Can you believe it?
The new Big East has finished five full seasons and while many thought this conference would not last, it has done the opposite. It has been thriving.
One of the biggest signs has been the drama at the Big East Tournament. It is arguably the most well-known conference basketball tournament out there and is played at the Mecca of basketball.
The Big East Tournament defined the conference through 2013 and didn’t skip a beat over the last five seasons.
That, on top of missing college hoops big time during this offseason, has led me to rank the top five games from the new era of the Big East Tournament so far.
Here is some of the criteria. It’s pretty simple.
-The later the game was in the tournament, the more consideration is got. For example, championship games got more love than semifinal games if it was a close call and so on down the line because the game meant more.
-The game had to have drama. Late comebacks, clutch shots, big plays and late defense stops all helped the cases of the games that made it.
-Star performances. Big name players had to come up big for their teams when it mattered most. That helped push the game’s lore up to another level.
-The Ending. The games included on this list all had wild endings to them and that turns an amazing game a Big East Tournament classic. You have to deliver the goods at the end to get on this list.
Without further ado, here are the top games from the new era of the Big East Tournament to this point.
Let’s start with some honorable mentions.
2014 Big East Conference Tournament Championship Game-#4 Providence over #2 Creighton 65-58
Date: March 15, 2014
The new Big East needed a great championship game in its first season under the 10-team format and it got one that brought two of the conference’s biggest stars center stage.
Creighton’s Doug McDermott and Providence’s Bryce Cotton.
McDermott had starred in the conference all season long in his first and only year playing in the Big East. Cotton was second fiddle to the Bluejays’ star all season until the title game.
Cotton, who shined all tournament long, had 23 points and five rebounds to lead the Friars to the win despite a late surge from McDermott who came to life late.
McBuckets finished with 27 points, but it was not enough. Cotton made the plays late and Providence won their first Big East Tournament title since 1994.
2017 Big East Conference Tournament First Round-#8 St. John’s over #9 Georgetown 74-73
Date: March 8, 2017
It is no secret that St. John’s and Georgetown have struggled in recent years under the new Big East format, especially in the Big East Tournament. These two once great programs have become afterthoughts at the Garden during the conference tournament over the past years.
That might have been why there wasn’t a ton of hype surrounding this first round matchup between the Red Storm and Hoyas. These were two teams at the bottom of the conference who had shown signs of life during the season, but didn’t have much to play for at the Garden.
The game early on had an edge to it and was physical, but wasn’t all that memorable until there were eight minutes and 35 seconds left on the clock in the second half. Georgetown’s L.J. Peak drove down the lane trying to lay the ball in when Johnnies’ big man Amar Alibegovic fouled Peak hard up around his neck.
Peak took exception and a scrum began under the basket. Alibegovic was assessed with a flagrant foul for the hard hack. Then the real drama began. Not only did Peak take exception to the foul, but so did his Coach John Thompson III and he directed his anger at St. John’s head coach Chris Mullin. I think you know what happens next.
Mullin and JTIII try to go after each other through a crowd of Hoyas and Johnnies. Who else was involved in the mix you ask? Patrick Ewing’s son Patrick Ewing Jr. who was an assistant on the Georgetown bench.
How fitting is that.
The rest of the game was a heavyweight fight that saw great plays, dunks and physical play. Peak finished with 24 points and Shamorie Ponds led St. John’s with 17 points.
Georgetown came back late in the game to get within a point, but on the last possession Peak missed a layup and Marcus Derrickson missed up close as well as time expired and the Red Storm won a Garden Classic that felt like it was played in the 1980s.
2015 Big East Conference Tournament Semifinals-#1 Villanova over #4 Providence 63-61
Date: March 13, 2015
The defending champion Friars against the overwhelming favorites Villanova quickly turned into the best game from the 2015 Big East Tournament.
Josh Hart led the way for Villanova with 18 points off the bench and made huge plays throughout the game, especially in the second half.
For Providence, Kris Dunn had 22 points to lead all scorers and almost did enough to get the Friars over the top but it was not enough in the end.
The final sequence of the game is what many will remember most as Providence was able to come back from eight points down in the second half to tie the game with 12 seconds to go.
Ben Bentil got the steal off of a Villanova inbounds play and found Dunn for the layup to tie the game at 61.
Ryan Arcidiacono was controversially fouled on the other end and made two free throws. To this day, Friars fans say he wasn’t fouled.
LaDontae Henton missed a deep three-point heave at the buzzer and Villanova advanced to their first conference title game since 1997.
