Bubble Banter: Does anyone understand what’s happening in the Big East?

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The Big East is a weird league this year.

Villanova may have started the season off in disastrous fashion, but they’ve rebounded as Phil Booth and Eric Paschall have grown into their starring roles. As of today, the Wildcats sit all alone in first place in the conference, just one game ahead of Marquette in the loss column.

Beyond that, however, the league does not make all that much sense.

For starters, eight of the ten teams in the conference are sitting below .500, with the team in tenth place sitting just a half game back of the team in third place.

You read that right. The eight teams in the Big East not named Marquette or Villanova are all 3-4 or 3-5 in league play, which will make for some fun theater and, in all likelihood, super-complicated tie-breakers when it comes conference tournament time. But it also creates a scenario where no one can really feel all that great about their position in the bubble hierarchy.

Best I can tell, there are five Big East teams that are currently sitting on the bubble, in order of their current comfort level: St. John’s, Seton Hall, Butler, Creighton and Providence. All five of those teams are in action tonight, with four of them squaring off against one-another, and all five desperately need a win. St. John’s has been a mess since an extended undefeated run to start the season. Seton Hall hasn’t one a game in three weeks. Creighton and Butler are in danger of seeing their seasons careen off the tracks, and Providence has a hole to dig out of thanks to A.J. Reeves’ injury.

I don’t know if the Big East is going to get more than four teams into the tournament, and nights like Wednesday night will go a long way towards determining which four teams get in.

Here are tonight’s results:

WINNERS

FLORIDA (NET: 39, SOS: 50): What a massive, massive win for the Gators, who trailed by three when KeVaughn Allen forced overtime with a three with 2.5 seconds left. The Gators are 12-8 on the season, but since a season-opening loss at Florida State, the only game they had lost by more than seven points came against No. 1 Tennessee, when they trailed by two with two minutes left. Florida has good computer numbers, but they just don’t quite have the wins to back them up right now. Ole Miss is a solid Q2 win, and the first top 50 team that the Gators have beaten this season.

Their next six games are as follows: Kentucky, at Auburn, at Tennessee, Vanderbilt, at Alabama, at LSU. That’s a brutal schedule, one that will make or break their season.

ST. JOHN’S (NET: 48, SOS: 82): The Johnnies got things headed in the right direction, as they snapped a losing skid by going into Omaha and knocking off Creighton. It’s the second Q1 win on the season for Chris Mullin’s team, but it’s just their second win in the last six games — both came against Creighton. On Saturday, St. John’s heads down to Durham for a massive game at Duke.

SETON HALL (NET: 62, SOS: 23): Seton Hall entered Wednesday’s home game against Providence having gone three full weeks without winning a basketball game, and they busted out of their slump by picking off the Friars. Seton Hall has two really impressive wins — Kentucky on a neutral, at Maryland — and a trio of bad losses — they were swept by DePaul and lost to Saint Louis at home.

SYRACUSE (NET: 47, SOS: 38): The Orange bounced back from being humiliated by Virginia Tech to book a win at Boston College. With a 15-6 record, a win at Duke (which will likely be the best win anyone gets this season) and a 6-4 record in Q1 and Q2 games, the Orange are in a good spot even with home losses to Georgia Tech and Old Dominion.

AUBURN (NET: 24, SOS: 29): The Tigers smoked Missouri at home on Wednesday, but they still do not have a Q1 win. They are 5-1 in Q2 games, one of which — Washington (31) — is one spot in the NET away from becoming a Q1 win. But that should tell you everything you need to know about this team’s profile right now. There isn’t as much there as you might think.

LOSERS

INDIANA (NET: 44, SOS: 45): At this point, the issue for Indiana is not what their current resume is, because as of today they probably still have done enough to be considered, at the very least, one of the first four out. They are 12-9, but eight of those nine losses are in Q1 games while their worst loss — Wednesday at Rutgers (125) — is still just a Q2 loss. Throw in wins against Louisville and Marquette, and there are a lot of teams with much uglier profiles.

The issue for Indiana is that they still play a ridiculous tough schedule and there is nothing to lead us to believe this thing is going to get turned around. Rutgers was their seventh straight loss, a game they led by double digits late in the second half before they collapsed. This team lacks leadership, they lack confidence and, at this point, I think they might even lack a desire to finish out the season.

It’s getting ugly in Bloomington.

BUTLER (NET: 51, SOS: 22): The Bulldogs missed on what was their best chance to land a marquee win this season, getting smoked by Marquette at home. They are now 12-10 on the season with three Q2 losses and a Q3 loss to Georgetown at home. Their only Q1 win came against Florida on a neutral, a team that beat them by 34 points in the O-Dome. For the time being, Butler probably needs to be moved off the bubble.

