The Coleumn: Breaking down the five biggest Big East men’s showdowns of the 2021-22 season

The UConn football team enters the field. The Big East schedule was released and UConn and Villanova go head to head once again. Photo by Julie Spillane/Daily Campus.

After months of speculation, the Big East conference schedule was finally released on Thursday, Sept. 23. With it, we have an idea of who each Big East team plays and when. Let’s look at the five biggest Big East matchups of the season and see why they are going to be spicy ones to watch. 

Author’s note: Three conference matchups, two non-conference matchups. UConn will be included. 

5. St. John’s vs. Creighton (Jan. 19) 

These two teams have a lot in common.  

Creighton lost their entire starting five to the transfer portal and/or the big leagues. They were like a phoenix this offseason; from the ashes of last year’s starting lineup comes the 2021 recruiting class, the best in school history. Led by Ryan Nembhard and Arthur Kaluma, the Blue Jays are looking like a very good team in this conference.  

On the other side, St. John’s lost nearly everyone to the transfer portal, but Julian Champagnie (19.8 PPG) is back to lead the team. The Red Storm have one of the nicest backcourts in the Big East as they also have Freshman of the Year Posh Alexander (10.9 PPG). In the front court, transfers Aaron Wheeler and Joel Soriano are going to do wonders for a team that brings a competitive edge to the conference. 

This game will determine which team is more likely to contend now with a possible Top three team. When it is all said and done, the rest of the Big East should be worried. 

4. Villanova vs. UCLA (Nov. 12) 

UCLA’s run to the Final Four last March made the stakes between these two Top 5 teams even higher. 

How could anyone sleep on UCLA now when Johnny Juzang (16.0 PPG) and Tyger Campbell (10.4 PPG) are dominating the best backcourt in the Pac-12? Add Jamie Jaquez Jr. (12.3 PPG, 6.1 RPG) to the mix and you have one of the best big-three groups in all of college basketball. 

They will get an early test against Villanova. Jeremiah Robinson-Earl (15.7 PPG and 8.5 RPG) may be gone, but Collin Gillespie (14.0 PPG) and Jermaine Samuels (12.0 PPG) are back hoping to lead the Wildcats to another national title. Add Justin Moore (12.9 PPG) and you may witness a battle of who has the better trio in college hoops.  

We didn’t expect this game to be early, but the context building up to it has Game of the Week vibes and if all goes well, it may appear again when we get to the Big East Baller Update. 

3. Xavier vs. UConn (Dec. 28) 

This will be a contest of two teams that use their frontcourts to win championships. 

For Xavier, Zach Freemantle (16.1 PPG, 8.9 RPG) will be a Big East All-First Team selection. He got some big help in Iowa transfer Jack Nunge (7.1 PPG, 5.3 RPG), who is going to take a huge step forward in his production this season. Look for the two skyscrapers (combined 13’ 9”) to reject anything that comes within two feet of the basket. 

UConn brings back the best scoring defense in the conference. Defensive Player of the Year Isaiah Whaley will bring his intimidating defensive play onto the court every single game. He has some great company of his own in Big East All-Rookie member Adama Sanogo (4.8 RPG). If Sanogo stays out of foul trouble, no one in the Big East is dropping 70+ on UConn. They have reinforcements to boot as well as Akok Akok returns from injury and Samson Johnson will be in the defensive scheme as a freshman. 

There will not be much in terms of the scoring category, so don’t look for anyone to have a 20+ point game. This game will solely be focused on defending your ground. Whoever does it better will come out victorious. 

2. Villanova vs. Baylor (Dec. 12) 

A rematch of the Sweet 16 from last season, what more could you ask for? 

This is where the defending national champions will prove themselves. Jared Butler (16.7 PPG), MaCio Teague (15.9 PPG), Davion Mitchell (14 PPG) and Mark Vital (5.6 PPG, 6.7 RPG) are all gone. That leaves only Flo Thamba as the only starter from last year’s title team. He will be accompanied in the frontcourt by Matthew Mayer (8.1 PPG), who returns after considering the NBA. On the wings, you have Adam Flagler and LJ Cryer returning with Arizona transfer James Akinjo hoping to make a big splash to a decent back court. 

As for ‘Nova, the pieces have already been mentioned, but consider this, Gillespie was hurt when these two teams squared off in March and the Wildcats still kept it close until the end. With Baylor’s big core gone and Gillespie fully healthy, the end result could change immensely.  

Here are the stakes, if Baylor wins, they are a top 10 team for the rest of the year likely. If Villanova wins, their chances of a projected Final Four run increase tremendously. 

1. Villanova vs. UConn (Feb. 5 and Feb. 22) 

“It’s coming.” The biggest rivalry in the Big East this season. Cats vs. Dogs. Both sides bring a strong attack and an even stronger defense. 

Offensively, UConn has RJ Cole (12.2 PPG), Jalen Gaffney (6.1 PPG) and Tyler Polley (7.5 PPG, 38.1 percent from three-point range) going up against Villanova’s Gillespie, Moore and Caleb Daniels (9.6 PPG). UConn will be looking for their next star player now that James Bouknight has gone pro, and it may fall to wingers like Cole or studs like Polley or Gaffney. The return of Gillespie helps the Wildcats find ways to weave production out of multiple star players from him to Chris Arcidiacono. 

Defensively, UConn is led by Whaley and Sanogo while Villanova brings Samuels and either Eric Dixon or Brandon Slater. Villanova is looking for an answer of their own as Robinson-Earl went pro. If both of their top two defenders get into foul trouble early, look for someone on the bench to step and contain the deep threats. 

This should be a fun rivalry with neither game leaving an empty seat. The right balance is going to be critical and whoever can take the series will most likely be considered the best team in the Big East. 

Mark these dates down in your calendar because these are the five biggest games you do not want to miss. Buckle up; it’s going to be a wild ride. 

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