The Big East’s top two teams – Creighton and Villanova – played a combined one game this past week. No team that played two games won them both. The squad that had the best chance of doing so and had been surging in hopes of capturing an at-large tourney bid, St. John’s, lost at home to DePaul over the weekend. The Blue Demons hadn’t scored more than 70 points in league play since their second game of the season two days after Christmas, yet they shocked the Johnnies on the road to pick up just their second conference win.
Aside from Villanova, Creighton, and Seton Hall holding the league’s top three spots, not much has been predictable about Big East basketball this season – but that’s why we love it! Heck, the league’s worst team, DePaul, just beat a St. John’s team not too far removed from beating Villanova. Additionally, both Creighton and Seton Hall have now dropped games to a Georgetown team that has been in the cellar all season.
This year’s stretch run promised to be entertaining, and with just a few games left on most teams’ regular-season schedules it’s only going to get more exciting as seeding for the Big East tournament is still largely up for grabs in spots 4-10.
Best Week: Villanova (B-Frank), Georgetown (Sam)
Worst Week: St. John’s (unanimous)
Player(s) of the Week: Jamorko Pickett (B-Frank), James Bouknight (Sam)
Buckle up, we’re in for a treat.
1. Creighton Bluejays: 16-5 (12-4)
Though they had the week off, Creighton remains atop our rankings ahead of matchups at home against DePaul Wednesday evening and on the road Saturday against Xavier. If the Jays want at least a share of the conference crown they’ll have to win out, which isn’t completely out of the question. Before looking too far ahead Coach Mac’s team will have to beat a DePaul squad they mightily struggled with on the road in Chicago. Cincinnati’s Cintas Center is far from an easy place to play, but a 2-0 week would do wonders for the Jays confidence and complete the same amount of season sweeps in the season’s penultimate week.
Marcus Zegarowski seems to be returning to form at the absolute perfect time, Mitch Ballock is shooting as well as he has all season, Christian Bishop is playing as maturely as we’ve ever seen, and the combination of Denzel Mahoney and Damien Jefferson continues to provide leadership and sparks when most needed. Here’s to hoping this group can do something no Creighton team has ever accomplished: reach the second weekend of the Big Dance.
2. Villanova Wildcats: 14-3 (9-2)
After having the week to prepare after being outplayed in nearly every facet by Creighton, Villanova didn’t demolish UConn like we might’ve assumed. That’s far from a bad thing given James Bouknight picking up right where he left off offensively for the Huskies. Nova didn’t let anybody else score more than ten points though, as RJ Cole was the only other Connecticut player to notch double figures. Outside of UConn’s three-headed backcourt monster, the Wildcats held the six other Huskies to log minutes to a mere 20 points.
Offensively, Jay Wright’s squad featured four scorers in double-figures, paced by Collin Gillespie’s 20-point, six assist effort in which he rarely sat. Jeremiah Robinson-Earl notched yet another double-double with 17 points and 11 boards. Though they didn’t shoot particularly well and really struggled from deep, Villanova proved the better team, narrowly winning the rebound battle and committing a mere 8 turnovers, forcing 7 steals of their own.
It wasn’t a dominating effort, but it was a decisive one. The ‘Cats get a chance for revenge Tuesday against St. John’s before traveling to Hinkle Fieldhouse to take on a Butler team that’s proven relatively adept at defending their home court no matter the quality of opponent.
T3. Seton Hall Pirates: 13-9 (10-6)
Kevin Willard loves to play the schedule card and sure enough, he did it this weekend. He even went as far as to say his team hasn’t had a pause this season and they’ve played a lot of games. This is true, but the excuse doesn’t work here when it’s used after a game where your team allows the opponent to shoot 50% from the field and 63% from 3. The Pirates haven’t played a complete game since the UConn win and they finally got caught. Georgetown came out firing on Saturday and didn’t ease up. The Hoyas torched The Hall’s defense and mental errors down the stretch cost the Pirates a road win and edges them closer to the wrong side of the NCAA Tournament Bubble.
