We have reached the end of our top returning Big East guard countdown and headline our rankings at #1 is Marcus Zegarowski, who was one of the biggest factors in leading the Creighton Blue Jays to their best season ever. Creighton took a share of the Big East regular season crown with a 13-5 conference mark, and were ranked 7th in the final AP Poll. Had the season not been cancelled, the Blue Jays were slated to potentially be a 2-seed in the NCAA Tournament, which would have been a first in program history. Zegarowski was the driving force behind Creighton’s resurgence, putting together one of the best seasons of any guard, regardless of conference. He averaged 16.1 points per game, good for 6th in the conference, while he ranked third in assists (5.0 per game) and 3rd in three-point shooting percentage, firing up the triple at a 42.4% clip.
A product of Hamilton, Massachusetts, Zegarowski headed out to the westernmost school in the Big East, where he was a Year-1 contributor in Omaha, averaging 10.4 points per game while starting 16 of 32 games as a freshman. Averaging nearly 35 minutes a game as a sophomore, Zegarowski saw his stats take a leap, finishing second on the team in points and leading the squad in assists, while notching a very respectable 3.8 rebounds per contest. Zegarowski put up solid numbers from day 1, but it wasn’t until Creighton clashed with #12 Texas Tech, the defending national runner-ups, that the sophomore squad and his Blue Jays raised some eyebrows. After a 4-2 start, with no major wins and two losses by double-digits, Creighton wasn’t on anybody’s radar. But then Zegarowski and Co. took the Red Raiders to overtime in the Las Vegas Invitational, with the Massachusetts native dropping 32 points and 5 assists, while snaring a pair of steals in a signature performance. One game later, he poured in 30 points against Nebraska, to go with 9 rebounds and 6 assists. Zegarowski’s efforts sparked a 8-game win streak that was punctuated with an opening victory in Big East play, 92-75 vs. Marquette. Zegarowski made his presence felt in that victory as well with 16 points, 8 rebounds, and 6 assists.
Creighton briefly debuted in the rankings on January 13 at #25, but a loss to Georgetown saw the Blue Jays drop out once more. However, after that loss, the Blue Jays finished the year on an 11-2 tear that lifted the Blue Jays to the Big East lead and the #7 ranking. Zegarowski’s red-hot shooting was on display on many occasions, but his best performance came on February 23 versus #21 Butler, as he drained all seven of his three-point attempts en route to a 25-point night, leading Creighton to a massive 22-point victory that helped them crack the top 10 in the next morning. Zegarowski ended his shortened season in fitting fashion, combining for 43 points in his final two contests on 9-11 shooting from beyond the arc. His 5-5 effort against #8 Seton Hall gave Creighton the needed win to tie the Pirates and Villanova for the conference lead.
The cancellation of this year’s season blew the country’s opportunity to see the new and improved Marcus Zegarowski in March Madness. But, if he comes back firing on all cylinders and running the floor for Creighton, there’s no reason to think the Blue Jays won’t be back in Final Four consideration next season.
The DePaul Blue Demons may have struggled in the highly competitive Big East, but they boasted one of the best individual performers in the conference in Charlie Moore, DePaul’s junior guard who averaged 15.5 points per game (8th in the Big East) and led the conference with 6.1 assists per contest. It was a massive improvement from a sophomore year with Kansas that saw Moore shoot 28.6% from the field and average under 3 points a game in just 13 minutes of court time per contest. The Chicago product improved his mark to 37.6% shooting from the field while leading the Blue Demons in points and assists, while posting a respectable 3.3 rebounds per contest as a 5’11 guard. Moore has played a year each with Cal, Kansas, and DePaul, but he is returning to the Blue Demons for his senior year.
Many of DePaul’s season highlights came in the early portion of the year, opening up the year on a 9-game tear. Moore was front and center for that early-season hot streak, torching BC on the road for 24 points and 8 assists, followed by back-to-back double-doubles against Central Michigan and Minnesota. He finished the main stretch of the non-conference slate with a 25-point, 10-rebound double-double against Northwestern, polishing off a 12-1 start to the year for the Blue Demons.
Despite DePaul struggling to attain results in Big East play, Moore continued to put up solid numbers and big games against tough competition. He poured in 29 points in a road game at #14 Villanova, and he came up two rebounds shy of a triple-double against St. Johns. There are several other games to highlight, including a 21-point, 8-assist, 6-rebound effort against Marquette, as Moore pushed out strong performance after strong performance. He ended his season on a high note, sparking DePaul to an upset victory over Xavier with 18 points and 9 assists in the Big East preliminary round. If Moore can continue to improve his shooting and be a high-impact player for DePaul, he should be a huge player to watch both on the conference and national landscape.
