In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Big East decided to cancel their challenge with the Big Ten. In its place, they decided to challenge the Big 12 to a ten-game showdown instead. Although the schedule was revealed weeks earlier, with the tipoff to the 2020-21 season getting ever closer, the time is right to hype up the matches. While the Big Ten goes to war with the ACC, let us take a deep look at the top five Big East/Big 12 matchups that are going to garner a lot of national attention (spoiler: UConn does not even have a game in this battle, ouch):
5. Oklahoma St. @ Marquette (Dec. 1)
I feel like people are highly underrating this matchup. Yes, Oklahoma State is banned from the postseason this year for academic misconduct, but they have Cade Cunningham, the best prospect in the high school class of 2020. It will be fun to see him work alongside Isaac Likekele and/or Donovan Williams to produce one of the most dominant backcourts in the entire nation. Their attack will have to go up against Marquette’s Koby McEwen, Cunningham’s main threat on the court when they do meet. In addition, McEwen will be supported by DJ Carton and/or Greg Elliott. So, both teams have incredible scoring options, but what about the main line of defense?
Oklahoma State has the frontcourt combination of Kalib and Keylan Boone, both of whom had decent freshman years. Other options on that frontcourt include Montreal Pena and Canada’s Matthew-Alexander Moncrieffe, both of whom are athletic options that can shut down the perimeter. Marquette can only respond with Theo John and Jamal Cain among others, but those two both averaged more than 5.0 PPG last season and should continue to develop their prowess. Scoring defense is going to be the name of this game, as both were near the bottom of the pack in their respective conferences. Whether that defense improved in the wild offseason or not will come down to how many points both teams surrender. Both teams are interesting, Oklahoma State for the potential walk year of Cade Cunningham amongst other young studs and Marquette without star Markus Howard looking to make a new name for themselves. This contest is a crucial one for both teams, and whoever comes out on top might be in talks for a spot in the Top 25.
4. Villanova @ Texas (Dec. 6)
Why the projected best team in the Big East is not at number one on this list is unimportant, what is important is that they are giving Texas a huge test early in the season. Villanova and Texas finished tied for first and third in their respective conferences last season, and both teams are returning key scorers from last season. For Villanova, that is preseason All-Conference First Team member Collin Gillespie, who will dominate on the backcourt alongside both Second Team member Justin Moore and Tulane transfer Caleb Daniels. Like Oklahoma State, this is one of the top five backcourts in the entire nation. Texas’ Matt Coleman III, Jase Febres and Courtney Ramsey are going to have to score like crazy if they want to stay close with Villanova. This is a veteran backcourt, and the Villanova defense is just going to add some more experience to a Texas team that looks to at least contend for the Big 12 conference crown this season.
I am also intrigued by the front court situation that is going to go down in this contest. Villanova lost Saddiq Bey, a potential first rounder, to the NBA, but retained Jermaine Samuels and preseason First Teamer Jeremiah Robinson-Earl to shut down any opposing offense in their track. One of the reasons that Villanova is ranked so high this preseason (No. 3 in the AP poll) is because of their top five backcourt and frontcourt that they bring to the table once again. As for Texas, their towering frontcourt consists of Jericho Sims, Kai Jones and recruit Greg Brown that should impose a moderate amount of fear into any offensive minded coach. Brown is going to develop under Jones and Sims and has strong potential for being one of the best forwards in the conference in a few years. The key to this matchup here is going to come down to the turnovers. Both teams had a plus turnover margin last season, which means they turned over the ball less times than they took it right back. The winning team is going to have to limit their offensive mistakes if they stand a chance. Although Villanova is highly favored under Jay Wright, Texas returned everyone from last year’s team that is roaring for a chance to make a statement in the Top 25 with a win in Austin.
3. St. John’s @ Texas Tech (Dec. 3)
When a dark horse March Madness team can take on the (still) defending runner-up, you know the points and blocks are going to fly. Starting with the dark horse Red Storm, their loss of RJ Figueroa to Oregon is huge, but Rasheem Dunn and Julian Champagnie will lead the backcourt charge with their 21.8 PPG. Both players are going to attack the rim from the perimeter to the paint and will look to have big games down in Texas. They will match up against Kyler Edwards, Terrence Shannon Jr. and Georgetown transfer Mac McClung. Texas Tech also had significant losses in Jahmi’us Ramsey and Davide Moretti, but the big trio mentioned previously softens the blow. McClung now has a chance to be on a conference contending team and will bring the offense as well as develop the games of Edwards and Shannon with his Big East expertise. St. John’s can shift Champagnie to the frontcourt but will rely on Marcellus Earlington and Josh Roberts to perfect the balance between scoring and defending. Together, they can develop the athletic skills of Arnaldo Toro and Isaih Moore to a point where St. John’s has enough defenders to continually knock down the basketball from the rim.
