Big East Baller Update No. 8: Defending home turf 

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Right now, the top five teams in the Big East have proven they can beat any opponent in their own house and, in most cases, struggle to steal victories on the road. The UConn Huskies, Providence Friars, Xavier Musketeers, Marquette Golden Eagles and Creighton Blue Jays are a combined 52-4 at home with no team losing more than once. 

Those five teams are 15-15 in true road games, some of which have been against each other. The task may be daunting, but winning on the road against a tough conference foe is possible. Did any team conquer that mountain this past week? 

Writer’s Note: Being the road team at any of these places is tough. Three of the four home losses came during non-conference play against power five schools. 

Player of the Week

Kam Jones – Marquette 

Freshman of the Week

Alex Karaban – UConn 

No. 8 Xavier vs. DePaul (Jan. 18): The World Shocking Trap 

Three years ago on Wednesday, the DePaul Blue Demons upset the fifth-ranked Butler Bulldogs in the Windy City. Paul Reed took center stage with 23 points on 8-9 shooting, but DePaul won just two games the rest of the regular season. Fast forward to the present, where head coach Tony Stubblefield looked to change the program’s disappointing reputation against one of the nation’s hottest teams.  

Xavier entered Chicago on an 11-game winning streak and sprinted out to a 13-5 lead to prove it, but a 17-6 Blue Demon run and a late Javan Johnson three made things very interesting heading into the break. The Musketeers competed like a top-10 team in the second half and ultimately used a 6-0 run to go ahead late in the frame, but their chances at avoiding an upset would not last for long. Zach Freemantle responded to a three-point play from Eral Penn with two free throws, but a bucket from Da’Sean Nelson and a missed shot from Souley Boum finished DePaul’s 73-72 upset. 

Umoja Gibson led the Blue Demons with 22 points, and although two other players scored in double figures, Penn finished one point shy of a double-double with nine points and 10 boards. Both Freemantle and Nunge had double-doubles for the Musketeers, but the team shot 20% from downtown. DePaul has appeared in one National Invitation Tournament (no March Madness appearances) since joining the Big East in 2005, but they are one big win away from ending that postseason drought. 

Villanova vs. St. John’s (Jan. 20): Rush Hour in New York City 

Two Big East originals gutting it out with their defense in a rivalry game and a low-scoring affair at Madison Square Garden. This already sounds a lot like the matchups that took place in the 1980s when head coaches Lou Carnesecca and Rollie Massimino roamed the sidelines. 

Both teams struggled to score right out of the gate, exchanging 6-0 runs amidst a flurry of missed buckets in the opening eight minutes. The woes persisted throughout the first half before Joel Soriano began the second by scoring each of the Johnnies’ first seven points. Having stolen a win against the Huskies in Hartford five days earlier, the Red Storm went up six and looked poised to improve their tournament resume, but a 9-0 run was the spark that the Wildcats needed. Soriano’s dunk made it a three-point game with two minutes to play, but a handful of missed shots led to Villanova finishing the job at the free throw line and escaping the Rock with a 57-49 win. 

In true physical fashion, both programs shot less than 37% from the field. Caleb Daniels grabbed 16 points and went 4-7 from downtown, while Brandon Slater picked up 14 for the Wildcats. Soriano continued to be a force in the paint, with 14 points and 16 rebounds for St. John’s while Dylan Addae-Wusu scored 12. Both teams have performed well below their expectations, but that means they could play spoiler with a trick up their sleeve for the remainder of the regular season. 

No. 22 Providence vs. No. 20 Marquette (Jan. 18): The importance of home-court advantage 

When these two teams first met last month, the rowdy crowd at the Amica Mutual Pavilion helped the Friars best the Golden Eagles in double overtime. The extra frames may not have been needed in the rematch, but the hostile home environment provided by those at Fiserv Forum stood through thick and thin. 

Similar to any home matchup, both programs began the game by going back and forth in an effort to establish a lead and a sense of stability. Tied at 20, Marquette used a 15-7 stretch to carry a seven-point lead going into halftime and stretched it out to 12 behind a layup from Tyler Kolek and two buckets from Kam Jones. Consistent buckets from Bryce Hopkins and Devin Carter helped Providence stay in the game as best as they could, but the Golden Eagles never looked back with what they had. Not even having the lead trimmed to five scared Marquette as Kolek made six free throws in 20 seconds to solidify an 83-75 victory. 

Jones lit up the scoreboard with 21 points on 8-14 shooting while three other Golden Eagle starters, especially Kolek, reached double figures. Three Friars scored in double figures, with Ed Croswell’s 20 leading the way while Hopkins had a double-double of 19 and 10. In both of their meetings, these teams proved that winning on the road is tough, but they found ways to leave their best effort on the court and send a message to the rest of the league. 

A loud student section and an energetic band help give the road team a hard time. As the season progresses, one factor that will separate the elite teams from the good ones is who wins road. Stealing one away from home will only make their tournament résumés that much stronger. 

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