COLUMN: Despite top teams’ decline, Big East on the rise in 2022-23


Alexa Sandler

Big East conference logo displayed in place of the DePaul Athletics logo underneath the jumbotron for the Big East Championship at Wintrust Arena.

When the AP Top 25 released in October, Villanova, who hadn’t been ranked outside of the top 10 in any preseason poll since 2015, sat at 16. They dropped below no. 9 Creighton and seemingly lost favor in the Big East in the eyes of voters. This was the biggest surprise but the cumulation of a trend that had been growing for a few years in the conference. Could the Big East no longer be just Villanova on the national stage?

Villanova slipped too far in the rankings, even with the departure of Jay Wright. After reaching the final four last year, they lost two invaluable starters, Collin Gillespie and Jermaine Samuels, but they return four of their top six rotation players. They also added five-star Maryland recruit Cameron Whitmore, who will miss the beginning of the season with a thumb injury. Regardless, the conference has made a jump in the past few years, as it continues to get deeper.

Probably because of football bias, the post-2012 split Big East doesn’t get as much respect or attention on the national stage. The conference has arguably been better top-to-bottom than the Big Ten, and certainly better than the ACC and PAC 12. Yet, why hasn’t the respect been earned yet? Tournament success. 

Last year, the ACC had a rough regular season, yet North Carolina and Duke made it to the Final Four with Miami making a surprise Elite 8 run behind former DePaul guard Charlie Moore. The Big East had a solid regular season with a competitive title race, but Villanova was the only team to outperform their seed, with UConn upset in the first round by New Mexico State. 

The Big East needs to perform well in the tournament, but their sustained growth in the regular season is poised to continue in 2022-23., one of the leading analytics sites for college basketball has the Big East improved from last year. 

The Big East has the 5th lowest rating for 2023 but improved over their end-of-the-season rating. The ACC actually jumped the Big East, with the preseason hype for Virginia and North Carolina carrying things. The SEC and Big 12 are slightly separated from the pack, largely due to teams retaining star players and impressive tournament performances. 

Big East teams taking a jump in KenPom include DePaul (103 to 88), Georgetown(175 to 102), St. John’s (55 to 37), Xavier (53 to 38) and Creighton(50 to 22). Butler, Marquette and last year’s regular season champ Providence all slid. 

The Big East is behind the Big Ten in rating, but in a similar situation last year, the Big East beat the favored Big Ten 6-2 in Gavitt Tipoff matchups. Albeit early in the regular season, it’s still a good indicator that preseason polls can be blown out of proportion.  

St. John’s is one of the most improved teams in the Big East. David Jones’ transfer from DePaul raised eyebrows in the spring, but it’s undeniable that Jones will make waves in Queens. The guard was DePaul’s second-leading scorer in 2021-22, and made an impact when healthy, including recording the program’s first-ever triple-double against Georgetown in February. 

Where things sit for DePaul is an important question. Losing Jones was tough, but head coach Tony Stubblefield is in the early days of his tenure and has scraped together a promising squad for the upcoming season. Transfers Caleb Murphy, who is set to miss the beginning of the season, and Oklahoma’s Umoja Gibson are immediately eligible. Four-star recruit Zion Cruz from Donda Academy joins alongside KT Raimey and Da’Sean Nelson.

Their transfer portal success was on par with the rest of the Big East, which had plenty of teams active. It all depends on how well they can gel with such a new team. DePaul’s strength of schedule ranks 71st in the country, behind every Big East team besides Butler and Georgetown. They are a hard team to predict, but their non-conference schedule includes some good tests in Texas A&M, Loyola, Minnesota on the road and potentially Oklahoma State in the Bahamas. 

Regardless, not much will be known about the Blue Demons this year until they start conference play. With an early matchup against St. John’s a month from today, we’ll know sooner or later where they fit in the rapidly improving conference.