College Basketball State of the Big East Betting Report: Secret Contender Emerging?

College Basketball State of the Big East Betting Report: Secret Contender Emerging? article feature image

Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images. Pictured: Jared Bynum (Providence)

When we last checked in with the Big East, we scoured the conference for teams able to give Villanova a challenge for the league title this season.

In the two weeks since that post, plenty has changed, including some critical games this past weekend.

Villanova's win at Seton Hall was helped in large part by the Pirates missing their two best big men with COVID issues. That loss put the Pirates in an 0-2 hole in conference play, making their climb to the top of the standings even more uphill.

Elsewhere, Creighton survived a second-half slide in a lazy 11 a.m. local time tip, using a game-tying buzzer-beater in overtime to help it beat Marquette in a second extra period.

In this installment of the State of the Big East, I'll tick all of the boxes and evaluate the rest of the conference.

Did we miss a possible contender? Are any of the cellar dwellers attractive underdogs this season? And, most importantly, is DePaul still resting comfortably at the bottom of the conference?

The Secret Contender

Providence Friars

When I omitted Providence from our last check-in, Friar fans noticed.

— Did The Friars Win? (@DidTheFriarsWin) December 21, 2021

Their gripes were valid. At the time, Providence was 11-1 and coming off of a win at UConn. The Friars rose from a preseason KenPom ranking of 85 to a mid-December ranking of 53rd.

Since then, Providence went a step further, knocking off Seton Hall and taking care of DePaul by a large margin. The Friars are 3-0 in Big East play, jumping out to the pole position as the only team with three wins in the conference.

Their KenPom ranking continues to climb, now just outside the top 40. Other models like the Friars even more. EvanMiya has Providence 35th and BartTorvik's T-Rank has the Friars 21st. Even the AP Poll has Providence ranked.

What does this mean from a bettor's perspective? I'm still skeptical of PC's chances to win the conference, which can now be bet at +1000 (at DraftKings).

Both of Providence's dates with Villanova come after February 15, leaving the door open for the Friars. However, Jay Wright & Co. are likely to slam that door shut.

Regardless of the Friars' chances to win the Big East, how has Providence elevated itself into the upper class of the league?

With David Duke Jr. off to the NBA, Providence needed to replace a lot of production, particularly his scoring.

Indiana transfer Al Durham has been excellent as a scorer and creator. His aggressiveness has jumped up a notch. In 26 games as a Hoosier last year, Durham took 103 free throws. In 14 games this year, he's already up to 95 free throw attempts and has nearly doubled his free-throw rate.

Ed Cooley has built a tournament-caliber team this season. Any Big East squad thinking the Friars were having a down year (or any bettor looking to fade them) needs to re-assess.

The Back of the Pack

Marquette Golden Eagles

On November 19, Marquette fans were flying high. Back-to-back wins over Ole Miss and West Virginia moved the Golden Eagles to 5-0, and the duo of second-year player Justin Lewis and Maryland transfer Darryl Morsell looked poised to compete with the best of the Big East.

Since then, Marquette has lost six of nine games, including this Saturday's deflating double overtime dud to Creighton.

In a string of four straight losses, the Marquette offense has looked lost, with no spacing or movement. Shaka Smart has his team playing fast, but to no end. When an easy bucket doesn't come in transition, Marquette stalls in the half-court.

Defense will keep the Golden Eagles in lots of games — especially against the rest of the bottom of the Big East — yet it's tough to see them threatening the top teams in the conference.

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Butler Bulldogs

The same is true of Butler. The Bulldogs' defense forces turnovers and tough shots, but the offense is stuck in quicksand.

If Chuck Harris isn't able to create something, there isn't much of a second option.

While injuries and virus protocols have kept Butler's best lineups off of the floor, even at full strength, the Bulldogs won't pack much of a punch in conference play — aside from an upset or two inside Hinkle Fieldhouse.

The Stragglers

Georgetown Hoyas

Whatever good Patrick Ewing earned with his Hoyas' impressive run to the Big East Tournament title at Madison Square Garden last season has essentially been squandered already this year.

This Georgetown team is not particularly good at anything, and the second-best win on the Hoyas' schedule, per KenPom, is Longwood. Yikes.

The good news in D.C. is the emergence of freshman Aminu Mohammed. He could be a piece for Ewing to build around, if NBA teams aren't intrigued enough to lure him to the pros any time soon.

DePaul Blue Demons

Lastly, as always, is DePaul. The Blue Demons have a new coach and a roster of new faces, but it's going to be much of the same.

A non-conference win at Louisville might have sparked excitement, yet Big East play is a whole different ball game for the Blue Demons.

It's tough to see how DePaul gets more than a handful of wins in conference play, or pulls itself out of the bottom of the standings.

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