Big East Baller Update No. 7: Dunk the halls


Thanks to COVID-19 and the omicron variant, both the NHL and most of Big East basketball went on Christmas break early with the expected end arriving today. Although the Big East went on break, there were still two games that were played this past week as Big East play is slowly starting to ramp up.

With one of those two games involving the UConn men’s basketball team, I thought I would do something different in this week’s edition. In addition to highlighting the one non-UConn game, I am also going to focus on omicron’s impact on the Big East and recap a Big East game that has already happened.

Writer’s Notes: I got The Big East by Dana O’Neil for Christmas. I’ve read the first chapter and it has been a great book so far. There also are no Big East Players of the Week or Freshmen of the Week.

No. 18 Xavier vs. No. 23 Villanova (Dec. 21): 15

The only non-UConn Big East game of the week had a lot of hype heading into it at the Finneran Pavilion. Xavier had earned one loss the entire season while Villanova was coming off of an embarrassing loss to Creighton and was looking to rebound at the Finn. With both teams close to full health, this was a heavyweight bout Big East fans did not want to miss.

Xavier led for most of the first half, including the final 15 minutes, by making a plethora of jump shots early. That mixture of defense and offense, including an 8-4 Musketeer run in the final four minutes of the first half, set the tone for both teams. With the Musketeers up eight at the break, people were getting ready to question Villanova’s legitimacy while proving Xavier was for real.

The narratives changed in the second half. Xavier did not make a field goal in the first four and a half minutes, and it allowed Villanova to cut into the lead. The Wildcats would prove they weren’t falling out of relevance yet as they took the lead back with 14 minutes left. Xavier had so many opportunities, but three field goals in the first 10 minutes is going to help no one. That, plus a 16-4 run in a six-minute stretch and a 10-0 run by Villanova would be enough to put this game away for the Wildcats. Xavier was unable to close the gap in the final 30 seconds, and four free throws helped solidify the 71-58 Villanova victory.

With the win, Villanova still has lost only one Big East game at the Finn since the 2013-14 season while Xavier wonders how they made eight field goals in the second half for just 20 points. Dwon Odom led the way with 13 on the bench while Nate Johnson had 12. The Wildcats got support from Justin Moore (17), Collin Gillespie (15), Caleb Daniels (16 off the bench) and Dixon (15 and eight rebounds). Villanova may not be going away anytime soon, but this game added more evidence as to why every game is going to be a battle.

Big East vs. Omicron (The Entire Week): Surging to new adjustments

Last season, it was the Big East vs. the pandemic, and the Big East narrowly came out on top. Unexpectedly, the two “teams” would have a rematch that would last the entire following season. Things were going well for the first month, with no team having to deal with a single postponement. Then the omicron variant came into play.

There were seven games scheduled between Dec. 20 and Dec. 27. Only two of them happened, both on Dec. 21. The other five games last week were postponed due to COVID-19 issues at one school (there was never a case where both schools had COVID-19 issues). Under the initial Big East policy, the school with the issue would forfeit the game and take a loss in the Big East standings without affecting the AP Polls.

However, all these cancellations were drawing ire among the Big East faithful. They said it was unfair for their team to lose because they did not have enough available players. Big East President Val Ackerman carefully reconsidered her options. She adjusted her gameplan and revised the Big East cancellation policy so that these postponed games could be made up (assuming there was time available in the schedule to do so). Now no one has lost a game due to COVID-19 issues.

The Big East may have a bit of an issue right now across the league, with UConn announcing their game Tuesday against Xavier has been canceled (purely pain). With more and more teams canceling games due to the pandemic, only time will tell how this plays out. Stay tuned.

No. 3 Seton Hall vs. No. 1 Villanova (Mar. 12, 2016): Threes on threes

Writer’s Note: I went to this game not knowing as much about the Big East as I do now. What you are about to read is a mixture of my testimony and the actual recap to the game.

March 12, 2016 was the day of the annual Big East championship game. One day removed from Jalen Adams’ full court buzzer-beater against Cincinnati in the American Conference Tournament down in Orlando (which UConn would win), two strong teams faced off at Madison Square Garden. In the left corner was third-seeded Seton Hall, who beat Creighton and No. 5 Xavier. In the other corner was the top seed, No. 3 Villanova, the defending Big East champions. They dominated Georgetown and Providence with a lineup featuring six future NBA players. Someone was getting Big East title number three.

Darryl Reynolds and Ryan Arcidiacono may have scored for Villanova early, but Seton Hall had answers from Isaiah Whitehead and Angel Delgado. Despite the early 13-9 start, the only field goal over the next three minutes would be a layup by Ismael Sanogo (no relation to Adama Sanogo). Whitehead and Josh Hart kept clashing at the bucket, but the defenses continued to shine as only two field goals, one by each team, were made in the final three minutes of the first half. Seton Hall had enough momentum on their side as they were up by 11 at the break.

Without knowing it, my dad had ordered tickets in the Seton Hall student section. That first half had them riled up. The view from the student section was amazing and it helped me look forward to being in the student section both at my high school basketball games and at UConn basketball games. I may have learned some “new words” along the way, but I still got to take in the thrill of a raucous student section.

Seton Hall was up by as much as 13, but Villanova used a 14-4 run to tie the contest at 50 apiece. Seton Hall would then go on a 5-0 run to gain a little momentum heading into the homestretch. Villanova kept answering and it ultimately paid off in the final minute. After tying the game once, Jenkins made a big three-point shot that put Villanova out in front for the first time since early in the first half. Seton Hall would respond with free throws from Whitehead, one of which came after a clutch game-tying shot with 18 seconds to go.

Villanova raced down the court to get a shot off, but neither of them went in and Villanova had no choice but to foul. Arcidiacono threw up a prayer at the buzzer, but unlike Jenkins’ game-winner in the national title game, this one would come up short and Seton Hall would win the Big East Championship 69-67. It was their third-ever Big East title and first since 1993.

It was about 95% Villanova fans at the Garden, so while the Seton Hall student section was going ballistic, Villanova fans were filing for the exit. I did stay to see some of the postgame ceremonies afterward, including Whitehead winning Tournament MOP. I was very impressed by the entire atmosphere and I was glad I was able to attend this instant classic.

Seton Hall would earn a six seed only to lose to Gonzaga in the First Round. Villanova got a two seed and won the National Championship, beating UNC on a buzzer-beater by Jenkins. Whitehead took home the Big East Tournament MOP, finishing with 26 points in the championship game. Desi Rodriguez had 12 and Derrick Gordon had 10 to round out the scoring. Jenkins had 23 for Villanova while Hart had 17. It was a game to remember, and a game no one will forget for a long time coming.

There may not have been much in the Big East department this past week, but it is all honest work. Hopefully there are more games over the next few weeks because days without Big East basketball are not as entertaining as those with it. As we head into 2022, stay tuned for the Big East Baller Update, because the future of this league is as bright as ever.

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