Xavier, the No. 11 seed in the West region, needed a few break to go its way in order to stay with top-seeded Gonzaga in the first half of the Elite Eight matchup from San Jose on Saturday evening.
Just before halftime, the Musketeers got the ball to bounce their way. Literally. Gonzaga’s Johnathan Williams and Xavier’s RaShid Gaston battled for a rebound. Williams inadvertently spiked the ball off the basket, off himself and off the backboard for a two-board bucket for Xavier.
The bucket was awarded to Gaston. It was two of Gaston’s five first half points.
Less than 30 seconds later, J.P. Macura tried to top Gaston’s unlikely field goal with a bank shot of his own. Following a bucket from Nigel Williams-Goss, Macura heaved a three-quarters court at the buzzer. However, after reviewing the play, it was waved off.
Josh Hart confirmed what was almost unanimously believed in November: he was the best player in the Big East. The senior wing averaged a conference-leading 18.7 points — shooting 50 percent from the field and 40 percent from three — to go along with his 6.5 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 1.5 steals per game for first-place Villanova. One of the best two-way players in the nation also had some of his best single-game performances outside of the conference slate.
Big East Coach of the Year: Ed Cooley, Providence
Two days before Christmas, Providence closed out the non-conference slate with a loss at Boston College. The Friars followed by dropping the first two conference games. All three losses were by a dozen or more points. Yet, this team — without Kris Dunn and Ben Bentil — is in possession of another 20-win season, and tied the highest finish Providence has had since the conference’s relaunch. This is a competitive race, especially when you consider what Chris Holtmann and Steve Wojciechowski has done. And that doesn’t include Jay Wright’s continued dominance. But Cooley took a young roster with all the makings of a rebuild and turned it, in all likelihood, a fourth straight NCAA Tournament appearance.
First-Team All-Big East
Josh Hart, Villanova
Andrew Chrabascz, Butler: The statistics don’t jump off the page, but the senior forward impacts the game in so many different ways for a Butler team that was projected to finish sixth, but ended as the No. 2 seed.
Jalen Brunson, Villanova: Taking the full-time ball handling duties this season, the sophomore averaged 14.8 points per game, shooting 54 percent from the field. He also registered a 2:1 assist-to-turnover ratio.
Angel Delgado, Seton Hall: The nation’s leading rebounder (13.1 RPG) has recorded 24 double-doubles this season. He’s also improved his offense, posting 15.7 points per game.
Marcus Foster, Creighton: The transfer guard is second in the conference in scoring at 18.5 points per game. He’s taken on a bigger role since Watson’s season-ending injury.
Villanova brought the Big East the national championship in 2016, ending critcism of the program’s shortcomings in March and providing the league with an added level of legitiamcy it yearned for since its relaunch in 2013.
So, what will the Big East do for an encore? The conference might send 70 percent of its members to the NCAA Tournament.
Like the previous three seasons, the league was dominated by Villanova, which won its fourth consecutive regular season championship. Butler finished second, and spent much of the year in the top-20. Creighton looked every part of a Final Four contender until Maurice Watson Jr. tore his ACL in mid-January. Xavier, which began the season ranked, has struggled since Edmond Sumner suffered the same season-ending injury. Marquette, Providence and Seton Hall have all made late pushes for at-large bids, resulting in a wild finish to the regular season. Four days in New York should be eventual, to say the least.
This should come as a surprise to no one. This reigning national champions enter the World’s Most Famous Arena as the top seed for the fourth straight season. Villanova has at its disposal the conference’s player of the year, another unanimous first-team selection, a national coach of the year candidate and the athleticism and versatility not many teams can brag about. Depth is a concern, with Phil Booth out for the season and Darryl Reynolds, the only true big man in the rotation, recently returning from injury. It’s also worth noting that two of three Big East losses came against the same opponent.
And if they lose?: Butler
The Bulldogs have twice defeated the Wildcats. They did so in Hinkle Fieldhouse on Jan. 4, handing Villanova its first loss of the season. Butler went for the sweep by knocking off the Cats on Feb. 22, the only time they lost at the Pavilion this season. In both contests, Butler made the key plays down the stretch for hard-fought victories. Butler has an improved defense from last season to compliment with its always-efficient offense. With a big like Andrew Chrabascz, the Bulldogs are more equipped to match up with Villanova. Also, Kelan Martin, since his move to a reserve role, has caught fire in the last five games of the regular season.