The Wildcats would go on to sweep aside Xavier in the final to win the Big East Tournament.
Now it’s time for the main course, and we start with the best game from last year’s Big East Tournament!
#5 2018 Big East Conference Tournament Semifinals-#5 Providence over #1 Xavier 75-72
Date: March 9, 2018
We begin with a basketball game that looked like it was over with at one point in the second half from this past year’s tournament. Xavier was leading Providence by 17 points and the Musketeers came in with the objective of getting revenge on Villanova in the Big East final.
“Divine Providence” as Friars’ coach Ed Cooley would call it during the postgame, changed the course of the game.
The Friars mounted a comeback that included huge defensive stops, clutch baskets and incredible performances by Kyron Cartwright, Alpha Diallo and Rodney Bullock.
Diallo capped off the comeback by tying the game with 2:22 left in regulation, but that is only when the drama really began.
Sean O’Mara put Xavier up by two with 37 seconds to go. After a Providence timeout and then a big defensive stop, Cartwright was fouled and made two free throws.
J.P. Macura had a chance to win it on the last play of regulation, but his floater was swatted by Bullock to take the game to overtime.
In overtime, Cartwright turned it up to another level for the Friars. His jumper made it 73-70 in overtime, but Trevon Bluiett cut it back to one at the free throw line with 41 seconds remaining.
Then the biggest sequence of game.
Providence’s Isaiah Jackson missed a crucial layup attempt with 12 seconds to go and the outlet went to Macura who was flying down the court like a New York Subway that wasn’t stopping at your station that night. He went right to the basket. Right at Cartwright who stood his ground and took the charge.
The roof almost blew off the top of the Garden.
Musketeers fans were shouting every curse word in the book. So was Musketeers coach Chris Mack who said afterwards that it was probably the right call.
Providence fans were euphoric.
There was still seven seconds left.
Cartwright made the free throws at the other end. Xavier had a chance to tie it, but couldn’t get a shot off in time.
One thing lost in the final sequence was Quentin Goodin’s J.R. Smith moment before it was even invented.
Goodin dribbled up the court and almost when right to the basket, but then realized his team needed a three. By the time he realized it, the chance had gone. He kicked it out to Kerem Kanter who ended up making the three-point shot about three seconds after the game had ended.
#4 2014 Big East Conference Tournament Quarterfinals-#8 Seton Hall over #1 Villanova 64-63
Date: March 13, 2014
The next game on the list is a game you very well may have forgotten about if you are not affiliated with both schools. It was just the third game of the new Big East era.
This was the game that showed the world of college basketball that this league was just fine and could still deliver on drama in its new incarnation.
It was David vs Goliath. No other way to put it.
Villanova had been on cruise control all season on their way to the regular season crown and Seton Hall stumbled to another mediocre season in which there had been promise.
No one gave the Pirates a chance, especially after almost blowing it against Butler in the first round game the night before.
The crowd at MSG was shocked when the Pirates came out and punched the Wildcats in the mouth in the first half.
Seton Hall led by eight at recess and then extended the lead to 44-31 in the second half while Villanova struggled mightily from downtown. Then the spark came.
The Wildcats woke up and went on a 16-0 run to take a 47-44 lead. The Garden was rocking.
“Here we go again.” –Seton Hall fans everywhere.
Pirate fans had every right to feel that way after the Wildcats had beaten them twice by 16 and 17 points respectively during the regular season. On top of the many blown leads Seton Hall had during that campaign.
But there was more drama in store.
Fuquan Edwin hit probably his biggest shot as a Pirate just moments later to tie the game and the momentum shifted again.
Seton Hall wasn’t going anywhere this time.
Eugene Teague, who had a career night, would give the Pirates the lead again. After that it was a slugfest. Shots traded at each end of the floor.
The score was then tied at 59 and Ryan Arcidiacono picked off a pass by Edwin and found Josh Hart for a layup with 40 seconds to go.
Seton Hall needed an answer.
Who would step up?
Sterling Gibbs found the freshman open in the corner at the other end and he made the three to give Seton Hall a 62-61 lead again with 17.2 seconds remaining.
Villanova’s Darrun Hilliard had struggled in this game but would make amends by giving the Wildcats the 63-62 lead on a floater with 7.8 seconds to go.
Seton Hall advanced the ball and called a timeout, which Coach Kevin Willard said after the game he didn’t like to do, but the plan was simple. Get the ball to Gibbs.
Sina inbounded the ball right to Gibbs who dribbled, stepped back and made the jumper at the buzzer to upset number three Villanova.
