Big East Tournament: Thursday Preview, Wednesday Recap
Three games down, four to come here on Thursday in Madison Square Garden.
Wednesday saw two games that went without much stress -- while the game in between them was an absolute doozy. Before we get into Thursday's action, let's take a look at Wednesday's results:
76-63, SJU over Butler
St. John's and Butler started off the Wednesday action in a game the Red Storm dominated essentially wire to wire. Before the game even started, we were informed that Manny Bates and Eric Hunter Jr. were unavailable for the game for not meeting the academic expectations of the program.
Bates and Hunter make up two of Butler's top five players in scoring, rebounding, and assists. Bates is also one of the better defensive big men in the entire conference. So, it's safe to say that these surprising scratches shaped the way this one played out.
Posh Alexander led the way early for St. Johns, and was followed up by an exceptionally balanced effort. Joel Soriano finished with 19 points and 15 rebounds.
66-65, DePaul over Seton Hall
DePaul outlasted Seton Hall in what ended up as the game of the day. DePaul's Umoja Gibson hit the go-ahead free throw with 3.9 seconds to go. Femi Odukale drove the length of the court for the Pirates before getting blocked at the rim by Nick Ongenda.
DePaul has finished last or second to last each of the past ten seasons in the Big East. This win could be a program building one. For Seton Hall, it marks the end of an up-and-down introductory year for Shaheen Holloway in South Orange.
80-48, Villanova over Georgetown
The Villanova Wildcats simply handled business on Wednesday night. Five Wildcats finished in double digits, with Cam Whitmore's 19 leading the way. Villanova simply outclassed the Hoyas, and now look ahead to a marquee matchup against Creighton in round 2.
For Georgetown, this will likely be the end of Patrick Ewing's tenure. Ewing is just 13-50 over the past two seasons and Georgetown has widely become one of the worst programs across the Power-5 ranks.
Previewing Thursday's Action:
#1 Marquette vs. #8 St. John's
12:00 ET, FS1
A rematch of a game played a mere five days ago; a game that finished 96-94 in favor of the Golden Eagles. Marquette opened up the Big East Tournament with the third best odds to win the tournament, per DraftKings, despite winning the regular season.
Earlier this week, Tyler Kolek (12.7 ppg, 7.9 apg) received Big East Player of the Year honors. Kolek has had an absolute field day against SJU in their two previous meetings, putting up 16 points per game and tallying a total of 18 assists.
If Marquette wins the Big East Tournament and one or two of UCLA/Purdue/Alabama falters early in their respective conference tournaments, it is not outside of the realm of possibility that the Golden Eagles jump up to the 1 seed line. So there's certainly a lot to play for if you're Shaka Smart, who has a great chance to win National Coach of the Year.
St. John's, on the other hand, is looking to build off of yesterday's route of Butler and continue their run in MSG. The matchup to watch in this one is Oso Ighodaro and Joel Soriano. Both big men were honored on the Big East All-Second Team this week. Soriano has a 40-pound and two inch advantage on Ighodaro, but Oso's ability to move and defend has allowed him to be a tough matchup for larger opposition.
Prediction: 88-76, Marquette
#4 UConn vs. #5 Providence
2:30 ET, FS1
In one of the best college basketball matchups nationally of the day, the UConn Huskies take on the Providence Friars. This 'rivalry' is starting to get a little more chippy as we go on. Words from Dan Hurley and Ed Cooley have both had statements that have peaked the ears of the opposing fanbase.
These two teams split the regular season series. However, they are trending in very different directions. UConn seems to be playing their best basketball since November, when they won their MTE. While Providence has looked sluggish for a couple weeks, and are coming off a 24-point home loss at the hands of Seton Hall.
Seemingly the formula for beating UConn in conference play in January (where UConn was just 3-5) was to attack power forward Alex Karaban off the dribble and force UConn's wings to shoot the basketball. However, since that point, Karaban has greatly improved, and some of the shooting has been more consistent.
Both of these teams have top-20 offenses per KenPom. However, the big edge for the Huskies in on the offensive glass, where they rank #1 nationally. If Ed Croswell and Bryce Hopkins (16.1 ppg, 8.5 rpg) can keep Sanogo and Clingan off the offensive glass, the Friars can pull of the upset.
Prediction: 72-69, UConn
#2 Xavier vs. #10 DePaul
7:00 ET, FS1
Some may say that Xavier got fortunate that DePaul upset Seton Hall. However, the Blue Demons already knocked off Xavier once this season, and they have the talent to knock off the shorthanded Musketeers once again.
This past weekend the news was broke that Sean Miller's Musketeers would be without Zach Freemantle (15.2 ppg, 8.1 rpg) for the rest of the season. A brutal blow for a Xavier team that seemed destined for a deep March run.
The weird thing?
Since Freemantle's injury, Xavier has been playing better basketball. Especially defensively, where the Musketeers defensive efficiency has climbed nearly 20 spots since Freemantle's injury per Bart Torvik. Having a senior like Jerome Hunter to fill that void certainly helps.
When DePaul beat Xavier earlier in the season, Nick Ongenda was still injured. Now, the Blue Demons will have a big body to throw at Jack Nunge to make him uncomfortable. However, Ongenda is better defensively around the rim -- while Nunge is very comfortable playing on the perimeter.
Xavier shot 20% from three and a lowly 38% from the field in its loss to DePaul this season. They had less turnovers, ten more rebounds, and more free throws made. Sometimes, you just don't hit shots. Barring something similar, Sean Miller and the Musketeers should move on to the semifinals.
Prediction: 84-72, Xavier
#3 Creighton vs. #6 Villanova
9:30 ET, FS1
What a nightcap we have in store for us here as Greg McDermott's Bluejays take on the Wildcats and Justin Moore. While all the way healthy finally, playing back to back days is going to be tough on the Wildcats. Colin Gillespie recanted on the Full 40 Podcast how heavy his legs were day two of the Big East Tournament a year ago. Now the Wildcats will attempt to square off against a Creighton team that has no problem playing in an up-and-down tempo.
Villanova posed some matchup problems for Creighton in their last matchup. Moore and Caleb Daniels were able to get into the lane and back down smaller defenders, while Eric Dixon was able to draw Big East Defensive Player of the Year Ryan Kalkbrenner away from the rim.
Creighton's entire defensive scheme is built around filtering ball handlers down to Kalkbrenner. If you want to shoot over the 7-footer at the rim, go ahead, that's a win for Greg McDermott. By taking Kalkbrenner away from the basket, it opens up a whole lot of things for opposing offenses. Ryan is always a very mediocre perimeter defender. The best showcase of that was against Villanova where Eric Dixon hit six three's on his way to 31 points (career high).
The winner of this game has a very good chance to win the entire tournament. Kyle Neptune has his team playing great basketball of late -- let's see if the Wildcats can keep it going for three more days. Creighton's seed line can also be affected in this one. With a loss, it would be highly unlikely to see Creighton any higher than a 7-seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Prediction: 77-74, Villanova