Big East tournament preview and postseason awards

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POSTSEASON AWARDS

BIG EAST PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Markus Howard, Marquette

There really isn’t all that much of a discussion to be had here. Howard was the best player in the Big East this season, and I’m honestly not sure it was all that close. He carried the Golden Eagles for long stretches despite the fact that he’s playing somewhat out of position. Howard is a scoring guard. He’s a shooter first and foremost, but he is also the only ball-handler on Marquette’s roster. That put him in a difficult situation this season, and frankly, it came back to bite Marquette at the end of the year. Part of the reason the Golden Eagles finished in second in the Big East standings and not as the regular season champions is because they blew leads in four straight games to close out the year, a direct result of Marquette’s turnover issues.

But that shouldn’t take away from just how good Howard has been.

BIG EAST COACH OF THE YEAR: Kevin Willard, Seton Hall

To think that there were people that wanted Kevin Willard fired just a couple of years ago. In the last two seasons, he has more than proven that he is one of the better coaches in the Big East, but this year will likely go down as his best coaching job. Coming off of a year where the Pirates lost four senior starters — Khadeen Carrington, Angel Delgado, Desi Rodriguez, Ismael Sanogo — Willard found a way to get this group to the No. 3 seed heading into the Big East tournament and, barring something catastrophic, a spot in their fourth straight NCAA tournament. I don’t think anyone saw that coming in October.

FIRST TEAM ALL-BIG EAST

  • MARKUS HOWARD, Marquette
  • SHAMORIE PONDS, St. John’s
  • MYLES POWELL, Seton Hall
  • PHIL BOOTH, Villanova
  • ERIC PASCHALL, Villanova

SECOND TEAM ALL-BIG EAST

  • KAMAR BALDWIN, Butler
  • MAX STRUS, DePaul
  • NAJI MARSHALL, Xavier
  • SAM HAUSER, Marquette
  • JESSIE GOVAN, Georgetown

BIG EAST TOURNAMENT PREVIEW

WHEN: March 13-16
WHERE: New York City
FINAL: March 16, 6:30 p.m., FOX

FAVORITE: Villanova (+175)

I know Villanova is down this season and I know they lost four of their last six and five of their last eight regular season games. I know they lost the last five games that they have played away from home. I know all of that. I also know that this is a program that has won three of the last four Big East tournaments and two of the last three national titles. They know how to get the job done in a tournament setting, and in a conference where it appears that no one is actually good, that should be enough.

And here’s the other thing: Given the way that this bracket broke down, Villanova is going to have the two best players on the floor every time they take the floor until the Big East tournament title game. Eric Paschall and Phil Booth have both hit something of a slump late in the year, but their half of the bracket doesn’t have a surefire NCAA tournament team — Creighton pending.

One other note: I love this Marquette (+200) team, but considering that there is a very real chance that they end up playing St. John’s — who swept them — in the second round of the tournament, I am going to stay from them. Justin Simon’s length has given Markus Howard fits for years, and I’m not going to bet on him figuring it out today.

SLEEPER: St. John’s (+900)

So let’s talk about this St. John’s team. On the one hand, they are super, super talented. Shamorie Ponds, Marvin Clark, Justin Simon, Mustapha Heron, L.J. Figueroa. On paper, that might be the best starting five in the Big East, and yet the Johnnies still managed to put together a 20-11 season with an 8-10 mark in Big East play. That’s not ideal.

The reason I have them listed here is two-fold. For starters, they tend to turn up with the lights are the brightest. The Johnnies get swept by DePaul, Providence and Xavier — games that no one really cares about — but went 3-1 against Marquette and Villanova and would have swept Seton Hall if it wasn’t for a blown call in with 3.9 seconds left. This is the Big East tournament. They should care.

Oh, and should I mention that they are playing in one of their home arenas?

This is a risky play, but the value is there. Think about it like this: St. John’s is the No. 7 seed, but if they can win their first round game, they get Marquette — who they swept — in the quarterfinals. To get there, they have to beat No. 10 seed DePaul, who swept them.