The scenes of Sina and Brandon Mobley running around the Garden afterwards and Gibbs standing on the scorer’s table are still shown at MSG during the tournament to this day.
Seton Hall’s win cost Villanova a one seed in the dance.
“Stepback” Sterling was born.
And the new Big East had its first signature moment.
It is still arguably the biggest upset in the tournament’s history.
#3 2017 Big East Conference Tournament Semifinals-#1 Villanova over #5 Seton Hall 55-53
Date: March 10, 2017
Another Seton Hall-Villanova clash checks in at number three as the defending tournament champions Seton Hall took on Villanova in the semifinals of the Big East Tournament back in 2017.
Villanova had swept the Pirates during the regular season, but Seton Hall had always given the Wildcats trouble at some point over the previous seasons.
Many thought the winner would be the favorite to go on and win the tournament.
This game was a heavyweight fight from the start.
Seton Hall took a seven-point lead into the half and held the Wildcats off for parts of the second half until Josh Hart’s steal and dunk with 9:18 to go that gave Villanova the lead.
It was back and forth from there as both teams traded punches for the rest of the game.
Desi Rodriguez led the Pirates with 14 points in the game and made some big shots in the second half.
Hart led Villanova with 19 points and made all of the plays for Nova.
The final four minutes were epic.
Myles Powell made a layup to tie the game at 48 with 3:34 to go.
Jalen Brunson gave Nova the lead with a jumper, but Angel Delgado tied the game back up at 50 with a basket on the other end.
Brunson answered again to give the Wildcats the lead.
Khadeen Carrington had 11 points in the game, none bigger than his reverse layup with 1:50 remaining and he was fouled as well. Carrington made the free throw to give the Pirates a 53-52 lead.
In the final seconds, it looked like an old hero would save Villanova.
It’s still 53-52. Kris Jenkins struggled throughout the game, but launched a three pointer with 13 seconds left for the lead. He missed.
Hart flew in and scored the offensive putback with about 10 seconds remaining and was fouled.
He made the free throw. Nova leads 55-53. Timeout Seton Hall.
Out of the timeout, the Pirates get a chance to tie it. The ball goes to Delgado who goes towards the rim with a hook shot, but missed it.
Villanova gets the rebound and survived the bout to advance to the final.
#2 2017 Big East Conference Tournament Semifinals-#6 Creighton over #7 Xavier 75-72
Date: March 10, 2017
This game happened later in the day after the number three game on this list and somehow topped the previous game on semifinal day at MSG.
Both teams had pulled off upsets to get to that point as Xavier knocked off Butler after defeating DePaul to reach this game while the Bluejays handled Providence to make the semifinals.
This game was filled with star performances, clutch shots galore and late drama the conference tournament always seems to deliver.
For Xavier, their stars shined bright again. Trevon Bluiett had 18 points in the game and would be a key figure very late in the game. J.P. Macura led the Musketeers with 22 points and made six three pointers in the game.
Creighton were led by Marcus Foster and Justin Patton who each had 21 points, but got valuable help from Cole Huff and Isaiah Zierden who combined for 20 points themselves.
Combined the two teams made 22 three pointers in the game and turned Madison Square Garden into the O.K. Corral. The two teams traded shots all night and then came the legendary final sequence.
Creighton has a 72-69 lead with 30.4 seconds left and Huff is at the free throw line for the Jays. He has a free throw to put Creighton up by four points, but missed it.
Xavier gets the rebound and comes barreling down the floor. They had a timeout, but didn’t take it. Macura finds Bluiett who ties the game with a stepback three-pointer.
Still 15.6 seconds to go.
Creighton comes back up the floor and still have two timeouts left, but they don’t use one either.
Foster winds the clock down right in front of his coach Greg McDermott and then decides to put all of the chips in the middle of the table. He dribbles and steps into a long three-pointer and makes it.
Still 6.6 seconds remaining.
Here comes Xavier again, still not using a timeout.
Macura dribbles up the floor, stops, heaves up a prayer but it falls just short.
Creighton wins a classic 75-72 and advances to their second title game as a member of the Big East.
In my estimation, March 10, 2017 was the best day the Big East Tournament in its modern form has seen. Two games, both classics.
Can’t beat it.
#1 2016 Big East Conference Tournament Championship Game-#3 Seton Hall over #1 Villanova 69-67
Date: March 12, 2016
However, there is one single game that tops our list and fittingly it’s another Seton Hall-Villanova matchup.
