It may be Thanksgiving break for most college campuses, but it certainly is not the case for Big East basketball. In case you missed it, the Big East has returned to dominance as most of the teams sealed the deal in critical matchups, whether it was up north or down south.
That said, there were a lot of fantastic games that occurred over the past week. If you need something to read on your flight back home or even at home, go ahead and open this BIG article. I know for sure the Big East will be reading it on their smooth flights to their island paradises.
Writer’s Note: The Big Ten is overrated (Lost 6-2 in the Gavitt games, three teams in the AP Top 25). The Big East is not (four teams in the AP Top 25).
Player of the Week: Javon Freeman-Liberty – DePaul
Freshman of the Week: Ryan Nembhard – Creighton
No. 10 Illinois vs. Marquette (Nov. 15): We’re Here to Wreak Havoc
The opening tipoff to the Gavitt games did not disappoint as these two teams were ready for some action right from the start. The average fan would think that Illinois was going to mop the floor with the Golden Eagles, but Shaka Smart had other plans on a typical Monday night.
The first half was sloppy for both teams, whether it was unnecessary fouls, untimely turnovers, or even missed jumpers. Illinois had the lead for most of the first half, leading by as much as eight, but Marquette stayed in the fight and were only up by one after 20 minutes of intense play. The second half was interesting as Illinois was able to claw back and quickly jump out to a commanding 12-point lead with vicious dunks and free throws leading the way. Marquette would take a timeout, and that was when everything changed.
Thanks in part to an Illinois scoring drought, Marquette was able to come back and be down by three, but Illinois proceeded to take an eight-point lead behind more dunks and free throws. Illinois thought they had this game secured, but they continued to take bad fouls and commit atrocious turnovers. The worst turnovers happened in the final minute. With a one-point lead intact, all Illinois needed to do was get fouled and they might seal the deal. Instead, Trent Frazier fumbled the ball and Tyler Kolek was right there to drain the layup and get one more shot. Illinois still had a chance to win, but Andre Curbelo turned the ball over and it was enough to give Marquette the 67-66 upset.
Darryl Morsell had another great performance with 21 points while Justin Lewis showed signs of development with his 17 points. On the flip side, Frazier had 23 points while Coleman Hawkins had 13 with eight rebounds. For comparisons, Illinois committed 26 turnovers with 50 rebounds on 37.9% shooting. Look out world, Shaka Smart has this program thinking dominance in the Big East and March Madness just like he did at Texas and VCU.
Seton Hall vs. No. 4 Michigan (Nov. 16): 1989
The last time these two met, Michigan won the national championship for the only time in their program’s storied history. They have since made it back to the championship game twice. Seton Hall has not made it back to the Final Four since, but they’ve had some good teams with incredible potential to do so.
The fact that they kept it close throughout the first half with a Top Five team is enough to consider where this team may be heading mentally. Jared Rhoden and Myles Cale were all over the floor as they had to contest against Hunter Dickinson and Eli Brooks on almost every possession. There were other pieces too, but these four standout the most for both teams because they will be the star players that can impact the game day in and day out. After just one half, it was only a three-point lead for the Wolverines.
Michigan started the second half strong to give the Wolverines an 11-point lead, but Seton Hall does not go away until the ship sinks. Seton Hall would fight to get their lead back and tied the game with less than five minutes left in regulation. The last two minutes had the best pandemonium of the game as Bryce Aiken would give the Pirates the lead, and then Ike Obiagu got fouled. Michigan got the lead back on free throws until DeVante’ Jones got fouled, leading to Seton Hall getting the lead back. Seton Hall almost sealed the deal with 14 seconds left, but a foul by Rhoden gave Michigan one more chance. They needed to make both free throws to tie the game, but only made one of them, which was enough for Aiken to wrap this game up and complete the Pirates’ revenge 67-65.