Buckle up!

BEST VALUE: DePaul (+5000)

OK, so hear me out on this one.

The Blue Demons finished in last place in the Big East, but this team is better than you probably realize they are. They won seven games in the league for the first time since 2007. They swept St. John’s, who they play in the first round. They swept Seton Hall, who they would play in the semifinals if seeds hold. They’ve won two of their last three games and they have a kid named Max Strus that is among the most dangerous scorers in the country; he had 43 points against St. John’s nine days ago.

In a league that makes absolutely no sense, 50:1 odds is pretty good value.

BUBBLE DWELLERS

SETON HALL (NET: 62, SOS: 31): With a 6-7 record against Q1 opponents, a 12-10 mark against Q1 and Q2 and wins over Kentucky (5) on a neutral and at Maryland, the Pirates are probably safe regardless of what happens, but as a team sitting in that No. 10 seed range in most bracket projections, there certainly is a world where a first round loss costs them a trip to the tournament.

CREIGHTON (NET: 54, SOS: 15)
XAVIER (NET: 71, SOS: 48): The Bluejays face what could amount to a play-in game right off the bat as they draw Xavier in the 4-5 game on Thursday afternoon. Creighton is in a better spot than Xavier right now after winning five games in a row — including at Marquette (29) — to close the regular season. They also do not have any bad losses, while Xavier lost to DePaul (100) at home and to San Diego State (134) on a neutral. Creighton might still have a chance if they lose. Xavier probably needs to wins to have a real chance to hear their name called on Selection Sunday.

ST. JOHN’S (NET: 66, SOS: 68): In a normal year, we probably would barely consider a Saint Joh’s team that was swept by DePaul (100), swept by Xavier (71), swept by Providence (74) and lost to Georgetown (76) at home anything close to a bubble team, but here we are. The Red Storm swept Marquette (29), beat Villanova (25) at home and has a neutral court win over VCU (31). But they also played a non-conference schedule that ranks 211th nationally. I think that with a third loss to DePaul, the Johnnies — who currently sit as an 11 seed in our latest bracket — could be in some trouble.

GEORGETOWN (NET: 76, SOS: 77): The Hoyas are a longshot to dance, but their resume is awfully similar to St. John’s. They also have five Q1 wins. They are 11-10 against Q1 anf Q2 opponents as opposed to St. John’s’ 10-9 mark. They, too, have a pair of bad losses and an ugly non-conference schedule. If the Hoyas can get passed Seton Hall (62) in the quarterfinals, a win over Marquette in the semis might actually get them into the tournament.

WHAT ELSE IS ON THE LINE?

Beyond all of the bubble teams trying to play their way into the NCAA tournament, I think what’s on the line here is Villanova and Marquette finding a way to turn this thing around and get it going before the NCAA tournament starts. Villanova has lost four of six and five of eight to close the regular season. Marquette lost four in a row. These are the two teams that have a real shot to make some noise in the NCAA tournament this season — particularly Marquette — and if the Big East wants a representative. in the second weekend of the tournament, this is where it is going to come from.

PREDICTION

I have no idea what is going to happen in this tournament, so my prediction is simple: None of the top three seeds — Villanova, Marquette and Seton Hall — will still be playing on Saturday.

No. 8 Kansas avenges earlier loss to No. 7 K-State, 90-78

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LAWRENCE, Kan. — Jalen Wilson had 20 points, Kevin McCullar Jr. added 16 points and 13 rebounds, and No. 8 Kansas avenged a loss to Kansas State just a couple of weeks ago with a 90-78 victory over the seventh-ranked Wildcats on Tuesday night.

Dajuan Harris Jr. scored 18 for the Jayhawks (18-4, 6-3 Big 12), who built a 12-point halftime lead before coasting to their 17th straight home win over the Wildcats in the 10th matchup of top-10 teams in series history.

