This is the third installment of a weekly series reviewing the last week of action around the Big East.
Marquette’s Justin Lewis (more on him and his team later) took home Big East Player of the Week honors after scoring 20 points or more in two victories over ranked Villanova and Xavier. Creighton’s Trey Alexander earned Big East Freshman of the Week honors after averaging 11.5 points and 6.0 rebounds in wins over St. John’s and DePaul. A Creighton freshman has won Big East Freshman of the Week honors in six of the last 10 weeks.
No St. John’s players were named to the Big East Honor Roll this week.
Honor Roll winners
- Ryan Kalkbrenner, Creighton, C
- Tyrese Martin, UConn, F
- Nate Watson, Providence, C
- Myles Cale, Seton Hall, G
- Collin Gillespie, Villanova, G
A recap of the last week’s storylines...
A noticeable split in the conference has emerged
We expected the Big East’s best teams to stay competitive entering the season, but I don’t think anyone expected this stark of a divide between the haves and the have-nots of the Big East.
Entering January 24th, six Big East teams are ranked inside the KenPom top 50, with Providence (#56) sitting on the fringe despite sitting in the first place in the Big East standings and being ranked 16th in the latest AP poll. Meanwhile, there’s a decently-sized gap between the front of the pack and the the bottom four teams in the conference. St. John’s (#100), DePaul (#102), Butler (#145), and Georgetown (#157) have sagged behind and are all considered as teams who are not on the bubble (St. John’s has since risen to #87 after last night’s victory over Seton Hall).
A lot can change between now and the Big East tournament, the nature of playing in a power conference ensures that the conference’s bottom-dwellers can vault themselves into the tournament discussion with just one or two big wins.
Marquette is a tournament team, but they still have a lot to prove
Since we have started this weekly recap of the Big East, Marquette has been the topic of discussion as the hottest team in the conference. After starting 0-3 in conference play, Marquette has rattled off six straight wins. Before this week, their resume already included wins over Illinois, Providence, and Seton Hall, all opponents who were ranked at the time of their games versus the Golden Eagles.
This week, Marquette has cast aside any doubt that they are a tournament team. First, they scrapped to an extremely rare road victory in Finneran Pavilion against Villanova, which included a ballsy game-winning three by Big East Player of the Week Justin Lewis.
Then they pulled away late against fellow Midwest rival No. 20 Xavier in Milwaukee, 75-64. Their two ranked victories this week were enough to rank them in the AP poll for the first time since February 2020.
As the case for a Marquette team, this season will have to come down to avoiding the dreaded late-season collapse. That aforementioned team from the 2019-20 season lost six of their last seven games after being ranked in the AP poll. The worst of their schedule seems to be behind them, as five of their remaining 10 scheduled Big East games* will come against teams outside of the top 100 teams according to KenPom. If they can win these softer conference games, they will safely earn a good seed in March.
*Note: the postponed game between St. John’s and Marquette on December 29th has yet to be rescheduled.
Providence picked up where they left off
After sitting idle for 12 days due to a COVID pause, the Friars did not appear rusty when they returned to action this past week, beating Georgetown and Butler on their home court.
On the surface, it doesn’t mean a lot to defeat the two weakest teams in the conference on your home floor by less than 10 points each, but when your team hasn’t had a formal practice in almost two weeks, any win isn’t a given. The Friar faithful have seen the offensive production of reserve big man Ed Croswell as an encouraging sight, with the La Salle transfer shooting a perfect 12-for-12 from the field in those two wins.
The Friars will have two major tests this week, a road clash with Xavier on Wednesday night and a Saturday afternoon game against red hot Marquette at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center.