The game is afoot in Big East Basketball, a conference filled with mysteries. The Georgetown Hoyas are looking for their next conference win, the Villanova Wildcats are reestablishing their identity and the St. John’s Red Storm are strangely struggling to meet expectations this season. The biggest mystery, however, has to do with the conference standings and the seeding for the Big East Tournament.
Six teams are within four games of first place, but only five of them get a first-round bye. While the two leaders have two conference losses, several extenuating circumstances such as injuries or what games are left on their docket may prevent them from maintaining that position. Until that happens, let us see if any of these games helped crack any cases.
Writer’s Note: If Punxsutawney Phil sees his shadow, five Big East teams will be ranked in February. If he does not, four teams will be ranked.
Player of the Week:
Jack Nunge – Xavier
Freshman of the Week:
Alex Karaban – UConn
No. 17 Providence vs. No. 16 Xavier (Feb. 1): AFC Championship Game Intensity
In the last two years, the Kansas City Chiefs and Cincinnati Bengals needed one overtime period to determine the AFC Champion. In their last two meetings, the Xavier Musketeers and Providence Friars needed four overtimes to determine a victor, but three of them had already happened coming into the Queen City.
Even with Zach Freemantle out of the picture, the Musketeers were up 14 on multiple occasions throughout the first half, but against a Top-20 program, that lead could not be sustained. The Friars fought back late in the first half and Jared Bynum made a game-tying three in the final 40 seconds of regulation to force overtime. Souley Boum nearly put the game out of reach with back-to-back layups, but a Bryce Hopkins dunk and Devin Carter layup gave Providence one more fighting chance. Bynum could have drained the game-winning three and silenced a raucous Cintas Center crowd, but his shot came up short and Xavier survived a close contest 85-83.
Five players across both teams scored 20 or more points. Jack Nunge led all players with 23 and 14 rebounds while Colby Jones and Boum had 20 apiece for the Musketeers. Locke had 22 while Ed Croswell scored 21 on 8-9 shooting for the Friars. Being at home clearly played a factor in Xavier’s victories, which included a 25-point win against the St. John’s Red Storm, but how will Freemantle’s absence affect the team during road games?
Villanova vs. No. 14 Marquette (Feb. 1): Fine Outings at Fiserv Forum
The Marquette Golden Eagles had never won four games in a row against Villanova; they had won three straight against them in the late 2000s, but then proceeded to lose four straight. With a much-improved squad exceeding all expectations, the Golden Eagles hoped to pick up their longest winning streak against the Wildcats in the series’ history.
Teams have struggled to beat Villanova since Justin Moore returned, and Marquette was not exempt from this as they never led in the first half. The struggles continued as Caleb Daniels scored four points in the first 105 seconds of the second, but five unanswered points from Tyler Kolek put the Golden Eagles ahead. Despite the consistent battle for the lead, a 61-61 with five minutes left turned into Marquette closing the game on a 12-3 run as Kolek and Kam Jones finished off a 73-64 win.
Kolek led the Golden Eagles with 20 points and three threes while K. Jones had 18 and Oso Ighodaro had 10. Both Eric Dixon and Daniels picked up 14 for the Wildcats while Cam Whitmore had five points in 14 minutes and Brendan Hausen scored 12 off the bench. With two close home wins this week, Marquette has won five straight games and 10 out of their last 11, but three out of their next four games will determine where they are seeded in the conference tournament and in March Madness.
Villanova vs. Creighton (Feb. 4): Three-Point Basket Alexander
Playing on the road in the Big East is hard, but playing in two tough road environments in consecutive games is even harder. That proved to be the case for the Wildcats, who will have to experience that again later this month but will continue to be a tough out for any opponent.
It seemed as though Villanova’s gauntlet got the best of them late in the first half, as they went down eight on multiple occasions. The Wildcats survived that adversity and tried to cut into the deficit at the top of the second half, but the Blue Jays answered every time. That continued until Dixon scored five unanswered points, but the struggles persisted. Dixon’s triple gave Villanova the lead back one last time in the final minute, but a foul on Whitmore and six free throws in 25 seconds helped Creighton prevent the upset and come out victorious 66-61.
Shooting 8-15 from the field and 5-9 from downtown, Trey Alexander scored 27 points while Ryan Kalkbrenner had 16 and three blocks for the Blue Jays. Dixon was the Wildcats’ 20-point scorer and finished a rebound shy of a double-double while Moore had 13 and Daniels had 12. The fact that Villanova is 4-8 in conference play and has lost three straight should not fool anyone; these close losses show that they are about to do something special in the final weeks of the regular season.
None of these games got us closer to solving the mysteries that lie in front of us, a shame since these cases are starting to heat up. Perhaps this is because we are not looking hard enough or because the clues we have found are moving us away from the actual case. It has forced us to step back in our progress for now, but six more days of investigating will probably help determine whodunit.