CREIGHTON (NET: 57, SOS: 6): After snapping a four-game losing straight with a win at Georgetown, Creighton had a three-game home-stand to get themselves right before a critical game at Villanova on Feb. 6th. On Wednesday, the Bluejays missed on a chance to take down St. John’s at home, losing by 16 points. The biggest issue facing Greg McDermott’s club right now is that their two biggest games (Villanova and Marquette) are both on the road. If they don’t get this figured out quickly, they might need both of those.

PROVIDENCE (NET: 72, SOS: 60): Providence missed out on a chance to last their second Q1 win with a two-point loss at Seton Hall on Wednesday. The Friars are going to be an interesting team to track as we move closer to tournament time, mainly because four of their eight losses came without A.J. Reeves healthy. The problem with that? Their two best wins — at Texas and Seton Hall at home — came during that stretch as well. For my money, the Friars need to do three things to have a shot at dancing — split their remaining two games against Villanova and Marquette; go 2-2 in road trips to St. John’s, DePaul, Butler and Creighton; handle their business if their other four home games.

College basketball broadcaster Billy Packer dies at 82

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Billy Packer, an Emmy award-winning college basketball broadcaster who covered 34 Final Fours for NBC and CBS, died Thursday. He was 82.

Packer’s son, Mark, told The Associated Press that his father had been hospitalized in Charlotte for the past three weeks and had several medical issues, and ultimately succumbed to kidney failure.

Packer’s broadcasting career coincided with the growth of college basketball. He worked as analyst or color commentator on every Final Four from 1975 to 2008. He received a Sports Emmy for Outstanding Sports Personality, Studio and Sports Analyst in 1993.

“He really enjoyed doing the Final Fours,” Mark Packer said. “He timed it right. Everything in life is about timing. The ability to get involved in something that, frankly, he was going to watch anyway, was a joy to him. And then college basketball just sort of took off with Magic Johnson and Larry Bird and that became, I think, the catalyst for college basketball fans to just go crazy with March Madness.”

Packer played three seasons at Wake Forest, and helped lead the Demon Deacons to the Final Four in 1962, but it was his work as an analyst that brought him the most acclaim.

He joined NBC in 1974 and called his first Final Four in 1975. UCLA beat Kentucky in the title game that year in what was John Wooden’s final game as coach.

Packer was also part of the broadcast in 1979 with Dick Enberg and Al McGuire when Magic Johnson’s Michigan State team beat Larry Bird’s Indiana State squad in the title game. That remains highest-rated game in basketball history with a 24.1 Nielsen rating, which is an estimated 35.1 million viewers.

Packer went to CBS in the fall of 1981, when the network acquired the rights to the NCAA Tournament. He remained the network’s main analyst until the 2008 Final Four.

In 1996 at CBS, Packer was involved in controversy when he used the term “tough monkey? to describe then-Georgetown star Allen Iverson during a game. Packer later said he “was not apologizing for what I said, because what I said has no implications in my mind whatsoever to do with Allen Iverson’s race.?

Sean McManus, the chairman of CBS Sports, said Packer was “synonymous with college basketball for more than three decades and set the standard of excellence as the voice of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.”

“He had a tremendous impact on the growth and popularity of the sport.” McManus said. “In true Billy fashion, he analyzed the game with his own unique style, perspective and opinions, yet always kept the focus on the game. As passionate as he was about basketball, at his heart Billy was a family man. He leaves part of his legacy at CBS Sports, across college basketball and, most importantly, as a beloved husband, father and grandfather. He will be deeply missed by all.”

Packer was inducted into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame in 2008.

ESPN broadcaster Dick Vitale took to Twitter as word of Packer’s death spread. “So sad to learn of the passing of Billy Packer who had such a passion for college basketball,” Vitale tweeted. “My (prayers) go out to Billy’s son Mark & the entire Packer family. Always had great RESPECT for Billy & his partners Dick Enberg & Al McGuire-they were super. May Billy RIP.”

College basketball analyst Fran Fraschilla tweeted: “We fell in love (with) college basketball because of you. Your voice will remain in my head forever.”

Packer was viewed as a controversial figure during his broadcasting days, often drawing the ire of college basketball fans, particularly on North Carolina’s “Tobacco Road.”

“As a kid, I was a big NC State fan growing up, and I would watch a game and the next day I’d be like, `Boy you sure have it out for NC State, don’t you?’ And he would just laugh,” Mark Packer said.