The loss to Georgetown basically covers all the issues from the close call against DePaul sans their two best players. This team simply isn’t talented enough to not defend. Previous editions under Kevin Willard had that luxury because there was a guy like Myles Powell or the three-headed monster of Angel, Desi, and Khadeen. Not this time. Myles Cale and Jared Rhoden are way too inconsistent to rely upon that heavily. If I’m Willard this week’s practice is focused on defense, defense, and more defense.
The Pirates head to Butler on Wednesday before as their only game of the week. If they lose that, they will need to sweep the final two games against UConn and St. John’s and still probably need some help from other bubble teams. The margin for error is gone.
T3. Connecticut Huskies: 10-6 (7-6)
UConn treaded water until their star returned, and he did so in emphatic fashion. A sleeved James Bouknight returned to action against Providence, and in limited minutes scored 18 points, including a couple of highlight-reel early buckets.
James Bouknight with 18p, 4r, and 2a in his first game back since elbow surgery on Jan 12th. Explosive athlete with equally balanced midrange package. Already a 40p outburst earlier in the year vs Creighton. In the conversation as a top 10 draft candidate. pic.twitter.com/uMNqLMZShM
— Matt Pennie (@matt_pennie) February 17, 2021
Predictably, his backcourt mates Tyrese Martin (18 points and 7 boards) and RJ Cole (13 points, 5 assists, 5 boards) played incredibly well also. The Huskies grabbed an astounding 16 offensive rebounds and 10 more off the glass than did Providence overall. Combine that with the fact that UConn also shot over 10 percent better from the field than the Friars and it’s no wonder Dan Hurley’s picked up a home win in Bouknight’s return.
UConn’s deep backcourt scored 40 points in Saturday’s matinee at Villanova, but they didn’t get much scoring help from their teammates as they managed just 60 overall. That won’t win you many games against such a disciplined Wildcat bunch, and it wasn’t good enough this weekend. There aren’t many moral victories to be had at this point in the season, but the Huskies are presumed safely in the NCAA Tournament, especially after hanging tough with one of the nation’s premier programs on the road after Nova had the entire week to prepare.
Connecticut travels to Georgetown early in the week to take on a Hoya team that’s better than their record indicates before hosting a wayward Marquette team on Saturday.
5. Xavier Musketeers: 12-4 (5-4)
X’s first full week of action since late January resulted in a 1-1 week. They’re 1-2 since coming off pause, yet appear in many mock NCAA Tournament fields. The Musketeers dropped a road contest to St. John’s on Tuesday by a score of 93-84. That’s the second-most points that a typically-stout defensive team has given up all season. Xavier allowed St. John’s to score just 61 when they visited the Cintas Center in early January, but they couldn’t keep up this time around. The Musketeers sunk 11 from beyond the arc, but it took them 40 longballs to get there. This game had incredible pace, but X just couldn’t keep up when it mattered most.
Though the Musketeers are 1-2 since returning to play, Zach Freemantle is 3-for-3 in recording double-doubles. His 17 points Sunday night led all scorers, and he pulled down 10 rebounds as well. Guard Colby Jones joined the fun with 13 points and 11 boards of his own, as well as X, took advantage of a seven-man Butler rotation that didn’t have Bryce Nze en route to a dozen-point home win. This time around it was Butler who ran out of gas down the stretch. Xavier’s struggles continued from long-distance (2-of-19) but they shared the ball well, assisting on two-thirds of made baskets and holding the youthful Bulldogs to under 30% shooting.
Xavier needs a 1-1 week to keep them in the tournament field – they play at Providence mid-week before hosting Creighton on Saturday in Cincy.
6. Providence Friars: 11-11 (7-9)
Providence has been frustratingly consistent in the fact that every time they seem to gain some solid momentum they follow it up with a disappointing week. The Friars failed to sweep UConn in their only action of the week, falling by a dozen points in a game that they shot just 36% from the field. Providence can sure win ugly games, but they’ve got to keep those in the sixties, not give up 73 points. Admittedly, it was James Bouknight’s first game back from his forearm injury, but nobody on Ed Cooley’s team matched his offensive intensity. Only Alyn Breed (14) and David Duke (11) scored in double figures, but Nate Watson got in foul trouble, which proved costly in the battle of the boards. The Friars did get to the line 20 times this game, but they’ve flat out got to sink more shots from the field.
