The journey continues with the Big East Tournament quarterfinals. Here’s a look at all four matchups for Thursday.
No. 1 Marquette (25-6) vs. No. 8 St. John’s (18-14)
When: 12 p.m. ET
Key players for Marquette: #1 Kam Jones (6-4, 195) So., G; #11 Tyler Kolek (6-3, 190) So., G; #12 Olivier-Maxence Prosper (6-8, 230) So., F; #13 Oso Ighodaro (6-9, 215) So., F; #23 David Joplin (6-7, 220) So., F
Key players for St. John’s: #0 Posh Alexander (6-0, 200) Jr., G; #5 Dylan Addae-Wusu (6-4, 230) Jr., G; #11 Joel Soriano (6-11, 260) Sr., C; #23 David Jones (6-6, 210) Jr., F
2022-23 season series: Marquette swept St. John’s
- Marquette beat St. John’s on the road, 96-85, on Jan. 3
- Marquette beat St. John’s at home, 96-94, on Mar. 4
As the debunked adage goes, it’s never easy beating a team three times, but what the adage is really missing to be true is that it’s never easy beating a team three times when it’s close. Both meetings between the Golden Eagles and the Red Storm have been decided by single digits, with the recent rematch — the regular season finale — being decided by just two points.
St. John’s rallied, then got in its way, missing pivotal free throws. This will be a fun matchup to open the quadruple-header slate — but unfortunately the timing of it may not make for an electric atmosphere. There will be plenty of sparks on the court, with “40 minutes of hell” going against “Havoc.” Both teams will be swarming on the floor.
Maybe this is a gross overreaction to how St. John’s started in its win over Butler — but it will need to be better finishers. The Bulldogs were without Manny Bates, who was academically ineligible, paving the way for many points in the paint for David Jones and Joel Soriano. However, the big takeaway was Posh Alexander playing like Posh Alexander again, and the Red Storm got five players in double figures.
He’s been shooting well over the last three games again, and it’s clear that he’s a much better player when he doesn’t have to share the floor with Andre Curbelo, who is out with a concussion.
However, that’s taking nothing away from the highly-efficient offense of the Golden Eagles, which is highlighted by the newly crowned Big East Player of the Year Tyler Kolek, and devised by the Big East Coach of the Year, Shaka Smart.
St. John’s has shown it can keep up with the Golden Eagles’ firepower and balanced attack. They lost by two in a game where they still had 19 turnovers. The Red Storm is playing with confidence again, and maybe they might catch Marquette napping with some rust to shake off. The Golden Eagles have had some bad luck at the Big East Tournament, even when they had talented players.
They’ve only made it to the semifinals once since realignment. St. John’s has had its disappointing appearances too, but going to go with the Red Storm getting over the hump and pulling the shocker in a tightly-contested battle.
Marquette did own the regular season, but the postseason is a new animal. Maybe experience isn’t the right word for St. John’s, but there is something to be said about Marquette’s sophomore-heavy bunch that hasn’t won on the big stage yet.
KenPom predicts: Marquette wins, 85-76, and is a 79% favorite to win
Vegas says: Marquette is a 6.5-point favorite, per DraftKings Sportsbook
My prediction: St. John’s over Marquette
No. 4 UConn (24-7) vs. No. 5 Providence (21-10)
When: 2:30 p.m. ET
Key players for UConn: #2 Tristen Newton (6-5, 190) Sr., G; #21 Adama Sanogo (6-9, 245) Jr., F; #24 Jordan Hawkins (6-5, 195) So., G; #32 Donovan Clingan (7-2, 265) Fr., C; #44 Andre Jackson Jr. (6-6, 210) Jr., G/F
Key players for Providence: #4 Jared Bynum (5-10, 180) Sr., G; #5 Ed Croswell (6-8, 240) Sr., F; #10 Noah Locke (6-3, 210) Sr., G; #22 Devin Carter (6-3, 195) So., G; #23 Bryce Hopkins (6-7, 220) So., F
2022-23 season series: 1-1 series split
- Providence beat UConn at home, 73-61, on Jan. 4
- UConn beat Providence at home, 87-69, on Feb. 22
If the first matchup doesn’t bring the fireworks, this rivalry showdown will certainly get things going in the afternoon slot.
Providence is entering Thursday having dropped three of their last four games, including back-to-back losses. The Friars got whooped by Seton Hall at home in the regular season finale, but facing off against the Huskies should provide more than enough motivation to get-right, especially in the Big East Tournament.
Every team has its lulls or low points in the season, unfortunately for Providence, the Friars’ low point came at the end of the season. They’re 4-5 since Feb. 1, but two of those victories were against Georgetown, who’s been the resident Big East punching bag this season.
Meanwhile, UConn got back on track after an ugly January and won eight of its last nine games.
Jordan Hawkins, Alex Karaban, Adama Sanogo and Andre Jackson are firing. The Huskies are hot, and they’re in the top 15 in both offensive and defensive efficiency, according to KenPom. However, Ed Cooley is a mastermind, so expect this third meeting to be closer than the last, but it’ll be the Huskies who advance back into the semis.
KenPom predicts: UConn wins, 78-71, and is a 75% favorite
Vegas says: UConn is a 7-point favorite, per DraftKings Sportsbook
My prediction: UConn over Providence
No. 2 Xavier (23-8) vs. No. 10 DePaul (10-22)
Time: 7 p.m. ET
Key players for Xavier: #0 Souley Boum (6-3, 175) Sr., G; #3 Colby Jones (6-6, 205) Jr., G; #5 Adam Kunkel (6-4, 185) Sr., G; #24 Jack Nunge (7-0, 245) Sr., F
Key players for DePaul: #1 Javan Johnson (6-6, 198) Sr., F; #2 Umoja Gibson (6-1, 173) Sr., G; #11 Eral Penn (6-6, 201) