Big East Baller Update No. 13: The end to an unusual season

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Gonzaga forward Corey Kispert (24) celebrates after scoring during the second half of an Elite 8 game against Southern California in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Lucas Oil Stadium, Tuesday, March 30, 2021, in Indianapolis. Photo by Michael Conroy/AP Photo.

*Sigh* it’s over. The Big East will not have a representative in the Final Four for the second consecutive tournament. Sad as this is, there is still a lot to reflect on when it comes to the orderly chaos that was the 2020-21 men’s basketball season.  

It has been quite something and for the Big East teams that survived to the second weekend, here are how the games went for them (spoiler: not good). 

Baylor 62, Villanova 51 (Mar. 27): Get Jay Wright in the Hall of Fame now 

The Villanova Wildcats have been just one of many stories to keep an eye out for this tournament as they have had to deal with the absence of Collin Gillespie, winning two games in the process. Their magic ended against a dominant Baylor team that was hungry for a deep tournament run.  

The first half looked like it was going to be an upset as Baylor shot just 2-12 from 3-point land in the first half and Villanova used a 10-0 run to spring themselves to a 30-23 halftime lead. However, good things cannot last forever as the Bears found their rhythm once again with a 14-2 run early in the second half. The game was not quite set in stone when Brandon Slater left with an injury, but it was enough for the Bears to fight on and limit the Wildcats in the last 10 minutes of the game to escape with the victory. 

Despite the injuries, Jermaine Samuels had a strong day as he led the Wildcats with 16 points while Justin Moore had 15 of his own. Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, a future lottery pick, finished two points shy of a double-double with eight points and 12 rebounds. Baylor, meanwhile, was led by Adam Flagler’s 16 points off the bench and Davion Mitchell’s 14 points, the only starter to finish in double figures.  

Both teams were incredibly cold from beyond the arc as Baylor shot 15.8 percent from deep and Villanova shot 17.6percent from the same area. This was an even matchup as both teams battled back and forth and put up similar numbers from the tip until the final whistle. Both teams shot over 40 percent from the field and both teams rebounded equally. 

The Wildcats had a huge challenge ahead of them and although they lost, they did not disappoint. If Gillespie and Robinson-Earl return next season, the Wildcats might find themselves as a dominant three seed next year. 

Gonzaga 83, Creighton 65 (Mar. 28): Perfection Survives 

Creighton had the opportunity of a lifetime to be hailed as one of the few teams to have given an undefeated team their first loss of the season in March Madness, especially in the Blue Jays’ first Sweet 16 in over 45 years. However, that was not meant to be as the Bulldogs saw the Blue Jays and thought of poultry rather than serious competition. 

Creighton was able to keep it close in the first half by keeping the Bulldog within as few as two points and entered halftime down 10.   

However, the wheels came off in the second half as a 24-14 run in the first 10 minutes would be all that the Bulldogs needed to run away from the Blue Jays and continue their path of dominance. Gonzaga took advantage of several missed shots from the Blue Jays and did so well that they outright did not score in the last two-and-a-half minutes of the game. That is not an insult because at this point, the Bulldogs were using people off the bench. 

Creighton did put up some solid numbers though as Marcus Zegarowski finished with 19 points while Denzel Mahoney ended the day with 13 points and Christian Bishop had 12. Gonzaga, on the other hand, had dominating performances all around as four of their starters got into double figures. Drew Timme led the way with 22 points and Andrew Nembhard had 17. The only starter who did not score in double digits was Jalen Suggs, a future first-round pick who had nine points. 

The Bulldogs dominated in almost every category from field goal percentage (59.6 percent to Creighton’s 40.6 percent) to 3-point shooting (37.5 percent compared to Creighton’s 21.7 percent). As much as Creighton had some incredibly hard competition, they showed a will to keep on fighting even when they were down a lot. With Zegarowski possibly returning next season, the future is bright for the Blue Jays to contend for the Big East championship. Until then, the world will have to watch to see if Gonzaga can complete the perfect season.  

Again, congratulations to Villanova, Creighton, UConn and Georgetown on making the tournament and good luck to those left in March Madness as the competition will get incredibly interesting. 

Overall, it has been a superb season and I am excited for this new era of Big East basketball to continue as the 11 teams fight to become name brands of success and elite competition in the future. 

I cannot say enough how much I have enjoyed writing these Big East Baller Updates and enjoyed calling it my own thing, especially throughout the course of the year.  

Until next time, this has been a Big East Baller Update – stay balling basketball fans. 

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