Rhoden led the way with 16 points but had some help from the bench as both Aiken and Tray Jackson had 13 points apiece. Dickinson had 18 points for Michigan with Brooks not far behind with 17 of his own. Jones would get the double-double as he collected 11 points on 12 rebounds. Not only did Seton Hall shock basketball, but they also asked the big question. Could this team make a deep Madness run?
St. John’s vs. Indiana (Nov. 17): A Flood of Red (Bobby’s version)
The most common thing between these two teams is the color red. If this game had been played on Friday, it would have been up there with Taylor Swift’s new album for best things that are red. Like Swift’s new album, this game was a crimson banger.
The first half belonged to Indiana. St. John’s applied the pressure early in the half, but one hot run by the Hoosiers left the Johnnies in the dust for most of the half. Say what you will about this half, but the Hoosiers kept their fans engaged throughout the half with their polarizing dunks, layups and jumpers. The neat part about the 12-point Hoosier lead was that it did not lead to a blowout as many would have expected. Someone must have told St. John’s what their preseason ranking was in 2020 because they started to take things personally.
The Johnnies would use a 10-3 run in the first two minutes to pull within five before Indiana scored five unanswered, but that still would not keep the Johnnies at bay. In fact, with less than nine minutes to go, St. John’s was able to tie this contest. Indiana wanted to keep pulling away from the Johnnies, but the Red Storm were not far behind at all. They were within one point of tying this game several times, but despite their best efforts, they came up short. Xavier Johnson would go 1-2 from the line to give the Johnnies one last chance, but the last second effort came up just short and the Hoosiers survived with a 76-74 victory.
There’s still a lot of positives for the Big East as Julian Champagnie’s 32 points proved why he could be the Big East Player of the Year. Stef Smith had 16 points in his new role and Posh Alexander was not far behind with 10 to provide extra help. Trayce Jackson-Davis is the equivalent to Champagnie for Indiana as he put up 18 points and 10 rebounds for a double-double. Race Thompson kept pace with 15 while Miller Kopp garnered 12 points. At the end of the day, both teams need to be in the AP Top 25 at some point this season.
Honorable mention: No. 5 Villanova vs. No. 6 Purdue: Hall for one and one for call
Villanova had a prestigious offer few teams ever get throughout the regular season, they got to play two Top Ten teams within two weeks. The Wildcats may not have beaten UCLA in their previous Top Ten matchup, but they had an incredible chance at redemption against a steaming Purdue Boilermaker squad.
The first half went just about as you would expect, with both teams going back and forth in an instant classic. Neither team was safe from having a big lead as Trevion Williams and Collin Gillespie dominated like they usually do. The well-balanced and top tier teams would duke it out for most of the first half and Villanova would be the one that would come out on top. For a while, it seemed as though this would be a game of catchup has Villanova would take a reasonable lead only for Purdue to work their way back into the fray. Everything seemed to change when Villanova took an 11-point lead and then led 57-46, making it almost certain that Nova was going to win this game. That got proven wrong almost immediately.
Not even a three-pointer by Gillespie could prevent the rally as Purdue made some critical defensive stops to roar their offense back to life. Having been caught off-guard by an incredible Boilermaker run, Villanova tried to get their grit back so they could regain the lead, but it was not meant to be as Purdue would use the free throw to walk out of Connecticut with the 80-74 victory. As a result, Purdue won the Hall of Fame Tip-off Classic in what was an absolute classic.
Justin Moore led the way with 19 points with Caleb Daniels getting 17 off the bench. Gillespie had 14 and two other starters, Brandon Slater and Jermaine Samuels, had 10 each. All seven feet and four inches of Zach Edey were on full display as he put up 21 points. Isaiah Thompson and Caleb Furst had 12 each. Villanova is a very good team and despite these early season struggles; you should not underestimate them. If you do, you may be shown no mercy.
This is an exciting time for the Big East. After a mediocre 2020-21 season, there are at least seven teams that could be ranked at some point in the season if not be ranked the entire season. Especially with the Big East-Big 12 challenge (a challenge No. 23 UConn is involved in) coming around the corner, the rest o the country should take note. The Big East is so back.