Big East Baller Update No. 12: March Kombat, Rounds one and two

Villanova’s Justin Moore (5) is defended by North Texas’ Javion Hamlet (3) during the first half of a second-round game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Sunday, March 21, 2021, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

If the first five days of March Madness have taught us two things, it is that we should expect the unexpected and that we have waited so long for its return. The Big Dance has had a lot of exciting stuff happen all over the state of Indiana in this first weekend alone. 

Oral Roberts won two games as a No. 15 seed while two No. 11 seeds (Syracuse and UCLA) are going to the Sweet 16. Things will get crazier as time passes, but until then, let us look over at how the Underrated Big East teams fared over the course of the weekend in five sentences or less. 

Villanova 73, Winthrop 63 (Mar. 19): Losses, who cares. 

Villanova entered without star guard Collin Gillespie while Winthrop entered with one loss all season. Neither of those mattered though as Cole Swider’s three-pointer at the end of the first half gave the Wildcats a lead they would never give up that ultimately was sealed by a 9-0 run in the second half. As a team, the Wildcats were able to land more shots and were mainly led by Jeremiah Robinson-Earl’s double-double of 22 points and 11 rebounds. Winthrop had an answer in DJ Burns Jr.’s 12 points, but he was the only player to reach double figures as the rest of the team was limited by Villanova and head coach Jay Wright. Despite losing a star in Gillespie, the Wildcats had another in the wings that provided necessary depth to get far in this tournament. 

Creighton 63, UC Santa Barbara 62 (Mar. 20): An Unexpected Savior 

UC Santa Barbara’s JaQuori McLaughlin (3) drives against Creighton’s Denzel Mahoney, left, during the first half of a college basketball game in the first round of the NCAA tournament at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis Saturday, March 20, 2021. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

Down one with sixteen seconds left, Creighton had to take a one-and-one with Christian Bishop, who was shooting 57% from the charity line this season, to give his team the lead. Bishop then decided to put his car in the clutch by making both free throws and then stay on the court to see UC Santa Barbara’s last second efforts fall short twice on a block by Shareef Mitchell and an air ball to end the game. Bishop, who also had a double-double of 15 points and 11 rebounds, was the true hero of the game and got support from Marcus Zegarowski’s 17 as well as Denzel Mahoney’s 13. The Gauchos were led by the 13-point performances of Jaquori McLaughlin and Miles Norris, but it was not enough. Creighton and their solid shooting performance lived on to see another round instead of going home empty-handed and sad in the first round. 

Colorado 96, Georgetown 73 (Mar. 20): Stampede 

Georgetown was looking to continue their miracle run in the tournament, but it was run over by the impressive and aggressive Buffalo offense. As a team, Colorado shot 60.7% from the field and 64% from 3-point land, dominating in just about every category necessary as they ran away with the game in the first half. Jabari Walker led the way for the Buffaloes with 24 points while converting all but one field goal. The closest answer for Georgetown was Qudus Wahab’s double-double of 20 points and 12 rebounds as well as Donald Carey’s 17. The future is bright for the Hoyas though as they bring in a top ten recruiting class next year (via 24/7 sports) and return Wahab and Dante Harris among many others for what could be an elite team and a conference contender in the Big East. 

Maryland 63, UConn 54 (Mar. 20): Pain Part II 

Pain. Nothing but absolute pain. The game was so disgusting that pain was felt throughout the game from the first half onward. The future is bright though, look out because the pain may be coming to other teams soon. 

Villanova 84, North Texas 61 (Mar. 21): From Mean Green to Sad Green 

Villanova forward Jeremiah Robinson-Earl (24) get a basket on a dunk against Winthrop in the second half of a first round game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Farmers Coliseum in Indianapolis, Saturday, March 20, 2021. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

North Texas was looking to make a surge into the Sweet 16, but before they could even get there, the Villanova Wildcats decided to rain 15 3-pointers all over the Mean Green. North Texas led early in this game, but once the shots started falling, the Wildcats outright snatched the lead and made haste with it, dominating the floor throughout both halves. Even without Gillespie, this team still dominated, as Robinson-Earl finished with 18 points while Jermaine Samuels and Justin Moore added 15 each. Javion Hamlet’s 25 points were actually more than the 23 points the Wildcats won by, but it shows that Villanova is resilient even in the face of danger and being counted out. The Wildcats have a huge challenge ahead of them in No. 1 seeded Baylor that has the makings of an overtime classic. 

Creighton 72, Ohio 58 (Mar. 22): Sweet wins are made of this 

Both teams were fighting to get into the Sweet 16 for the first time in a while as Creighton was looking to end a 47-year drought while Ohio looked to return for the first time since 2012. The winner of this game ended up being Creighton as they blew the doors off Ohio in the first half and then did enough to secure the win in the second half. Ohio did start the game on a hot run, but a dunk by Bishop gave the Blue Jays a lead they never looked back on. Dwight Wilson III had 12 points for Ohio, but it was Zegarowski who paved the way with 20 points while Bishop had another double-double of 15 points and 12 rebounds. The Blue Jays now must worry about the No. 1 overall seed in the Gonzaga Bulldogs, who are no easy task to compete against as they bring a very talented game on both sides of the court. Should be a thriller. 

The first weekend of March Madness did not disappoint and the Big East teams that have participated stood their ground quite well. The Big East has made it as clear as always that they have multiple teams that can contend for titles in the wings, even if those teams used to be in the Big East, and everyone in the NCAA should be very wary of them.  

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