Following a quiet week of action over the Christmas break, things are about to heat up in a hurry in the Big East with the start of conference play this Wednesday night. A few of the early front-runners in the conference are led by the 12-0 (straight up) Xavier Musketeers, who have ascended all the way to No. 6 in the AP's latest Top 25. The second-highest ranked team in the Big East is the 10-1 Butler Bears at No. 9 followed by the surprising 12-1 Providence Friars, who are sitting at No. 12 after a very successful run their nonconference schedule.
The Villanova Wildcats began the new season ranked 11th in the AP preseason poll. And following a 9-2 SU run in their first 11 games, they have dropped slightly to No. 16. A few Big East teams looking for a fast start out of the gate in the New Year to possibly make their way into the national rankings are the Marquette Golden Eagles and the Seton Hall Pirates at 10-2 SU through their first 12 games.
The following is this week's Big East betting report with a closer look at a few teams to go with as well as go against heading into the New Year along with my free Top Play of the Week.
Big East Best Bet
Right now you would go with Xavier as not only the hottest Big East team on the court but the hottest team at the betting window with a profitable 9-3 record against the spread. They have now covered in their last eight games following a 78-70 victory on the road against Wake Forest on Dec. 22 as seven-point favorites. The total has stayed "under" in their last three games after going "over" in their previous four outings.
Led by Trevon Bluiett (14.7 points and 7.7 rebounds) and Edmond Sumner (11.7 points and 3.4 assists), Xavier is averaging 81 points a game and shooting 45 percent from the field. The Musketeers will be tested right out of the gate in a road game against Villanova on New Year's Eve followed by a tough home game against Butler this Saturday.
The Bulldogs get this week's honorable mention for covering in their last three games as part of a 7-5 record ATS.
Big East Bankroll Buster
None of the other nine teams in this conference has been able to really light it up for bettors ATS, but there is no doubt that St. John's has been the costliest team to bet on at 7-6 SU with a 4-9 record ATS. The Red Storm continues to keep bettors in the red with just one cover in their last eight games while going an even 4-4 SU during this same stretch. The total has stayed under in five of their last seven outings.
One of the worst losses this season for St. John's both SU and ATS was a 73-51 defeat at the hands of Incarnate Word on Dec. 18 as a 8.5-point home favorite. The Red Storm closed out its nonconference schedule on Dec. 22 with a 75-61 loss to South Carolina as 13.5-point road underdogs.
My dishonorable mention this week goes to the 7-5 Georgetown Hoyas. Following a tight 62-59 victory against Charlotte on Dec. 22 as 13.5-point road favorites, they have now failed to cover in their last four games as a part of an overall record of 5-7 ATS.
Big East Play of the Week
I went with Marquette in last week's Big East Play of the Week against Presbyterian, and while the Golden Eagles won with relative ease in a 84-66 victory, they failed to cover as 23-point home favorites. With the start of conference play, I have turned my attention to Saturday's St. John's at Providence game in a 3:30 p.m. (ET) start at the Dunkin Donuts Center.
We already know that St. John's is struggling with consistency this season, and there is no real reason to think that it is going to turn things around right away, especially against a team as balanced as Providence. The lone bright spot in an otherwise disappointing start has been the play of 6-foot-11 freshman Yankuba Sima. He is the team's leading rebounder with seven a game and he actually has the best shooting percentage for the Red Storm at 51.7 percent. St. John's is averaging just 66.8 points per game, and the team, as a whole, is hitting only 41.8 percent of its shots from the field.
As mentioned, Providence has been one of the biggest surprises in the Big East this season after falling to fourth in the final conference standings last year. The Friars have been a tricky team to bet on with a 7-5 record ATS, but they did cover with ease in a big 90-66 romp against Massachusetts as five-point road favorites their last time out on Dec. 21.
They will have a tough test to get things started this season in the conference with a road game against Butler this Thursday night, and you would have to think that a loss as an expected underdog would only increase the sense of urgency to quickly get back on track in this Saturday's game. Providence has a trio of scorers averaging at least 13 points a game, and it is shooting a respectable 45.6 percent from the field. What makes the Friars so attractive in this matchup is a defense that is holding teams to 66.5 points complementing their 75.8 points at other end of the court.
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Read more articles by Dave Schwab
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