Just how abnormal is the Big East’s returning talent drain?


(Photo by Ryan Messier/Paint Touches)

The ink on the 2018 season wasn’t even dry yet when one glaring takeaway was already burning brightly. The Big East will be much weaker both individually and as a whole.

Sure, Villanova was losing the National Player of the Year as well as another lottery pick, but it wasn’t just the reigning champs that were going to be hit hard through attrition. Up and down the rosters, players that had been terrorizing the league for a number of years were finally out of eligibility. The Desis and Trevons and Kelans and JPs and Angels and Khadeens and… you get the picture.

But in case you don’t, here is the picture of the top 20 Big East players as ranked by Bart Torvik’s PORPAGATU!, a stat that “estimates how many more points per game a player creates than a hypothetical “replacement player” would” and then adjusts it for usage. The ones who won’t be returning next season have been crossed out in red.

Talent 2.JPG

But the obvious follow up to that observation is, how common is that kind of turnover? This is a sport where turnover is pretty much guaranteed year after year.

Using the same PORPAGATU! ranking, here is how previous years have played out in terms of returning talent.


Just going off of this basic analysis, the Big East will have the least amount of returning top-20 talent since the reformation and tied for the least amount of returning top-10 talent in that time-span. So not only is the attrition heavy, it is fairly unprecedented in this incarnation of the Big East that has only had a handful of 1-and-Dones and early draft entries.

But the next question becomes, does this matter? How do these returning players stack up the following year? Very well, actually.

Of the 17 top-10 Big East returning players the previous 4 years, 13 finished in the top-10 the subsequent year and the average ranking for those 17 was 6.2.

Of the 41 top-20 Big East returning players, 33 finished in the top-20 the subsequent year and the average ranking for those 41 was 12.4.

I should also note that no top-10 returning player has ever finished out of the top-20, so that tells you all of Ponds, Hauser and Howard will be in the elite of Big East offensive players. In fact, no player who has ranked in the top-5 and returned has finished out of the top-5. That’s a tiny sample size of 7 players, so not exactly a statistical certainty to happen, but it does go to show the results over a year don’t just disappear when the calendar turns. Great players will still be great players.

So we can establish that the Big East will be low on returning talent, and that talent that does return usually has a very big impact. This is a big deal and a big reason why most national pundits (and this blogger) are predicting a down year for the conference as a whole. There are simply too many stalwarts to replace.

That doesn’t mean that new faces won’t step up to play integral roles. Both Andrew Rowsey and Sam Hauser became top-20 offensive players their first season in the Big East, when neither really was expected to do so right away. There are a few high profile transfers (like Joe Cremo) that will almost definitely find their way to the top tiers, as well as some freshmen that no one sees coming.

The point is that returning talent is more of a sure thing, so is more reliable as a predictor of what is to come. And this limited data tells us that the Big East will not be quite as difficult from top to bottom.

And from a Marquette perspective, it means that there are no excuses for both higher expectations and improved results. It is the only Big East team returning multiple top-20 players and they both happen to be in the top-10 as well. Here is a full list of teams that have returned multiple top-10 players since the reformation:

Villanova ’18 (2): No. 1 Seed
Xavier ’18 (2): No. 1 Seed (Big East Champ)
Villanova ’17 (2): No. 2 Seed (Big East Champ)

And no, I do not expect Marquette to be a top-2 seed or win the Big East next season, but I do think expectations should start in the top 3rd of the conference and a single digit seed. The defensive issues are still glaring questions, but offensively there is more than enough to win with.

If we pull out to just top-20 returning players, here is the full list:

Villanova ’18 (2): No. 1 Seed
Xavier ’18 (2): No. 1 Seed (Big East Champ)
Seton Hall ’18 (2): No. 8 seed
St. John’s ’18 (2):
Villanova ’17 (2): No. 2 Seed (Big East Champ)
Butler ’17 (2): No. 4 Seed
Xavier ’17 (3): No. 11 Seed
Creighton ’17 (2): No. 6 Seed
Villanova ’16 (3): No 2 Seed (Big East Champ)
Xavier ’16 (3): No 2 Seed
Villanova ’15 (2): No. 1 Seed (Big East Champ)

So of the 40 eligible Big East teams the past 4 years, 11 have returned multiple top-20 players. All but St. John’s has made the tournament, and 1 of their 2 top-20 players didn’t even play into December (Lovett). And of the 10 who did make it, all but 1 were single digit seeds, with Xavier cratering when it lost Edmond Sumner for the season to injury. And X still made it to the Elite 8.

One last note, all 4 Big East champs since the reformation have brought back multiple top-20 players. Just saying.

The Big East will be down at the exact time Marquette is/should be nearing full tilt under Wojo. Expectations should be high. Results have to follow.


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