As proven by a 2-6 showing in the Gavitt Tipoff games and a mid-tier performance during Feast Week, the Big East has not gotten off to a hot start. This is especially the case for the Villanova Wildcats, who went 0-3 in the Phil Knight Invitational in Portland, Ore. and have shown a major regression under first-year head coach Kyle Neptune.
These past two weeks have also shown that teams like the No. 8 UConn Huskies (a winter sports school), No. 7 Creighton Blue Jays and Xavier Musketeers will be forces to reckon with. But anything can happen in the Big East, and these highly competitive matchups helped prepare the teams for tough conference battles.
Writer’s Note: The only Big East team that has an FBS school is UConn. They are bowl eligible; therefore, the Big East is going bowling again.
Players of the Week:
Adama Sanogo – UConn (11/14-11/20)
Joel Soriano – St. John’s (11/21-11/27)
Freshmen of the Week:
Alex Karaban – UConn (11/14-11/20)
Donovan Clingan – UConn (11/21-11/27)
No. 12 Indiana vs. Xavier (Nov. 18): Chilly Hoosierville
Indiana entered this contest as the highest-ranked team in the Big Ten while Xavier had a rowdy student section. Illinois found themselves close to this situation last year when they lost to Marquette in the Gavitt Tipoff Games, but would history repeat itself?
That looked to be the case in the first half as the Musketeers grabbed the lead with an 8-0 run, but the Hoosiers kept themselves in the contest until Xavier Johnson’s go-ahead layup in the second half. Souley Boum made sure Xavier would not go down without a fight after Indiana had a five-point lead with 1:50 to go. Despite the efforts of Boum and the Hoosiers going 1-4 from the free throw line in the final 15 seconds, the Musketeers could not capitalize on the offensive end and lost at home 81-79.
Trayce Jackson-Davis had a 30-piece while four out of the five Xavier starters scored in double figures led by Boum and Zach Freemantle’s 15. Indiana is a legitimately talented team and has the potential to make some noise in the Big Ten, but given how competitive this game was, do not be surprised if the Musketeers find themselves in the AP poll this season.
Villanova vs. Michigan State (Nov. 18): A powerhouse no more
This was supposed to be the marquee matchup in the Gavitt Tipoff games as the two schools have five national titles between them and have reached a Final Four in the last three years. Despite the lack of Jay Wright, it actually ended up being the main event everyone expected it to be.
The Wildcats struggled to get anything going in the first 10 minutes. They grabbed the lead twice in the first half, but really started to roar back down 16 with nine minutes left. Villanova cut the deficit down to four with 55 seconds left and made it a one-point game on a three from Jordan Longino. Eric Dixon had a chance to etch his name into history, but his potential game-winning shot came up short and Michigan State stood victorious 73-71.
Dixon led the team with 24 points while Brandon Slater had 16 and Caleb Daniels scored 13. Tyson Walker led the Spartans with 22 points while AJ Hoggard had a double-double of 13 points and 10 rebounds. Coincidentally, both of these teams were in the Phil Knight Invitational, but a rematch did not occur on neutral grounds because Villanova came up short against the Portland Pilots.
No. 10 Creighton vs. No. 9 Arkansas & No. 14 Arizona vs. No. 10 Creighton (Nov. 22 and Nov. 23): Blue Jay Kahuna
Creighton and I both went to Hawaii in 2022. Although the Blue Jays did not go to the same island that I did (they went to Maui, I went to the Big Island), they let the nation know how good they really are in less days than I spent during my vacation.
After making quick work of then No. 21 Texas Tech, Creighton found themselves in a Top 10 matchup with the No. 9 Arkansas Razorbacks, a team led by Eric Musselman that went to the Elite Eight last season. The Blue Jays had a six-point lead at the break, but Ricky Council IV and Trevon Brazile helped Arkansas recapture that advantage. Creighton thought they had this game under wraps with a six-point lead, but the Razorbacks rallied to tie the game up again. Anthony Black made a three to make it a one-point game with four seconds to go before Trey Alexander made two free throws to put this game to bed 90-87.
But the Blue Jays’ road to the invitational title was not finished. The only thing stopping them from reaching the top were the No. 14 Arizona Wildcats, a No. 1 seed in last year’s March Madness under Tommy Lloyd. Arizona looked like the better team throughout most of this contest, relying on Kerr Kriisa and Oumar Ballo (who had 30 points) to end any Blue Jay rally. But Ballo’s dunk with 2:21 to go was the last bucket by the Wildcats, allowing Creighton to potentially win the tournament. Their efforts came up short however, and Arizona won the Maui Jim Invitational 81-79.
Despite finishing as the runner ups, a strong showing in Maui successfully proved that the Blue Jays are national title contenders and have the pieces to be in that conversation for at least two years.
Syracuse vs. St. John’s (Nov. 22): Brooklyn basketball chaos
The stars aligned in the Big East’s favor. Syracuse bested Richmond and St. John’s topped Temple for an Empire Classic Championship battle between two former conference rivals. What happened in that title bout was nothing short of chaotic.
The Orange had a six-point lead going into the intermission, but halftime leads never matter in these heated battles. The Red Storm retook the lead down as much as 10 on a layup from David Jones with nine minutes to spare. Symir Torrence had a chance to be a hero in a game nobody wanted to win, but his game-winning jumper missed, and overtime would be needed.
The game effectively ended from there as the Johnnies outscored the Orange 11-4 and walked out of Brooklyn with a 76-69 victory and an invitational title. Judah Mintz finished with 20 points and Jesse Edwards, who scored the team’s last 10 across the second half and overtime, finished with 18. While Jones and Soriano had double-doubles, Andre Curbelo led the Red Storm with 23 points. This game altered momentum for both teams as St. John’s received one AP vote while Syracuse lost to Bryant at the horn at home and have the No. 16 Fighting Illini on the road next week.
Honorable Mention: Memphis vs. Seton Hall (Nov. 24): Victory from the tiger’s eye of defeat
A Tyrese Samuel buzzer-beater and the first field goal by either team in over three minutes. Enough said.
I have not covered that many weeks of college basketball in a single article in almost two years, but now is not the time to reflect on the past. One big challenge with a Power Five conference is out of the way, but another hard-nosed powerhouse looms in the distance.