After winning their mid-week matchups, the conference’s top two – Villanova and Creighton – both lost on the road this weekend. The Jays dropped their Saturday afternoon tilt to a Xavier team looking to strengthen their NCAA Tournament resume. The Wildcats were just the latest victim to fall to Butler at Hinkle Fieldhouse. Though the Bulldogs are still firmly in the bottom half of the league standings, they own wins this year against Villanova, Creighton, Seton Hall, and a St. John’s team that was among the hottest in the country before Butler sent them home with their tail between their legs. You’d be hard-pressed to find a more impressive resume out of a team that has no shot at dancing.
The only other team to notch two wins on the week was a UConn team that is far more dangerous now that James Bouknight is back in the fray. If they can continue their winning ways this week and pick up a couple wins in the conference tournament, the Huskies will assuredly be in the field. Bouknight is as fitting of a Kemba candidate as there is in the league.
After a doozy of a season, the finish line is finally in sight. Our alma maters did as great a job getting games in as any team in the country, and we’re just thankful that conference tournaments and the NCAAs are going to be played – hopefully without too many hitches.
Best Week: Butler (unanimous)
Worst Week: Seton Hall (unanimous)
Player(s) of the Week: Chuck Harris (B-Frank), Bryce Nze (Sam)
Only one week of the regular season left!
1. Creighton Bluejays: 17-6 (13-5)
After struggling against the Blue Demons earlier this season in Chicago, the Jays left little doubt in anyone’s mind that they were the better team in completing the season sweep over DePaul last Wednesday. Creighton won the rebounding battle, didn’t allow a single Blue Demon to score in double figures, and held DePaul to a paltry three free-throw attempts the entire night. A trio of Bluejays: Christian Bishop, Marcus Zegarowski, and Denzel Mahoney scored 13 points to lead the Jays offensive efforts on a night they shot nearly 50% from the field. Shoutout to Andrew Merfeld and Sami Osmani for both recording 3 trillions.
The Jays followed up an impressive defensive effort with a frankly embarrassing one. Creighton allowed Xavier to pour in 44 points in a second half X began shooting 8-of-12. The Jays left eight much-needed points at the free-throw line and allowed the Musketeers to shoot 54.2% overall. It was the first time in nearly a month that CU allowed more than 70 points. Damien Jefferson led the way with 19 points and 8 rebounds and played with the heart and hustle the Creighton faithful have taken for granted all season, but aside from Ryan Kalkbrenner the bench provided absolutely no offensive spark. Marcus Zegarowski proved yet again that he’s rounded into form, but if the Bluejays want to replicate last year’s late-season magic they’ll have to rely on a deep roster that has shown both flashes of brilliance and frustrating inconsistency.
The good news is that with Villanova’s loss at Butler, Creighton can win the Big East regular season crown outright for the first time by going 2-0 this week. That’s much easier said than done as they travel to Villanova for a mid-week tip before hosting those pesky Bulldogs on Senior Day in Omaha. No matter what happens, the Jays will end the season with the most conference wins.
2. Villanova Wildcats: 15-4 (10-3)
It was a thoroughly dominating performance early in the week over St. John’s. Clinical and typical of a Jay Wright team this time of year. Then Sunday came. A brutal loss to a bad but somewhat surging Butler team. Villanova shot a putrid 2-27 from 3 against Butler, something about Hinkle last week kept opponents ice-cold from beyond the arc. There is a slight cause for concern if you’re Villanova because even on your worst day you should be better than this year’s Butler. This is a game that you need guys like Robinson-Earl and Jermaine Samuels to battle in the post and make plays. There is a reason I’m still bullish on Villanova aside from history, the roster construction, having a Top 10 coach in the game, it is this:
Nova starters an amazing 1-25 from three in loss to Butler. As we welcome March, Jay's club has some serious weaknesses.
— Mike Francesa (@MikeFrancesa) February 28, 2021
The Mike Francesa tweet gives me great confidence that Villanova will turn it one and make a deep run. Villanova will host Creighton mid-week looking to split the season series before heading to Providence to close out the year on Saturday on FOX.
3. Connecticut Huskies: 12-6 (9-6)
UConn managed an undefeated week against a Georgetown team that is playing much better recently than their overall record indicates and a Marquette squad coming off an impressive win at North Carolina. The Huskies have won four of their last five and, for all intents and purposes, control their own destiny as far as making the Big Dance is concerned. James Bouknight recorded a 20 point, 10 rebound double-double against the Hoyas and RJ Cole added 17 points and 7 assists to spur UConn to a road win by a baker’s dozen. Dan Hurley’s team continued to terrorize the offensive boards in D.C., pulling down 18.
