Big East Baller Update No. 10: Tourney time

Providence’s Nate Watson (0) defends Villanova’s Jeremiah Robinson-Earl (24) during an NCAA college basketball game in Providence, R.I., Saturday, March 6, 2021. Providence won, 54-52. (AP Photo/Stew Milne)

Unlike past years, the door is wide open for several teams to take home the Big East title. Could it be Villanova without a significant part of their backcourt? Or what about the surging Connecticut Huskies? How about the miracle run led by Mike Anderson and St. John’s? Let us dive right in, team-by-team, to determine who has a shot. 

Player of the Week
Julian Champagnie – St. John’s 

Freshman of the Week: 
Adama Sanogo – UConn 

Writer’s Note: The preview is in order of seeding with the conference record included. 

1. Villanova Wildcats (11-4) 

This team looks extremely different than last week. Without Collin Gillespie and Justin Moore, the Wildcats are going to have to rely on Jeremiah Robinson-Earl (15.2 PPG and 8.4 RPG) to lead the way. Of course, there are other strong options; from Jermaine Samuels (11.4 PPG and 6.3 RPG) to Caleb Daniels (10.1 PPG). A lot of people are going to have to step up either way, but everything might just work out under Jay Wright. Villanova is second in scoring defense, limiting their opponents to 66.9 PPG and are also strong in defensive rebound percentage and their assist/turnover ratio, leading both categories. This team may be down, but they are not out; they will at least make it to the semifinal round. 

2. Creighton Blue Jays (14-6) 

Greg McDermott will be coaching this tournament after getting reinstated by Creighton on Monday. Enough said about that, Marcus Zegarowski (15.4 PPG and 4.4 APG) could still win Player of the Year and he has teammates around him he can pass the ball to. These range from Christian Bishop (6.1 RPG and a .691 field goal percentage) to Denzel Mahoney (13.5 PPG and 1.5 steals per game), Mitch Ballock (10.6 PPG) and Damien Jefferson (12.3 PPG and 5.5 RPG), all of whom can get in on the fun. This team can dominate, especially from beyond the arc as they lead the conference in field goal percentage and 3-point field goal percentage and without it, they do not get too far. Look for them to possibly win the entire thing. 

3. UConn Huskies (11-6) 

Seton Hall guard Shavar Reynolds (33) tries to dislodge the ball from Connecticut forward Adama Sanogo (21) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Wednesday, March 3, 2021, in Newark, N.J. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

I’m going to save most of the coverage for the basketball beat writers, but there is still something I would like to say. The Huskies got hot at the right time. James Bouknight is cooking as his 20.2 PPG would lead the conference if he played enough games. RJ Cole (12.6 PPG) and Tyrese Martin (11 PPG and 7.3 RPG) have been great pickups from the transfer wire. But it is more than just the offense for the Huskies; it is the strong first-place defense as well. Co-Defensive Player of the Year Isaiah Whaley (2.7 BPG) has been the wrench in the steel defense, and Adama Sanogo (.95 BPG) is not far behind. The turnaround this program has gone through under Big East Coach of the Year candidate Dan Hurley is special and their return to the Big East makes them extremely dangerous. They are my pick right now to go to the finals and could easily win it, let us see if that comes true. 

4. St. John’s Red Storm (10-9) 

How about them Johnnies? Possible coach of the year candidate Mike Anderson took a team that was projected to finish ninth in the conference to a team that could possibly make March Madness. Leading the way is the conference’s leading scorer in Julian Champagnie (19.3 PPG and 7.3 RPG) who has had a breakout sophomore season. He has not been alone in his efforts though. Co-Defensive Player of the Year freshman Posh Alexander (2.6 SPG and 11.1 PPG) is a possible Freshman of the Year winner. The Red Storm have also scored the most, averaging 79.3 PPG and 9.15 steals per game to lead the conference. This team is surging and with a deep run, they could make March Madness as a First Four team or possibly an automatic bid if they win the whole thing. Look out, this team is going to be good beyond this season. 

5. Seton Hall Pirates (10-9) 

What has happened to the Pirates? Just like last season, they collapsed down the stretch. The absence of Myles Powell has hurt them, but Sandro Mamukelashvili (17.8 PPG and 7.3 RPG) has been that replacement and has gotten support from Shavar Reynolds (1.7 steals per game), Ike Obiagu (conference leading 2.8 blocks per game) and Jared Rhoden (14.4 PPG and 6.4 RPG). This team is in the middle of the pack in most categories, but they allow way too many 3-point shots to go in and need to limit that damage if they stand any chance of making it to the finals. To make it to Friday, the Pirates will need to have everyone play their best and make sure to not blow an 18-0 lead like they did last Saturday to the Red Storm. It will be interesting to see what shanties the Pirates have after this. 

