The drama intensifies this week in the Big East as March Madness inches closer. The conference has cemented its status as one of the premier power players of college basketball, with seven out of the eleven conference teams posting an overall record above .500. In a conference chalked full of such high-end talent, each week is poised to be action packed, as teams scout one another’s potential weakness heading into the unpredictable single-elimination tournament. This week was no different.
In true March Madness fashion, this week was personified by upsets in true March Madness fashion. The collegiate level of basketball has always been special for its unpredictability and this week was just a taste of what is to come this month.
Player of the Week: RJ Cole- UConn Huskies
Rookie of the Year: Chuck Harris- Butler Bulldogs
Butler Beats Villanova: Feb. 28
One of the highlight games this week has to be when Butler took down top seed, March Madness favorite Villanova by a score of 73-61 at home in Indiana. The Bulldogs were led by a stellar performance by freshman guard Chuck Harris, who scored 20 points in 39 minutes of play. The 6-foot-2 kid from Washington D.C. has been averaging 12.0 points on 39% shooting this season thus far, but this game showed that he has the raw talent and intangibles to play up to his competition on the big stage. With Harris’ heroics, Butler played exceptional team-oriented basketball to come away with the upset win. The team shot 50% from the field as a whole and a sizzling 41.2% from three-point range, while holding Villanova’s vaunted offense to 36.9% shooting from the field and a putrid 7.4% shooting from long range. Butler was swinging the ball well, nearly doubling Villanova in total team assists, once again proving that college basketball is still about coaching and team basketball. No team is untouchable. The one area where the Bulldogs really struggled was at the charity stripe. Butler shot only 9-for-20 (45%) from the free-throw line. This could have turned the tables if it was not for an uncharacteristically bad shooting night from Villanova.
DePaul beats St. John’s: Feb. 20
This game could be the start of some renewed momentum for the Demons in blue suits, which has to be a top contender for quirkiest mascot in the conference. DePaul beat St. Johns by a score of 88-83 on the back of Charlie Moore’s instrumental 24 points. Only two other Demons’ players recorded double figures in scoring. St. John’s offense was powered by 29 big points from forward Julian Champagnie, and another 16 from Isaih Moore. Even while committing 10 more turnovers than St. Johns, DePaul was able to edge out this five-point victory due to the sheer efficiency of their shooting and perimeter defense. This is the second week in a row that DePaul has come away with an upset win and the conference is beginning to take notice. While DePaul has already been eliminated from March Madness tournament contention, their school pride and winning culture from their Brad Stevens coached championship days is shining through as they attempt to finish their season strong. Their gritty play makes them a tough out against anyone and teams on the fence for tournament qualification should be wary. Records don’t always tell the whole story, and that truly is the beauty of NCAA basketball.
Georgetown beats Seton Hall: Feb. 20
The Georgetown Hoyas got their revenge on the Seton Hall Pirates, winning 81-75 in a game that was close in every statistic except three-point percentage. The Hoyas dominated the three-point arc, shooting 62.5% in comparison to 28.6% on the part of the Pirates. The trickle-down effect from NBA basketball has been significant; the three-point shot has revolutionized the collegiate basketball scene just as it has on the professional level. The Hoyas took advantage of several ball screens and cuts to create space for open shooters beyond the arc. This long-range shooting prowess even made up for the Hoyas committing five more turnovers than the Pirates. Senior forward Jamario Picket led the Hoyas in the scoring column, putting up 20 points along with 7 rebounds and 3 assists. It was a collective effort offensive front, with four Hoyas scoring in double figures. Center Qudus Wahab also rebounded extremely well, registering 11 for the game to complement his 11 points.
This week was a truly memorable one and displayed the vulnerability of the conference titans. With multiple teams in the mix for tournament entry, the excitement should only build further. Our UConn Huskies definitely have their work cut out for them. But as the adage goes, steel sharpens steel.