The college basketball season finally returned this past week. While we saw the Friars take down Fairfield in style (https://theprovidencecrier.com/2020/11/25/fairfield-game-notes-and-analysis-pc-win-97-56/#more-2765), plenty of other Big East schools were also in action. The COVID pandemic has already come into play with cancelled games and some schools like DePaul yet to compete. BOC and myself provide you with our first impressions from the schools around the Big East.
Crier: Jay Wright and Co got all they could handle from the Boston College Eagles in their opener in the Empire Classic at Mohegan Sun. Nova was able to close out BC en route to a 76-67 victory. In the championship round against Arizona St, Villanova looked much sharper as they cruised to 83-74 win. The Wildcats then had a last minute game against Virginia Tech where they looked good for most of the game then coughed it up down the stretch, despite the refs best attempts to salvage the game. So far Nova doesn’t appear to be the 3-point shooting machine they typically are as they’ve only shot 34% (25/72) in three games.
BOC: Every year, Villanova has a few folks graduate and/or go to the NBA, and you ask “Who is going to step up and replace their production?”. This year, with Bey departed, Jeremiah Robinson-Earl has seemingly taken the reins as primary producer on this team. JRE was a preseason First Team All Big East player, so this isn’t exactly a revelation, but what has most surprised me was JRE’s ability to consistently knock down the mid range jumper. Adding that to his game has made him one of the best bigs in the nation.
Another surprise, on the downside, is Nova’s lack of bench production. I expected this team to go 9-10 deep with production from their bench, but almost all of the production has come from the starting line-up. If players get in foul trouble, this may become a glaring problem.
Crier: BOC and I discussed how Xavier could be much better than people anticipate with a solid returning core and a great recruiting class. The X-men really flexed their muscles against Oakland in the opener with a 101-49 victory. The hype soon faded with winning two squeakers against Bradley and Toledo. Expect an up and down season with this group. Kyky Tandy showing he is the present for Xavier, freshman Dwon Odom is the future.
BOC: Zach Fremantle appears ready to continue on his promising freshman campaign. He can make the mid-range shot with ease and will be a thorn in the side of all frontcourts he faces.
Odom is in the early running for top freshman in the Big East.
The future of this team will likely come down to X-Factor KyKy Tandy. He is a sharpshooter from deep, and the offense may sputter if he isn’t on. Expect Xavier to slog it up in the Big East.
Crier: Marquette rolled in their opener, beating Arkansas-Pine Bluff 99-57. Freshman Dawson Garcia was impressive in his debut (19 pts, 4 rebs, 4 assists), Ohio St transfer DJ Carton on the other hand was not (3 pts, 1/5 FG).
BOC: Garcia was labeled Big East freshman of the year, and he did nothing to dissuade people from thinking that. Carton, as Crier mentioned, had a slow start, and we’ll see him settle in as the season progresses.
While he may never get a ton of accolades, Woj would be smart to lean on Theo John as the heart & soul of this team. A physically imposing veteran, he makes his presence felt on the court. With the departure of a lot of players, John can be the veteran presence needed for Garcia and company.
Crier: The Johnnies are 2-0 after luckily escaping a scrappy St Peter’s team but had no problem handling LaSalle the next day. Mike Anderson starting to get more of “his guys” and it is starting to show. Freshman Posh Alexander and JUCO transfer Vince Cole have been very impressive. Expect SJ to be much more of a threat in this league than anticipated.
BOC: Posh Alexander is the PG of the future and looks ready to contribute immediately. This team will be tough defensively and will hang their hat on tempo all season.
University of Connecticut
Crier: The Huskies did not disappoint in their first game since returning to the Big East with a 102-75 victory over CCSU. Bouknight poured in 20 points and Howard transfer RJ Cole added 17 more. Akok Akok (Achilles) did not play in the opener and will be interesting to see how he returns following Achilles surgery last season.
BOC: Bouknight and Cole will be one of the top backcourts in the Big East all season. In watching them, I expect Sanogo to push for a starting spot in short order in the frontcourt. They are going to be a handful all year.
Crier: Butler got all it could handle from a Western Michigan team that should compete in the MAC. Butler should be a good defensive team but the offense remains a major question mark. Butler has since paused basketball activities due to COVID.
BOC: Really surprised to see the offensive outburst from Aaron Thompson. Conversely, I was a bit mystified to see the lack of production from Nze & Golden. To be honest, I have no idea still what to expect from Butler.
Crier: Many think it will be a long winter in our nation’s capital and their first game prove anything to the contrary. Despite beating UMBC 70-62 they shot a dismal 37% from the floor. How did they win then? They held UMBC to 35% and absolutely dominated the glass to a tune of 56-36 including a +14 advantage on the offensive glass.
BOC: They are going to have to rely on Jahvon Blair & Jamarko Pickett all year. I will be eagerly watching the development of big man Wahab, as he looked good in game 1.
Crier- You really gotta feel for Harvard grad transfer Bryce Aiken. Aiken is a very talented guard however injuries have hampered his entire career. 15 minutes into his debut with the Pirates he goes down with a bad ankle sprain. Pirates still competed vs Louisville and had a chance to send the game to OT but Canisius transfer Takal Molson missed the last free throw after getting fouled shooting a three.
BOC: My love affair with Mamu seems warranted, as he went for 22 and 10 against Louisville. He will be a double double threat all year and a focal point of the entire Seton Hall offense.
Aiken went down with an injury, which is extremely unfortunate. Bryce was known as being injury prone. Hopefully, this isn’t major.
Jared Rhoden seems to be a foundational piece for the Hall for the future.
BOC: Creighton only had one game and had the typical production you’d expect from Preseason POY Marcus Zegarowski, as well as from sharpshooter Mitch Bullock. The big surprise to me was to see the production from big man Bishop. He may become one of the top bigs in the Big East by season’s end.