The younger Packer, who is the host of ACC PM on the ACC Network, said it didn’t matter what school – most fans felt the same way about his father.

“He would cover North Carolina game and Tar Heels fans would be like, `you hate North Carolina,”‘ Mark Packer said. “Wake (Forest) fans would be like, `you hate us.’ And Billy just sort of got a kick out of that.”

Mark Packer said that while most fans will remember his father as a broadcaster, he’ll remember him even more for his business acumen. He said his father was a big real estate investor, and also owned a vape company, among other ventures.

“Billy was always a bit of a hustler – he was always looking for that next business deal,” Packer said.

Clemson starter Galloway will miss time after surgery

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CLEMSON, S.C. — Clemson starter Brevin Galloway is expected to miss games for the 24th-ranked Tigers after having surgery on his groin area Thursday.

The 6-foot-3 Galloway has started 20 of 21 games after transferring from Boston College this past offseason.

Galloway posted on social media that he’d had the surgery. Clemson coach Brad Brownell confirmed in a text to The Associated Press that Galloway had the operation.

Galloway said in his post he will be in uniform soon. He is not expected to play at Florida State on Saturday.

A fifth-year player, Galloway has averaged 10.6 points a game this season. He’s second on the Tigers with 55 assists and 18 steals.

The Tigers (17-4) lead the Atlantic Coast Conference at 9-1 in league play.

Clemson is already down two experienced players due to injury.

Point guard Chase Hunter, who started the team’s first 18 games, has missed the past three with a foot injury.

Guard Alex Hemenway, in his fourth season, has missed the past nine games with a foot injury. Hemenway was the team’s leading 3-point shooter (27 of 54) before getting hurt.

Zach Edey has 19 points, No. 1 Purdue beats Michigan 75-70

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ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Zach Edey had 15 of his 19 points in the first half and Fletcher Loyer finished with 17 points to help No. 1 Purdue hold off Michigan 75-70 on Thursday night.

The Boilermakers (20-1, 9-1 Big Ten) had a 15-0 run to go ahead 41-28 lead in the first half after there were 10 lead changes and four ties, but they couldn’t pull away.

The Wolverines (11-9, 5-4) were without standout freshman Jett Howard, who missed the game with an ankle injury, and still hung around until the final seconds.

Joey Baker made a 3-pointer – off the glass – with 5.9 seconds left to pull Michigan within three points, but Purdue’s Brandon Newman sealed the victory with two free throws.

Purdue coach Matt Painter said Michigan slowed down Edey in the second half by pushing him away from the basket.

“They got him out a little more, and got him bottled up,” Painter said.

The 7-foot-4 Edey, though, was too tough to stop early in the game.

“He’s one of the best in the country for a reason,” Michigan coach Juwan Howard said. “He’s very effective, especially if he’s 8 feet and in.”

With size and skills such as a hook shot, the junior center from Toronto scored Purdue’s first seven points and finished the first half 7 of 12 from the field and 1 of 2 at the line.

“He did a great job in the first half, going to his right shoulder and using his left hand,” Painter said. “He made four baskets with his left hand which is huge.”

Freshman Braden Smith had 10 points for the Boilermakers.

Purdue’s defense ultimately denied Michigan’s comeback hopes, holding a 22nd straight opponent to 70 or fewer points.

Hunter Dickinson scored 21, Kobe Bufkin had 16 points and Baker added 11 points for the Wolverines, who have lost four of their last six games.

Dickinson, a 7-1 center, matched up with Edey defensively and pulled him out of the lane offensively by making 3 of 7 3-pointers.

“Half his shots were from the 3, and that’s a little different,” Painter said. “His meat and potatoes are on that block. He’s the real deal.”

POLL IMPLICATIONS

The Boilermakers got the top spot in the AP Top 25 this week after winning six games, a stretch that followed a loss to Rutgers on Jan. 3 that dropped them from No. 1 in the poll. Purdue improved to 7-2 as the top-ranked team.

BIG PICTURE

Purdue: Edey can’t beat teams by himself and he’s surrounded by a lot of role players and a potential standout in Loyer. The 6-4 guard was the Big Ten player of the week earlier this month, become the first Boilermaker freshman to win the award since Robbie Hummel in 2008.

“Fletcher is somebody who has played better in the second half, and on the road,” Painter said.

Michigan: Jett Howard’s health is a critical factor for the Wolverines, who will have some work to do over the second half of the Big Ten season to avoid missing the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2015. Howard averages 14.6 points and is the most dynamic player on his father’s team.

