The Big East is getting by just fine.
Here is how good the Big East has been so far this year: nine of its 10 teams are thus far undefeated. Villanova is 5-0. So are Providence and Creighton. Xavier and Seton Hall are 4-0. Georgetown, St. John’s and Butler are 3-0. Shoot, even DePaul is 2-0. And while some of those wins are filler (which makes the conference no different than any other top 10 league), there also are quality wins already over the likes of Michigan, VCU, Oklahoma, Notre Dame, Long Beach State and Stephen F. Austin.
The only two losses for the Big East on the young season are both by a very young Marquette team. One was very excusable-at Ohio State. One (at home against Nebraska-Omaha) wasn’t. And, oh by the way, Steve Wojciechowski has a top 10 recruiting class coming in next year for the Golden Eagles.
The Big East will go through ups and downs, just like any conference, but it is always going to be good as long as college basketball is played. These are schools that put basketball first. It is a priority at each school and there are good resources at each school. And the sport is better for it.
- The Maui Invitational final is set. This tourney almost always delivers two fantastic semifinals, but we had to settle for one this year. Arizona held off Kansas State 72-68 in a game that was close throughout. K-State appears to have fully recovered from its loss to Long Beach State. San Diego State will be Arizona’s opponent in the final after easily dispatching Pittsburgh 74-57. The Aztecs showed no ill effects or wear from their double-overtime win over BYU the night before, and now they get a shot at the Wildcats for the third time in a year.
- One other note from Maui: in the consolation round, BYU defeated Chaminade 121-85. This game was the type of variety college basketball needs, a real treat. So was the Cougars’ three-point shooting (17 of 29), especially Chase Fischer, who scored 30 and hit 10 of 12 from long distance.
- Villanova topped Michigan 60-55 to win the Legends Classic. Terrific flow to this game in the final few minutes. Caris LeVert and JayVaughn Pinkston seemed to go back and forth for the final five minutes, and it was Pinkston delivering the shot that put the Wildcats up for good with 13 seconds left. Dylan Ennis also had a huge three-pointer and led VU with 15 points.
- In the consolation game, VCU got back on track, handling Oregon 77-63. The Rams got mean inside, out-boarding the Quack Attack 40-31 and finishing with a 36-16 advantage in points in the pant.
- Maryland surprised Iowa State 72-63 in the CBE Hall of Fame Classic final. ISU shot just 29.7%, but give the Terrapins a lot of credit. This is a big, big win for Maryland.
- Arkansas may or may not have deserved to be ranked in the top 25 before this week. The Hogs made a strong case last night, though, winning at SMU 78-72. The Mustangs still are not what many thought they’d be-wayyyyyy too many turnovers (19) but this is still a big quality win for Arkansas.
- Miami (Fla.) defeated UNC-Charlotte for the second time in three days. This one was much closer, as the Hurricanes held on for a 79-76 win. Miami continues to be red-hot from long distance-14 of 23 in this one, and it was the difference in the game. That and free throws-the 49ers shot just 10 of 19 from the line. Sheldon McClellan had 31 points and 11 rebounds, but included in his scoring total was 5-for-7 accuracy on the deep ball.
- Nebraska’s game against state foe Nebraska-Omaha promised to be fun, and it was. The Cornhuskers pulled away for an 80-67 win, but it took Shevon Shields 35 points to do it. The Mavericks initially carried over their hot play from their last game against Marquette, leading by 16 in the first half before the Huskers recovered.
- Harvard hammered Houston 84-63. Just in case anyone was starting to forget about the Crimson after their loss to Holy Cross…don’t. Impressive shutdown of a decent team.
- Northern Iowa easily took care of Virginia Tech 73-54, never trailing and leading by as many as 22. The Panthers, while not blessed with Stanley Johnson- or Jahlil Okafor-like talent, are developing a host of different scoring options. Very deep squad. Up next in the Cancun Challenge final is Northwestern, which topped Miami (Ohio) 59-50.
- Detroit has been a pleasant surprise so far this season. Toledo has been the opposite. The Titans pinned the Rockets with their third loss already, going on the road to the Glass City and coming away with an 82-79 win.