6. Providence Friars (9-10) 

Providence’s Nate Watson (0) reacts after scoring a basket and getting fouled during an NCAA basketball game against Villanova in Providence, R.I., Saturday, March 6, 2021. (AP Photo/Stew Milne)

The Friars have been a very interesting team in this conference. There are days when they can beat strong teams like Villanova, but there are days where they lose winnable games like Georgetown and Butler. Not sure what expectations to give them here, but David Duke (17.2 PPG and 4.8 APG) and Nate Watson (16.8 PPG and a .603 shooting percentage) are both leading the charge for the Friars. Behind them is AJ Reeves (9.8 PPG) and Noah Horchler (5.6 RPG) who provide a balance offensively and defensively. The Friars have allowed just 29.9% of 3-point shots to go in, which leads the conference. In most other categories, they are either middle of the pack or near the bottom. Either way, Ed Cooley should make things interesting as the Friars look to at least contest for a deep tournament run. Only time will tell what Friars show up during each game. 

7. Xavier Musketeers (6-7) 

The Musketeers have played the least amount of conference games, but that does not mean they are not a good team. Zach Freemantle (16.3 PPG and 9.0 RPG) had a breakout sophomore season and Paul Scruggs (14.1 PPG) improved slightly to finish his Xavier career. Those two are both the present and the future as they have dominated from deep and in the paint. Supporting these guys are Nate Johnson (11.4 PPG) and Jason Carter (6 RPG) who provide depth both for the frontcourt and for the starting five. Despite their limited games, they are a solid scoring team that converts field goals like crazy and rebounds their own shots, (37.8 is second in the conference) ensuring that they make their way into the basket. Despite their COVID-19 related pauses, Travis Steele and the Musketeers are a dark horse team to look out for, especially heading into Thursday’s slate. 

8. Georgetown Hoyas (7-9) 

You know how Xavier is a dark horse team? The Hoyas are too. I mean, they looked dead in the water at one point, but have surged back strong in the second half. Jahvon Blair (15.9 PPG) has been their guy from deep and even though he does not start every game, he still produces. As a team, the Hoyas convert the second-most 3-point shots behind Creighton. But its more than just the offense for Georgetown, it’s the defense that has shown up incredibly well. Jamarko Pickett (7.6 RPG) and Qudus Wahab (8.0 RPG and 1.8 blocks per game) are both dominating the glass and picking up the ball when it gets into their hands. The Hoyas have quality wins over teams like Seton Hall, Xavier and Creighton that give them the potential to go far this week. One thing to note, their recruiting class next year is strong, so this team could be a top five team next season, look out. 

9. Marquette Golden Eagles (8-11) 

The Golden Eagles do indeed miss Markus Howard but have some strong replacements that have made this team interesting, to say the least. Freshman of the Year candidate Dawson Garcia (13.2 PPG and 6.7 RPG) has been a breakout superstar while DJ Carton (12.8 PPG) has proved he is a dominant piece of that Eagles offense. Theo John (1.5 BPG and shooting .578 from anywhere) and Jamal Cain (6.3 RPG and 9.7 PPG) bring the defense that is needed to compete. As a team, the Golden Eagles are third in defensive rebounds per game and are close to the top in rebounding margin overall. This team may be struggling now, but they have a plethora of underclassmen that could make them dangerous within a few years. This year, maybe a first-round exit. 

10. Butler Bulldogs (8-12) 

Creighton’s Mitch Ballock, right, collides with Butler’s Myles Wilmoth while shooting during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, March 6, 2021, in Omaha, Neb. (Chris Machian/Omaha World-Herald via AP)

If this tournament was taking place at Hinkle Fieldhouse, the Bulldogs might just win this whole thing. But it’s not, and the Bulldogs face a big challenge ahead of them. Luckily for them, they have a balanced big man in Bryce Nze (10.6 PPG and 8 RPG) who can bring the offensive heat and defend quite impressively. Chuck Harris (12.8 PPG) is also someone to look out for as well as Jair Bolden (11.1 PPG) as they bring an aggressive offense to the court. Finally, Bryce Golden (10 PPG) is an underrated player to look out for as he brings a dangerous balance of defense and offense. Look for Butler to defend like crazy as they are top five in scoring defense and defensive rebounds per game. Even if they do not get far, they have the talent to compete and keep any game close until the final buzzer. 

11. DePaul Blue Demons (2-13) 

Let’s get this out of the way now, this team is bad. Charlie Moore (14.4 PPG and 4.4 APG) is one of their best players with Romeo Weems (7.4 PPG) backing him up. Two people I would look out though are Pauly Paulicap (6.1 RPG and a .581 field goal percentage) and Nick Ongenda (1.6 BPG). The Blue Demons play strong defense at times as their 37.6 offensive rebounds per game is top five in the conference and their 3-point defense is second behind Providence. Although they are written off almost every year, they will give anyone that faces them a tough fight, as seen by their close efforts against Creighton and Seton Hall. 

So there’s a basic preview of every Big East team participating in the conference tournament. It should be a fun one and interesting as the days pass from the first round until the finals. We needed this after last year’s abrupt cancellation. Good luck to all! 

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