by Dan Gardella
With the Big East Tournament just two weeks away, there is now separation at the top of the conference with Marquette now a game and a half ahead of defending champion Villanova. There is now however, another logjam in the middle of the conference. The difference between third place St. John’s and eighth place Creighton is only two games. Lots of change could be coming before they meet up at the Garden.
Last Week’s Rankings
- St. John’s
- Seton Hall
This Week’s Rankings
- Marquette (-): Win vs. Butler, Win @ Providence
- Xavier (+3): Win @ Seton Hall, Win vs. Villanova
- St. John’s (-): Lost @ Providence, Win vs. Seton Hall
- Villanova (-2): Lost @ Georgetown, Lost @ Xavier
- Georgetown (+2): Win vs. Villanova, Lost @ Creighton
- Seton Hall (-3): Lost vs. Xavier, Lost @ St. John’s
- Butler (-1): Lost @ Marquette
- Creighton (+2): Win @ DePaul. Win vs. Georgetown
- DePaul (-): Lost vs. Creighton
- Providence (-2): Win vs. St. John’s, Loss vs. Marquette
Outside of the Golden Eagles, Xavier is the hottest team in the conference. Now winners of four straight games, the Musketeers come off of a week in which they shocked Seton Hall on the road and handled Villanova at home to improve to 7-8 in conference play. For a team picked to finish sixth in the conference, Travis Steele has turned the team around from a cellar dweller to a team fighting near the top half of the conference.
To begin the week, Xavier marched into Newark against a Seton Hall team who entered winners of three in a row and in the hunt for third place in the conference and were one of the few teams above .500 in conference play. The Musks jumped out to an eight point lead at the half and stretched the lead to as much as 16 with 6:23 to play. The Pirates fought back and trimmed it to a single point with 50 seconds to play. But sophomore Naji Marshall, who was named the player of the week in the conference scored a career-high 28 points as the Musks held of seton Hall 70-69.
Game two of the week was one arguably one of the most anticipated games on the conference schedule. Whenever Villanova comes to town, the Cintas Center is always packed, creating a hostile environment. The game went back and forth in the first half and Villanova went into the locker room at halftime leading by three. But then, Xavier stepped up their defense, holding VIllanova without a field goal for eight minutes while going on a 17-0 run. Following the run, Xavier remained in control and came away with the 12 point win.
In just two short weeks, Xavier went from the bottom of the conference to fighting in the middle of the pack. The Musketeers’ final three games are at St. John’s, at Butler, then host St. John’s. It’s a tough schedule ahead but the way Travis Steele has gotten his guys to play recently, I’d be foolish to bet against them.
The Blue Jays busted out of their four game slump with two wins this week to bring them to 6-9 in conference play. Creighton handled DePaul on the road and Georgetown in Omaha. In their first game against the Blue Demons, Greg McDermott’s team went back and forth with DePaul before pulling away and taking an 11 point lead into the break. Creighton would get keep their separation at a double digit lead and never gave DePaul a chance to come back, cruising to the 12 point victory.
In their second game, they welcomed Georgetown, a team on the rise in the conference fresh off of an upset win against Villanova. Creighton held Georgetown’s three young stars to a combined 20 points and Martin Krampelj flexed his muscles, scoring 22 points and grabbing 10 rebounds for his fifth double-double of the season.
Ty-Shon Alexander has been the leader of the Blue Jay team that have found their way back to the win column, but Krampelj has become more and more consistent down low as the regular season wraps up. Creighton travels to Marquette before hosting Providence and DePaul to wrap things up. The bad news is they have to play the top team in the conference on the road. The good news is they have two teams near the bottom of the conference at home to make one last attempt at climbing in the standings.
We have seen a very uncharacteristic stretch by a Jay Wright led team. After beginning Big East play 10-0, the Wildcats have lost four of their last five games, including three in a row. Last week, Villanova took tough road losses to Georgetown and Xavier after falling to St. John’s at the Garden the game before.
Last year the game plan for beating Villanova was only hoping that their outside shots weren’t falling and capitalize on it. Over the course of the week, the Wildcats shot a abysmal 19/74, only a 26% clip. This form of offense did not work in the 0-2 week as they Wildcats struggled to get offense going in particular stretches in each game, including a 17-0 run against Xavier that kicked them in the mouth. In past seasons, there were three or four players that were capable of taking over a game and would still be able to win with one of them struggling. This year is different. The offense goes as Eric Paschall and Phil Booth go. Outside of them, Saddiq Bey and Collin Gillespie each have their moments on the offensive end.
The ‘Cats still sit comfortably in second, but will likely be there at season’s end unless they get a little help and run the table. They host Marquette and Butler before finishing the season at Seton Hall.
At the beginning of the week, Seton Hall sat in a fight for third place and had an opportunity to grab sole possession of third but were unable to do so. In the first game of the week, the Pirates came out flat against Xavier, a game that appeared to be a “take care of business” game on Seton Hall’s home court. They went into the locker room down eight and trailed by as much as 16 before the comeback attempt began. Two Myles Cale free throws cut the deficit to one with under a minute to play but the Pirates would be unable to complete the comeback and left a “woulda, coulda, shoula,” game on the table. Luckily for Kevin Willard’s team, St. John’s suffered a loss to keep them in a tie for third place leading up to their Saturday night showdown at the World’s Most Famous Arena.
The Pirates, who took the first game of the season series by way of controversy came out of the gate weak again and before Pirate fans could blink, the Red Storm were off to a 28-5 start just nine minutes in. It was evident that the Johnnies had some pent up anger that was waiting to be unleashed on Seton Hall. The lead would be 18 at halftime and once again, it was too little, too late as the comeback attempt once again fell short, losing by 8.
A week that had the potential to be season-changing, both for Big East Tournament seeding and NCAA Tournament seeding gave Pirate fans more things to sweat about. The Pirates have one of the strongest non-conference schedules in the entire Big East but have some work to do if they want to solidify their spot in the big dance. The Pirates have two of their last three games on their home court. They travel to Washington D.C to take on Georgetown before welcoming Marquette and Villanova to Newark to finish the season.
Seton Hall…hold onto your butts.