The Huskies gritted their teeth on the defensive end against Marquette by holding both DJ Carton and Koby McEwen to a measly 2 points each. Bouknight and Cole led the way offensively yet again with 24 and 21 points, respectively. UConn only sunk 8 shots from long-distance in this past week’s victories, but when you hold opponents to 57 and 62 points on under 40% shooting going ice-cold from beyond the arc isn’t much of a worry.
UConn could very well steal Seton Hall’s at-large tourney bid if they can nock off the Pirates on Wednesday before hosting the Hoyas in a winnable regular season finale.
4. Xavier Musketeers: 13-5 (6-5)
Zach Freemantle has turned into a double-double machine in his sophomore season. He’ll likely be named the Big East’s most improved player after the final whistle blows. In X’s loss at Providence he scored 24 points and pulled down 12 boards, more than double the amount of rebounds any of his teammates mustered. The Musketeers couldn’t even manage to tally 30 on the glass in a game they struggled mightily shooting from long-range: they shot just 3-of-17. X committed just 8 turnovers, three fewer than did Providence, and notched 7 steals, but came up short in their third loss in four contests.
Paul Scruggs took issue with that on Senior Day in Cincy as Xavier returned to the win column with an emphatic victory over the visiting 13th-ranked Bluejays. His 23 point, 5 assist, 7 rebound performance at the Cintas Center capped off a remarkable career. Freemantle again scored and rebounded in double-figures with 17 and 10. The Muskies could seemingly do no wrong on the offensive end in the second half to put the Jays away. After beginning the frame hitting two-thirds of their first dozen shots they never let Creighton get within fewer than four, ultimately winning 77-69. X didn’t necessarily lay their long-range shooting woes to rest, but they made big shots at key junctures late. Their ticket isn’t necessarily punched, but the Musketeers did themselves a huge favor by beating Creighton convincingly.
All that remains for the Musketeers are a winnable pair of games against Georgetown and Marquette, though both are on the road.
T5. Seton Hall Pirates: 13-10 (10-7)
Just two games ago, the Pirates were fairly safely in the field with games against cellar-dwellers Georgetown and Butler coming up. There was actually some worry that The Hall might play themselves up to the 8/9 game. Not so fast. Seton Hall dropped both, highlighted by an all-time bad performance at Butler last week. The Pirates scored 52(!!!) points with presumably their NCAA Tournament lives on the line. As we now know, Butler went on to beat Villanova, and the bubble basically collectively all lost on Saturday. Depending on where you look, Seton Hall is either one of the “Last Four in” or “First Four Out” giving The Hall new life. And that’s exactly how Kevin Willard and this team need to look at it. This is a gift. A team playing the way they have should be long gone from the conversation, but they’re not. So time to hit reset, lock in defensively, and attack the basket.
They host UConn for Senior Night where real live fans will be allowed in the building. If your team cannot get up and play hard and compete for 40 minutes in this game, your season is over. Followed by a road game Saturday at St. John’s. 2-0 and the Pirates are in. 1-1 and they need to do some work in the Big East tourney and/or get some help. 0-2 and the season is over.
T5. Providence Friars: 12-11 (8-9)
A convincing win over Xavier is exactly what Providence needed at this point in the season. The Friars shot 53.7% from the field in their only action of the week on Wednesday in Rhode Island. Ed Cooley’s team shot an uncharacteristically-stout 11-of-21 from three as well as sinking an impressive 14-of-17 from the charity stripe. It was one of the most impressive offensive showings out of the Friars the whole conference season and it couldn’t have come at a better time.
Once an offensive afterthought, Noah Horchler and his long, blonde flow led five Friars in double figures with 20 points and 9 rebounds. David Duke added 18 points, dished 9 assists, and grabbed 9 rebounds in one of his most complete offensive efforts of the season. A.J. Reeves and Nate Watson joined the fun by scoring 16 and 15, respectively. Watson pulled down 7 boards of his own. Much thanks to a 48-point second half, fifteen points is the largest margin of victory for the Friars in conference play save a late December win over Butler.
They’re still on the outside looking in, but Providence has a chance at two resume-boosting wins as they travel to St. John’s before having senior day against the last team you’d want to see on the schedule on a feel-good afternoon: Villanova.