Providence: The Friars have won six straight, with wins over Butler, Xavier, Creighton and Marquette. Kyron Cartwright and Rodney Bullock may not be Kris Dunn and Ben Bentil, but they are anchoring a hot team that could give Providence its second postseason championship in four years.
Marquette: The Golden Eagles are the only Big East team team other than the Bulldogs to defeat Villanova. They have a nice balance with a deep roster. Five players average double-digits in points, and Andrew Rowsey, the Big East Sixth Man of the Year, and Katin Reinhardt have been huge in the second unit.
Sleeper: Seton Hall
The Pirates played strong basketball down the stretch last season to win the Big East Tournament championship. Isaiah Whitehead is playing in a different borough now, but Seton Hall is rolling, winners of seven of nine. The defense isn’t as strong as it was during last year’s run, but Angel Delgado, Khadeen Carrington and Desi Rodriguez are capable of a repeat performance.
The Bubble Dwellers:
Xavier: The Musketeers lost six of seven to close out the season. They have two wins in the past five weeks: both against DePaul. A loss to the Blue Demons on Wednesday night could burst Xavier’s bubble.
Marquette: The Golden Eagles should be safe at this point. Sure, they earned a come-from-behind win against Villanova, but that won’t stop critics from poking holes in their resume on Sunday, especially when four wins against Xavier and Creighton came after injuries to Edmond Sumner and Mo Watson.
Providence: A six-game winning streak and a third-place finish should mean the Friars are safe, but most bracket projections have them as one of the last at-large four bids.
Defining moment of the season: Marquette, down 17 points, comes back to stun No. 1 Villanova, starting a run for the NCAA Tournament.
Heading into the weekend of Feb. 10, Xavier looked to be in a pretty good spot.
The Musketeers were ranked in The Associated Press Top 25, had won four straight and stood at 8-3 in the Big East with a chance to knock off defending champion Villanova at home.
It’s all gone to hell since.
Marquette dominated play for long stretches and defeated the Musketeers, 95-84, on Wednesday at the Cintas Center, furthering Xavier’s spiral from Big East contender to bubble resident.
The Musketeers have now dropped six games in a row, and it hasn’t just been a result of an unfavorable schedule. They’ve lost three at home and three on the road. They’ve lost to conference heavyweights Villanova and Butler, and they’ve lost to second-tier squads like Providence, Seton Hall and the Golden Eagles (twice).
Xavier is still probably in the field at this very moment, but they’re fading fast.
Of course, a big piece of their downfall is the loss of Edmond Sumner to an ACL tear, though the Musketeers did win their next three games after the injury. Still, Sumner’s loss was always going to be felt sooner or later. He was averaging 15.0 points, 5.0 assists and 4.3 assists at the time of the injury, and was critical in quarterbacking Xavier from the point guard position.
Losing Trevon Blueitt for two games during this losing streak certainly was a major blow, but the Musketeers have had four other chances with him in the lineup to shake free of this funk. X also only had senior Myles Davis for three games due to first a suspension and then his departure from the program.
Offense has often been a problem – especially 3-point shooting – but against Marquette, the defense faltered.
The Golden Eagles shot 61.1 percent overall and made 12 of 21 (57.1 percent) from 3-point range. Andrew Rowsey went for 20 while JaJuan Johnson had 19 and Katin Reinhardt 17. The 95 points allowed were the most allowed ever in the Cintas Center. Winning in Cincinnati was probably as much a boon for Marquette’s tourney hopes as it was a boondoggle for Xavier.
Before the loss, Xavier was 26th in the RPI, a metric which could be its saving grace. They’ve got eight wins against the RPI top-100 and just one loss outside the top-100. A loss this weekend at DePaul, RPI rank 231, should be avoided at all costs.
The Musketeers aren’t sunk yet, but they’re taking on water fast with fewer and fewer tools at their disposal to plug the leaks. They might just have to hope they stay afloat for just long enough to hear their name on Selection Sunday.
Four takeaways from No. 19 Cincinnati’s win over No. 24 Xavier
Trevon Blueitt’s 40-point performance wasn’t enough for Xavier as No. 24 Xavier fell at No. 19 Cincinnati, 86-78, on Thursday night at Fifth Third Arena.
The Bearcats dominated the boards, scoring 30 second-chance points, got 21 points from Jacob Evans and 16 from Troy Caupain.
