When it comes to this week, the University of Connecticut and the Big East have two things in common. The first is that it’s the final week of the semester/non-conference play. The second is that you’re going to go out on a high note. That was the case for the Big East the entire week whether in the Big East-Big 12 challenge or against other non-conference opponents.
With dominations and upsets galore, let’s add another to the argument of why the Big East is the best basketball conference in the country.
Player of the Week: Jack Nunge – Xavier
Freshman of the Week: Aminu Mohammed – Georgetown
Butler vs. Oklahoma (Dec. 7): Butler! Sooner!
Oklahoma’s been through a lot these past few days. After losing to Oklahoma State in football, Lincoln Riley left to go coach at USC and was replaced by Will Venables from Clemson. The Sooners may have lost a lot of commitments to USC, but they still had their basketball program to get them through tough times. What better way to cheer up spirits in Norman than to play a Big East team like Butler.
The Bulldogs kept it close throughout the first half. Bryce Golden and Chuck Harris had answers every time Oklahoma made a bucket in the first 10 minutes of the game. However, a 13-6 run in the final seven minutes gave the Sooners a booming 10-point lead. Perhaps this game would be over sooner than later.
Oklahoma led by as much as 13 in the second half in the efforts of blowing out Butler the same way Michigan State did. However, Oklahoma’s leads are not protected by Rocket Mortgage, and Butler gnawed away like a dog eating your homework. DJ Hughes and Aaron Thompson were huge parts of the rally, but it was Simas Lukosius who gave Butler the lead on a three-point shot inside of three minutes to go in the game. Lukosius could have been the hero, if not for a game-tying three from Elijah Harkness with two seconds left in regulation and a missed game-winner from Lukosius at the buzzer.
The two played on in an intense overtime, and a Jordan Goldwire three-pointer looked like it could have wrapped things up. The only problem is that it happened with 1:38 left in overtime and Oklahoma would not score again. Thanks to some critical missed shots by the Sooners, Butler took home the 66-62 victory.
The bench played a huge part for the Bulldogs as Lukosius had seven critical points and Harris lit up the floor with 26 on 10-21 shooting. Oklahoma’s leading scorer was Elijah Harkness, who had 16 while Goldwire and Tanner Groves had 10 each. Oklahoma wanted to say their time was coming soon, but like the state itself, Butler’s was coming sooner. They were just late bloomers.
No. 7 Texas vs. No. 21 Seton Hall (Dec. 9): Christian the Bishop
Weeks ago, the Pirates faced a tall task and got their long-awaited revenge on the Michigan Wolverines, then No. 4. Now, their only source of revenge lay in a 6-foot-7-inch, 220-pound forward by the name of Christian Bishop and the No. 7 Longhorns. Bishop’s Blue Jays had won each of the last four meetings against Seton Hall, but with the superstar gauntlet emptied from Omaha, the Pirates looked to vanquish one piece of the puzzle.
There’s incredible talent on both sides of the ball, and it was going to work early. Seton Hall was introduced to Tre Mitchell and Marcus Carr while the Pirates introduced Texas to Jared Rhoden, Myles Cale and Alexis Yetna. The introductions by both teams lasted the entire first half as players from both sides went off on multiple occasions. Texas was up by five with 2:20 left in the first half but were limited to two points as the Pirates tied it up behind buckets by Rhoden and Yetna.
The second half was more of the same. Everything was going well, until the referees spent over five minutes reviewing one play. In the end it was significant because only one field goal, a Rhoden jumper, was made between eight minutes and one minute left in the game. Ignoring the three field goals in the final minute, realizing that their offenses were sputtering, it was time to turn to the defense. Both teams made critical rebounds and fouled as often as they could, but Bryce Aiken did not miss in the final minute and helped seal the upset with a 64-60 victory.
Having fans back in the stands helps but having a very good Rhoden has helped make Seton Hall better. While he led the team with 18 points, Yetna racked up 12 points and 11 rebounds for a double-double and Cale finished with 10 points. Texas’ big two came to play as well with Carr picking up 10 points and Mitchell securing the double-double with 19 points and 11 rebounds. Timmy Allen also got in on the double-double with 17 points and 12 rebounds. For reference, Bishop was shut out in four minutes of play. This was an impressive win for the Pirates, but this boosts both team’s resumes for March Madness.