Villanova is the Big East’s best claim to being a true Power-6 conference, having won two of the past four national championships. And in Collin Gillespie, the Wildcats have one of the best returning guards in the conference. He tied for 10th in the Big East in scoring with 15.1 points per game, and he was fifth in assists (4.5 apg). He’s been a strong contributor for Villanova for three years, increasing his points, assists, and rebound total in every season, while shooting over 80% from the free throw line each year. Consistency was a huge part of Gillespie’s game, as he scored less than ten points on just four occasions all season.
Gillespie showed out on several occasions as well, putting up huge performances while playing alongside projected first round pick Saddiq Bey. He put himself on the radar with a 18-point, 9-assist effort in a tight non-conference victory over Mississippi State, followed with a 27-point, 6-assist performance against Baylor, ranked 24th at the time. As the Wildcats progressed through another dominant conference season, tying for a three-way share of the conference lead with a 13-5 record, Gillespie consistently torched opposing Big East defenses. He notched 24-point efforts against Xavier and Creighton, followed by a 21-point a double-double at St. Johns, before delivering his best performance of the year against #19 Butler. Playing the Bulldogs on the road, Gillespie shot 9-19 from the field and 7-10 from the charity stripe to collect 28 points, while dishing out six assists.
Gillespie stayed consistent throughout the year, impacting the game in various ways, even when his scoring touch was off. That consistency was a relief to Villanova fans, who watched their star guard virtually disappear in the 2019 postseason, averaging just 5.5 points per game in their final four playoff clashes. Gillespie has virtually eliminated those hiccups, becoming a high-impact player for the Wildcats in almost every game. Set to receive the lion’s shares of shots and scoring opportunities next season, Gillespie should continue to boost his numbers, continuing his upwards trajectory in his final collegiate season.
Next up in our Big East top returning guards down is David Duke out of Providence, who slots in at #4 in our countdown. Efficiency and strong defense is the name of the game for Duke, who averaged 12 points per game to go with 4.2 rebounds and 3.1 assists. He was fourth in the conference with 42% shooting from three-point range, and he also ranked fourth with 1.6 steals per contest. Duke led the Friars in assists, and he’s the second-best returning rebounder and top returning scorer on the team entering his junior season.
Providence struggled to a 7-6 non-conference record, but Duke posted solid numbers, and he helped the Friars get their season back on course in Big East play. He demonstrated his versatility in the conference opener against Georgetown, notching 10 points, 6 rebounds, and 8 assists. He put forth his signature effort of the year at #25 Creighton, the eventual conference winners, torching the Blue Jays for 36 points, four rebounds, two assists, and three steals, shooting 6-8 from beyond the arc. One game later, he posted a double-double against #9 Villanova. He punctuated a solid sophomore season with back-to-back 16-point, 4-steal performances versus Xavier and DePaul.
Duke posted particularly spectacular numbers when he was Providence’s go-to-guy, notching a touch under 17 points in 12 games in which he got 10+ field goal attempts. To improve on his sophomore year, he’ll have to maintain his efficiency with a higher shot volume and stay consistent, avoiding performances like road contests at Georgetown and Villanova, where he shot a combined 1-13 from the field for a total of 3 points. If he avoids games like those and continues to shoot at a lethal clip from range, Duke should have Providence competing for the Big East Championship and a high seed in the NCAA Tournament.
There was very little Big East action on Saturday, so here’s a quick summary and takeaway from the two conference games that were played.
Villanova 64 Providence 60
The Game: Collin Gillespie scored 18 points and notched 8 rebounds to lead the Wildcats to victory at Providence – holding off a Friars comeback bid for their 12th win in 13 games.
The Takeaway: Providence Needs A Signature Win. The Friars have lost four of five in Big East play, and despite being competitive in each contest, they have not locked down a big win yet, which they will likely need to do to earn an at-large bid in March.
St. Johns 79 DePaul 66
The Game: LJ Figueroa was a beast for the Red Storm on Saturday, dropping 28 points on DePaul as St. Johns won handily in a battle of Big East cellar dwellers.
The Takeaway: Butler is in trouble. I know, this takeaway is about a team not involved in the game. But this game highlighted many DePaul deficiencies as they were slapped around on their home-court by another team in the basement of the conference. That Butler lost to this DePaul team is embarrassing and says a lot about the state of their team right now.
