This season of Big East basketball has been like contactless payment and using your phone for educational purposes; it is a new normal and it is different. Rather than Villanova being the best in the league, Xavier, Providence and Marquette control the top of the standings.
Like any new technological device or development, the best way to gauge something, especially the Big East conference, is to fully analyze it. This will be done by taking a closer look at some competitive non-UConn games from the last seven days.
Writer’s Note: When the Georgetown Hoyas win a conference game, it is bound to happen this season, it will get included in the next Big East Baller Update that I produce. Mark my words.
Player of the Week:
Souley Boum – Xavier
Freshman of the Week:
AJ Storr – St. John’s
Villanova vs. DePaul (Jan. 10): Exorcising Demons
In every meeting between January 3, 2008, and last Tuesday, the story had been the same; the DePaul Blue Demons lost to the Villanova Wildcats. But like everything else the Wildcats have experienced this season, things just felt different.
It was already interesting after 20 minutes as Villanova went into halftime up one despite being down five twice, but then the Blue Demons went on a 9-0 second half run and everything changed. The Wildcats clawed their way back into the game every chance that they got, but Philmon Gebrewhit and Da’Sean Nelson responded almost every time. A free throw by Caleb Daniels made it a three-point game with three minutes and change, but a 5-0 DePaul run and a series of missed three-point attempts from Villanova in the final minute closed the book on the longest winning and losing streak against a single opponent in Big East history 75-65.
Three Wildcats scored in double figures, led by Eric Dixon’s double-double of 22 points and 10 rebounds. While four of the five Blue Demon starters contributed to the team’s landmark victory, Nelson had a career performance with 24 points in 33 minutes off the bench. Villanova saw two things conclude that day; their winning streak against DePaul spanning 15 years and 22 games as well as their chances of making it to March Madness under a head coach not named Jay Wright.
Creighton vs. No. 12 Xavier (Jan. 11) and No. 25 Marquette vs. No. 12 Xavier (Jan. 15): iPhone X
This was a pivotal week in the Xavier Musketeers’ season as they hosted two conference opponents near the top of the table. In order to truly be considered the best, the Musketeers needed to beat both Midwest foes.
Their first test involved the Creighton Blue Jays, the preseason conference favorites. Both teams traded blows in the first half, and Xavier was in a small hole early in the second. The Blue Jays maintained their lead and tried to silence a raucous home crowd, but the entire building roared to life on a go-ahead 8-0 Musketeer run. Creighton tied the game up, but never recaptured the lead, as Souley Boum made four free throws in the last five seconds for a 90-87 Xavier win.
Boum’s 26 on 9-18 shooting led the way for the Musketeers while Colby Jones scored 20 and Jack Nunge grabbed a double-double with 15 and 12. Every Blue Jay starter scored in double figures led by Baylor Scheierman’s 25 and Ryan Nembhard’s 17.
Four days later, Xavier hosted the Marquette Golden Eagles, a team that bested the sixth-ranked UConn Huskies at home, in a true ranked battle. In almost similar fashion, the Golden Eagles went into the break with the lead after exchanging several punches. Both teams continued to duke it out in the second half, but after Marquette tied the game on two straight jumpers, Boum landed the knockout hit with a jumper. Behind a flurry of free throws, the Musketeers came out on top again 80-76.
Every Musketeer starter scored in double figures led by Boum and Nunge’s 16 points apiece (Nunge also had another double-double with 13 boards). Tyler Kolek scored 25 on 11-18 shooting for the Golden Eagles.
Winning both big games proved one thing in Cincinnati: the Musketeers are a legitimate powerhouse.
No. 19 Providence vs. Creighton (Jan. 14): The stretch
This game brings three things to mind when thinking about the word “stretch.” The first is the Providence Friars nine-game winning streak, the second is 7’ 1” Ryan Kalkbrenner and the third is the 12-point halftime lead that Creighton possessed.
That lead got up to 16 before buckets by Bryce Hopkins and Noah Locke cut Providence’s deficit into single digits. Those two turned an insurmountable margin into a one-possession game, but that is where Kalkbrenner started to take the spotlight. Kalkbrenner had scored each of the Blue Jays last five points, and after a 90-second scoring drought by both teams, banged home a dunk to wake the whole building up. The Friars tied the game on a 7-0 run, but Arthur Kaluma gave Creighton a lead they would never relinquish. Layups from Devin Carter and Hopkins were not enough, as Providence got bested on the road 73-67.
Kalkbrenner led the way for the Blue Jays with 21 points while Alexander had 20, half of which came from the charity stripe, and Scheierman made the team’s only threes and had 19. Both Hopkins and Ed Croswell had double-doubles of 20 points and 10 rebounds for the Friars while Carter and Locke combined for 25 to lead the guards. Creighton now has a clear path to return to the Top 25, and that could happen if everything goes their way this week.
Given everything that occurred over winter break, the storylines heading into the midway point of conference play are intensifying. They may be subject to change, but having a general idea about how each team is doing is important, especially if the game’s location has an impact on the final result.