23-8, 12-6) ; Efficiency Margin: +0.072

Last NCAA Tournament bid: 2008 (2nd Round)


Marquette was in competition for a conference title at 12-2, but the combination of a brutal schedule and an injury to Dominic James saw the Golden Eagles drop four straight to close the season in 5th.Marquette has been one of the conference’s better offenses, thanks to one of the country’s top turnover rates and frequent appearances at the free throw line. Marquette’s problems have come on the defensive end; they just don’t hold opponents’ shooting percentages low enough, allowing them more than 50% inside and 37% behind the arc.


Players to watch:

6-3 SR Jerel McNeal, 20.1 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 2.1 SPG, 53.4 eFG% - McNeal sits third in the Big East in scoring, an excellent shooter inside and outside who also has very high assist and steal rates. In a conference powered by great big men, McNeal has probably been the best guard, no small achievement.


6-5 SR Wesley Matthews, 18.5 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 2.5 APG, 55.4 eFG% - Matthews is the kind of second scoring option every team in the country would love to have, an excellent inside scorer who has been to the free throw line more than 200 times on the season, and made over 80% of attempts.



#6 – Syracuse Orange (23-8, 11-7) ; Efficiency Margin: +0.069

Last NCAA Tournament bid: 2006 (1st Round)


Syracuse suffered a mid-season lull during the toughest part of its schedule, going 3-7 from mid-January to late-February, but has won its last four, though against a weaker set of teams. It runs one of the conference’s fastest offenses, and has turned that into a lot of high-percentage chances in transition, but also into a lot of turnovers. Defensively, they are weak on the inside, but they clamp down behind the arc, holding opponents under 30%.


Players to watch:

6-0 SO Jonny Flynn, 17.3 PPG, 2.9 RPG, 6.4 APG, 1.5 SPG, 50.9 eFG% - Jonny Flynn is one of the Big East’s most athletic players, and can produce some spectacular scoring plays, but his biggest strengths are a little less obvious; he has a great assist rate, and controls turnovers decently, especially at Syracuse’s fast pace. Another thing he does well is get to the line, he makes appearances pretty frequently, and hits at a 77% clip from the stripe.


6-4 JR Paul Harris, 12.8 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 53.6 eFG% - Harris is another player who earns a lot of points at the free throw line, but unlike Flynn, he does  it with strong play inside, a good shooter who leads the team in rebounding.



#7 – West Virginia Mountaineers (21-10, 10-8) ; Efficiency Margin: +0.084

Last NCAA Tournament bid: 2008 (Sweet Sixteen)


The Mountaineers have been efficiency darlings for much of the season, currently sitting 9th by Ken Pomeroy’s rankings, and while I’ve been waiting for them to have a big breakthrough, it hasn’t come, though they do have a number of very good wins. West Virginia’s conference losses are almost exclusively to the teams above it, good news for its chances in the first round, but not as good for its hopes of causing a major splash. Like a typical Huggins team, the Mountaineers are excellent defensively, forcing a lot of turnovers and keeping opponents under wraps from behind the arc. This has made up for their poor shooting percentages, which have hurt West Virginia’s offensive performance. They are also excellent from the free throw line, and dominate the offensive glass.


 Players to watch:

6-6 SR Alex Ruoff, 15.7 PPG, 3.6 RPG, 1.7 SPG, 54.9 eFG% - Ruoff has seen his shooting percentages dip in his final season, but that’s to be expected, with his role in the offense increasing. Most of his shots come from behind the arc, where he’s been very good, and when he does shoot from inside, its usually pretty effective.


6-7 JR Da’Sean Butler, 17.1 PPG, 6.1 RPG, 49.8 eFG% - Butler leads the Mountaineers in scoring, and while he’s not as good a pure shooter as Ruoff, it’s hard to find many problems with his play, and he can cause trouble for opponents with his ability to hit the three.



#8 – Providence Friars  (18-12, 10-8) ; Efficiency Margin: -0.028

Last NCAA Tournament bid: 2004 (1st Round)


Keno Davis has been excellent in his first year leading the Friars, but Providence marks the start of the Big East teams that have put up negative efficiency margins over the season, and don’t look like a threat to make a deep run. It scores a lot of points, but its fast pace hides a conference average offense that is solid inside, but not great with turnovers or the three-point shot. The Friars are also among the conference’s worst defenders, allowing opponents to shoot a high percentage and struggling on the defensive glass.


Players to watch:

6-5 SR Weynimi Efejuku, 15.4 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 52.5 eFG% - Efejuku has been one of the hottest scorers in the conference over the last month or so, averaging 24 points in his last six games. He’s a good inside scorer who can hit the occasional  three.


5-10 JR Sharaud Curry, 11.6 PPG, 2.0 RPG, 4.4 APG, 50.7 eFG% - Curry is the team’s best three point shooter, at 40%, and is an excellent ball distribution guard who rarely turns it over.



