Big East Baller Update No. 15: The sold-out conference tournament that never sleeps

Senior guard Tristen Newton jumps to make a layup against Marquette at the semi final round of the Big East Tournament. After a continuously close game, Marquette beat UConn 70-68.  Photo by Erin Knapp/The Daily Campus

Not a single person knows which team Lamar Jackson will play for next season, and the World Baseball Classic has had some entertaining games in group play. While these two topics might initially seem unrelated, combining the two would create something similar to this year’s Big East Tournament. Over 10 games and four days, the tournament brought a handful of instant classics and blowouts while fans filled every seat at Madison Square Garden.

Five teams are dancing in March Madness led by the second-seeded Marquette Golden Eagles and the third-seeded Xavier Musketeers while the Villanova Wildcats and Seton Hall Pirates hope to give the conference another NIT title. Before the madness ensues, let us reflect on one of the best conference tournaments in recent memory.

Writer’s Note: Having watched most of the games in person, the Big East Tournament needs to have a T-shirt cannon like the one that is present at New York Knicks games.

Writer’s Note II: The Big East is a five-bid league in both March Madness tournaments. I personally love to see that, especially since both Final Fours will be in Texas.

Big East Tournament Most Outstanding Player: 

Tyler Kolek – Marquette

St. John’s 76, Butler 66 (March 8): The rebound of the Baskervilles

The conference tournament opener could have featured Manny Bates and Joel Soriano duking it out to determine which center is better in the rubber match between both teams. However, Bates and Eric Hunter Jr. missed the game after failing to meet academic standards, and the St. John’s Red Storm capitalized by grabbing rebounds aplenty throughout the first half. Simas Lukosius and Jalen Thomas cut the Butler Bulldogs’ deficit to single digits with three minutes remaining, but they got no further than that. Behind a flurry of defensive rebounds, the Red Storm struck down the Bulldogs’ attempts of playing on Thursday for a third straight year.

DePaul 66, Seton Hall 65 (March 8): The block

Seton Hall had a four-point advantage with 17 seconds left and a quarterfinals appearance in their grasp. Jalen Terry responded with a jumper 10 seconds later and subsequently stole the inbounds pass that led to Umoja Gibson drawing the foul on a 3-point shot. After the free throws went in, Femi Odukale ran the length of the court hoping to have the last laugh. Nick Ongenda had the final say instead as he jumped up and swatted Odukale’s shot in the air as the buzzer sounded. Initially called goaltending, the Pirates’ tournament hopes ended with a thud as the call got overturned into a block.

Villanova 80, Georgetown 48 (March 8): Patrick Ewing’s coaching farewell

Patrick Ewing’s final collegiate game came against the Wildcats in 1985 with the program’s second straight national championship on the line. His Georgetown Hoyas lost that game, and the script remained the same 38 years later against a Villanova team playing on Wednesday in the conference tournament for the first time since 2013. Over by halftime, the Wildcats brought in their bench players to finish off what was left of Ewing’s coaching reputation while Chris Arcidiacono made a three. Not even 24 hours later, Ewing and the Hoyas agreed to part ways two years removed from winning the conference tournament as the No. 8 seed.

Marquette 72, St. John’s 70 (March 9): They had us in the first half, not going to lie

For the second straight year, a double-digit St. John’s advantage vanished in the second half. The Johnnies had everything their way as they shocked the heavily-favored Golden Eagles following a technical foul on Olivier-Maxence Prosper. Marquette burst out of the gates on a 14-2 run in the second half, but Dylan Addae-Wusu made the game-tying layup and forced overtime. The Golden Eagles collected three buckets in the extra frame, and that proved to be enough as the Red Storm had zero. AJ Storr and Posh Alexander both put up a three, but their shots missed as Mike Anderson’s tenure in Queens concluded at the buzzer.

UConn 73, Providence 66 (March 9): New England Bragging Rights on 34th Street

For the first 28 minutes, the UConn Huskies looked like the team that had started 14-0 and were well on their way to blowing out the Providence Friars again. The Friars had other plans as they cut the Huskies’ lead to five, which included scoring off two straight turnovers that made it a single-digit game in the first place. Despite Noah Locke and Bryce Hopkins answering every big-time bucket on the other end, UConn prevented Providence from completing the comeback behind multiple defensive stops in the final minute. In other news, Andrew Hurley is still a perfect 100% from downtown in the Big East Tournament.

Xavier 89, DePaul 84 (March 9): The Gotham Offensive

The DePaul Blue Demons shot 69% from the field in the first half, but they only led Xavier by nine at intermission. The Blue Demons made multiple shots to stay one step ahead of the Musketeers in the second half, which worked until Colby Jones made two buckets and Jack Nunge converted the go-ahead layup with 1:49 to play. In the final 90 seconds, Jones buried two additional buckets with a Nick Ongenda dunk in between to prevent Tony Stubblefield’s squad from continuing their underdog run. DePaul ended their rough season on a very positive note, however, as they shot at a season-best 61% clip.

Creighton 87, Villanova 74 (March 9): Momentum comes to a standstill

Villanova had the momentum to steal the automatic bid after entering the tournament as one of the conference’s hottest teams. The Creighton Blue Jays, meanwhile, sought revenge after losing to the Wildcats in last year’s Big East Championship game. Despite four Villanova starters reaching double figures, Creighton brought an aggressive offensive attack. The Wildcats cut the deficit down to single digits via an 11-0 run with three minutes left, but defense and free throws propelled the Blue Jays to the semifinals. Even with most things going right over their last 10 games, Villanova’s March Madness hopes dissipated in their second quarterfinal loss in three years.

Marquette 70, UConn 68 (March 10): Halting the Storrs South takeover

Everything you need to know about this extremely close battle can be found in two places. The first is a newspaper article posted digitally and not on paper. The second is a two-minute YouTube video. Both products, which were published on March 11, explain what happened in under 300 seconds. 

Xavier 82, Creighton 60 (March 10): Firing on all cylinders without Zach Freemantle

Because of the preseason expectations they had going in, this season has felt like a down year for the Blue Jays with at most six games left. Creighton started with a 5-0 lead, but scored 21 points in the last 18 minutes of the first half as Xavier crashed the glass. The Blue Jays cut into the deficit throughout the second half, but the Musketeers had an answer almost every time. With the game already out of reach, Xavier delivered the final blow as they held Creighton to one field goal in the final five minutes and advanced to their second-ever Big East Championship game.

Marquette 65, Xavier 51 (March 11): Midwest Square Garden

The Musketeers brought out their “running man” throwback jerseys in the hopes of winning their first Big East Tournament, but Marquette ran circles around them instead.  Not having Freemantle hurt Xavier for the first time this postseason as Boum and Nunge combined for just seven points. The Musketeers did what they could to cut into the deficit, but a 7-0 run and an 8-0 run were not enough as the Golden Eagles played shutdown defense. Marquette is in the midst of a special season, and I would not be surprised if they make a Final Four run in Shaka Smart’s second year at the helm.

While the conference tournament played out without many upsets in terms of seeding, the program that wins March Madness and takes home the national title as well as the Big East team that goes the furthest remains, at the very least, unexpected. The bracket has been released to millions of eager fans, and just like the start of a new National Football League season on March 15, it is time for chaos to reign supreme.

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