By Dan Gardella
As the conference season progresses you can usually see with more clarity as to who the top three or four teams are at this point.
The Big East is not one of those conferences.
It’s a logjam, crapshoot, mess, take your pick of adjectives. What is clear is that aside from Marquette and Villanova, there’s no assurance of an NCAA Tournament bid for any of the other teams. That will turn up the heat even more as we head into February.
Last Week’s Rankings:
6) Seton Hall
7) St. John’s
This Week’s Rankings
1) Villanova (-)
2) Marquette (-)
3) Providence (+6)
4) Creighton (+6)
5) Georgetown (+3)
6) Xavier (-2)
7) Butler (-2)
8) Seton Hall (-2)
9) DePaul (-6)
10) St. John’s (-3)
The league still stands with only two teams who are above .500. As for the rest of the teams, let’s just say the last place team is by no means solidified in that spot.
It’s hard to have understood how the Friars started conference play just 1-4 and were reeling off the bat. But they have picked things up over the past two weeks, compiling a 3-1 record with the lone loss at Marquette, which some people argue is the toughest place to play in the conference.
This week specifically, Ed Cooly’s club took a trip to Cincinnati to face off with Xavier, a place the Friars were 0-7 at prior to their meeting. While it was a brutal job by the Friars closing the game down the stretch, they managed to close out the game and escape with the two point victory. With no player scoring more than 13 points, Providence got a balanced scoring attack while getting 11 points, six rebounds, five assists, and five steals from Alpha Diallo.
In game two of the week, they returned home and welcomed DePaul to the Dunkin Donuts Center Sunday afternoon. Similar to their game against Xavier, Providence jumped out to a lead but had to claw and fight to hold off the Blue Demons and eventually win by three. In the game, the Friars got a 20 point, nine rebound performance from Diallo, who may be up for a Player of the Week award in Providence’s 2-0 week.
Most importantly, they welcomed back freshman A.J. Reeves, who missed the last nine games with an injury. In his first game back, he scored 11 points in 11 minutes while knocking down three three-pointers. I would say he got his feet back under him pretty quickly. With the Friars on an upswing and Reeves back, watch out for Providence.
Similar to Providence, the Blue Jays started off conference play 1-4 and sat at the bottom of the conference early on. They managed to respond with a 2-0 week of their own to push them into a three way tie for third place with a 3-4 record in Big East play. Game one of their week featured a trip to the nation’s capital for a date with the Georgetown Hoyas. In a back and forth game, it took 26 points and six three-pointers from Ty-Shon Alexander and 17 points from Davion Mintz to help the Blue Jays narrowly beat the Hoyas.
Game two of the week saw Creighton return home to face off with Butler, a team that handled Greg McDermott’s team easily a few weeks ago. The Blue Jays returned the favor with 19 points from Alexander and 16 points and eight rebounds from Martin Krampelj to help the Jays return the favor on the Bulldogs, beating them by 14.
Before the season, no one could have predicted the break out season that Alexander has had for Creighton. After only scoring 183 points all last season, the sophomore is scoring almost 18 points per night while connecting on 40% of his three-point attempts. With Krampelj looking like his feet are under him a bit more over the past few games, the Blue Jays have a second scoring option along with a strong interior prescience.
After opening eyes to begin conference play with two wins over Seton Hall and one on the road at St. John’s, the Blue Demons have come back to earth, now losers of two straight thanks to losses at Marquette (Like I said, tough place to win as an opponent), and Providence.
In Milwaukee, DePaul fell behind by 13 in the first half while Markus Howard was off doing his thing offensively. Within the first two and a half minutes of the second half, they managed to slice the deficit to five. Marquette would answer and bring the lead back to nine but DePaul kept chipping away and brought the lead to just four with ten minutes to play. The Golden Eagles would never let DePaul grab the lead in the second half and ultimately fell by ten.
Looking for a win during the week, they traveled to Providence who had an added lift with the return of Reeves. Although he did not play much for the Friars, it gave them a morale boost which helped them gain the advantage over DePaul. The story was more of the same for Dave Leitao’s team, who could not find ways to play from ahead. While they were able to get as close as two as late as with six minutes left but couldn’t get the defensive stops to pull ahead.
Don’t get me wrong, I still believe DePaul is talented to do some damage as Big East play progresses. With a league as unpredictable and competitive as this year’s conference is, each team is bound for some ups and downs. They are a tumbler but they play far from previous Blue Demon teams.
Why do I feel like I have seen this happen to the Red Storm before? Oh wait, I have. Just last year the Red Storm were off the blocks strong last season before going on an eleven game losing streak. This St. John’s team is far too talented to be 3-5 in conference play. Since beginning Big East play 2-1, the Johnnies have lost four of their last five games and are trending downwards.
In their only game of the week coming off of eight days rest, St. John’s had stretches where they looked flat and were going through the motions, allowing Georgetown to get the upper hand early on. Fast forward to the final 1:20 of the game: Georgetown leads by a bucket as L.J. Figueroa steals the ball away from James Akinjo. Rather than drive in and tie the game, he pulls up and launches a three. After he missed and several put-back attempts missed, Mac McClung was all alone for a slam on the other end. From there, it was all downhill for the Red Storm, who could not stop Georgetown and eventually lost by 11.
The path doesn’t get any easier for St. John’s. They now have to travel to Creighton, which is never and easy place to win as an opponent, go to Cameron Indoor and face off with Duke, and then travel to Marquette. 3-5 is a tough start, but coming back home after three straight losses won’t help towards the Johnnies’s NCAA Tournament hopes.