Blueitt got to 40 points on just 15 shots. J.P. Macura, with 13 points, was the only other Musketeer to score in double figures.
Cincinnati was just 18 of 37 from the free-throw line line Xavier went 19 of 23.
Here are four things to know following the Crosstown Shootout:
1. Cincinnati was uncanny on the glass: The Bearcats missed 30 shots on the night, but 19 times after one of those clanks, Cincinnati kept possession courtesy of an offensive rebound. That’s an offensive rebounding percentage of 63.3. Which is absurd. What’s even more astonishing is that Xavier is one of the best defensive rebounding teams in the country, ranking third nationally in defensive rebounding percentage. It’s crazy that Cincy, which isn’t even that great of an offensive rebounding team typically, was able to totally dominate the glass like that. The 30 second-chance points they were able to score won them the game.
2. Trevon Blueitt is a baaaaaaad man: Blueitt’s entire game was phenomenal but his first half was especially nuts. He went 8 of 8 from the field and canned six 3-pointers to score 26 points (again, on eight shots) in 20 minutes. It was a sight to behold, especially in a rivalry of this magnitude, and on the road no less. He finished 12 of 15 from the floor to get his 40. X may have not come away with a victory, but Blueitt’s performance is probably what is going to get talked about for years when people discuss this game.
3. The Bearcats have it rolling: Cincinnati has now won 11-straight games, a streak that now includes wins over Xavier, Houston and SMU. The Bearcats are now 17-2 on the season with blemishes only coming to Butler and Rhode Island, both of which came away from home. The strength of schedule obviously isn’t going to be elite in the AAC, but they’ve got a chance to really rack up a gaudy win total. They get Houston at home later this year and still have two bouts with Central Florida still on the docket, but it’s not out of the question that they’ll be sitting on 30-plus wins come Selection Sunday
4. It’s been a tough two weeks for Xavier: The Musketeers have now lost four of their last five games, with a home win over Georgetown the only respite from the losing. While that can’t be a lot of fun for Chris Mack and his crew, it’s hard to chalk it up to anything other than the schedule with back-to-back road games against Villanova and Butler followed by Creighton at home (then Georgetown) and the Crosstown Shootout in their rivals’ gym.
Maybe you’d have picked them to beat the Bluejays at home, but otherwise this stretch went about as anyone would predict. While it’s certainly not ideal, this little skid really isn’t an indictment of who Xavier is, but just a testament to who they play.
Kamar Baldwin, No. 12 Butler survives No. 15 Xavier at home
Kamar Baldwin scored a career-high 21 points as No. 12 Butler survived No. 15 Xavier, 83-78, in Hinkle Fieldhouse on Saturday afternoon.
The Bulldogs were down 31-22 late in the first half, but they took the lead with a 12-0 run to open the second half, pushing the lead to as much as ten points before Xavier rallied.
The game ended in a mild bit of controversy, as Myles Davis appeared to be fouled shooting a three with 3.9 seconds left in the game. Xavier was down 79-76 at the time and Butler was fouling intentionally to keep the Musketeers from attempting a shot that would allow them to tie the game. It looked like the right call on a replay, as Davis was fouled before he shot the ball.
Edmond Sumner led four Musketeers in double-figures with 22 points.
Here are four things we can takeaway from this game:
1. Butler’s tournament profile is awesome: The Bulldogs own wins over four currently-ranked teams already this season. They beat No. 16 Arizona on a neutral court that wasn’t neutral (it was in Las Vegas). They beat No. 3 Villanova, No. 15 Xavier and No. 22 Cincinnati at home. They also have a neutral court win over Indiana and a win at Utah, which wasn’t all that impressive at the time but that will look better and better now that Utah has their full team available.
There are some bad losses – at St. John’s, at Indiana State – and they will certainly help to weigh down Butler’s profile. But if they can manage to protect their home court and sneak a road win against one of Xavier or Villanova, the Bulldogs could very easily end up getting a top three seed on Selection Sunday.
2. Xavier’s isn’t: The Musketeers probably don’t have a win over a tournament team right now, unless you think that Utah or Clemson, who hasn’t done much of anything, either, are tournament teams. That’s not to say that the Musketeers aren’t good – they are, and they will still be in my top 25 on Monday morning – but this is a team that is gong to have to start worrying about where they are going to be seeded on Selection Sunday if they don’t start beating the top teams in the conference.
The good news? Xavier still gets Creighton, Butler and Villanova at home as well as road games against Creighton and Cincinnati. They’ll have enough chances.
