Big East Baller Update is back in business. We are over a week into the college basketball season. It feels like college basketball has picked up where it left off in April with some surprises around the country, especially in the Big East.
As the Gavitt Tipoff Games will have started already by the time this is published, this article will focus on some of the key results of the first week, along with my picks for Big East Player of the Week and Freshman of the Week.
Player of the Week: Trey Alexander, G, Creighton (20.5 PPG, 4.5 APG, 71.4 FG%, 3 SPG in two games)
Alexander dropped 20 points in Creighton’s season-opener against Florida A&M, with high percentages from the floor (87.5%) and behind the arc (66.7%). The more impressive performance to me was Saturday’s dominant win over North Dakota State, where the junior from Oklahoma City finished with 21 points, seven rebounds, four assists and a whopping five steals.
Freshman of the Week: Stephon Castle, G, UConn (14.5 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 66.7 FG%, 2 SPG in two games)
The five-star freshman guard from Covington, Ga., won the first Freshman of the Week award by a landslide. Castle put up 12 points, five rebounds and two steals in his collegiate debut. However, the more impressive outing was on Saturday against Stonehill, where the preseason Big East Freshman of the Year dropped 17 points, collected eight rebounds and picked Stonehill’s pocket twice in a 107-67 rout.
Purdue Fort Wayne shocks DePaul in front of a massive crowd, 82-74
Ever since DePaul joined the Big East, they have been the bottom feeders of the conference. They have not even made the NCAA Tournament since 2004. In head coach Tony Stubblefield’s first season in the Windy City, DePaul went 15-16, which was a massive improvement considering how low their expectations have become. The Blue Demons were 11.5-point favorites against Purdue Fort Wayne. Not only did they not cover that spread, but they lost by eight to the second-best team with Purdue in its school’s name. In front of a Wintrust Arena crowd of 931 people, Purdue Fort Wayne guard Quinton Morton-Robertson led all scorers with 24 points as the Blue Demons lost its first season-opener since 2017 and for the first time against a non-power conference opponent since losing at Bradley in 2006.
Georgetown falls to Holy Cross, 68-67
There was a lot of hype in the nation’s capital heading into this season despite a 7-25 record last year. Despite his success as a player for the program, Patrick Ewing ended a dismal coaching career in the Hilltop. With 2022 Naismith College Coach of the Year Ed Cooley taking over after a successful 12-season-long tenure at Providence, many thought he would immediately bring the program back to national relevance. However, Holy Cross guard Joe Octave and the Crusaders show that there will be growing pains. It was a phenomenal, back-and-forth game, with Octave putting the Hoyas away with a go-ahead three-pointer with 57 seconds remaining. He finished with 33 points, shooting 12-for-21 from the field. On the bright side for Georgetown, Jayden Epps finished with 22 points and looked like he will be a promising player in the Hoyas’ backcourt this season. Providence fans rejoiced with that win, reacting to Cooley leaving in a way similar to Oklahoma fans reacting to Lincoln Riley leaving for USC in football.
Long Beach State keeps Blue Demons winless, 77-73
What a time to be alive, except if you are a DePaul men’s basketball fan. I feel bad that there has not been much to cheer for, but I hope better days are near for the program. In front of 2651 fans at Wintrust Arena (Yes, their attendance somehow increased following a home-opener loss), Long Beach State guard Marcus Tsohonis led the way with 22 points, shooting 50% from the floor. However, keeping the Blue Demons alive in the game was guard Elijah Fisher, who scored 25 points on 10-for-14 shooting. Despite that, Long Beach State made free throws late in the game and out-rebounded DePaul to hand the Blue Demons its first 0-2 start since the 2006-07 season.
Best Games This Week
Wisconsin at Providence (6 p.m., FS1)
Wisconsin will come into the intimidating Amica Mutual Pavilion on Tuesday night searching for a bounce-back win after losing to Tennessee on Friday night. Standing in their way, however, is Providence. The guard battle between Wisconsin’s Chucky Hepburn (16.5 PPG) and Providence’s Devin Carter (13 PPG) will be exciting, but it will be All-Big East forward Bryce Hopkins who the Friars will rely on to make the difference in new head coach Kim English’s first big test.
No. 4 Marquette at No. 23 Illinois (8 p.m., FS1)
Marquette guard Kam Jones was named the Big East Player of the Week by the conference, averaging 21.5 points per game through the first two games of the Golden Eagles’ season. The key story is the health of star guard Tyler Kolek, looking to continue his campaign for a second consecutive Big East Player of the Year season. Marquette has won three straight and four of the last five games against the Fighting Illini. It is a rematch from Marquette’s top-10 upset win over Illinois in 2021, which included an abysmal performance from former Illinois guard Andre Curbelo that still burns in the minds of Illinois fans.
UCLA vs. No. 4 Marquette (Monday, 11:30 p.m., ESPN2)
The final game of the quarterfinal round in the Maui Invitational is a big battle as the Golden Eagles take on UCLA. There’s some familiarity in this matchup, as UCLA head coach Mick Cronin was the head coach at Cincinnati when they shared the Big East with Marquette. The Bruins’ backcourt will look weaker than in years past now that Jaime Jaquez Jr. is gone. It has been forward Adem Bona (17 PPG) leading the way. That may be UCLA’s advantage on Monday.