Providence’s only action of the week comes Wednesday night in primetime at home against Xavier. A win would further sully X’s NCAA tournament hopes – while the Friars remain on the outside looking in.
7. Georgetown Hoyas: 7-10 (5-7)
I joked around a few weeks ago that the COVID pause might actually do Georgetown some good. Well, it did. The Hoyas have played significantly better basketball since the pause and have won four of their last six including a road win at Creighton. This week they took down a bubble team in Seton Hall behind hot shooting and timely stops defensively. Jamorko Pickett had a sensational game and showed just how good he can be. A tantalizing thought for Hoya fans after years of inconsistency. Chudier Bile continues to do work offensively and Frosh Dante Harris had a monster game, including a dagger 3 late.
Georgetown has a chance to play spoiler down the stretch and can still finish an above .500 record overall and in league play. That is a huge step in the right direction for Patrick Ewing’s team. They host another bubble team UConn on Tuesday night before heading to Chicago to play DePaul.
8. St. John’s Red Storm: 14-9 (8-8)
The Johnnies may very well have peaked too early after a head-scratching loss to DePaul left a sour taste in their mouths to end the week. Before dropping two of their last three to Butler and the Blue Demons, Mike Anderson had his team playing as well as any team in the conference. The loss at home to the worst team – by far – in the league is only made more confusing due to the fact that the Johnnies put on an offensive clinic against Xavier earlier in the week. Led by Julian Champagnie’s 21, four more Red Storm Players (Rasheem Dunn – 17, Marcellus Earlington – 16 Posh Alexander – 15, and Isaih Moore – 11) scored in double-figures, and two of those guys did so off the bench in under 20 minutes of playing time! The Johnnies scored 46 points in the first half, and then 47 points in the second behind 51.5% shooting from the field and sunk 11 three-pointers. They won the rebounding battle as well.
After a resume-boosting win, all St. John’s had to do to further make their case was taken care of business at home against the league’s bottom-feeder. But they couldn’t. Instead, they let a team that committed an eye-popping two-dozen turnovers (DePaul committed just as many fouls) win the rebounding battle and shoot 63% from the field. St. John’s gave up 88 points to a team that hadn’t scored more than 68 in over a month. That’s flat-out inexcusable.
The Johnnies get a chance to complete the season sweep of Villanova on the road Tuesday.
9. Marquette Golden Eagles: 10-12 (6-10)
Finally a win on the road at Butler, which has proven a tough place to play even though the Bulldogs are having a down year. This was probably the most complete performance by Marquette since the win over Providence on January 12th. The Golden Eagles dominated the glass, shot 45% from the field and got to the line consistently shooting 24-27 from the stripe. Turnovers were still a bit of an issue but they won, so it wasn’t too bad. Greg Elliott joining the starting lineup seems to have sparked the offense a bit as he added 17 points, a team-high.
Wojo added a very interesting game this week as Marquette will head to Chapel Hill and play North Carolina on Wednesday. The Golden Eagles will stay on the road this weekend as they travel to Storrs to play UConn.
10. Butler Bulldogs: 7-13 (6-11)
Despite taking down red-hot St. John’s the week prior, the Bulldogs couldn’t ride that momentum. They fell to Marquette and reeling Xavier and failed to score more than 60 points in both games. The offense has been a noted struggle for Butler all season and without Bryce Nze it is even more difficult. While the opposing teams aren’t scoring in the 80s, the defense also hasn’t been great lately for Butler allowing both Marquette and Xavier to shoot 43%+ from the field.
The road doesn’t get easier with the top three teams in the standings remaining. This week it is a home game against Seton Hall on Wednesday before hosting Villanova on Sunday. Somehow that Sunday game is on CBS.
11. DePaul Blue Demons: 4-10 (2-10)
This has to be the best week of the year for DePaul. The Demons hung tough with a bubble team in Seton Hall on the road without their two best players Charlie Moore and Javon Freeman-Liberty. And then went across the river and beat another bubble team St. John’s with Moore returning to the lineup scoring a season-high (in regulation) 88 points. It’s tough to think what this team could have done without being paused for so long to start the year, but they are making a little noise here late.
The Demons will head to Omaha to play Creighton on Wednesday night before hosting Georgetown on Saturday.