College basketball currently has teams that are on fire and those that have gone ice cold. On one end, there’s Memphis, Michigan and Iowa St. who are trending in the wrong direction. On the flip side, there’s Auburn, Purdue and Arizona who have exceeded expectations and have been winning the entire year.
Not one of the teams I mentioned was from the Big East because each team is trending differently. It’s a case-by-case scenario and the trends can change at any moment. With these current trends in place, here’s how the Big East is faring.
Writer’s Note: The Big East will have six ranked teams next week. You heard it here first.
Player of the Week: Justin Lewis – Marquette
Freshman of the Week: Trey Alexander – Creighton
Marquette vs. No. 11 Villanova (Jan. 19): To boldly do what most teams cannot
College basketball, the penultimate frontier. The Marquette Golden Eagles had won four straight and Shaka Smart looked like a Coach of the Year candidate, both in the conference and nationally. Villanova had won their last six and aimed to keep their ferocious Finneran Pavilion record going.
Marquette led by six early and limited Villanova’s shots from landing for multiple key stretches. The Wildcats’ second lead of the game came with 101 seconds in the first half, but a 5-0 run gave Marquette the halftime advantage.
A 7-0 Wildcat run put Villanova in the driver’s seat, but they could not put Marquette away. Justin Lewis played hero ball in a critical game for both teams. Commanding the fleet like Captain Kirk, Lewis made his team’s last three field goals. With 13 seconds left, Lewis nearly tripped, got back up and sunk the three-point shot for the lead. Justin Moore missed a potential game-tying shot and Collin Gillespie’s heave whimpered as Marquette pulled off the upset 67-64.
Lewis finished with 21 points while Elliott had 14 off the bench. Gillespie had 10 while Eric Dixon had 15 and Moore had 13 for Villanova. The Marquette Golden Eagles are legitimate. They could have crumbled under the pressure, but they pulled through and proved why they should get an invite to March Madness.
No. 20 Xavier vs. DePaul (Jan. 19) and No. 20 Xavier vs. Marquette (Jan. 23): A hard team to gauge
The Xavier Musketeers have proven that they are back and have the pieces to compete for a Big East Championship. They had lost three games and picked up a signature win against Ohio St. along the way. Jack Nunge, Zach Freemantle and Paul Scruggs have wiped the opposition’s chances of winning. But this is the Big East, and this conference leaves teams confused.
Their first test was in Chicago against a team they usually mop the floor with. The Blue Demons entered the half up two but led by as much as 12. After playing catch-up for most of the game, Xavier took the lead with 2:05 to go and sealed it 50 seconds later. Jalen Terry’s missed three-point shot gave the Musketeers a gutsy 68-67 win. Nunge had 23 off the bench for Xavier while Colby Jones had 14. DePaul was led by David Jones’ 26 points.
The Musketeers then played Marquette, a team looking for home-court revenge.
Both teams scrapped for the lead in the second half until Marquette’s 10-0 run. Xavier was up 53-48 with 14:05 left and scored 11 points the rest of the way as Marquette brought the defensive pressure and pulled off another big upset 75-64. Lewis had 20 and 13 while Darryl Morsell had 19 for Marquette. Scruggs had 13 for Xavier while Adam Kunkel and Colby Jones had 12 each.
If they had lost to DePaul, I would be more concerned about the Musketeers. Xavier will need to adjust some aspects of their game to stay in the conference hunt. They will still finish in the top five, but this week proved that the road to get there is not easy.
Seton Hall vs. St. John’s (Jan. 22): Hudson River Marathon, miles 1-13.1
This would have been round two if the first game was not postponed due to COVID-19. The Johnnies had lost three out of their last five while Seton Hall had a week to prepare. Wins and losses aside, storylines are thrown out the window when these two rivals get down to business.
March 6, 2021, Seton Hall starts their game against St. John’s on an 18-0 run. Jan. 22, 2022, St. John’s starts their game on an 8-0 run, but Seton Hall immediately went on a 10-0 run. St. John’s would have the upper hand for most of the first half but a Tray Jackson three-pointer at the left this game tied at the break.
The Johnnies made things interesting down by two but could not tie this game up. Seton Hall’s final field goal came with 5:45 left via a Myles Cale three-point shot, but the defense came through to prevent St. John’s from rallying for the victory. 10 free throws were made in the final minute as the Pirates won the first game of this rivalry 66-60.
Cale was all over the place, finishing with 21 points for the Hall while Alexis Yetna had 16 points and 15 rebounds. Aaron Wheeler led the Johnnies with 13 points while Posh Alexander had 10. The second round between these two rivals went down yesterday in a student’s-only crowd at the Walsh Gymnasium. That kind of atmosphere has a special feature about it, especially in Big East play, so stay tuned.
The trends observed were as wild as the Divisional Round of the NFL Playoffs. The league will continue to change as the trends keep going in their respective directions, and that is outstanding for a conference with seven projected teams qualifying for March Madness (per Mike DeCourcy). Hold on to your hats, February is going to be insane.