Texas Tech is also balanced, with Tyreek Smith and VCU transfer Marcus Santos-Silva leading the defensive charge. Texas Tech is not messing around and the loss of TJ Holyfield did nothing to faze the frontcourt that also has options in JC transfer Esahia Nyiwe and the return of Joel Ntambwe after a season off. The key matchup I am going to go with here is assists as both teams averaged more than 14 per game and were top three in their conferences last season. Both teams have incredible passing options, and those options can lead to big plays, whoever can find an open lane to the rim more often will have the better performance. Do not sleep on either team, St. John’s has the depth to contend for years and Texas Tech’s head coach Chris Beard is making them a credible basketball franchise. Bring on the storylines.
2. Baylor @ Seton Hall (Nov. 29)
This is a battle of some of the best teams in each conference. Seton Hall is still reeling off the loss of Myles Powell to the NBA draft as well as Quincy McKnight, but immediately landed Harvard transfer Bryce Aiken. His presence is going to be huge for the high-scoring Seton Hall team that also has Myles Cale and potentially Takal Molson set to replace the production lost from their departed. Baylor lost only Devonte Bando at the guard spot but has Big 12 Preseason Player of the Year Jared Butler and MaCio Teague that can score from any location of the court. Alongside Davion Mitchell and Mark Vital, the Bears have threats and the depth to score against any opponent and any defender. This might sound like an offensive battle already but be wary of the defense too.
Skilled big men Sandro Mamukelashvili and Jared Rhoden are both incredible rebounders and can rack up points in the paint. Together, they are a tandem to fear for anyone that must score in their way. In addition, Seton Hall has Ike Obiagu to replace the production of Romaro Gill at center, so look for him to improve his rebounding against a balanced defense. Baylor can flip Mark Vital back and forth from center to guard, but they also have Flo Thamba, Jackson Moffat, Tristan Clark, and the return of Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua to replace the loss of Freddie Gilllespie. Like their backcourt, Baylor has multiple options that they can choose from, one of many reasons why they are one of the best teams in the nation right now. Even better, whoever does not end up in the starting rotation at forward can take over the center position as well. The big contest here must be the scoring as both teams were in the middle of the pack in that field last season and lost key players that contributed to that scoring frenzy, whether that is Powell or Gillespie. This battle between two dangerous teams in two competitive conferences has all the makings of an epic showdown and a back-and-forth affair.
1. Creighton @ Kansas (Dec. 8)
A battle of the birds between a Big Five powerhouse and a Big East elite, this is the aerial assault you do not want to miss, whether you are a Big 12 or Big East fan. Creighton is ranked No.11 on the Preseason poll, Kansas is No. 6. Starting with Creighton, Big East Preseason Player of the Year Marcus Zegarowski is back and has a balanced attack and defense. Ty-Shon Alexander may be gone, but Zegarowski is going to take over this team and is potentially their greatest player since Doug McDermott. Joining him will be Mitch Ballock, who is remembered more for his incredible range than anything else. This combination is going to be extremely dangerous and both players will have opportunities to score in marvelous fashion. But Kansas is Kansas, and the Jayhawks bring back Marcus Garrett and Ochai Agbaji to dominate their backcourt in a more defensive approach. Devon Dotson may have left, but Garrett and Agbaji are going to be talked about for a good portion of this season, especially since Garrett is literally defending his Defensive Player of the Year award from last season. While both teams have two different approaches to their backcourts, they appear to have the same frontcourt approach that has worked in years past.
Creighton lost Kelvin Jones but retained Damien Jefferson and Christian Bishop to man the front and take advantage of the inside of the court. In addition, Creighton also has strong options in the scoring affairs of Denzel Mahoney and Lithuanian sensation Modestas Kancleris, both of whom also have incredible versatility. Kansas has a significant loss of their own in Udoka Azubuike but retain David McCormack and Tristan Enaruna to nail down the paint option. De Sousa returns after that incident against Kansas State and hopefully has learned from his mistakes to try and salvage a letdown of a career. Mitch Lightfoot is also a valuable option off the bench as he enters his fifth season, fourth playing, with the Jayhawks and his veteran experience in the Big 12 can come in handy at times. My main showdown here is going to be scoring, and more importantly, shooting. Both teams led their conferences in scoring and shooting percentage, with each finishing in the top 25 in the latter category. Offense is going to be the name of this competitive game and the defenses are going to have to step up big time if one bird is going to fly high above the rest. Coaches Greg McDermott and Bill Self will look to add another significant win to their credentials as a new era of Creighton basketball squares off against a historically good program in Kansas. Bring out the popcorn, this will be a matchup to remember.
So those are my top 5 games for this year’s Big East/Big 12 battle. I had to make some close calls, but for matchups such as West Virginia-Georgetown, DePaul-Iowa State, Oklahoma-Xavier, Kansas State-Butler and Providence-TCU, I had to consider the talent level of each team and how much hype was going to be garnered in each matchup. The reason I left these five off the list is because either a team was not good, or the matchup just did not have enough to look forward to. Nonetheless, this is going to be a battle, especially during a global pandemic. Even though UConn was left off the list in this challenge, these matchups are still going to be thrillers until the final buzzer. I know I cannot wait.