In the span of 100 hours, the Big East crowned their 42nd Tournament champion, the MLB and MLBPA agreed to a new deal, Tom Brady came out of retirement and numerous top seeds came up short in their quest for the automatic bid. Put that together and you already have one of the wildest months of March ever. It’s only going to get wilder from here.
This year, the Big East is sending Villanova (2), Providence (4), UConn (5), Seton Hall (8), Creighton (9) and Marquette (9) to March Madness while Xavier (2) is participating in the NIT.
The Big East Tournament was bizarre this season, from the blowouts to the close contests to every other storyline in between. Let’s look back at each game.
Writer’s Note: Darn, I kind of want to get tickets to every Big East Tournament game next year.
Big East Tournament Most Outstanding Player:
Collin Gillespie – Villanova
Ryan Kalkbrenner – Creighton
Arthur Kaluma – Creighton
Justin Moore – Villanova
Tyrese Martin – UConn
Al Durham – Providence
Butler 89, Xavier 82 (March 9): Third time’s the charm for everything
Xavier was up six points with a minute to go before Chuck Harris tied the game. Paul Scruggs made an under-the-basket layup, got the lead and the foul with seven seconds left, but went from hero to zero as he missed the free throw and fouled at the worst possible time. That foul allowed Simas Lukosius to make two equalizing free throws and then score 12 of his 27 points in overtime. Butler never looked back as the Bulldogs eliminated the Musketeers in the first round for the third consecutive season. Ideally, this could have all been avoided if Xavier shot better than 13-29 from the line and 3-15 from downtown.
St. John’s 92, DePaul 73 (March 9): JuJu (Champagnie) on that beat
DePaul jumped out to a 12-2 run over an underperforming Johnnies’ team, signs of hope for a program on the rise. That hope was dashed immediately as St. John’s outscored the Blue Demons 47-17 the rest of the first half. Julian Champagnie made it a party, sliding around and not stopping as he dropped 22 first-half points. There were times when this game could have broken the tournament record for largest margin of victory (which DePaul was on the losing end for last season), but the Blue Demons added as many buckets as they could. Despite the 19-point loss, DePaul proved they could be a formidable foe in the Big East in the next few seasons.
Seton Hall 57, Georgetown 53 (March 9): Swashbuckling paranoia
No team had ever lost their first tournament game after going winless in Big East play, not even DePaul (twice). Georgetown proved records do not matter initially as they led by 10 in the first half behind Aminu Mohammed and Donald Carey. Everyone could have had a laugh at the Pirates’ expense, but Jamir Harris made a three-pointer with 42 seconds left while Jared Rhoden sealed the deal at the free throw line to avoid utter embarrassment. Georgetown controlled the rebounding battle 48-34, but it wasn’t enough as Seton Hall shot better from the field 38.6%-30.6%. The Hoyas may not have a Big East win since last year’s Championship game, but they are still committed to Patrick Ewing.
Providence 65, Butler 61 (March 10): Providence Pushed P
The Friars have had luck on their side, but talent persevered in this Thursday matinee. By surrendering leads in the first half, both teams set the stakes for a game similar to their previous meeting in Indianapolis. There were times in the second half where Butler could have pulled off the upset, but when one thought they had secured the lead, Providence pulled them back into reality. The three-point percentages were disappointing (24%-15.8% in favor of Providence), but the three-pointer that mattered the most came from Durham, who buried one from the corner to ice the Providence lead. The Friars avoided the embarrassment of the No. 1 seed not winning a tournament game, thus proving that their “Them Dudes” mantra was still going strong.
Creighton 74, Marquette 63 (March 10): Flapping Wings Over 34th St.
Two aviary teams soaring above their expectations set the stage for a critical quarterfinal showdown. Creighton controlled most of the game, maintaining the lead over the final 16 minutes of the first half as well as a 13-point lead with 11 minutes left in regulation. Marquette rallied to make it a two-point game with three minutes to play, but it was too little too late as the Blue Jays closed the game out on an 11-2 run. Creighton shot better, outshooting Marquette 49.1%-39.7% from the field and 41.2-32.1% from beyond the arc while Ryan Kalkbrenner scored 14 points with nine boards. We asked for close games in this tournament and these two flight-and-fight foes delivered.
Villanova 66, St. John’s 65 (March 10): Should’ve gone for the head
The Red Storm did everything right: They got their offense going, contained the Villanova’s dominant offense by allowing 23 first-half points and controlled the boards to prevent any second chances. They had a prime opportunity to slay the Wildcats, already without Jermaine Samuels in the starting five due to back spasms, after taking a 17-point lead with 15:38 left. Villanova, however, caught the Johnnies in their trap and grabbed the lead with a 24-6 run. Stef Smith gave the Johnnies the lead with 2:08 to play, but Brandon Slater got fouled by Champagnie with the game on the line. Slater made both free throws and Smith missed a potential game-winner as the Wildcats snapped the Johnnies out of existence.
UConn 62, Seton Hall 52 (March 10): The return to Storrs South
On March 8, 2012, the Huskies fell short against Syracuse in the quarterfinals, their last Big East Tournament game before they left for the American Athletic Conference. 10 years later, the Husky faithful, returned to their “second home” for a quarterfinal matchup against another Big East original, the Seton Hall Pirates. The Huskies proved that this was their house by limiting the Pirates to 18 first-half points and seven field goals. Seton Hall kept it close when they could, but the electric crowd, throwback jerseys and Tyrese Martin taking things personally were too much to handle. While Richie Springs played one minute, neither Matt Garry nor Andrew Hurley got minutes in this contest, thus keeping Hurley’s field goal percentage at 100% in his Big East Tournament career.
Creighton 85, Providence 58 (March 11): Put me in coach
One would expect tactical warfare when Big East Coach of the Year Ed Cooley squares off with the likely runner-up in Greg McDermott, but little did we know a blowout was in the works. It was a chess match for the first 14 minutes as both teams scored 25 points and exchanged the lead like the New York Stock Exchange. Then the 35-4 Creighton run happened, forcing Providence to burn all four of their timeouts and not make a field goal for 14 minutes and five seconds. Providence reignited their offense, but it had no effect and the Friars lost as the No. 1 seed for the first time ever. Only Durham finished in double figures (21 points) as Providence shot 30.8% from the field and 12.5% from downtown.
Villanova 63, UConn 60 (March 11): The rivalry is back
I can’t even be mad about the result, and it’s not because UConn beat Villanova at the XL Center this season. What went down in front of a sold-out crowd was one of the best games the Big East has had this season, no doubt about it. There were rejections, there were rebounds, there were wild shots and little fouls. It felt like an old-school Big East battle. Totally makes me wonder if I should write a column about this revived and reignited rivalry.
Villanova 54, Creighton 48 (March 12): Villanova + I = VI
For the second time ever, my father and I went to the Big East Championship game. The first half involved 37 total points and 17 total field goals as both teams struggled offensively while rebounding ad nauseam. Collin Gillespie went lights out in the second half, scoring all 17 of his points in an efficient manner. Creighton had a one-point lead with two minutes to play, but Gillespie showcased why he is a two-time Big East Player of the Year, making two massive three-pointers that led to the Wildcats’ sixth Big East Tournament crown. The last time I went to the Big East Championship game, Villanova won the national title, and I’m interested to see if either team makes it to the title game this season.
It’s been three years since March Madness games were played in front of sold-out crowds. With the bracket set and the teams raring to go, let’s give the people what they want.