Basketball fans, the 2020-21 college basketball season is finally here. I know that this year has been nothing short of abysmal, but consider this and UConn’s return to the Big East to be positives. After a week of intense college basketball, let’s observe the three biggest moments in the young season for the men.
One big ground rule, the Big East’s record will be posted after one week, ranging from the start of a week until the day before editing, which means that this edition covers Nov. 25 to Dec. 1. Also note that Creighton and DePaul got out of the quarantine period this past week while Butler is currently in quarantine after a positive case.
Player of the Week: Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, Villanova
Rookie of the Week: Dawson Garcia, Marquette
Big East’s Record (11/25-12/1): 21-5
Xavier Basketball: A heartbeat away
Out of all the teams in the Big East, the Xavier Musketeers have gone down to the wire the most. In fact, they have done so not once, not twice, but three different times over the span of one week. After putting up over 100 points against the Oakland Golden Bears, the Musketeers faced an uphill battle in the Bradley Braves. Bradley was led by Elijah Childs’ 17 points, but Xavier saw Zach Freemantle put up 19 points and seven rebounds while Paul Scruggs added 17 points of his own. Xavier capitalized off of turnovers, garnering 13 points, but also took advantage of more opportunities throughout the game. Bradley could have sent the game into overtime after having led for a few minutes but missed a free throw in the final five seconds of the game to give Xavier their second win of the season by a score of 51-50.
After a close affair with Bradley, Xavier had another tough opponent in Eastern Kentucky, who got a double-double from Tre King, 20 points from Curt Lewis and 19 points from Cooper Robb. This time, Freemantle put up 24 points and although Scruggs added just 9 points, the rest of the stars from Jason Carter and Nate Johnson racked up 38 points of their own and 16 total rebounds. Interestingly, Xavier was exposed all over the paint and surprised by the bench as Eastern Kentucky had advantages in these categories, as well as in the fast break. A slower second half by Xavier led them and Eastern Kentucky into overtime, where Xavier came through by just three points in a back-and-forth affair, winning 99-96 in a game that they probably should have dominated.
If those two were not enough, entering the Cintas Center came Toledo. Surprisingly, Toledo was leading at the half by four points, but gave up 42 points against the Musketeers in the second to lose their lead. Toledo was led by Ryan Rollins’ 20 points and five rebounds in addition to Marreon Jackson’s 19 points, while Xavier had to rely on Kyky Tandy and his 24 points. In another back-and-forth tussle, Xavier led in everything but the fast break and second chance, but at the same time, had a sizable advantage in every category they did. Xavier ended up winning by three points 76-73 after Nate Johnson landed some free throws to put the game away.
Villanova vs. Virginia Tech: An upset no one expected
For some odd reason, Villanova looked sloppy in this upset from the Hokies. Part of it might have been because ’Nova found out they were playing Virginia Tech the day prior, but there has to be more. Villanova looked strong in the first half but were tied entering the break. Over a five-minute span, Villanova went on an 11-0 run and although they silenced Virginia Tech, they still managed to surrender the lead. Virginia Tech only sent the game into overtime because Keve Aluma made a 3-pointer and then made a free throw. That much would have won the game for Virginia Tech, but Justin Moore drew a charge and Villanova proceeded to send the game into overtime. From there, Virginia Tech ran away with the game, outscoring the Wildcats 17-8 in the extra period to win 81-73 overall. Even worse for the Wildcats, the Hokies do not have a single player over 6-foot-9.
Looking at the statistics, Virginia Tech had Aluma earn 23 points while Nahiem Alleyene had 20 points from the bench. For Villanova, Collin Gillespie had 25 points while Jeremiah-Robinson Earl had 14 of his own with nine rebounds. Virginia Tech was better beyond the arc with a 50% 3-point shooting and 47.4% on field goals. Villanova only shot 36% from the three and shot 42.6% overall. A surprising upset on the No. 3 (now No. 12) team in the country, but an upset is an upset and Villanova will only look to improve as the season goes on.
Seton Hall vs. Louisville: A painfully close contest
Seton Hall put up a fight against former Xavier coach Chris Mack’s Cardinals. Seton Hall’s Sandro Mamukelashvili had 22 points and 10 rebounds for a double-double while Jared Rhoden and Shavar Reynolds scored 11 points each. Louisville was led by Clarik Jones’ 18 points and 11 rebounds in addition to 11 points from Dre Davis and Jae’Lyn Withers. Like other games, this showdown ended in a close manner. Seton Hall was down by three points when Quinn Slazinski was fouled on a three-point play. Takal Molson then converted two of the three free throws, the third to potentially tie the game, to end the battle and give Louisville a 71-70 victory.
Seton Hall led the way with 12 second chance points but were trailing in bench points and could not defend in the paint, surrendering 16 and 40 points, respectively. Seton Hall clearly missed Myles Powell, or they could have put up more than they did against Louisville, but at the same time, the Pirates used their options from Mamukelashvili to Molson to find ways to score and keep the games as nail biters.
Honorable mention: Davidson vs. Providence
This one was a lot closer than others would imagine. Providence started hot, then got colder in the second half, but somehow got away with the 63-62 win against the Davidson Wildcats after Jared Bynum drilled a 3-pointer. Davidson had 17 points each from Kellan Grady and Hyunjung Lee with 13 total rebounds, while Providence got 22 points from Nate Watson and 14 points from Bynum. Davidson had more scoring options on the bench, but Providence had 11 points off turnovers and 13 second chance points. Overall an impressive performance for both teams, Davidson could be a wild card team, but Providence showed why they were better in this game, even if the final score were separated by just one point.
So, there are the top six games that happened this week. I know, it is the first week and not all these games might have been as great as they have been, but it is great to have college basketball back. The Big East will look to dominate the nation over the next few weeks before going back to contest among their own in-conference battle. Perhaps UConn is taking notice of some of the games that have happened and making notes of what to do against their Big East opponents, but who knows. Until next time, this has been a Big East Baller Update.