After a long regular season, we have finally hit March which means it’s tournament time. The Big East tournament tipped off last night in Madison Square Garden with two opening games. It was the 8 vs. 9 and 7 vs. 10 matchups which were on display at MSG. Providence came out of the game storming and blitzed Butler in a 80-57 win. St. John’s and the DePaul Blue Demons battled for a half before the Red Storm took over in the second half and won 82-74. With that in mind we have four games today starting with Villanova and Providence at noon ET. Let’s take a look at some of the best performances from the first round and a quick what to watch for for the second round.
Top 3 performances
Maliek White, Providence
Providence scored 38 and 42 in each half respectively in their win over Butler and a big part of it was due to a balanced scoring attack. Four Friars scored in double digits with the duo of Alpha Diallo and Maliek White being the top guys. It was the latter who was the top performer on the team, dropping a game high 19 points along with 5 assets. If the Friars want to make some noise against Nova, they are going to keep getting these type of contributions from their top guys, especially White.
Shamorie Ponds, St. John’s
Like Providence, St. John’s spread the wealth when it came to scoring the basketball. The Red Storm had a whopping 5 guys score double digit with three of them scoring 18 points. Pond was one of them and also led the team in assists with 7. He was everyone for the Red Storm and DePaul struggled to keep him from being active offensively. Ponds really came on in the second half and was the rest for St. John’s great display in the final 20 minutes.
Eli Cain, DePaul
In what was his final college basketball game for the Blue Demons, guard Eli Cain left on a high note. He scored a game high 23 points in 37 minutes with 5 rebounds. It was like the times of old where Cain would just be getting buckets and carrying this DePaul offense with everything he had. Cain now finishes off a great four year career and a lot to be proud of. It didn’t look like DePaul had a guy lined up to replace Billy Garrett Jr. when he first left but Cain filed that role nicely.
What to Watch For
Villanova vs. Providence
Despite being the top team in the Big East standings, it’s been a less than stellar year by their standards for the Villanova Wildcats. Despite a loss on the final day to Seton Hall, Marquette losing to Georgetown helped Jay Wright’s squad clinch another regular season title. But their play has little to suggest that they will be heavy favorites. Nova has lost 4 of it’s last 6 and have looked shaky given the day. They have looked bad on the road as of late and will need to step up with a big performance.
Creighton vs. Xavier
Xavier has been one of the best teams in the conference the last month or so and have been only getting better. They have won 6 of their last 7 dating back to the beginning of February and have found themselves in the 4 vs. 5 against Creighton. It’s sort of almost fate that these two teams are playing each other again since the team Xavier beat at the beginning of this run was none other than the BlueJays. Can Travis Steele’s team keep up the moment in an effort to make their way into the NCAA tournament?
St. John’s vs. Marquette
As good as Marquette has been this season, especially in Big East play, there is one team they just haven’t been able to beat this season. They are 0-2 against the St. John’s Red Storm. SJU crushed the Golden Eagles by 20 in their first matchup and narrowly walked away with a 70-69 win on the road back on February 5th. Markus Howard and company will be the favorites in this one but the Red Storm seem to play well against them. We might be in for a fun one if the Red Storm play like they did against DePaul.
Georgetown vs. Seton Hall
This one is all about the matchup of two elite guards on both sides. The first one is Seton Hall’s Myles Powell, who is the Big East POY in our eyes at Big East Coast Bias. He was been spectacular for the Pirates, averaging 22.6 points per game ( a massive jump, +7, from last year’s average), 4.1 rebounds per game while shooting a TS% of 59.3. Powell is the main cog in Seton Hall’s offense and will be the man to stop for the Hoyas. Luckily for them they have their own key guard who they rely on. It’s the freshman James Akinjo. Averaging 13.3 points and 5.4 assists while shooting 38.5 from 3 is really impressive stuff for such a young player. He has lifted the ceiling on Patrick Ewing’s team and he will be a special player to watch in the Big East next year. But for now, he will have his hands full against in a backcourt which features one of the best players of the conference.