ROAD WARRIORS

The Boilermakers were away from home for 12 of 23 days, winning all five of their road games. They won at Ohio State, Michigan State and Michigan for the first time since the 1997-98 season and beat the Spartans and Wolverines on their home court in the same season for the first time in 12 years.

UP NEXT

Purdue: Hosts Michigan State on Sunday, nearly two weeks after the Boilermakers beat the Spartans by a point on Edey’s shot with 2.2 seconds left.

Michigan: Plays at Penn State on Sunday.

Miller scores 23, No. 10 Maryland tops No. 13 Michigan 72-64

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COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Diamond Miller scored 23 points, and No. 10 Maryland closed the first quarter with a 13-2 run and led the rest of the way in a 72-64 victory over No. 13 Michigan on Thursday night.

Abby Meyers contributed 12 points and 11 rebounds for the Terrapins (17-4, 8-2), who won for the 10th time in 11 games. Lavender Briggs scored 14 points and Shyanne Sellers added 13.

Maryland gained a measure of revenge after losing twice to Michigan last season – including a 20-point rout in College Park.

Leigha Brown led the Wolverines with 16 points.

Michigan (16-5, 6-4) led 13-9 in the first quarter before a three-point play by Miller started Maryland’s big run. Briggs and Faith Masonius made 3-pointers during that stretch.

The Terps pushed the lead to 16 in the third quarter before the Wolverines were able to chip away. Miller sat for a bit with four fouls, and Michigan cut the lead to seven in the fourth quarter, but the Wolverines still wasted too many possessions with turnovers to mount much of a comeback.

Michigan ended up with 24 turnovers, and Maryland had a 25-5 advantage in points off turnovers.

Miller fouled out with 2:19 remaining, but even after those two free throws, the Terps led 65-57 and had little trouble holding on.

Michigan lost for the second time in four days against a top-10 opponent. No. 6 Indiana beat the Wolverines 92-83 on Monday.

BIG PICTURE

Michigan: Whether it was against Maryland’s press or in their half-court offense, the Wolverines turned the ball over too much to score consistently. This was a lower-scoring game than the loss to Indiana, but the margin ended up being similar.

Maryland: While Miller clearly led the way, the Terps had plenty of offensive contributors. They also held Michigan to 13 points below its season average entering the game.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

The Wolverines have appeared in 48 straight AP polls, and although a two-loss week could certainly drop them, the quality of their opponents could save them from a substantial plunge.

Maryland is tied for 10th with an Iowa team that beat No. 2 Ohio State on Monday night. Now the Terps can boast an impressive victory of their own.

UP NEXT

Michigan: The Wolverines play their third game of the week when they visit Minnesota on Sunday.

Maryland: The Terps host Penn State on Monday night.

 

Boum, Jones lead No. 13 Xavier over No. 19 UConn, 82-79

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STORRS, Conn. – Souley Boum scored 21 points, Colby Jones added 20 and No. 13 Xavier went on the road and held off No. 19 Connecticut 82-79 Wednesday night.

The win was the 13th in 14 games for the Musketeers (17-4, 9-1 Big East) and it gave them a season sweep over the struggling Huskies (16-6, 5-6).

Jack Nunge had 12 points and Jerome Hunter added 11 for Xavier, which led by 17 in the first half and 39-24 at halftime.

Jordan Hawkins scored 26 of his 28 points in the second half for UConn, leading a comeback that fell just short.

Tristen Newton added 23 points for the Huskies, who won their first 14 games this season but have dropped six of eight since.

The Musketeers never trailed but had to withstand UConn runs that cut the lead to a single point four times in the second half.

A three-point play from Hawkins made it 78-77 with 2:40 left. But a second-chance layup from Nunge put the lead at 80-77 just over a minute later.

Newton was fouled with two seconds left by Desmond Claude, but his apparent attempt to miss his second free throw went into the basket.

Boum then hit two free throws at the other end, and Newton’s final attempt from just beyond halfcourt was well short.

Xavier jumped out to a 9-0 lead as UConn missed its first nine shots.

A 3-pointer from Zach Freemantle gave the Musketeers their first double-digit lead at 20-9, and another from Jones pushed it to 35-18.

BIG PICTURE

Xavier: The Musketeers lead the Big East, and the win over UConn was their ninth conference victory this season, eclipsing their total from last season.

UConn: The Huskies came in with a 17-game winning streak at Gampel Pavilion dating to February 2021. They fell to 1-4 against the four teams in front of them in the Big East standings. The lone win came at Gampel against Creighton.

UP NEXT

Xavier: The Musketeers continue their road trip with a visit to Creighton on Saturday.

UConn: Doesn’t play again until next Tuesday, when the Huskies visit DePaul.