The Big East is off to a wildly entertaining, albeit unexpected, start. Blowouts, buzzer-beaters, memorable moments, and program shutdowns have made this season unlike any other. The conference’s flag-bearer – Jay Wright’s Villanova Wildcats – have not played since two days before Christmas. They still sit atop the Big East standings with a 3-0 conference record. The only other team to have played so few conference games as a result of the pandemic is DePaul, who are winless at 0-3.
Seven of the conference’s nine remaining teams have played twice as many league games as have the first and last-place teams. Seton Hall and Creighton both have twice as many conference wins as ‘Nova & DePaul have Big East games played. It is a funky season that may be poised to only get weirder.
Without further ado, let’s dive right in.
1. Villanova Wildcats: 8-1 (3-0)
The Wildcats are off due to COVID concerns within their program. Jay Wright’s club is the only unbeaten left in Big East play and currently sits at #3 in the AP Poll.
2. Creighton Bluejays: 10-2 (6-1)
These past two seasons have led to a lot of school bests/firsts for Coach Mac’s Jays, but none will mean anything until Creighton reaches the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament. Creighton’s current six-game winning streak is its longest since joining the new Big East. The Jays have also finished above where they were picked in the preseason in each season since joining the conference. This year, however, they’re no longer under the radar and will have to win the conference outright to accomplish that.
The Jays can still score impressively, but this season they’ve shown that they can win close games without clicking on all cylinders on the offensive side of the floor. Marcus Zegarowski took just six shots in Creighton’s two wins this week, and the Bluejays still managed to score 89 points in an historic rout of Seton Hall and 97 points in a clinic against St. John’s in Omaha Saturday. To be fair, Zegarowski didn’t play due to a tweaked hamstring against the Red Storm, but that almost makes CU’s offensive clinic even more impressive.
The 56 points the Jays scored in the first half against St. John’s were the team’s most in a half since joining the conference. Damien Jefferson has become Creighton’s most steady and important player this season, and Denzel Mahoney bounced back from a subpar showing against the Hall to lead the Jays in scoring (24) against the Johnnies. Alex O’Connell really hit his stride Saturday, and Shereef Mitchell & Ryan Kalkbrenner play wise beyond their years. Oh, Mitch Ballock is still one of the nation’s premier shooters and Christian Bishop has improved considerably.
This team just can’t hit their free throws. They’ve got the week to practice those and nurse Marcus Zegarowski & Shereef Mitchell (twisted ankle) back to health before heading to Hinkle for a Saturday showdown with Butler.
T3. Seton Hall Pirates: 9-5 (6-2)
The Pirates were hot entering the week and ran into the buzzsaw that is the 2020-21 Creighton Bluejays. The Jays #LetItFly as they always do en route to a 36-point thumping in Omaha. A game like this was bound to happen for Seton Hall. Kevin Willard’s team had been playing some really good basketball of late and frankly, Creighton is just a terrible matchup for the Pirates. Fast guards, corner 3s, athletic bigs, that’s a recipe for disaster, especially when Creighton starts 7-for-7 from the field and shoots 60% from the field and 54% from 3 (13 made 3s).
That game told us what we already knew, there are three tiers in the Big East, Nova-Creighton, the middle teams, and Georgetown-DePaul at the bottom. The question was how would the Pirates respond? Well, The Hall went into their house of horrors aka Chicago and beat DePaul. It wasn’t a pretty game, but Seton Hall got the job done and it was a team effort. Ideally, Seton Hall doesn’t go the final nine minutes of game time without a made field goal, but when they close the game going 10-for-10 at the free throw line, it is tough to complain.
The Hall has a full week off before they get the return matchup in their series against Xavier on Saturday. The Pirates won easily in Cincinnati earlier this season and is one of just two losses for the Musketeers.
T3. Connecticut Huskies: 6-1 (3-1)
After dropping their first contest in the new Big East in Storrs to Creighton (no thanks to James Bouknight’s astounding efforts), UConn has reeled off three straight conference victories and owns the second-longest current win streak behind the aforementioned Bluejays. The Huskies notched two double-digit wins over Marquette and Butler this past week. Tyler Polley scored an ultra-efficient 23 points off the bench in 24 minutes in Milwaukee and Isaiah Whaley added an impressive 15-point & 13-rebound double-double as UConn held Marquette to just 54 points.
