I must admit, this is one of the strangest first & second rounds I've seen a BIG EAST tournament play to in years. You can essentially toss the records, analytics, and scenarios out the window. As we saw Georgetown do last year with their historic run after winning a play-in-game all the way to taking home some hardware, all bets are off...and you can bet there's the potential for more mayhem in 2021-22.
Providence defeats Butler, 65-61
We knew Providence would be out to play their best game, but it certainly wasn't without its headaches. 11 ties and 12 lead changes later, with Butler controlling most of the game, Providence leveraged its "Closer" in Al Durham (affectionately referred to as Mariano). The Indy transfer hit a clutch three - it was even sweeter after Durham snapped an 18-shot streak of missing from downtown. Providence is now 15-2 in games decided by single digits this year; that's a key stat for them as they take on a tough Creighton team in the semis tomorrow, even though they steamrolled them the first time. Look for Justin Minaya to lead the team defensively.
Providence grad transfer Justin Minaya has been a key defensive staple for the Friars all year. PIC: Louriann Mardo-Zayat/compiled by Brendan McGair
Creighton defeats Marquette, 74-63
Pending the UConn-Hall result tonight, this was the most convincing win of the afternoon. Who would've thought? Creighton dominated Marquette from the jump, largely due to the play of Ryan Kalkbrenner; he grabbed 14 points and 9 rebounds, and largely kept Marquette out of the paint. Creighton is hungry for revenge against Providence, who celebrated the BIG EAST regular season title in Rhode Island after a convincing win of their own against the Bluejays. If Creighton wants a prayer at this one, perimeter defense and keeping Nate Watson away from the paint is non-negotiable.
Villanova defeats St. John's, 66-65
Good teams just find ways to win games, even if they don't have it on a particular night. And sure enough, Jay Wright and the Wildcats would not be denied a win, even if it was one of their worst performances of the year. The Johnnies were up 44-27 against Nova at one point, and it took a 21-6 run for the Cats to get back in the game. Brandon Slater hit two free-throws with mere seconds remaining to propel Villanova into the semifinals, where a matchup against Connecticut awaits them. If the Wildcats bring the same team to that matchup that we saw tonight, UConn fans should be counting their blessings, as they might have an opportunity to win the season series against the BIG EAST's most talented and athletic team.
UConn (is going to defeat) Seton Hall (I hope...)
The Huskies were the beneficiaries of an abysmal half for Seton Hall - they went 7-for-30 from the field (which is a tick over 23% for those keeping score at home). So, you can call it "suffocating defense," or you can call it egregious shooting, but either way, this was UConn's game to lose. RJ Cole had 7 first half points, but this game just appears like it's Seton Hall going through the motions and hoping for the best on Selection Sunday. Expect UConn to give Nova a tough time on Friday night...is it enough to send them to a potential date with Providence in a "revenge game" of sorts? Only time will tell...and it won't be long to wait.