- St. Peter’s ripped Rutgers 68-50 at the RAC. Last year it was Seton Hall, this year the Scarlet Knights-second straight year the Peacocks have knocked off one of Jersey’s Division I big dogs. A real good win for St. Peter’s and outstanding forward Marvin Dominique (22 points, 9 boards), which got its first win after four close losses to start the season. For Rutgers and the Big 10…ouch. Ouch. Can’t even blame this on Kadeem Jack being out-the big man played 33 minutes, with 10 points.
- Hartford is now 4-1 after a 54-50 win over a good Quinnipiac team. The Hawks are the anti-St. Peter’s: four wins all coming by five points or less. In fact, Hartford defeated the Peacocks by a point 11 days ago.
- The Gulf Coast Showcase final is also set, as Wisconsin-Green Bay and Florida Gulf Coast will square off for a title. UWGB nipped Evansville 64-62 in a good back-and-forth game, while FGCU dumped San Francisco 62-47. USF shot 14-for-36 from the foul line (38.9%) and even worse from the floor (25.4% on 15 of 59 shooting). Want to know why we harp on free throws so much? Read that previous line again. Inexcusable for any team. Not to pick on the Dons, a good team that had a rotten night. But in this era of coaches and teams looking everywhere for inefficiencies, a free throw percentage anywhere near 50% or worse is an inefficiency. And it can be improved, far easier than a field goal percentage. It just may require a little innovation (see: UConn adopting the Steve Nash FT drill) and maybe a hair more time working on free shots instead of in the weight room. But it is unconscionable just how easy a free throw is, no reason why one shouldn’t be able to expect Division I basketball players to make at least 60% from the line.
- One more note from the Gulf Coast Showcase: in Hawaii’s 62-55 win over Marist in the consolation bracket, Rainbow Warriors guard Aaron Torres had 16 rebounds, including a whopping 13 in the first half alone. One of the better rebounding games by a guard we’ll see all season.
- Providence could be without starting point guard Kris Dunn as well as freshman Jalen Lindsey for the Friars’ upcoming games against Yale and Kentucky, per Kevin McNamara at the Providence Journal. This would be bad news for both games-Yale is a solid team, too-and a shame for Dunn especially, whose college career has been marked by injuries, including a redshirt last year with a shoulder injury. A former McDonald’s All-American, he looked to be just starting to hit his stride.
It’s almost exclusively about tournaments today, as it is much of this week. Several tourneys wrap up, while a few others get underway.
Arizona vs. San Diego State Maui Invitational final The Wildcats are as good as advertised, a top 5 team, but that doesn’t mean they’re invincible by any means. One gets the feeling this is a hump the Aztecs will need to get over sometime if they want to take the next step.
UCLA vs. Oklahoma, Florida vs. Georgetown Battle 4 Atlantis quarterfinals The two best games of the four quarterfinals today. Oklahoma especially could use a statement in this tourney.
Wisconsin-Green Bay vs. Florida Gulf Coast Gulf Coast Showcase final Is Dunk City back? FGCU is 5-0 and has looked good doing it, defeating solid UC Santa Barbara, Ohio and San Francisco clubs and winning by an average of 15.0 points per game.
Minnesota vs. St. John’s, Georgia vs. Gonzaga Preseason NIT semifinals We almost left this one off in protest of the NIT’s decision to scrap its old format and go with the predetermined semifinalists, a dreadful trend in college basketball scheduling. The game between the Gophers and Johnnies should especially be a good one, though.
Oklahoma State vs. Tulsa MGM Grand Main Event final If you’re going to try to differentiate among the way-too-many four-team tourneys at various neutral sites, one good way to do it is to pit two rivals against each other.
Northeastern at Massachusetts The Huskies are an impressive 4-0, with a win over crosstown rival Boston University, a victory at Florida State and a whooping of Manhattan. This sets up as another achievable game, albeit certainly not easy.
Pacific at Alaska-Anchorage, Missouri State vs. Colorado State Great Alaska Shootout quarterfinals Two of the four quarters are played Wednesday night and into Thursday morning for us on the mainland. Division II UAA has won 35 times in the Shootout over the years against D-I schools, while Colorado State has to be the favorite for the event, but the Bears aren’t an easy opener.
Northern Illinois at Iowa NIU is ranked seventh in the RPI after a win over Idaho. This will no doubt make the blood boil of those who think the RPI is “a joke” or not advanced enough. (Note to RPI-haters: Relax. It’s only November. The only RPI that really matters is in March.) The Huskies showed a lot of improvement last year and meet up with a Hawkeye team that has had some shaky moments early this year. Intriguing game.