It’s been an eventful past couple of weeks for the Big East.
In the men’s NCAA tournament, the conference has sent 6 teams to the big dance, and two remain alive in the second weekend. As for the coaching carousel, multiple Big East coaches have either been let go or have taken a position somewhere else.
Steele out for the return of the Miller
Sometimes, if you want to move forward, you have to go back in time. After four straight seasons without an NCAA Tournament bid, Xavier chose to part ways with head coach Travis Steele and replaced him with Sean Miller, their old head coach from the aughts.
For Steele, he failed to live up to the expectations of Xavier basketball that were set by his predecessor-turned-successor. Success has followed Sean Miller throughout his tenure at Xavier, whether it was as an assistant coach for three seasons under Thad Matta in which Xavier went to the Elite Eight in 2004 or from sending the Musketeers to an Elite Eight on his own terms when he was the head coach at Xavier from 2004 to 2009. In total, the Muskies went 120-47 in five seasons under Miller.
Even though Miller enjoyed plenty of success at his next job at Arizona, he was plunged into hot water from the NCAA after committing several Level I violations in 2020, which included a “lack of head coaching control” on Miller’s part. As a result, the university parted ways with Miller at the conclusion of the 2020-21 season.
A return to Victory Parkway for Sean Miller could not only serve as the beginning of a renaissance for Xavier basketball, but as the start of a redemption story for Miller if he can keep his nose clean.
Kevin Willard heads to Maryland
After months of speculation, Willard was hired as the next head coach for Maryland on Monday afternoon.
His 12-year stint with the Pirates ended on a very sour note with a 67-42 bludgeoning from 8-seed TCU in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Friday night, the fourth time in five tries where the Pirates left the Big Dance without a win under Willard.
While Seton Hall has struggled to stay in the tournament for long when they do get there, Willard’s work as Seton Hall coach has turned the Pirates’ head coaching position into a very attractive position.
When Kevin Willard took the Seton Hall head coaching job in 2010, he inherited a shipwrecked program that was largely forgettable in the Big East since the Pirates embarked on a trip to the Sweet 16 in 2000.
After five seasons of building a foundation, the Pirates broke through with a Big East tournament victory in 2016. What followed were four straight NCAA Tournament appearances, which could have easily turned into five straight if the COVID-19 pandemic did not shut down the 2019-20 season, a constant pipeline of four-star recruits coming through South Orange, and the renewed expectation for winning that Seton Hall has not seen since P.J. Carlesimo captained the ship.
The unanimous consensus for Willard’s replacement has pointed towards Saint Peter’s head coach and former Seton Hall basketball player Shaheen Holloway. After serving as an assistant for eight years on Willard’s coaching staff, Holloway chose Saint Peter’s as his first head coaching gig in 2018.
Regarded as one of the most difficult head coaching jobs in Division I basketball due to a microscopic athletics budget and its high school-caliber facilities, Saint Peter’s seems like the last place to see basketball success. Still, Holloway managed to lead the Peacocks to three straight winning seasons, a MAAC tournament championship this season, and the improbable Sweet 16 run that has everyone in America talking about the small Jesuit school in Jersey City.
When the Peacocks’ Cinderella run concludes, expect Seton Hall athletic director Bryan Felt to call on Holloway as soon as possible.
Villanova in cruise control, clinches another Sweet 16 appearance
Oh, right, we have basketball to talk about.
The Wildcats unsurprisingly survived to see another Sweet 16 appearance, dispatching 15-seed Delaware by a score of 80-60 in the First Round and keeping 7-seed Ohio State at an arm’s length for all forty minutes in a 71-61 win in the Second Round.
They looked every bit like the hyper-efficient machine they’ve been all season long. The Cats averaged 1.31 points per possession against the Blue Hens and 1.20 points per possession against the Buckeyes. It also helped that they were able to stay in Pennsylvania for their first two tournament games.
Villanova will take on another Big Ten foe in the Sweet 16: 11-seed Michigan, this tournament’s version of the “why are they even here?” team that defies all of the pundits and inexplicably goes on a deep run. The Wolverines overcame a 15-point deficit against mid-major darling and 6-seed Colorado State in the first round, before sending 3-seed Tennessee to another early tournament exit.
Providence reaches the Sweet 16 for the first time in 25 seasons
Once again, the Friars do what they have done best this season: survive in the clutch. On Thursday afternoon, Providence bested 13-seed and popular upset pick South Dakota State, 66-57. The Summit League champions, known for being the nation’s best three-point shooting team (43.7 percent), were held to a quiet 30 percent against the Friars.
Regardless, if you watched Providence basketball all season long, you knew this game would be decided in the final few minutes.
With 30 seconds to go in a 60-57 game, Jared Bynum drew three crucial free throws on a controversial foul call where he appears to stick out his right leg at the very last moment.
Bynum converted all three, sealing a Providence victory which sent them to the Second Round to face a 12-seed Richmond team that pulled off an impressive upset of 5-seed Iowa.
Instead of the closely-contested brand of basketball we’ve known to expect from the Friars, they crushed the Spiders by a score of 79-51. Their 28-point drubbing tied their largest margin of victory on the season, a 92-64 defeat of a Sacred Heart team that finished sub-300 in KenPom efficiency.
After facing the 13 and 12 seeds of the Midwest Regional, Providence has to face their biggest test of the season so far: the 1-seed Kansas Jayhawks. The Jayhawks are 2-0 against Big East opponents this season, a 20-point road victory against St. John’s and a 7-point win over 9-seed Creighton in the Round of 32.