Big East Baller Update No. 5: 14 Abbreviated Days

Xavier Musketeers forward Jack Nunge (24) scores two over Connecticut Huskies in the second half Saturday, December 31, 2022 at the Cintas Center. The Musketeers won 83-73. Xavier Uconn6

How did I end up in Florida again? That question is not as important as the fact that there are two weeks of Big East basketball that need to be covered. Quite a lot has happened in 14 days and two years (get it), whether it was the No. 2 UConn men’s basketball team losing for the first time this season or college basketball being played on Christmas.

Already in 2023, the Ohio State Buckeyes missed a potential game-winning field goal almost precisely at midnight on New Year’s Day while both the Pittsburgh Steelers and Green Bay Packers are somehow still alive. Before the conference gets some of this year’s chaos, let us play back the best hits of 2022 (or at least the past two weeks anyway).

Writer’s Note: The Miami Hurricanes (a former Big East member) men’s basketball team and the Jacksonville Jaguars are better than we thought.

Players of the Week:

Bryce Hopkins – Providence (12/19-12/25)

Jack Nunge – Xavier (12/26-1/1)

Freshmen of the Week:

Cam Whitmore – Villanova (12/19-12/25)

Alex Karaban – UConn (12/26-1/1)

No. 24 Marquette vs. Providence (Dec. 20): Double Overtime and Double Madness

Most stories have a beginning, middle and an end, but this one starts in the middle of the action. The middle, in this case, is the final few minutes of the second half where neither team had made a field goal in over four minutes. What happened from this point onward makes the events that transpired in the beginning obsolete.

Marquette had a five-point lead after Bryce Hopkins made three free throws in 30 seconds. Providence snatched the lead behind a three from Devin Carter and an old-school three-point play from Ed Croswell, but David Joplin’s layup that forced overtime. The Friars scored 10 points in under three minutes, but then their offense got silenced as Tyler Kolek scored nine points by himself.

Hopkins’ free throw late in the frame prevented an unanswered rally, but Kolek’s fadeaway jumper forced yet another overtime. The Golden Eagles had the lead in their grasp three times in the second extra period, but they could not finish the job as Providence made seven free throws in the final two minutes to put away a statement 103-98 victory.

Both Kolek and Hopkins finished with 29 points while Kam Jones, Croswell and Carter scored over 20 points themselves. While Marquette was ranked in this contest, I would not be shocked if the Friars find their way back into the Top 25 for a second consecutive season.

Seton Hall vs. Xavier (Dec. 20): X marks the spot

In regular season conference play, there is one “treasure chest” that each team seeks, the Big East crown. Neither the Xavier Musketeers nor the Seton Hall Pirates were expected to obtain that treasure, especially with new head coaches at the helm, but this contest helped prove that everyone in the conference wants the gold.

A three from Souley Boum gave the Musketeers the lead for most of the first half, but the Pirates stole it right back via four unanswered points from Kadary Richmond early in the second. Both programs jostled for ages, but once Jerome Hunter went on a 6-0 run by himself, Xavier had a lead they never relinquished.

Tray Jackson came up with numerous jumpers and Femi Odukale attacked the paint and charity stripe often in an effort to rally back. But even with the Musketeers not making a field goal in the final two minutes, numerous offensive rebounds and missed shots prevented the Pirates from tying the game as they fell short in their quest 73-70.

Zach Freemantle led all scorers with 23 points and finished one board shy of a double-double eight days before he had one against No. 2 UConn while Richmond scored 17 points and Tyrese Samuel had 14. Even though they came up short in a hostile road environment, Seton Hall is a team that can play spoiler in the right situations.

Marquette vs. Villanova (Dec. 31): Finn Twins

On January 19, 2022, the unranked Golden Eagles upset the 11th-ranked Wildcats at the Finneran Pavilion. 346 days later, and on the last day of the year no less, Marquette went back into Villanova’s house and did the exact same thing.

Sure, the Golden Eagles were the better team entering the game, but anything can happen on a given night in Big East basketball. That proved to be the case when Cam Whitmore drained a three as part of a 6-0 run to help the Wildcats maintain the lead heading into the intermission. Villanova stretched that lead out to nine early in the second, but both Chase Ross and Joplin helped Marquette snatch it back.

Chris Arcidiacono tied the game with a three, but a dunk from Olivier-Maxence Prosper gave the Golden Eagles a lead they would not relinquish. The Wildcats tried to force overtime, but none of their shots fell in as they lost at home again 68-66.

Stevie Mitchell led the way for Marquette with 19 points on 8-13 shooting and Jones had 14 on four threes. While Eric Dixon and Caleb Daniels had 13 each, Whitmore dropped 14 points on 6-9 shooting for Villanova. My honest opinion right now is that Villanova is out of sorts due to massive offseason change, but they will find themselves back in contention should they best Xavier at home this week.

Honorable Mention: DePaul vs. Creighton (Dec. 25): Christmas in Omaha

This was not a close game, but it was better than the Denver Broncos-Los Angeles Rams NFL contest that took place at the exact same time and some of the National Basketball Association’s games on the federal holiday. The Blue Jays won in wire-to-wire fashion, opening the game on a 7-0 run and never looking back with an 80-65 victory.

Trey Alexander dropped glad tidings all over the court with 32 points in 35 minutes on 11-16 shooting while both Jalen Terry (off the bench) and Umoja Gibson had 14 apiece to lead the Blue Demons. The Blue Jays’ offense, as proven by their 54% clip from the field and 55% from three, is back on track and probably has a New Year’s resolution of wreaking havoc across the conference in 2023. Unlike most resolutions, this one can easily be fulfilled.

Honorable Mention II: Pittsburgh vs. Syracuse (Dec. 20): Old Big East Foes on the Atlantic Coast

The Syracuse Orange were a Big East charter member while the Pittsburgh Panthers joined in 1982; both stayed until 2013 when the ACC came calling and the football schools (including the Huskies and former member Rutgers) seceded. Even in a different conference, this fierce rivalry between the two schools is still competitive.

Pittsburgh initially appeared to run Syracuse out of their own dome as they possessed a 20-point lead in the second half, but Jim Boeheim’s teams have been known to put up a lot of grit. In the final 10 minutes, the Orange held the Panthers to 12 points as Judah Mintz and Joseph Girard III lit up the court. Anything was possible once Quadir Copeland cut the deficit into single digits, and that proved to be the case when Girard III made two threes to make it a one-point game. Syracuse could have completed the comeback, but a steal from Blake Hinson and a missed shot from Mintz helped Pittsburgh survive 84-82.

Hinson scored 25 points and had 13 rebounds while Nelly Cummings scored 22 for the Panthers. Mintz had 24 points while Girard III had 16 on 5-11 shooting. I have not followed the Atlantic Coast Conference enough to fully analyze both teams, but I would not be surprised to see Pittsburgh ranked at some point soon after their home win against the North Carolina Tar Heels.

I really need to stop producing these updates every two weeks because I am going to cover so many good games well after they have happened. With conference play well underway however, this will no longer be the case; the Big East Baller Update will now be published every single week from now until the Final Four (or when the last remaining team in March madness is eliminated, whichever comes first). Like NFL Redzone, you do not want to miss commercial-free coverage of one of the most competitive conferences in the country.

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