Kansas has rebounded nicely from a rare three-game skid that included the overtime loss to Kansas State, and made sure to avoid taking back-to-back losses in its storied home for the first time since the 1988-89 season.

Markquis Nowell scored 23 points and Keyontae Johnson had 22 to lead the Wildcats (18-4, 6-3), who were trying for their first regular-season sweep of their biggest rival in four decades. Nae’Qwan Tomlin added 11 points and David N’Guessan had 10.

In their first meeting on Jan. 17, the Wildcats raced to a big early lead and controlled the game until late in the second half, when the Jayhawks forced overtime — only for Kansas State to win on Johnson’s alley-oop dunk.

It was the Jayhawks who controlled the rematch.

They used a 16-7 run in the first half that included a technical foul on Kansas State coach Jerome Tang to build a 32-19 lead. And when Johnson answered with eight straight points for the Wildcats, and the lead was eventually trimmed to four, the reigning national champs pulled away again down the stretch.

It was 37-32 when Wilson hit back-to-back 3-pointers and Zach Clemence added one of his own. And by the time Wilson made two foul shots with about 10 seconds left, Kansas had built a 49-37 lead that it took to the break.

The Wildcats briefly got within six in the second half before the Jayhawks stretched their lead to as many as 16.

OFFICIATING OOPS

Johnson had to sit with two fouls just 2 1/2 minutes into the game. Only problem? The crew of John Higgins, Kip Kissinger and Marques Pettigrew gave one to the wrong player. By the time they corrected their mistake, the Wildcats’ leading scorer had unnecessarily ridden the bench for several minutes.

SELLOUT … AND THEN SOME

For the first time in more than 15 years, more Kansas students redeemed tickets than there was space available inside Allen Fieldhouse. The overflow had to watch the game on screens in the adjacent Horejsi Family Athletics Center, where the Jayhawks play volleyball games. Those students also got refunds and concessions vouchers.

BIG PICTURE

Kansas State’s three losses in league play have been to ranked teams on the road: TCU, Iowa State and Kansas. And with a more forgiving second half to the Big 12 schedule, the Wildcats remain firmly in the conference title hunt.

Kansas got its mojo back with its win over Kentucky last weekend. This victory over another bunch of Wildcats was crucial because the road doesn’t get any easier for the Jayhawks, who are in the midst of three straight games against teams ranked 13th or better.

UP NEXT

Kansas State returns home for another top-10 showdown Saturday against No. 10 Texas.

Kansas hits the road for the third time in four games against No. 13 Iowa State on Saturday.

BC beats No. 20 Clemson 62-54; Tigers fall into ACC tie

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BOSTON — Makai Ashton-Langford had two key driving baskets in the closing two minutes and finished with 15 points to help Boston College beat No. 20 Clemson 62-54 on Tuesday night.

Jaeden Zackery added 13 points for the Eagles (11-12, 5-7 Atlantic Coast Conference). BC held Clemson to one field goal — and that came with 18 seconds left — in the final 13:16.

Hunter Tyson led Clemson (18-5, 10-2) with 22 points and Chase Hunter had 12. The Tigers fell into a first-place tie atop the ACC with No. 6 Virginia.

The Eagles used a 5-0 spurt — with T.J. Bickerstaff hitting a free throw and getting a driving layup — to pull ahead 50-45 with just over five minutes to play.

Clemson sliced it to 50-47 before Aston-Langford made his two big baskets. He followed that by making two free throws with 32 seconds left.

Trailing by 10 midway into the second half, the Tigers went on a 10-0 spree, tying it at 45 when RJ Godfrey hit both ends of a 1-and-1.

The Eagles had opened a double-digit lead twice in the opening six minutes of the second half, the later 45-35 on Prince Aligbe’s foul-line jumper with 14:12 to play.

BIG PICTURE

Clemson: Off to a solid start in conference play, the Tigers were tested on the road for the second straight game after edging Florida State by a point on Saturday. It hasn’t been easy for them away from home with a 4-3 record and with three away matchups against North Carolina, North Carolina State and Virginia to go, they’ll need to get it straightened out of they’re going to won the ACC regular-season title.

