Sizing up the Big East

By Jeff Fogle  ( 

February 5, 2019 12:22 AM

St. John’s gets a chance to atone quickly for a highly publicized blowout loss this past Saturday at national powerhouse Duke. The Red Storm visits Marquette Tuesday (FS1, 8 p.m. ET) in a game that will also be actively covered because of the Golden Eagles’ national ranking. 

That Big East rematch could help erase the visage of Saturday’s 30-point loss from the rearview mirror. St. John’s first meeting with Marquette was a season highlight. You probably recall that St. John’s (-2) beat Marquette 89-69 on New Year’s Day. The Golden Eagles are currently on track for a No. 3 or  No. 4 seed according to respected bracketology projections. 

How can St. John’s be that much worse than a No. 1 seed, but that much better than a No. 4 seed? 

Handicappers and bettors can’t fall into the trap of thinking that a one-game, 40-minute sprint captures the reality of the teams involved. Basketball is a volatile sport, with fickle results at the mercy of hot or cold shooting. And some teams just match up with some opponents better than others. 

You’ll often hear sharps describe handicapping tournament basketball as a version of “rock-paper-scissors.” Skill-set wise, Duke is a boulder rolling downhill. Believe it or not, Duke scored 91 points Saturday while not playing particularly sharp!

  • Duke turned the ball over 18 times, something that will be much harder for the Blue Devils to get away with in later rounds of the NCAA Tournament.
  • Duke wasn’t hot from long range, making only 7 of 26 three-point attempts.
  • Duke was just 14 of 23 from the foul line, so no case could be made that the Blue Devils enjoyed flagrant home cooking. 
  • Duke made an astonishing 28 of 37 two-pointers, for 76 percent inside the arc. Also, Duke grabbed 15 offensive rebounds, very high for a team that wasn’t missing deuces. 

Duke’s a physically imposing fast-paced team. St. John’s, and most of the country, will have trouble hanging with them. (Bettors shouldn’t fade Duke unless its opponents have a chance to put up a wall in the paint. Gonzaga has height, and upset Duke 89-87 in Maui back in November as a 7.5-point underdog.)

Marquette? Still very good. But mortal teams have a better chance of matching up with the Golden Eagles. Hot-shooting teams can get some scoreboard distance. When St.  John’s beat them, it shot 11 of 24 on treys (45.8 percent, which is the same as 68.7 percent on 2s), while also shooting 59 percent on deuces and 75 percent on free throws (18 of 24). 

St. John’s is capable of getting hot and routing opponents like Marquette. But it isn’t currently seen as the superior side. The Red Storm is on the bubble for the Big Dance because of inconsistent play. Marquette may have learned some lessons from that New Year’s Day loss. The Golden Eagles are 8-0 straight up, 7-1 against the spread since. 

Here are VSiN’s updated Big East Power Ratings. You can update them once midweek lines have settled. Assume a standard three points for home court advantage: Villanova 83, Marquette 81, Butler 79, Creighton 78, St. John’s 78,  Seton Hall 77, Xavier 75, Providence 76, Georgetown 75, DePaul 75.


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