NCAA Men’s Basketball: The Big East’s five biggest December matchups

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On Wednesday, Oct. 28, the Big East men’s basketball conference schedule was released for the month of December. Conference play will start on Dec. 11 and end on Dec. 23. Each team will play four to five of their twenty conference games over the span of 12 days. There are some incredible games on the market before the end of, to say the least, a disappointing 2020. Here are my top five (unbiased) games of the month. Spoiler, UConn will be mentioned: 

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5. Providence @ Seton Hall (Dec. 20

Both teams have key losses to their starting roster, so this game is going to come down to the emergence of multiple young stars. For Providence, that loss is Alpha Diallo, while Seton Hall lost the conference’s best player in Myles Powell. In their places, Providence has David Duke and Jared Bynum ready to lead the frontcourt for the Friars while Myles Cale will look to lead Seton Hall’s backcourt with either Harvard transfer Bryce Aiken or Canisius transfer Takal Molson. It is hard to tell if the Pirates are developing a young core while keeping a win now attitude, but this matchup should have nothing short of fireworks as both teams took home wins in their head-to-head contests. A competition between two of the top five teams is going to be nothing short of legendary, but at the same time, I am interested to see which young core comes out on top. 

4. Marquette @ Creighton (Dec. 14) 

It was hard to find multiple good games, but this one should be interesting. Last year, both teams were the top two scoring and rebounding teams in the Big East (with both teams leading one category each). Creighton is one of the best teams in the conference, but look for Marquette to put up a fight despite the loss of a certain superstar. Creighton’s stable of Mitch Ballock, Damien Jefferson, Marcus Zegarowski and Christian Bishop should be one of the tops in the leagues, as only Bishop had less than 9 PPG last year. Marquette’s answer involves Theo Johnson as the returning starter and Koby McEwen as the returning top scorer. Put them together with Greg Elliott and Jamal Cain, and there is another impressive group for the Golden Eagles. In their head-to-head matchups, Creighton won both close games, and although they look like they will do that here, Marquette is going to put up an impressive fight between the birds. 

3. Villanova @ Marquette (Dec. 23)  

I feel like this could be a beatdown by Villanova, but nonetheless, this matchup could be something special. Any team led by Jay Wright is going to be a winning team, but this will be his toughest competition because of Marquette looking to stabilize following the loss of Markus Howard. Nonetheless, they return Koby McEwen and his 9.5 points per game, but after that, the rest of the stable scored less than six PPG. As for Villanova, they are expected to be the top cats in the conference and be a Final Four contender with the deadly backcourt of Collin Gillespie and Caleb Daniels leading the charge with a combined 32 PPG. Put them together with Jermaine Samuels and Jeremiah Robinson-Earl and the Wildcats mean business. Marquette might have no answers for the Wildcats’ aggressive offense, as they split the head-to-head matchup, but head coach Steve Wojciechowski will make sure that his team stays in the fight for as long as they can. 

2. UConn @ Providence (Dec. 17) 

This could be a highly contested matchup that comes down to the wire here. Two dark horse March Madness teams meet for the first time as the Friars will look to build off their six-game winning streak from last season while UConn looks to return to dominance in the Big East. The big matchup here is going to be between two incredible backcourts featuring Providence’s David Duke and Jared Bynum against UConn’s James Bouknight and Jalen Gaffney. Combined, all these talents have a combined 40.2 PPG, so we know this contest will be high scoring. This game is going to be one that could reach 80 points for each team, and the winning team must have a defense that shows up and locks down the outside threat from long range. Both teams also have incredible transfers with Tyrese Martin representing UConn from Rhode Island and Bynum arriving from Saint Joseph’s. There is a lot to look forward to in this matchup between two wild card conference contenders: I would not be surprised if this were a four versus five matchups in the conference tournament itself. 

Honorable mention, St. John’s @ UConn (Dec. 11) 

I wish I could put this matchup in the top five because of the historical significance behind it. The return of a longtime conference member to their true home deserves some recognition as UConn returns for the first time in seven years, looking to become a force once again against foes both new and old. Even better, they get to square off against a classic rival from New York City in what is expected to be a showdown. St. John’s and UConn both had winning records overall last year and are looking to improve in one of the nation’s most competitive and powerful basketball conferences. LJ Figueroa and Mustapha Herron (28.3 PPG combined last year) may be gone, but the Red Storm has strong replacements in veteran Rasheem Dunn (11.9 PPG) and sophomore/future superstar Julian Champagnie (9.9 PPG). They will head the charge against potentially one of the best players in the nation in James Bouknight from UConn. Even if most fans, except for family, are not allowed, this will be an excellent matchup as both teams look to go 1-0 against an old foe to kick off the opening slate of the 2020-21 Big East matchups. 

1. Creighton @ UConn (December 20th) 

Unbiased, this is the Big East game of 2020. It might not involve Villanova or Seton Hall, but this is the matchup to watch, regardless of what team you root for or where you are from. If there were fans, the place would be sold out within minutes of tickets being sold online. Creighton enters this season ranked No. 2 in the preseason for the Big East and No. 12 in the nation while UConn is ranked No. 4 in the Big East and sitting outside the Top 25 nationwide. As for the game itself, this is going to be a heavyweight bout. Starting with the backcourt, James Bouknight and Marcus Zegarowski are both underclassmen and the returning top scorer from last season. Both have the potential to be All-Big East First team, with Zegarowski winning Big East preseason player of the year and Bouknight being a preseason All-Big East second team member. While Zegarowski is accompanied by All-Big East preseason second team member Mitch Ballock, Bouknight will be assisted by either Jalen Gaffney or Tyrese Martin. Already an incredible NBA Draft first round material showdown on the backcourt, the frontcourt gets even better as Creighton brings out Damien Jefferson, Jacob Epperson, and Christian Bishop, all of whom had over 3 RPG last season. UConn answers with the returns of Akok Akok, Tyler Polley and Josh Carlton to complete a dominating and high scoring frontcourt. As expected, both teams have incredible depth, whether it is UConn’s Andre Jackson or Lithuanian sensation Modestas Kancleris from Creighton. To put this matchup into perspective, both teams scored over 78 points per game, shot over 30% from the three-point line, and shot over 40% overall as a team last season in two different conferences. This will be their first ever Big East matchup and I look forward to seeing how close this battle is going to be. 

The contests listed above are five (six) exciting matchups to end 2020, and although I did not mention every single team in the Big East, there will perhaps be times where teams such as Georgetown and Xavier make an appearance perhaps. In addition, some other matchups I think are going to be exciting for the winter of 2021 range from Seton Hall-Creighton to UConn-Villanova, and much more. Hopefully by then, more fans will have the prestigious honor of watching such historic bouts, but until then, these will be fun to watch.  

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