7. Butler Bulldogs: 9-13 (8-11)
How do you follow up a disappointing week losing to Xavier and Marquette? By nearly bursting Seton Hall’s bubble and beating Villanova by double-digits, duh! Butler opened the week as the worst shooting team in the Big East and the worst free-throw shooting team in the Big East. They bucked both trends in their two games. The mid-week game against Seton Hall was a rock fight, the Dawgs struggled from 3 but did shoot nearly 46% from the floor. The game-changer was their free-throw shooting, where they went 15-16. They also held Seton Hall to 6-27 from 3, a note to remember. Last week, I remarked about how the Villanova-Butler game somehow got the midday slot on CBS. Well, it turns out the execs knew what they were doing as the Bulldogs took it to Nova shooting 50% from the floor and 41.7% from 3. Despite 9-20 from the line, Butler still won by 12.
It was as good a week as any for this team and it’s something for LaVall Jordan to build on to close the regular season. Butler has just one game left this Saturday as they head to Creighton.
8. St. John’s Red Storm: 14-10 (8-9)
St. John’s bid to sweep Villanova came up incredibly short in their only action of the week. As shocking as their first win over the Wildcats was, the revenge result is equally as unsurprising: an 81-58 drubbing. Julian Champagnie scored 16 points and pulled down 7 rebounds, but no other Johnnie scored in double figures besides Isaih Moore, who reached 10 points in garbage time. The Red Storm were down 17 at the half and, though they kept the second half competitive, could not make up any ground as they shot a comical 3-for-23 from distance. Mike Anderson’s team got thoroughly outplayed and committed 16 turnovers, not they type of chaos he had in mind.
The Red Storm will have to regroup if they’d like to secure a conference record above .500. It won’t be easy as a Providence team hungry for a long-shot chance at dancing and a Seton Hall team that needs wins as badly as any team in the conference both come to Queens this week.
9. Georgetown Hoyas: 8-11 (6-8)
Georgetown split their games last week with UConn and DePaul looking offensively off against UConn and struggling to contain James Bouknight. Following a 1-5 start to Big East play, if you told any Georgetown fan they would have games with Xavier and UConn to close the regular season and have a shot at .500 record in Big East play, they would call you crazy. But here we are. Post-COVID pause, the Hoyas are 5-3 with wins over Seton Hall and Creighton. They have used it as well as any team in the country not named Michigan. They can play the spoiler role here with both Xavier and UConn sitting firmly on the bubble.
10. Marquette Golden Eagles: 11-13 (6-11)
Young studs Dawson Garcia and DJ Carton shone bright under the lights at the Dean Dome in a win that reminded the Golden Eagle faithful of impressive victories over Wisconsin and Creighton what seems like forever ago. Garcia recorded a double-double with 24 points and 11 rebounds and Carton added 17 points and dished 5 helpers in a convincing win that helped the Big East gain respect in an otherwise down year. The experienced Greg Elliott was a reliable third option in Chapel Hill as he scored 15. If nothing else, the win will be remembered for triggering an all-time Roy Williams press conference.
Roy Williams with an absolute classic tonight: pic.twitter.com/sxwy1sgH8M
— Mark Armstrong (@MarkPArmstrong) February 25, 2021
All jokes aside, beating the team who turned around to beat Florida State is quite the feat, but getting blown out by UConn isn’t how Golden Eagles imagined their return to conference play. We’ve written enough disparaging words about Marquette and Woj this year, so we’ll leave it at that.
The Golden Eagles finish out their year at DePaul tonight before returning home Saturday night for the conference’s last tilt of the regular season against Xavier.
11. DePaul Blue Demons: 4-12 (2-12)
Another season to forget in Chicago for the Blue Demons. You can argue, as I have many times, that DePaul was hurt more than any team in America by COVID pauses to start the year. That said, DePaul had chances to win games this year and fell short (as you can see above) far too often. This is a program to keep an eye on for many reasons, Dave Leitao is bringing in some high-quality talent, but there’s also a new sheriff in town with new AD DeWayne Peevy. The question becomes will Peevy allow Leitao a bit of a leash or does he want to have “his guy” running the Blue Demons’ program? Time will tell.
Not to completely write off the remainder of this year though because DePaul does have a home game to close the year on Tuesday against Marquette. This is still a dangerous team that can cause some problems in the Big East Tournament.