If the Big East were a monster, would it look like Godzilla, King Kong or an alien? We don’t know that answer, but we do know that the Big East has been dangerous. Who expected the Providence Friars, now ranked No. 8 in the country, to be on top? They may be the clear-cut favorite, but there are several teams hungry for the conference crown, as proven by this week’s outstanding slate of games.
Writer’s Note: Big East games at Madison Square Garden are a very exciting time.
Player of the Week: Jared Bynum – Providence
Freshman of the Week: Arthur Kaluma – Creighton
DePaul vs. No. 11 Providence (Feb. 12): A somewhat familiar single OT bonanza
DePaul did not go into quarantine before or after this game. At the same time, Providence got even tougher than they were back when the two teams first met in January. Does it sound familiar? DePaul last played in Rhode Island on Dec. 27, 2020, in a double overtime bonanza.
The Blue Demons controlled the tempo for the final 13:24 of the first half to put the Friars at risk of getting upset. Despite being up by as much as 13 and doing so much over an 11-minute window, the rally was inevitable. Only because of a Nick Ongenda jumper and a Jared Bynum missed three-pointer at the buzzer would this game go into overtime.
The overtime period was just as intense. Nate Watson and David Jones put on a show, but the game was ultimately decided on free throws. Every time DePaul made free throws to pull down the lead, Providence answered with free throws to stay ahead. Bynum’s defensive rebound with a minute left sealed that fate, and Providence escaped with a 76-73 victory.
A single overtime game is just as interesting as a double overtime game. Bynum led Providence with 25 off the bench while Watson and Al Durham had 16 each. Jones had 19 for DePaul while Jalen Terry had 15. DePaul could not prove it in both instances, but like Providence, they are a tough opponent to beat, whether it is at home or on the road.
No. 25 Xavier vs. Seton Hall (Feb. 9): Aggression
Xavier and Seton Hall are two examples of teams that are tough. Both are ready to face any challenge that comes their way, motivated and inspired to do so for separate reasons. After not making the Big Dance last season, these teams had a lot to prove, and it showed on the hardwood floor.
In basketball, aggression is a balance of scoring, defense and physical play. Those who witnessed the game saw all three aspects in the first 10 minutes. There were stretches where no one bought a bucket while others involved a barrage of swished shots. After one half, the Pirates brought more of the aggression and led by 10 points. Paul Scruggs scored Xavier’s last seven points.
The Musketeers went on a 9-2 run to kick off the half, but with 13:39 left, Zach Freemantle fouled out. Xavier would need to control the boards to stay in the game. They kept fighting, cutting the lead down to three points on one instance before Seton Hall extended the lead again. Xavier did everything right in the final two minutes to avoid the upset, but Seton Hall’s defense and rebounding came up big as the Pirates secured the 73-71 upset.
Even without Freemantle for most of the second half, Xavier was productive as Jack Nunge had 22 points and Scruggs had 21. Jared Rhoden was on a roll, scoring 25 points while Alexis Yetna had 12. Seton Hall outrebounded Xavier 41-28 despite getting outshot 51% to 41%, proving that aggression is more than just the offense. The aggression brought by both teams is going to win ballgames, and in a league like the Big East, not having aggression is a big problem.
Seton Hall vs. Villanova (Feb. 12): The peculiar Delaware River defense
Whenever these two programs collide on the court, it’s all business. The Wildcats entered getting limited action from Collin Gillespie, who had suffered a minor injury against UConn. The Pirates survived against Xavier (see above) and needed a statement win for consideration in the AP polls. Who would earn bragging rights over the Delaware River?
Seton Hall went up three points at the break in a peculiar manner. After leading for the first 10 minutes, the Pirates gave up the lead on a 7-0 Wildcat run. Villanova could not do much with its share of the lead as Eric Dixon fouled Kadary Richmond on a three-point shot, leading to a tie via free throws. Samuels gave the Wildcats the lead again, but Richmond answered instantly. No one scored for the next two minutes until Richmond drained a three-pointer, which were the final points of the first half.
The second half was not as peculiar. Villanova used a Pirate technical foul to take the lead on a 9-0 run and did it again minutes later, but the game came down to clutch plays. Notably, Villanova’s aggressive rebounding made the difference as their three rebounds in 50 seconds forced the Pirates to foul. Four free throws by Moore later and the Wildcats claimed bragging rights 73-67.
Offense dictated this game. Every Villanova starter finished in double figures, led by Samuels and Moore’s 16 points. Seton Hall got production from Richmond and Tray Jackson, who also had 16 apiece. Come March, both teams are going to be a problem for anyone who faces them, even if Villanova looks weaker than they have in years past.
If the Super Bowl wasn’t enough, the Big East has a big slate of games scheduled this week as we enter the final stretch of conference play. Stay tuned because everything you have seen with this league so far is about to change significantly.