#9 – Cincinnati Bearcats (18-13, 8-10) ; Efficiency Margin: -0.070

Last NCAA Tournament bid: 2005 (2nd Round)


The Bearcats are another team that has had a mildly surprising successful season, but enter the conference tournament having lost five of six, and don’t look to have much of a chance to make a big run. They’ve put up the worst Big East defensive record outside of Chicago, and don’t do much well on that end of the floor. Cincinnati forces few turnovers, allows opponents a good percentage, struggles on the defensive glass and commits a lot of  fouls, which adds up to limited resistance to the opposition. It doesn’t make a lot of shots itself, but has been decent offensively, thanks to one of the country’s best rates on the offensive glass.


Players to watch:

6-1 JR Deonta Vaughn, 15.3 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 4.7 APG, 49.9 eFG% - Vaughn leads Cincinnati in scoring and assists, making just enough of his high number of three-point attempts to stay efficient. He’s struggled with turnovers, and doesn’t get to the stripe often enough, just 2 shots in his last five games.


6-9, FR Yancy Gates, 10.7 PPG, 6.2 RPG,  48.8 eFG% - Gates has been a very good inside option for the Bearcats, though he has shown the inconsistency we often expect from freshmen. He’s a player who needs to work on free throws, both in getting attempts, and making them once he does.



#10 – Notre Dame Fighting Irish (17-13, 8-10) ; Efficiency Margin: -0.009

Last NCAA Tournament bid: 2008 (2nd  Round)


A seven-game losing streak in the middle of the conference season saw Notre Dame’s high ranking and conference hopes fall apart, and it has had only a single marquee Big East win, over Louisville. Still, this is a team that has the best chance out of the bottom seven to make a serious run, as it has been a dangerous teams at time. The Irish have been an offensive dynamo, great three-point shooters who rarely turn the ball over, but aren’t great at scoring inside, and rarely get to the free throw line. The Notre Dame defense has basically wasted what offensive gains it’s gotten, though, defending shots decently and rarely fouling, but forcing so few turnovers that opponents have had a too many opportunities to score.


Players to watch:

6-8 JR Luke Harangody, 23.7 PPG, 12.1 RPG, 48.5 eFG% - Harangody leads the conference in scoring and sits second in rebounding; He’s a spectacular big man who takes a lot of shots, and rarely turns it over. He’s cooled off a little from his January pace, but not by much, and still is an clear threat for 30-and-15 on a good day.


6-0 SR Kyle McAlarney, 15.5 PPG, 2.8 RPG, 56.5 eFG% - McAlarney is one of the conference’s best three-point shooters, but tends to run hot-and-cold, occasionally putting up some ugly shooting lines. He isn’t much of a shooter inside, though, barely over 40% on two-pointers.



#11 – Seton Hall Pirates (16-14, 7-11) ; Efficiency Margin: -0.044

Last NCAA Tournament bid: 2006 (1st Round)


This has been an impressive season for Seton Hall, which has used one of the shallowest rosters in the country to fight its way to a pretty solid record. The Pirates are good at controlling turnovers, but have had troubles with the three-point shot. They defend threes well, but are among the league’s worst defensive rebounders and have fouled pretty frequently.


Players to watch:

6-5 SO Jeremy Hazell, 22.6 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 51.3 eFG% - He may not be getting much national attention, but Jeremy Hazell has had a stellar season for the Pirates, and is the #2 scorer in the Big East. He’s a strong shooter who makes the most of his opportunities, and rarely turns the ball over. This is a guy to watch in the conference next season.


6-6 JR Robert Mitchell, 14.8 PPG, 7.9 RPG, 45.5 eFG% -  Mitchell leads the team in rebounding, but his shooting percentage is somewhat underwhelming.



#12 – Georgetown Hoyas (16-13, 7-11) ; Efficiency Margin: -0.020

Last NCAA Tournament bid: 2008 (2nd Round)


The Hoyas had a very promising start to the season, but have just fallen apart under the heavy pressure of Big East play. Still, you shouldn’t forget about them as they are the team in the bottom eight most likely to cause havoc up the bracket, and could easily find themselves in the quarterfinals. They are excellent inside shooters, but most of their attempts come from outside, where they’ve been below average, and they have had a lot of turnover problems. Georgetown has defended decently, but given opponents a lot of chances with poor defensive rebounding.


Players to watch:

6-11 FR Greg Monroe, 12.7 PPG, 6.6 RPG, 1.8 SPG, 1.3 BPG, 57.7 eFG% - While Monroe’s team has slowed down in Big East play, the same cannot be said of the talented freshman, who has been one of the conference’s best players all season. He’s not a huge scorer, but this is mostly because he hasn’t been a large focus of the offense, and his good numbers in rebounds, steals and blocks, make him a quality defensive asset.


