The higher seeded team won each game of the quarterfinals and semifinals. This leaves us with a 1 versus 2 matchup in the Big East Championship for the first time since 2004, nearly 10 years before realignment.
Thursday had one fantastic basketball game in Marquette defeating UConn. In the opposite semifinal, Xavier handled Creighton quite easily to get to the championship in Sean Miller's first year at the helm. Before we break down the Musketeers and the Golden Eagles, let's take a look at the semifinal games:
#2 Xavier over #3 Creighton, 82-60
The Creighton Bluejays looked flat. Disengaged.
That's not the best taste to leave in your mouth heading into the NCAA Tournament. The Bluejays had ten turnovers in the first 13 minutes of the game. The Musketeers also punished Creighton's lackadaisical drop coverage on ball screens.
The Musketeers looked sensational, on the other hand. It was a balanced effort, but Souley Boum led the way for Xavier. Boum had 23 pts and 6 ast, while holding Ryan Nembhard to five points on 2-12 from the floor. Jack Nunge impacted what seemed like 30 shots on Friday night. In a day he didn't technically record a block, Nunge was fantastic on the defensive end -- and added 17 points as well.
For Creighton, they're staring down the barrel of either a 7 or 8 seed in the Big Dance.
#1 Marquette over #4 UConn, 70-68
This one was an absolute classic in Madison Square Garden. A turning point in the game was, after an all square first half, Marquette came out of the locker room red hot -- making their first seven shots of the 2H. They propelled that to a 56-46 lead.
However, UConn began to gradually shave that lead. Oso Ighodaro got his 4th foul with around 11 minutes left in the game, which certainly changed the complexion of things. UConn out-rebounded Marquette by 10 in this one, but just didn't shoot the ball quite as well. Huskies shot just 28% from beyond the arc, in comparison to Marquette's 38%. That's the ballgame right there.
David Joplin added another 17 points in just 18 minutes for Marquette. Showing once again that the 6th Man of the Year title he was awarded last week was much deserved.
Looking ahead, the Huskies are currently slotted as a #4 seed on Bracket Matrix. They'll be a dangerous #4 seed in March Madness. However, similarly with last night, how often do we point to the Huskies shooting being the culprit in a loss? That's a genuine problem.
Championship Saturday Preview
#1 Marquette vs. #2 Xavier
6:30 ET, FOX
The two best teams over the course of the Big East regular season will officially meet in the championship. In conference tournaments, legs tend to give a bit by the time of the championship. However, the fatigue levels should be fairly even in this game. Marquette just got through an absolute dogfight with UConn, but have a deeper bench overall. Xavier escaped Creighton quite easily, but only play essentially a 7-man rotation.
The home team won close contests during the season series between Xavier and Marquette. These two teams are very similar, metric-wise. Both within the top 6 nationally in offensive efficiency, but both also have forgettable defensive metrics. It's a testament to both of these coaches who recently joined the Big East, to have their teams in this title game.
Sean Miller called the Big East Championship game "Sacred ground" while making his postgame comments after the win over Creighton. And he's right. This will just be another installment of a game that has seen some of basketball's best players, all time moments, and a whole lot of emotion.
Xavier's defense has been noticeably better without Zach Freemantle in the lineup. However, especially against Marquette, the Musketeers will really miss his ability to score at all levels in that Power Forward slot.
Tyler Kolek versus Souley Boum is the point guard matchup this Championship deserves. Kolek threaded through Connecticut's defense with ease down the stretch and showed just why he was the Big East Player of the Year.
With a Marquette win, the Golden Eagles could likely get up to the #2 line. If Xavier wins, they could get up to a #3 seed and avoid that 4-13 matchup in the first round.
This game is going to be fantastic. This time of the year, there's so much good basketball it's hard not to flip around, or have multiple screens up at once. For this one -- I will be solely watching this game. The Big East Championship.
Prediction: 82-81, Marquette