The 2014-15 Big East basketball season came to a close tonight, as the Arizona Wildcats sent the Xavier Musketeers, the conference's final team, home packing with a 68-60 victory. It was a great run for the Big East, sending six teams to the NCAA tournament and opening up the second round 4-0, but after the round of 32, just Xavier was left to hold down the fort during the second weekend.
The second-seeded Wildcats will take on No. 1 seed Wisconsin for a spot in the Final Four on Saturday. We'll have more content coming in the next few weeks to put a bow on this year's Big East season, but for now, here's what we learned from tonight's Xavier loss.
1. T.J. McConnell lifts the Wildcats down the stretch
Xavier held a 53-51 lead with just over six minutes remaining in the second half, but Arizona guard T.J. McConnell almost single-handedly swung the game back in the Wildcats' favor over the next few possessions. McConnell hit a pair of free throws to tie things up, and after Brandon Ashley hit two more from the charity stripe, the senior knocked down his first three of the night to stretch out an Arizona lead that the team would never give up. In the end, the Wildcats sealed things with a dominant performance at the free throw line, shooting 17-of-19 as a team (bring their to total to 61-of-70 during the NCAA tournament, as the CBS crew reported after the game). It was a terrific team win for Arizona, and with a balanced squad like Wisconsin on tap, they showed a resilience that will take them far as they chase a title.
2. Matt Stainbrook goes down with the ship
While the Musketeers slipped away during the game's final minutes, senior big man Matt Stainbrook showed off his trademark fighting mentality all game long. Stainbrook forced the Wildcats to take (and eventually make) shots from the mid-range and three, erasing the paint altogether defensively and giving Arizona's Kaleb Tarczewski a brutal matchup offensively. Stainbrook, in the final game of his college career, finished with 17 points and ten rebounds, and while the team is going home for the offseason, their senior leader deserves a lot of credit for his play all postseason. Again, the Wildcats knocked down the shots they needed to down the stretch, but Stainbrook did all he could to keep this Xavier team alive.
3. Arizona-Wisconsin is already the best Elite Eight matchup
That's not a knock on Kentucky and Notre Dame, but man, Wisconsin and Arizona definitely feels like a Final Four, doesn't it? I still think the winner of that game probably has the best shot of anyone to knock off the Kentucky juggernaut, but these two teams are going to be an unbelievable matchup from an X's and O's standpoint. Both teams boast deep, well-rounded rosters on both ends, and while Wisconsin will hurt you with brilliant ball movement and three-point stature, Arizona can hit back with their size and athleticism. In the end, the region ended up going chalk for the most part, but this is going to be one hell of a regional final.