UConn was without James Bouknight on Saturday at Butler, but notched a 72-60 win in Indianapolis anyways much thanks to shooting 10-of-21 from three-point range and hitting twelve of fifteen free throws. Polley again led the way scoring with 19 off the bench, though he played starters minutes with Bouknight absent. Interestingly enough, Polley didn’t record a rebound or assist in the 33 minutes that he played.
Connecticut travels to DePaul in an effort to clinch the season sweep on Monday before hosting Villanova Friday night in what’s scheduled to be the Wildcats first action in over three weeks.
5. Xavier Musketeers: 10-2 (3-2)
After losing two straight to a couple of the conference’s best in Creighton & Seton Hall, the Musketeers righted the ship this past week with close home wins over St. John’s and an incredible comeback against a perpetually-tough Providence squad. Xavier’s win over the Red Storm was in large part thanks to a balanced scoring attack that saw four Muskies score in double-figures, led by 16 from Colby Jones, who ended up being the hero in the dwindling seconds of the Providence victory.
Only two Xavier players scored in double-figures Sunday, pest Zach Freemantle & sharpshooter Nate Johnson. However, as Fox reminded viewers what seemed like a half-dozen times, the Musketeers got baskets from all nine players in the rotation in arguably as balanced of a scoring load as we’ve seen this season. With the exception of the 11-0 run they surrendered late in the contest, it seemed that someone answered the bell for Xavier whenever they needed a bucket. None were bigger than Jones’ game-winner, which brought tears to his eyes as he hit the shot to honor his late grandfather.
Travis Steele’s team has the entire week to prepare before what’s sure to be a tough road contest as they try to avoid a season sweep at Seton Hall on Saturday.
6. Providence Friars: 7-5 (3-3)
Providence’s only action of the week was a thriller in which they came up just short Sunday in Cincinnati. After surging for a late 11-0 run to take a 73-66 lead, the Friars surrendered an 8-0 run of their own, failing to register a point in the game’s final frames to fall in heartbreaking fashion to Xavier. Ed Cooley’s squad is on an incredibly unlucky two-game skid, first losing at home to Creighton on a Christian Bishop dunk with under a second left. If that weren’t unfortunate enough, Xavier’s Colby Jones, previously 2-of-9 from distance for the season, hit a dagger with 0.1 seconds on the clock to give Xavier the ultimate 74-73 edge.
David Duke played out of his mind, clocked in for nearly the entire game and dropping 30 points. Nate Watson recorded his 5th career double-double, a valiant 17-point & 14 board effort. It wasn’t quite enough, but after losing their previous two games by a combined three points you better believe the Friars are eager to bounce back this week with winnable games at Marquette and at home against the Hoyas.
7. Marquette Golden Eagles: 6-6 (2-4)
After impressive wins earlier in the season against top-10 teams Wisconsin and at Creighton, the Golden Eagles haven’t been able to keep the momentum rolling in Big East play. Marquette hasn’t eclipsed 70 points in their last three games, one of which was a win against lowly Georgetown. Marquette’s only contest this past week was a less-than-stellar home loss against UConn in which they only scored 23 points in the second half en route to an eleven point loss.
They held James Bouknight to only six points and committed only nine turnovers, but were dominated on the boards. Nobody besides stud frosh Dawson Garcia – who recorded a 20-point, 11 rebound double-double – was of much use offensively as Garcia was the only Golden Eagle to score in double-figures. Koby McEwen, DJ Carton, and Theo John are all capable of much more than the lackluster offensive outputs they all recorded against the Huskies.
Marquette hosts Providence Tuesday night before traveling to Queens to play St. John’s on Saturday.
8. Butler Bulldogs: 3-6 (2-4)
Butler split a pair of games this week that featured Georgetown and UConn both visiting Hinkle Fieldhouse. Their lone win came against Georgetown mid-week in come from behind fashion as the Hoyas held a 7-point halftime advantage. Strong defense forcing 15 Georgetown turnovers, good ball control (just 6 Butler turnovers), and DC native and Freshman guard Chuck Harris paced the Dawgs in the second half. Harris was the leading scorer in the game with 18 points and was big from beyond the arc.