Boston College: The Eagles proved when they play defense that they’re a tough out in coach Earl Grant’s second season. A little more offense could make them very dangerous for top ACC teams to play.

ARRIVING LATE

In the first half, Clemson’s man-to-man defense smothered the Eagles’ offense for the opening 10 minutes, holding them in single digits in scoring until just about the same time the student section finished filling up late, bringing some energy to a very quiet building.

BC’s players then responded, closing the half with a 22-4 spree that turned an 11-point deficit to a 30-23 halftime edge.

SIDELINED

Both teams were missing key players. Guard Brevin Galloway, Clemson’s fourth leading scorer at 10.6 points per game, was sidelined with an abdominal injury. For BC, guard DeMarr Langford Jr., who logs big minutes at the point, was out with a knee injury.

UP NEXT

Clemson: Hosts No. 23 Miami on Saturday.

Boston College: Hosts Syracuse on Saturday.

South Carolina tops women’s AP Top 25; Ohio State tumbles

Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports
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It was a rough week for Ohio State, which lost all three of its games and tumbled down the AP Top 25 as a result.

The previously unbeaten Buckeyes fell from second to 10th in The Associated Press women’s basketball poll released Monday after losing to Iowa and Indiana, two top 10 teams, as well as Purdue. Ohio State fell two games back in the Big Ten Conference standings.

South Carolina remained No. 1 for the 32nd consecutive week. The Gamecocks, who were again a unanimous choice from the 28-member national media panel, have the fourth-longest streak ever atop the poll. Only UConn (51 and 34 weeks) and Louisiana Tech (36) have had longer runs at No. 1.

Stanford moved back up to No. 2 in the poll and the Cardinal were followed by LSU, Indiana and UConn in the top five. LSU is the only other undefeated team in women’s basketball besides South Carolina, which visits UConn for a top-five showdown on Sunday.

Iowa jumped out four spots to sixth with Utah, Maryland and Notre Dame coming in ahead of Ohio State. The Hawkeyes started the season No. 4 in the poll.

The Fighting Irish split a pair of games last week against ranked opponents, routing Florida State before falling to N.C. State.

“There’s a lot of parity right now, which is great, great for the game,” Notre Dame coach Niele Ivey said. “The game is growing, which is what you want. But yeah, I mean, every night, especially the ACC, the ACC is the strongest league and, you know, we have just a tough stretch every night.”

One week after falling out of the rankings, Texas re-entered the poll at No. 24. The Longhorns routed then-No. 14 Oklahoma and Oklahoma State last week. South Florida also came in at No. 25. Colorado and Illinois fell out of the poll.

RISING BULLS

No. 25 South Florida continued its streak of being ranked for at least one week every season since the Bulls entered the poll for the first time in 2015.

“For us not being in a so-called football five conference, that’s a huge accomplishment,” South Florida coach Jose Fernandez said. His team has won 10 consecutive games and has 20 victories this season. The team’s four losses have all come against ranked opponents (Michigan, Villanova, Ohio State and N.C. State).

“This group has been fun to coach. We always play a great non(equals)conference schedule,” Fernandez said. “We won on the road at Texas, beat Alabama, beat Arkansas. We challenged ourselves in November and December.”

RECORD PERFORMANCES

Cameron Brink carried Stanford to a win over Oregon with a triple-double that included 10 blocks. It was the first triple-double in NCAA Division I women’s basketball featuring double-digit blocks since Tamari Key did it for Tennessee in an overtime win against Texas on Nov. 21, 2021.

No. 20 Oklahoma’s Taylor Robertson set the all-time NCAA women’s career record for 3-pointers when she hit her 498th in a loss to Iowa State on Saturday. Robertson has 503 entering this week. The all-time NCAA record, men or women, is held by Antoine Davis of Detroit Mercy, who has 534 and counting.