6-1 SO Chris Wright, 12.5 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 3.7 APG, 53.6 eFG% -  Wright’s a good inside scorer who gets to the line a lot and is excellent at dishing out assists, but his percentage from three isn’t great.



#13 – St. John’s Red Storm (15-16, 6-12) ; Efficiency Margin: -0.123

Last NCAA Tournament bid: 2002 (1st Round)


While the difference between St. John’s and Georgetown is only a game in the standings, the EM numbers make it clear that the bottom four teams are in an entirely different (and much worse) class. St. John’s takes most of its shots inside, but has hit under 44% from two-point range, and has also been bad behind the arc. The Red Storm’s lone bright spot has been good rebounding, but their struggles in other areas have basically wiped this out.


Players to watch:

6-6 SO D.J. Kennedy, 12.9 PPG, 6.7 RPG, 46.0 eFG% - Kennedy has been somewhat up-and-down, but when he’s on he’s a very effective player, a good scorer and rebounder.


6-3 SO Paris Horne, 14.5 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 1.6 SPG, 52.4 eFG% - Horne is the only St. John’s player who puts up a lot of threes, and he does a pretty good job on them, hitting 35%, enough to make him the team’s top scorer.



#14 – South Florida Bulls (9-21, 4-14) ; Efficiency Margin: -0.119

Last NCAA Tournament bid: 1992 (1st Round)


South Florida had the biggest win of the bottom teams on the season when they hosted and beat a highly-ranked Marquette side, but beyond that hasn’t done much, getting two of its four wins against DePaul. The Bulls play the conference’s slowest pace, but it doesn’t help them make shots, as they rank last in the conference in field goal percentage, under 40% on the season. They’ve been better defending shots, but they just can’t score enough to string together victories.


Players to watch:

6-4 SO Dominique Jones, 18.2 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 47.5 eFG% - No player in the Big East plays more than Jones, who has played every minute in each of the Bulls’ last five games and leads the  team in points and rebounds. His 31% from behind the arc is a bit of a problem, but he’s a pretty solid inside shooter.


6-4 SR Jesus Verdejo, 12.5 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 46.1 eFG% -  Verdejo is USF’s best three-point shooter, not having a great percentage, but doing decently with a lot of shots.



#15 – Rutgers Scarlet Knights (11-20, 2-16) ; Efficiency Margin: -0.146

Last NCAA Tournament bid: 1991 (1st Round)


Rutgers is another team that has been weak offensively, as was somewhat obvious from its game in the mid-40s against the aforementioned USF Bulls. The Knights struggle to make shots and turn the ball over a lot, and while they are the conference’s best free throw shooters, they rarely get chances at the line. Their defense hasn’t been anything special, and with this offense, it’d need to be to keep them out of the cellar.


Players to watch:

6-9 FR Gregory Echenique, 8.5 PPG, 8.4 RPG, 2.5 BPG, 52.0 eFG% - Echenique has been one of the conference’s better freshmen, and should give Knights’ fans some hope for future seasons. He’s a great rebounder and shot-blocker, but his offense game still needs to be somewhat refined, and he will ideally grow into a bigger role.


6-3 FR Mike Rosario, 16.3 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 47.7 eFG% - Another good freshman, Rosario leads the team in scoring, and is a decent shooter who only needs to improve his percentage a little to be a very efficient, high-usage player.



#16 – DePaul Blue Demons (8-23, 0-18) ; Efficiency Margin: -0.260

Last NCAA Tournament bid: 2002 (1st Round)


DePaul must be kicking itself after not getting a win in a tight game with Villanova late in the season; it was the only conference game in which it ended up within five points of a victory. The Demons have been the conference’s worst in offense and defense, and struggled in almost every area. The one thing they do well is avoid fouls, but when you stop so few shots, maybe it would help to foul a little more.


Players to watch:

6-10 SO Mac Koshwal, 12.6 PPG, 9.8 RPG, 53.0 eFG% - Koshwal has been one of the lone bright spots on a young DePaul team, one of the conference’s better rebounders and a solid inside scorer who needs to work on his free throws.


6-5 SO Dar Tucker, 18.2 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 44.1 eFG% -  Tucker takes a large percentage of the Demons’ shots, but he probably shouldn’t; he’s under 40% from the field and under 30% from behind the arc.


My statistical all-Big East team:

Marquette SR G Jerel McNeal, 20.1 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 2.1 SPG, 53.4 eFG%

Syracuse SO G Jonny Flynn, 17.3 PPG, 2.9 RPG, 6.4 APG, 1.5 SPG, 50.9 eFG%

Pittsburgh SO F DeJuan Blair, 15.6 PPG, 12.4 RPG,1.5 SPG, 1.0 BPG, 59.6 eFG%

Notre Dame JR F Luke Harangody, 23.7 PPG, 12.1 RPG, 48.5 eFG%

Connecticut JR C Hasheem Thabeet, 13.2 PPG, 10.3 RPG, 4.2 BPG, 65.5 eFG%