By John Fanta
OMAHA – BIG EAST play is not even two weeks old, and here’s what’s already happened on the early road to Madison Square Garden:
- Dec. 27: Naturally, the conference opener between Butler and Georgetown went to double overtime. The Dawgs overcame a 20-point hole in regulation and Kelan Martin delivered the game-winner.
- Dec. 28: Seton Hall overcomes a double-digit deficit in the second half to rally past Creighton, 90-84, in the first Top-25 game in league play.
- Dec. 30: Hinkle Magic. Butler upsets #1 Villanova, 101-93. The Dawgs knock down 15 threes in a wild affair.
- Jan. 3: Markus Howard ties the record for points in a BIG EAST game with 52 in the Golden Eagles’ 95-90 overtime win at Providence. Howard hit 11 three-pointers and scored 42 in the second half and bonus period combined.
- Jan. 6: Providence upsets #5 Xavier, 81-72. It marked the second straight Saturday that a Top-5 BIG EAST team fell in a league game upset.
So, it’s safe to say that conference play has been bonkers already. Here’s even better news, though: Week 3 has a chance to be the best yet. It will be hard to top, but the BIG EAST match-ups on the slate this week especially jump off the screen. Boasting four AP Top 25 teams – #1 Villanova, #10 Xavier, #13 Seton Hall, and #25 Creighton – certainly helps too. Here’s the top storylines to watch:
- Patrick Ewing. Chris Mullin. Rivalry renewed. While Georgetown and St. John’s are bottom-feeders in the BIG EAST at the moment, nothing can take away from a showdown of arguably the two best players in this conference’s rich history who are now coaches back at their respective alma maters. The pregame handshake between the two alone will be must-see inside Madison Square Garden on Tuesday (6:30 PM ET, FS1). In terms of the match-up itself, St. John’s is desperate to get off the schnide. The Red Storm is 0-4 in BIG EAST play and still missing star guard Marcus LoVett due to a knee injury. Georgetown, sitting at 1-3 in conference play, is coming off a 90-66 home loss to Creighton. What to watch for? The Hoyas’ Jessie Govan and the Johnnies’ Tariq Owens. Expect a fascinating match-up in the paint between the two.
- #25 Creighton seeks its ninth win in its last 10 games on Tuesday when the Bluejays host Butler (8:45 PM ET, FS1). Standing at 13-3, Greg McDermott’s team is once again finding success behind a machine of an offense. The Jays lead the BIG EAST and are third in the country with 90.2 points per game. That poses a tall task to Butler’s defense, which has allowed at least 86 points in all four BIG EAST games thus far. LaVall Jordan’s Dawgs are 2-2 in league play and guided by Kelan Martin (19.8 PPG, 6.5 RPG). On Tuesday, though, he faces one of the BIG EAST’s best defenders in Creighton’s Khyri Thomas. Last season, Martin was held to just 18 points combined on 8-of-26 from the field. They call it “Khyrifense” in Omaha. We’ll see how much of an impact Thomas can make on Martin when they tangle again on Tuesday.
- Those were just appetizers compared to this. The BIG EAST’s lone Wednesday game could be one of the best regular season showdowns in all of college hoops. #1 Villanova plays host to #10 Xavier inside Wells Fargo Center at 8 ET on FS1 in what should be a heavyweight bout. The Wildcats have an All-American point guard in Jalen Brunson (19.4 PPG, 5.2 APG, 3.3 RPG) and a new sensation in freshman Omari Spellman (10.4 PPG, 7.7 RPG). Meanwhile, Xavier is hungry after a road loss to Providence with Trevon Bluiett (19.4 PPG, 2.7 APG, 5.6 RPG) and J.P. Macura (13.1 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 3.1 APG) making up one of the nation’s best wing duos. The key to this one? The Musketeers’ efficiency. Villanova’s +4.3 turnover margin is second in the BIG EAST while Xavier is ninth in the league at -1.2. Sophomore Quentin Goodin has a hefty challenge going up against Brunson. It will be interesting to see what happens when Villanova slows the tempo down. Xavier’s shot selection in the halfcourt attack will be very intriguing to watch, as well as how Spellman performs against a tremendous rebounding team.
- If you’ve got time on Friday night, stay in and tune to FS1 at 8:30 PM ET for Providence and DePaul. No, it’s not a standout conference match-up, but the broadcast will be. For the first time in a men’s college basketball game, both coaches will be mic’d up for the entirety of the contest in a commercial-free broadcast. Providence’s Ed Cooley and DePaul’s Dave Leitao will be in the inaugural FOX Sports Men’s Basketball All-Access Game. It makes for some really good TV.
- Another key showdown arrives on Saturday when #10 Xavier hosts #25 Creighton on FOX at 2 PM ET. Trevon Bluiett and J.P. Macura vs. Marcus Foster and Khyri Thomas? It’s a tag team showdown within this match-up that has me salivating already.ran
The BIG EAST ride is off to a roaring start, and picking up steam. With seven NCAA Tournament contenders once again, it’s only going to keep getting better as the season forges along.
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