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Big East Quarterfinals: Notes and thoughts

March 10, 2017 Columns No Comments

NEW YORK – Four on the floor. The Big East quarterfinals at Madison Square Garden saw the biggest surprises saved for the evening session. Seventh-seeded Xavier upset Butler to advance to the semifinals, then the night cap saw sixth-seeded Creighton send third-seeded Providence home. The day (and night) had St. John’s-Villanova tip off at noon and Providence-Creighton end ten minutes before midnight.

The scores:

Villanova 108, St. John’s 67
Seton Hall 82, Marquette 76
Xavier 62, Butler 57
Creighton 70, Providence 58

Give St. John’s credit. They ran into a buzzsaw in Villanova. Their 41-point defeat tied a Big East Tournament margin of victory record, as Syracuse defeated Boston College 96-55 back in 1999. The Red Storm did get a first round win, outlasting Georgetown the night before. It was a significant step for Chris Mullin’s group as it marked the Red Storm’s first Big East tournament win since 2011.

Villanova showed in that romp in the first quarterfinal how lethal they are. There is a multitude of offensive threats negating a double team by opposing defenses. Rest assured, if a Villanova player is doubled he will find an open teammate. Villanova assisted on 23 of their 36 field goals, a 64 percent assist rate.

Chris Mack’s team has reached the semifinals of the Big East Tournament once again (Ray Floriani photo)

Creighton pulled away the final ten minutes in the last game of the evening. Providence did not do itself any favors by continuously missing from the free throw line during that stretch. For the game Ed Cooley’s group shot 14 of 26 (54 percent) from the line.

Marquette started strong, building an early eight-point lead. The Golden Eagles cooled off, Seton Hall then responded to overtake their higher-seeded opponents to earn a semifinal date with Villanova. Marquette going cold – there was a six-minute stretch without a field goal – was one thing. Both coaches, Kevin Willard of Seton Hall and Marquette’s Steve Wojciechowski, agreed the ultimate difference was Angel Delgado. The Seton Hall junior forward scored 12 points pulled down 16 rebounds (eight offensive) and handed out nine assists. “He is a beast,” Wojciechowski said. “He was the difference in this game.”

Willard’s Seton Hall team upset Villanova for the Big East title last year. The Pirate mentor had arguably the line of the day/night discussing the Wildcats. “Playing Villanova is like waking up as a kid on Christmas day, coming downstairs opening your presents under the tree and finding coal.” In all seriousness, Willard and company knows this is an arduous task but relish the challenge of facing Jay Wright’s club.

Xavier had a rough go of it after losing Edmond Sumner in late January. The Musketeers had one stretch where they lost six straight. Their two most recent wins were over DePaul – to close out the season and in round one of the Big East Tournament. Xavier gave notice they are not going away quietly. They upset Butler 62-57 in the evening doubleheader opening. Trevon Bluiett paced Xavier with 23 points, yet Chris Mack felt Malcolm Bernard “played his best game all season for us.” A 6-6 senior, Bernard scored 12 points while pulling down a game-high 10 rebounds.

Providence’s free throw trials were noted, but the Friars also were guilty of 22 turnovers. In metric terms that equates to a 29 percent turnover rate. Losing the ball virtually one of every three possessions is not the way to win. Creighton made the Friars pay, leading 26-8 in points off turnovers.

Interesting but surprising: Xavier has been in the Big East four years and advanced to the semifinals each time. Butler is four years in as well and is still looking for their first Big East Tournament victory.

So many coaches get their start immediately on college staffs. They may start out working on video or a number of other support duties as they move up the ranks. It’s rare to see a head coach start in the high school ranks and work his way up. Chris Mack is an exception. The Xavier mentor started not only in the prep ranks, but on the girls side as he was a JV high school girls coach in Ohio. Asked about this on the way into the Garden, Mack could just smile and confirm how he started. The smile and remarks gave evidence he enjoyed how he got his start in the profession and still looks back with a fond memory of that beginning on the sidelines.

Game scoring leaders:

  • Donte Divincenzo, Villanova (25 points): Can hit the three (5 of 6), but you have to love the freshman guard’s hustle and willingness to scrap inside.
  • Andrew Rousey, Marquette (23 points): Shot 4 of 9 from three and proved to be Marquette’s primary option.
  • Trevon Bluiett, Xavier (23 points): Had four assists (good) and four turnovers (not so good). Bluiett was 9 of 12 from the line for the Musketeers.
  • Khyri Thomas, Creighton (19 points): Added six rebounds, and the sophomore guard was a perfect 8 of 8 from the line.

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