Purdue a unanimous No. 1 in AP Top 25; Vols up to No. 2

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Purdue became this season’s first unanimous No. 1 team in the AP Top 25 men’s college basketball poll Monday after wins over Michigan and Michigan State last week as chaos ensued behind the Boilermakers among other ranked teams.

More than half of Top 25 teams lost, including second-ranked Alabama, which was routed by Oklahoma in the Big 12-SEC Challenge. That allowed Purdue to grab the remaining No. 1 votes and tighten its grip atop the poll, while Tennessee jumped two spots to second and Houston held onto third in voting by 62 national media members.

The Boilermakers (21-1) have won eight straight since a one-point loss to Rutgers on Jan. 2.

“We’re the No. 1 team in the country because of how unselfish we are as a team,” Purdue guard David Jenkins Jr. said. “We had a lot of people doubting us in the beginning because, you know, we may not be the most talented team or whatever, but we’re close on the court and off the court and it’s really translating to how we’re winning.”

The Volunteers climbed to their highest perch since reaching No. 1 for four weeks during the 2018-19 season. They routed Georgia before becoming one of three SEC teams to beat Big 12 opponents on Saturday, knocking off No. 10 Texas 82-71 for their fifth consecutive win over a top-10 team.

Perhaps this is the year Rick Barnes finally gets the Vols through the Sweet 16 for the first time as their coach.

“We have a chance to be as good as we want to be,” he said. “It’s up to one thing: Are we tough enough to embrace the daily grind? And not worry about going to the Final Four or worry about going to the NCAA Tournament, but can we build a team that can be successful that time of year? It starts with truly embracing the grind.”

The Crimson Tide dropped to fourth after the blowout loss to the Sooners, when Alabama fell behind by 17 at halftime in an eventual 93-69 defeat. The Tide edged fifth-ranked Arizona by just two points in this week’s poll.

“It doesn’t have any effect on SEC standings, which is the only good thing to come out of this,” Alabama coach Nate Oats said of the lopsided loss. “Hopefully we’ll recover from a loss out of conference, but you know, it’s not good.”

Virginia was sixth and Kansas State, which rebounded from a narrow loss at No. 13 Iowa State by pummeling Florida on Saturday, fell two spots to seventh; the Wildcats face eighth-ranked Kansas in a top-10 showdown Tuesday night.

UCLA dropped to ninth after losing to Southern California and Texas rounded out the top 10.

Baylor continued its climb from unranked to No. 11 following wins over the Jayhawks and Arkansas. The Bears were followed by Gonzaga, Iowa State, Marquette and league rival TCU – the sixth Big 12 team in the top 15.

Xavier, Providence, Saint Mary’s, Florida Atlantic and Clemson completed the top 20, while poll returners Indiana and San Diego State joined Miami, UConn and Auburn in rounding out the Top 25.

RISING AND FALLING

The No. 11 Bears and No. 17 Providence made the biggest leaps, each climbing six spots from last week.

“I think our defense is better. Our turnovers are better. When you don’t give people easy transition baskets, now its five-on-five in the half court,” said Baylor coach Scott Drew, whose team had a date with the Longhorns on Monday night.

“We execute at a pretty high rate,” Drew said. “It really comes down to taking care of the ball, making sure we get shots up and when you don’t make them, you’ve got to get rebounds. And our guys are buying into that.”

Auburn took the biggest hit of those still in the poll, dropping 10 places after losses to unranked Texas A&M and West Virginia.

IN AND OUT

The Hoosiers returned to the poll at No. 21 and the Aztecs rejoined it right behind them. They took the place of Charleston, which fell out from No. 18 after losing to Hofstra, and New Mexico, which lost to Nevada in double overtime last week.

CONFERENCE CALL

The Big 12’s dominance of the SEC in the final year of their head-to-head challenge was rewarded in the poll, where the league led the way with six ranked teams and all of them in the top 15. The Big East has four teams in the poll but none higher than No. 14 Marquette, while the SEC and ACC have three teams apiece.

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.