3. Kamar Baldwin isn’t just going to be a problem, he is one right now: Is there a quicker player in all of college basketball than Butler’s freshman point guard Kamar Baldwin?
I’m deadly serious when I ask that question, because off the top of my head, I can’t think of one. Baldwin had a career-high 21 points and nine boards on Saturday, making big play and big shot after big play and big shot. He’s the team’s best on-ball defender and a guy that fits seamlessly alongside either Tyler Lewis or Kethan Savage in Butler’s back court. How Butler pulled this dude out of Georgia baffles me, particularly when there are so many SEC program that could desperately use a super-athletic, talented lead guard that can defend and has the, ahem, intestinal fortitude to, as a freshman, take and make clutch shots.
4. Butler’s actual problem is Kelan Martin: Martin has not been good in Big East play this season. He’s averaging just 12.2 points in conference play – he was averaging 18.1 points in non-conference play – and the reason is that he’s apparently forgotten how to shoot. He’s hitting just 32.4 percent from the floor and 23.3 percent (7-for-30) from beyond the arc in six league games.
And Butler is still 4-2 in league play with a win over Villanova.
Bluiett scores 20, No. 17 Xavier holds off Wake Forest 69-65
CINCINNATI — No. 17 Xavier got outrebounded for the first time all season and wasted several chances to put the game away, allowing it to come down to a final free throw. Trevon Bluiett made it.
Bluiett scored 20 points, including three free throws in the final 19 seconds, and the Musketeers held on for a 69-65 victory over Wake Forest on Saturday night in their annual game dedicated to former coach Skip Prosser .
The Musketeers (9-2) led most of the second half but didn’t have the game in hand until Bluiett hit one of his two free throws with 2 seconds left. Wake Forest (8-3) missed a pair of 3-point shots that could have tied it before Bluiett got the rebound and was fouled.
“Something may be off,” said point guard Edmond Sumner, who had 17 points and six turnovers. “At times you can see we’re clicking, but it’s not through a whole half, it’s in spurts. We still have to figure out what’s going on.”
John Collins had his sixth consecutive double-double with 12 points and 12 rebounds, and Bryant Crawford scored 20 points for the Demon Deacons. Wake Forest missed all of its 12 shots from beyond the arc in the second half and finished 5 of 25 on 3-pointers.
“We’re still going to shoot it,” coach Danny Manning said. “We’re going to shoot it 12 times the next game. Normally we make our fair share.”
There were nine ties and 11 lead changes in a back-and-forth game, with the Musketeers holding a slim lead for most of the second half. Sumner had a bank shot high off the backboard, and J.P. Macura had a steal and layup that made it 66-61 with 1:29 left.
Sumner and Bluiett both missed the front end in the bonus before Bluiett finally closed it out from the line.
“Even when we’re not on top of our game, we can still close games out,” Bluiett said. “It’s a good feeling for us to know we’re capable of doing that. We don’t want to keep putting ourselves in those situations.”
The Demon Deacons became the first team to outrebound Xavier this season, getting a 38-37 edge that included 15 offensive rebounds.
Wake Forest has done much better at shooting the 3 this season, making 38.8 percent before Saturday’s game. They’ve been a team of extremes, tough, making 13 twice and five or less four times.
“We were getting good looks at the basket but the ball wasn’t falling,” Crawford said. “We should have gone inside more, found other ways to score.”
Xavier has won its last two games, including a 77-69 victory over Utah, to stabilize in the poll after dropping because of back-to-back road losses against Baylor and Colorado.
Wake Forest: The Demon Deacons have lost both of their games against ranked teams this season, including 96-77 to Villanova in the Charleston Classic. They’re 1-12 against ranked teams in last two seasons, including a win over No. 13 Indiana in the Maui Invitational. Their last win on the road over a ranked team was 82-69 at No. 24 North Carolina on Jan. 20, 2010.
Xavier: The Musketeers’ soft passes led to repeated turnovers that played into Wake Forest’s hands. Xavier had 10 turnovers in the first half and 15 overall.
“That was just us doing careless stuff, like me traveling two times,” Sumner said. “It wasn’t because of the pressure.”
Wake Forest returns home and finished non-conference play against LSU on Thursday. The Demon Deacons won in Baton Rouge 77-71 last season.
Xavier hosts Eastern Washington on Tuesday before opening Big East play by hosting Providence on Dec. 28.