This time it’s in the Big East Championship game.
Defending champions Villanova came in as the heavy favorites against a Seton Hall team that looked to be playing their best basketball at the right time.
Villanova had defeated Georgetown and Providence to get to the championship game while Seton Hall defeated Creighton and fifth-ranked Xavier to reach the final.
The crowd was electric from start and I still hold that it was the best crowd for a game at the tournament in the modern era.
Seton Hall came out and punched Villanova right in the mouth. The Pirates started the game strong and had a 15-9 lead with seven minutes played in the first half, but then Villanova started showing signs of life.
At the 11:11 mark in the half the Wildcats had gotten within two, but then Seton Hall went on another run.
With 5:14 left in the half, Derrick Gordon hit a three for Seton Hall that gave the Pirates a 32-21 lead. Later in the half, Isaiah Whitehead hit a long three in transition to give Seton Hall a 37-23 lead and then Gordon made a layup minutes later that made it 39-25.
Seton Hall took a 40-29 lead into the half. It was Villanova’s largest halftime deficit all season long, but the Cats did exactly what they are known for in the second half and made a run to get back into the game.
The run took some time as the Pirates used shots from Whitehead and Khadeen Carrington to hang on to the lead, but Kris Jenkins hit a big three-pointer that got Villanova back within three with 13 minutes left that seemed to turn the momentum all the way back into their favor.
Mikal Bridges hit a jumper to cut it to just one point seconds later. Desi Rodriguez answered with a bucket of his own, but Kris Jenkins would tie the game with a three-pointer at the 9:22 mark in the second half. It was all knotted up at 50.
The teams traded blows after that with Whitehead and Jenkins headlining proceedings that night at the Garden. Jenkins finished with 23 points while Whitehead would end up with 26 points.
Rodriguez had 12 points for the Pirates and Gordon had 10 big points off the bench for Seton Hall. Meanwhile, reigning tournament MVP Josh Hart had 17 big points for Villanova.
The final minute of this game was one of the most compelling in the tournament’s history.
Seton Hall and Villanova are tied at 64 with under a minute remaining in the game. Jenkins gets the ball looking to make something happen. He knocks the defender Carrington back and he falls onto the hardwood. That gives Jenkins the opening he was looking for to knock out a huge three-pointer with 52 seconds remaining.
Whitehead would be fouled at the other end, but only made one of two free throws at the line.
The Wildcats called timeout with 35 seconds to go. Seton Hall had to dig deep or this might get away from them.
Then came the turning point in the game.
The ball is inbounded to Hart who dribbled forward and picked up his dribble. Seton Hall swarmed around him to try and get the ball and Hart couldn’t get rid of it. A five second violation is called. Villanova turns the ball over.
Seton Hall on the next possession got the ball right to Whitehead who used some clock, then took off and dribbled right to the basket. He took the contact from Jenkins, put the shot up and it was sitting on the rim.
And sat on the rim. The foul was called on Jenkins.
Finally, the ball goes into the basket. Whitehead tied the game with 18.5 seconds to go and went to the free throw line with a chance to give the Pirates the lead.
Whitehead would make the free throw.
68-67 Seton Hall.
Villanova would have a chance on the other end.
Ryan Arcidiacono would drive inside and kick the ball out for Jenkins who put up another three pointer, but missed it.
The rebound is batted around and comes to Hart who goes right back up with it, but is denied by Angel Delgado and a host of other Pirates who got a hand in on the shot.
Delgado gets the rebound and is fouled with 3.4 seconds to go. He heads to the free throw line.
Seton Hall had just the man they wanted getting the rebound, but one of the last guys they wanted at the free throw line.
At the line, Delgado made the first shot.
69-67 Seton Hall.
Delgado would miss the second shot.
No timeouts for Villanova.
Daniel Ochefu got the rebound and threw a perfect outlet pass to Arcidiacono, but he was surrounded by Whitehead, Carrington and defensive anchor Ismael Sanogo. His shot came up well short.
Seton Hall won it 69-67.
For the first time in 23 years, the Seton Hall Pirates had won the Big East Tournament.
This game had everything.
Star performances, huge defensive plays, comebacks and an ending up there with the best this tournament has ever seen.
Seton Hall-Villanova games always seem to deliver and this game topped the list.
Well deserving of the top game in the new era of the Big East Tournament.
Let us know what you think of the list. What are your favorite Big East Tournament games from the past five seasons?
We look forward to another great season of Big East Basketball and what should be another great conference tournament come March 2019!