Big East Baller Update No. 20: A Sweet and elite time in the center of America 

Villanova Wildcats guard Caleb Daniels (14) drives to the basket against Houston Cougars guard Taze Moore (4) during the second half in the finals of the South regional of the men’s college basketball NCAA Tournament at AT&T Center. Photo by Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports.

This season has gone by fast. One moment, the Big East won the Gavitt Tipoff games against the Big Ten, and the next, it’s the second weekend of March Madness. In all of it, there have been some pretty wild moments, from fifteenth-seeded St. Peter’s and tenth-seeded Miami going to the Elite 8 to the first ever Duke vs. UNC March Madness game in Coach K’s final season. 

The Big East was well represented in the second weekend as the Providence Friars and the Villanova Wildcats continued to dance. How did they do and is one of them going to New Orleans? 

Writer’s Note: Apologies to anyone named Terry because New Mexico State’s superstar is named Teddy Allen. 

Villanova 63, Michigan 55 (March 24): It’s like 2018 all over again 

The Alamodome, April 2, 2018. Second-ranked Villanova handily beats seventh-ranked Michigan 79-62 for their third national title and second in three seasons. Both teams had NBA-level talents, whether it was Jalen Brunson, Omari Spellman, Mikal Bridges and Donte DiVincenzo for Villanova or Jordan Poole, Mortiz Wagner and Isaiah Livers for Michigan. Fast forward four years, the stakes and most of the players were different, but the setting remained the same. 

Michigan started on a 5-1 run, but Villanova’s offense sparked and snatched the lead from right under their nose. Villanova remained in control behind the prowess of Justin Moore, but a five-minute scoring drought gave Michigan the lead right back. The Wildcats found their footing again, which allowed them to enter the break with a three-point lead. 

Villanova remained in control in the second half, but Michigan made it a four-point game with 3:50 left. Collin Gillespie made a three-point dagger with 1:53 remaining that concluded eleventh-seeded Michigan’s surprise run in March Madness. With the win, Villanova moved to 4-2, 3-0 in March Madness, against the Wolverines all-time. 

Jay Wright’s teams are known to have talent and depth. Brandon Slater was a non-factor, but Jermaine Samuels brought the heat, leading Villanova with 22 points. Moore had 15 and Gillespie had 12 to round out the scoring. As for Michigan, Hunter Dickinson had 15 while Eli Brooks had 14. Both these teams have NBA talents, whether it’s Dickinson or Gillespie, and this matchup helped all of their draft stock. 

Kansas 66, Providence 61 (March 25): Rock Chalk out of luck 

The first two rounds were appetizers for Providence; this contest was the main course. Kansas previously eliminated the Creighton Blue Jays, but the Friars were a much healthier threat. As expected, the first-ever meeting between these two was a fight to the finish. 

Providence’s offense wasn’t lighting it up as they scored 17 first-half points. Kansas’ offense was not perfect as they dropped 26 points in that span, half of which came from Remy Martin due to Providence’s intimidating defense. There weren’t many offensive stretches, but there were several spans were neither team could buy a basket. 

The second half was a different story as Providence tied the game at 44 with 7:17 left. The Friars took the lead over a minute later, but Kansas swiped it back with a 7-0 run. Providence did everything they could to at least tie the contest again, but their efforts came up short as Kansas closed the game out at the free throw line. 

The offense wasn’t pretty, but Kansas found a way back into the Elite 8, their first since 2018.  Jalen Wilson had a double-double of 16 points and 11 boards. Martin had 23 points off the bench for the Jayhawks while Al Durham had 21 and Noah Horchler had 10 points for Providence. It’s unfortunate that it had to end, but this was Providence’s best season since they went to the Final Four in 1987. Depending on how many guys come back, the future is bright for this program. 

Villanova 50, Houston 44 (March 26): Two cats defending their territory 

The wildcat and the cougar are territorial predators. The wildcat protects the Philadelphia area in solitude while the cougar defends Houston with pure aggression. In their first meeting since 1991, who would successfully defend their homeland? 

This was Villanova’s game from the beginning as they jumped out to a 9-2 run. Because it was the Elite 8, the Cougars clawed themselves back into the match. But every time they thought they were closing in, Villanova pushed Houston farther from the lead. What was once a 21-10 game turned into a 27-20 halftime lead in favor of Villanova. 

The defense shined in the second half. After two multi-minute scoreless spans by both teams, Houston cut the deficit down to two with 5:28 left. Villanova played better down the stretch, however, as Samuels provided the dagger with a layup and Gillespie converted at the free throw line in the final two minutes. With the win, Villanova plays Kansas for the fourth time in the last six seasons. Villanova beat Kansas in 2016 (Elite 8) and 2018 (Final Four) en route to their national titles. Kansas beat Villanova in the 2008 Sweet 16 to win their most recent title. 

Taze Moore led the Cougars with 15 points while Samuels had 16 and Caleb Daniels had 12 for the Wildcats. Wild as this game was (both teams shot under 30% from the field), the thrills came at a major cost. In the final minute, Moore went down with a torn Achilles, and if Villanova wins the national championship, they’ll be doing it for him. 

It may be a blue-blooded Final Four, but the season’s not over yet for the Big East. Villanova’s back in the Final Four, but in addition to that, the Xavier Musketeers are currently in the NIT semifinals at Madison Square Garden. Villanova draws Kansas, Xavier plays St. Bonaventure. 

Both of their tournament results will be covered in this season’s final edition next week so stay tuned. 

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