Marquette vs. Kansas State (Dec. 8): It’s a bird-eat-cat world
Shaka Smart is leading this program in the right direction. Kansas State was still a tough challenge for the Golden Eagles, who were looking to add another signature win to their early-season resume. For Smart however, it was continued dominance as he took on a team that he once played so often in the Big 12.
Kansas State did the talking early as Mark Smith and Mike McGuirl got right to work getting their sweet revenge on Smart after two consecutive years of losing in Big 12 play. To make it even harder for Smart, the Wildcats continued to have answers every time Marquette would have a lead or tie the contest up. Limiting Darryl Morsell helped, but the thing that did the Wildcats in in the first half was letting Justin Lewis, a blossoming star, hit a three-point shot with two seconds to go in the half to give Marquette the one-point lead. If this were the second half, there would be a different reaction to this game
Kansas State took that shot personally as they jumped out to an 11-5 run to start the second half. But then Marquette found their spark and used it to rally the troops with a consistent barrage of buckets. Marquette had a sizable lead with 5:40 to go, however, Marquette would be shut out for the next five minutes of play, which gave Kansas State plenty of time to take the lead back. However, only Davion Branford and Smith scored in that same stretch, and they only cut the deficit to one. Kameron Jones almost iced the game with a three-point shot, but McGuirl answered to give the Wildcats one more chance. Ismael Massoud’s shot was blocked at the buzzer to give Marquette the 64-63 victory.
Marquette knows how to keep games close, but they always find a way to come out on top. Jones finished with 15 points and Lewis had 14 with nine rebounds to lead the Golden Eagles’ resounding win. Smith had 17 for Kansas State while Massoud earned 16 and Markquis Nowell picked up 11 points and 11 rebounds for the double-double. Smart continued two storylines against Kansas State. Firstly, he still is dominating the program, secondly, Marquette is going to be good again.
Honorable Mention: Syracuse vs. Georgetown (Dec. 11): Syra-who?
These two rivals are literally playing next generation basketball. On one side, you have Hall of Fame head coach Jim Boeheim’s two sons, Buddy and Jimmy. On the other side, you have the son of Hall of Famer Dikembe Mutombo, Ryan Mutombo. The next generation is always something to watch, and that was the case here in another chapter of their storied rivalry.
Like the old foes they once were, both teams went back and forth for the lead with players on both sides of the ball hitting shots at the most useful times. Whether it was someone like Kaiden Rice, Mutombo, Joseph Girard III or Frank Anselem, the scoring was there for both teams. Syracuse would use a 23-13 run in the final 8:30 of the first half to take a commanding ten-point lead.
However, Georgetown’s powers had doubled since last season’s battle. Syracuse answered as often as they could, but behind Mohammed’s buckets, the Hoyas kept clipping away at the lead. The overall result of the game was determined in the final minutes of action. First it was Jesse Edwards making a layup, then it was a response by Mohammed. That was followed up with a layup by J.Boeheim before Rice added a three-point shot to give the Hoyas the lead back. Carey III went to the line and made two free throws, but six seconds later Girard added one of his own and a free throw would cut the lead down to one. Girard missed the free throw and Syracuse had no choice but to foul. Mohammed’s free throws would be enough, and Georgetown would survive with a 79-75 victory.
At this point, you’ve got to feel bad for Syracuse. They once were an elite basketball program, but that has slowly faded away over the last few seasons. It was set in stone once they lost to Villanova in the Garden this past Tuesday and was solidified even more with this painful result. That said, every ’Cuse starter went into double figures, with Buddy Boeheim leading the way with 17 points followed closely by Girard’s 15. Mohammed dominated with 23 points on 7-14 shooting while Carey had 18 and Rice earned 15 on 5-15 shooting from beyond the arc. Both teams came out to play, and neither one should be counted as a free win in conference play after this result.
At this point of the season, the entire Big East should count as Quad 1 competition because every team in the conference is that good, even the ones who were projected to finish near the bottom of the standings. With four teams ranked and a few non-conference games left, there is the possibility of the Big East having five ranked teams next Monday. But until then, Big East play starts up on Saturday, so let’s get wild.