Big East Baller Update No. 13: Backboard Vegetables: A Fives Out production 

UConn men’s basketball defeat Seton Hall 64-55 at Gampel Pavilion in Storrs, Conn. on Saturday, Feb. 18, 2023. The Huskies’ Jordan Hawkins and Andre Jackson had impactful performances, with Hawkins picking up 20 points and Jackson scoring a career high of 15 points. Photo by Sofia Sawchuk/Daily Campus.

I bet you did not expect this plot twist coming from the Big East Conference. What initially started as a six-day investigation turned into three weeks as sleuths investigated some wizardry at Hinkle Fieldhouse before grappling with a flurry of double overtime battles. Having overcome both of those, these detectives are starting to move one step closer to solving the cases that lie at their feet. 

The Big East remains a mystery as several seeds in the conference tournament have yet to be finalized and there still is no clear frontrunner for conference Player of the Year. Although the biggest mystery revolves around who wins the automatic bid for March Madness, this week’s slate of games helped crack some of the cases that these detectives have been focused on.  

Writer’s Note: Two ranked teams lost at home to conference foes on the same day. This year’s tournament will be fun. 

Player of the Week

Tyler Kolek – Marquette 

Freshman of the Week

Cam Whitmore – Villanova 

Villanova vs. No. 16 Xavier (Feb. 21): Wild, Wild East 

Had these two teams met at the end of January, the Xavier Musketeers would have handedly defeated the Villanova Wildcats in front of a packed Cintas Center by double digits. But with Zach Freemantle still injured and the Wildcats catching major momentum late in the season, a Musketeer home win was not a guarantee. 

Xavier had a double-digit lead within the first two minutes of the second half as Jerome Hunter scored four straight points, but that is when Villanova began their rally. Sparked by a subsequent 9-2 run, the Wildcats went back and forth with the Musketeers for the lead before Eric Dixon’s go-ahead layup in response to Hunter’s floater nearly put the game away. Adam Kunkel made it a one-possession contest with less than two minutes left to play, but Souley Boum missed the potential game-winning layup in the expiring seconds as Villanova stunned Xavier in their own house 64-63. 

Justin Moore had his best game this season with 25 points and four three-pointers while Cam Whitmore was the only other Wildcat in double digits with 11 and four rebounds. Four Musketeer starters scored in double figures as Boum outdueled defensive zones for 17 points and four threes while Jack Nunge grabbed a double-double of 12 and 10 rebounds. Xavier bounced back three days later with a 22-point win against the Seton Hall Pirates, but both teams are trending in opposite directions as the calendar flips to March. 

UConn men’s basketball defeat St. Johns 95-86 at Madison Square Garden in New York City on Saturday, Feb. 25, 2023. The victory adds on to the Huskies’ streak of three straight wins, while also being UConn’s highest scoring game among their Big East matchups this regular season. Photo by Sofia Sawchuk/Daily Campus.

No. 10 Marquette vs. No. 19 Creighton (Feb. 21): Hey look, a birdie 

Neither the Marquette Golden Eagles nor the Creighton Blue Jays were ranked when they met at the Fiserv Forum in December. Entering as two of the nation’s hottest teams while dominating conference play, these programs let the feathers fly in a pivotal battle for Big East supremacy. 

The Golden Eagles soared out of the gates following halftime, snatching the lead after being down eight and going on a 13-2 run to nearly put the contest out of reach. The Blue Jays responded with a 9-2 run that made it a one-possession game before a Baylor Scheierman layup tied things up. When Ryan Nembhard answered his first layup at the line, Tyler Kolek responded with what ultimately became the game-winning layup. Creighton attempted to steal the inbound pass following a Ryan Kalkbrenner bucket, but even with Nembhard’s foul and Kam Jones missing two free throws, desperation heave fell short as Marquette escaped Omaha 73-71. 

While Kolek and Oso Ighodaro each scored 18 points for the Golden Eagles, Jones led the flock with 19 and three triples. Scheierman secured a double-double with 18 points and 13 boards while Nembhard had 16 and five assists for the Blue Jays. With the critical sweep of Creighton and a two-game conference lead, Marquette had a chance to do something they had not done in 10 years in front of their home crowd. Only Tony Stubblefield’s squad stood in the way of that becoming a reality. 

DePaul vs. No. 10 Marquette (Feb. 25): Going for Gold 

Gampel Pavilion experiences a whiteout as Men’s Basketball levels Providence College 87-69 in Gampel Pavillion on Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2023. Photo by Izzi Barton/Daily Campus.

Coming off a home loss to the Butler Bulldogs, the DePaul Blue Demons had a chance to play spoiler against a Golden Eagles team hoping to claim at least a share of their first regular-season conference championship since 2013. Marquette nearly wrapped the game up in the first half with a 21-point halftime advantage, but DePaul had other plans. 

The pace of the game slowed down as the Golden Eagles struggled to make shots early in the second half. For every step Marquette took following the first media timeout, the Blue Demons took two that cut into their deficit. Within minutes, the Golden Eagles’ double-digit lead had shrunk to eight as Javan Johnson and Nick Ongenda made multiple shots. DePaul got within four in the final seconds, but never got closer as Kolek iced the game at the line. As his final shots went in, Marquette celebrated a 90-84 victory and at least a share of the regular-season title. 

Both Kolek and Jones scored 22 points in different fashion as two other Golden Eagle starters reached double digits. While Umoja Gibson picked up 20 on 6-12 shooting, Zion Cruz and Caleb Murphy reached double digits in a combined 30 minutes off the bench. Shaka Smart took a Marquette team without Justin Lewis and Darryl Morsell to their highest AP ranking since 1978 within one season. That is worthy of giving the conference their second straight National Coach of the Year. 

Several mysteries were solved through this past week’s slate, but there are still some that need to be completed in this final week of round robin action. Connect the dots together from what evidence remains, and these pieces of evidence lead to Madison Square Garden and the Big East Tournament. 

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