Big East Baller Update No. 1: The Sophomore Season 

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Villanova forward Brandon Slater (3) works for a rebound next to UCLA guard Jaime Jaquez Jr. (24) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Friday, Nov. 12, 2021, in Los Angeles. Photo by AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez.

I’ve waited too long to write this down, but the Big East Baller Update is officially back. The NCAA landscape has changed tremendously since the last edition. From the coaching level to the player level, several new storylines are going to emerge — whether they are due to the transfer portal or the NIL deals players make. 

There were a lot of close games this week, so let’s get right into it. 

Writer’s Note: If any of Monday’s Gavitt tipoff games are close, they will be included in next week’s Big East Baller Update, because results will not be known by the time this article is published. 

Player of the Week: Javon Freeman-Liberty — DePaul 

Rookie of the Week: Ryan Nembhard – Creighton 

Big East record: 20-2 

UCLA player huddle in the closing seconds of an overtime win over Villanova during an NCAA college basketball game Friday, Nov. 12, 2021, in Los Angeles. Photo by AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez.

No. 4 Villanova vs. No. 2 UCLA (Nov. 12): Wild Cats and Sissy Blues 

This game should have been circled on your calendars from the moment it was announced. These two top five teams were hungry to prove themselves as legitimate title contenders, and this early test did not disappoint.  

Both teams went back and forth in the first half, with preseason All-Americans Johnny Juzang and Collin Gillespie proving their might. UCLA had the largest lead in the first half with nine points, but Villanova clawed its way back to trail by only two at the half. Villanova was then able to take a 10-point lead in the second half and could have easily run away with it, if not for Tyger Campbell. Both blue bloods found their footing late in the game and used a balance of jumpers and free throws to send the game into overtime. 

Jules Bernard came up big in regulation. The entire Bruins’ offense was West Coast-hot as they secured the 86-77 overtime victory. Jermaine Samuels led the way for the Wildcats with 20 points while Gillespie finished with 18. Eric Dixon, replacing Jeremiah Robinson-Earl in the starting lineup, nearly had himself a double-double with 11 points and nine rebounds. In addition to Juzang’s 25 points, most of which came in the second half, Jaime Jazquez Jr. finished with a double-double of 21 points and 13 rebounds. Both teams played their hearts out, and it should be fun to see them dominate the rest of the season. 

Kennesaw State guard Terrell Burden loses the ball while driving to the basket ahead of Iowa State guard Tyrese Hunter (11) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Tuesday, Nov. 9, 2021, in Ames, Iowa. Photo by AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall.

Kennesaw St. vs. Creighton (Nov. 11): Birds of Prey Wars: The New Class Commences 

The Blue Jays are experiencing a period of change. Not long after getting mauled by Gonzaga, Creighton lost its entire starting rotation. During the offseason, the Blue Jays picked up their best recruiting class ever and a few other transfers along the way. Coming off a second-half slaying of Arkansas-Pine Bluff, Creighton invited Kennesaw St. into its death trap, but that trap nearly turned into a trap game. 

Creighton took a big lead within the first four minutes, but Kennesaw St. rallied and managed to take the lead back in the final two minutes of the first half, despite both teams being shut out in the final 90 seconds. In the second half, the defense continued to show itself, as a Ryan Nembhard two-point shot ultimately led to the quietest 150 seconds in college basketball. From there, Creighton was able to regain control of their offense and thwart the Owls’ sinister trap. Creighton allowed only four points in the final four minutes to take home the 51-44 victory. 

This isn’t the high-scoring team from last season, but there are some new faces that could reignite the Blue Jays’ offense down the road. One of those is Alex O’Connell, a veteran who led the team in scoring  with 13 points. Nembhard and Ryan Kalkbrenner also reached double figures, with 11 and 10 points, respectively. Demond Robinson had a quarter of the total points for Kennesaw St., with 11 — everyone else was limited to nine or less. Creighton also managed to sink just one shot from beyond the arc, and if they get that going again, Creighton might turn into the First Order. 

Marquette’s Kameron Jones loses control of the ball as he falls while being defended by Illinois’ Alfonso Plummer (11) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Monday, Nov. 15, 2021, in Milwaukee. Photo by AP Photo/Aaron Gash.

New Hampshire vs. Marquette (Nov. 12): Too Close for Comfort 

It is a new era in Milwaukee, and not just because the Bucks won the NBA Championship. Marquette is beginning play under new head coach Shaka Smart, and it has a lineup made almost entirely of new blood. So how did the team do in their second contest of the season? 

The first half was not pretty. Led by Connecticut’s own Nick Guadarrama, New Hampshire was able to stay ahead of Marquette in the first half. The Golden Eagles would get the lead back when Maryland transfer Darryl Morsell hit several clutch shots late in the first half. The second half was more of the same, as the Wildcats and Golden Eagles played hot potato with the lead until Marquette was  up by nine with 12 minutes to play. Despite this nice lead, New Hampshire kept fighting and ultimately tied the game at 58. Both teams vied for the lead once again until Marquette went to the free throw line with less than 25 seconds left to seal the deal 75-70. 

Marquette has a lot of work to do, but they have nice pieces such as Morsell, who peppered 26 points on the Wildcats. Returning player Justin Lewis was not far behind, with a double-double of 17 points and 11 rebounds. Guadarrama had 15 for New Hampshire while Jayden Martinez had 21 points. This game, good as it was, was too close for comfort in the competitive Big East. 

Don’t let these teams falling behind during  the game fool you —these Big East foes are still incredibly dangerous and ridiculously talented. As the season progresses, each team, especially No. 23 UConn, will have to adjust to keep the opposition on its toes.  

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