Despite no James Bouknight the Bulldogs just couldn’t keep up with the Huskies. 19 points off the bench from Tyler Polley was the difference for UConn as they grabbed the road win. Rebounding was a deficiency this week for Butler as they were -3 on the offensive glass and -3 overall against UConn. Turnovers also plagued LaVall Jordan’s team as they coughed the ball up 15 times. In order to compete, Butler needs consistency from their guards. Aaron Thompson is a known commodity, Jair Bolden is also a veteran, they need to be able to take over when their young back-court mates aren’t playing well.
Another busy week for Butler as they head East to play St. John’s on Tuesday before heading back home for a battle with Top-10 Creighton on Saturday.
9. St. John’s Red Storm: 6-6 (1-5)
The Johnnies dropped their weekday game in a hard-fought, sloppy game at Xavier. The Cintas Center is a difficult place to play even without the atmosphere teams in the new Big East have come to fear. Neither team shot particularly well Wednesday night, but St. John’s sent the Musketeers to the line 34 times. Though Xavier didn’t impress from the charity stripe, that proved to be the difference in an eight point Red Storm loss that was tied at halftime.
After losing LJ Figueroa to the transfer market was especially, the lack of a second consistent scoring option was painfully evident when St. John’s traveled to Omaha to take on a hot Creighton team. Julian Champagnie poured in 33, but only one other Johnny scored in double-figures in a 97-79 loss. Not exactly the 40 minutes of hell defensive-minded coach Mike Anderson may have had in mind. St. John’s is allowing one of the highest opponent field-goal percentages in the conference. Pair that with their trouble finding buckets outside of Champagnie and it’s no wonder they’re struggling.
They’ve got a chance to turn the page quickly as Butler comes to town Tuesday before the Red Storm play host to Marquette Saturday afternoon.
10. Georgetown Hoyas: 3-8 (1-5)
This week gave the Hoyas opportunities, they traveled to struggling Butler and got a decent Syracuse team in the Carrier Dome. They came up empty. Despite a 7-point halftime lead, Georgetown was unable to leave Hinkle Fieldhouse with a win mid-week. The Hoyas turned the ball over 15 times and managed just 21 second half points. They did this despite being a +12 on the glass and +5 on the offensive side. Consistent offensive is clearly the achilles heel for this team. They have talent: Pickett, Blair, Wahab are all quality players, but they need help. And when all three are struggling to score, it is going to be nearly impossible for Patrick Ewing’s team to win.
Fast forward to the weekend and a trip to Syracuse, things didn’t go any better. Georgetown was outrebounded, lost the turnover battle, and struggled to slow down the Orange’s guard tandem of Buddy Boeheim and Joe Girard III. Both games this week were winnable. Say what you want about Syracuse, I don’t think they’re a good team, and Georgetown is certainly good enough to beat them. Butler is a game you need to win given the state of the Bulldogs and the battle happening at the bottom end of the Big East.
Opportunity comes knocking again this week as winless in Big East play DePaul travels to DC on Wednesday.
11. DePaul Blue Demons: 1-3 (0-3)
Just one game this week for DePaul and it saw them lose to Seton Hall at Wintrust Arena by 8. There aren’t moral victories when you’re 0-3 but the fight in the 2nd half from Dave Leitao’s squad needs to be highlighted. The Blue Demons trailed by as many as 21 before cutting the deficit to single digits. Fouls were a huge issue for DePaul in the first half as they had four different players sidelined with a pair of personals. It really took Charlie Moore out of the game and out of rhythm, something he wasn’t able to gain as the game went on.
To me, as Charlie Moore goes, so does this DePaul team. He isn’t the most talented player on the roster, that’s Romeo Weems, but he is the most important. Javon Freeman-Liberty has been superb this year, but he can’t do it alone. The offense needs to be running through Moore. He has to be a main scorer and the primary facilitator. Get Freeman-Liberty and Weems open looks, space the floor, do the things a floor general should do. Without Jaylen Butz the interior has been struggling, but I do like the look of Nick Ongenda and Pauly Paulicap has been solid along with having an all-time name.
Much like was said for Georgetown, opportunity comes knocking this week with UConn coming to Chicago a bit banged up on Monday and then a trip to our Nation’s capital on Wednesday to square off with Georgetown.