Last week, I listed Butler and Seton Hall as co-title favorites, and this week, I believe the Pirates have separated themselves. I don’t think too much has changed within in the conference as a whole, but here’s a quick look at their biggest risers and fallers.
Biggest Risers: Seton Hall
The Pirates are essentially the conference’s biggest riser due to their 9-game winning streak and head-to-head win over Butler, last week’s co-favorite. While I don’t think their conference championship odds increased tremendously, they have separated themselves from the field with a 7-0 Big East record, and so they earn the honor of biggest riser this week.
Biggest Fallers: Butler, St. Johns
The Bulldogs are the new Ohio State of college basketball. After achieving a top-5 ranking, Butler has lost three straight games, one at home, and another one to an unranked opponent – quite possibly the worst Big East team in DePaul. It has been a horrific stretch for the Bulldogs. They’re still getting in the tournament, but I regard them as a clear second to Seton Hall in the conference with Villanova closing in behind them.
St. Johns prospects in the Big East were already pretty glum, and they dropped again this week. The Red Storm have lost another three straight Big East games after finally taking down DePaul for their first conference victory; they have kept some big games close, but ultimately, the lack of results is going to doom this team. Sitting at 11-2 entering conference play, St. Johns has crashed to 12-8 and is now looking like an afterthought in both the conference and national picture.
Right now, my prediction is for 5 teams from the Big East to make the tournament, with Seton Hall, Villanova, Butler, Marquette, and Creighton representing the conference.
3 teams are on the wrong side of the bubble, but still have a path to the tournament: Xavier, Providence, Georgetown.
I am declaring 2 teams officially dead in the NCAA tournament race: St. Johns and DePaul.
As the college basketball season continues, teams have begun to show their identity, emerging into tiers of national title contenders, bubble teams, dark-horses, and a number of other levels. ESPN’s Joe Lunardi sends fans into a frenzy with every edition of bracketology, as fans desperately hope for their squad’s inclusion in the latest projection, or perhaps a higher seed. Rather than look at everything on a broad level, this article will offer a quick breakdown of each Power-6 conference with title favorites, surprise contenders, duds, and teams to watch among the topics covered. Skip to your team’s conference or browse through to see where things stand within each conference. The categories are based off performance so far and expected performance for the rest of the year given each team’s schedule. Our first Mid-Major report will be coming shortly.
Title Favorite: Duke
The Blue Devils are possibly the best team in the country, with only one shocking home loss separating them from unbeaten status. They’re the clear favorite in the ACC.
The Best of the Rest: Louisville, Florida State
These two squads are the only team not named Duke with more than 3% chance at winning the title. In our recent NCAA Basketball roundtable, Louisville was one of my Final Four picks, and Florida State was my ACC champion pick. I really like both these teams and their odds to challenge the Blue Devils.
Darkhorse Title Pick: Virginia
The defending national champs have not been as elite as they’ve been in recent years, but they’re still a bona fide contender in the ACC and have a shot at a decent seeding in the NCAA tournament with a strong performance down the stretch.
Title Unlikely, Could make a run: NC State, Virginia Tech, Notre Dame
All three of these teams have shown a lot of negatives, but they have reason for hope. Notre Dame can compete with anyone with their defense, NC State nearly took down Auburn on the road, and Virginia Tech have road wins over #15 Michigan State and Syracuse.
Despite their recent home loss to Baylor, the Jayhawks still have the best odds to win the Big 12, and they strike me as the more talented team with a more stable foundation; the Bears have won a lot of tight defensive struggles, which seems less sustainable.
The Best of the Rest: Baylor, West Virginia
West Virginia was my Big 12 title pick in our recent roundtable, and they have a lot of upside, and Baylor has undoubtedly performed extremely well this year, culminating in their recent upset of the Jayhawks.
Darkhorse Title Pick: Texas Tech
The defending national runners-up don’t look like favorites in the Big 12, but much like Virginia in the ACC, they’re very capable of making a run, as they demonstrated last March. Don’t count them out.
Title Unlikely, Could Make a Run: Oklahoma, Iowa State, TCU
The Sooners, Cyclones, and Horned Frogs all have definite NCAA tournament potential, but with a loaded top of the conference, they may be on the outside looking in of the Big 12 picture.
Below Average: Oklahoma State, Texas
The Worst: Kansas State
Title Favorites: Butler, Seton Hall
Both of these teams hover in the 24-26% chance to win the Big East in the latest projections, so they split the title favorite category in the Big East. Butler has only a 1-point loss to Baylor on their resume, while Seton Hall is unbeaten in Big East play and has looked very impressive doing so.
The Best of the Rest: Villanova
The Wildcats are definitely in the running for the title and got a couple of votes to do so in our roundtable. Their win over Kansas was a statement, but a loss to Marquette have kept them out of the Big East lead.
Darkhorse Title Picks: Marquette, Creighton
Marquette has been very inconsistent, but they definitely show potential as evidenced in their 81-70 win over Villanova. Creighton handled Marquette a few weeks ago and boast road wins over #23 Texas Tech and conference rival Xavier.
Title Unlikely, Could Make a Run: Georgetown, Xavier
The Hoyas have flashed a lot of potential, winning five straight by double digits heading into Big East play, but they are just 1-3 in conference games so far. Xavier has suffered a letdown after a big rivalry win over Cincinnati; the Musketeers are just 3-4 since that game, including a 1-3 Big East mark.
Below Average: Providence, St. Johns
The Worst: DePaul
Title Favorites: Michigan State
Until their recent dud against Purdue, the Spartans looked to be on a quick rise back towards the top of the rankings. After struggling early, they’ve turned it on, led by Cassius Winston. They’re undoubtedly the team to beat in the Big 10, especially given Ohio State’s struggles.
The Best of the Rest: Ohio State, Maryland
I apparently really didn’t like picking favorites to win conferences, as I picked Maryland to take the Big 10. They’ve definitely got a chance and so do the Buckeyes, assuming they turn it around; they were a Top-5 team before sinking into a four-game skid that left them in last place in the conference.
Darkhorse Picks: Purdue, Michigan
Honestly, I wouldn’t bet on either of these teams, but Purdue is absolutely incredible on their home court, which they proved with a 71-42 beatdown of Michigan State, and the Wolverines absolutely dominated Gonzaga on the road, handing the #1 team their only loss.
Title Unlikely, Could Make A Run: Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois
Again, I haven’t found these teams extremely impressive, but that’s what this category is about. They each have upside, and could definitely find themselves in the NCAA tournament with a solid conference performance.
Below Average: Rutgers, Indiana, Penn State, Minnesota
The Worst: Nebraska, Northwestern
Title Favorite: Arizona
The Wildcats have been very impressive, despite their recent two-game skid. Prior to that, they dominated Arizona State 75-47, and came within five points of upsetting both Gonzaga and Baylor.
The Best of the Rest: Oregon, Colorado
Colorado won a head-to-head matchup with the Ducks and they were my title pick in the Pac 12. The Ducks are ranked in the top 10 and just earned a big win over Arizona.
Darkhorse Title Picks: Stanford, Washington
Wouldn’t bring this pick to Vegas, as neither of these teams have inspired confidence on a consistent basis, but both the Cardinal and Huskies could make a run in a tournament if they got a favorable draw.
Title Unlikely, Could Make a Run: Oregon State
The Beavers are the only team to make this category, largely due to their recent big-time upset of Arizona, as they dominated the Wildcats 82-65. They could be a fun underdog team to check out in March.
Below Average: USC
The Worst: Utah, UCLA, Washington State, Cal
Title Favorites: Auburn, Kentucky
This conference is fairly wide open, but three of our four roundtable contributors picked one of these two squads to take home the title (guess who didn’t?!). The Tigers are still unbeaten and a controversial foul call away from riding a winning streak approaching 30 games while Kentucky has bounced back from a shaky start with an unbeaten start to SEC play.
The Best of the Rest: LSU, Florida, Arkansas
In terms of title contenders, I think the SEC is the deepest conference. I could definitely see any of these three teams taking home the crown, and Florida was my pick. The Razorbacks have suffered just one conference loss – a road 2-point loss to LSU – while the Tigers are unbeaten in SEC play and have been impressive minus a weird home loss to Eastern Tennessee State.
Darkhorse Pick: Missouri
They’re only 1-2 in SEC play, but that one win was a 12-point win over Florida, and the Tigers also boast a win over #24 Illinois on their resume.
Title Unlikely, Could Make A Run: Alabama, Tennessee
The Crimson Tide and Volunteers have both had their moments, with Tennessee recently beating Missouri on the road while Alabama pushed both Florida and Kentucky to the brink on the road.
Below Average: Mississippi State, Georgia
The Worst: Ole Miss, South Carolina, Texas A&M, Vanderbilt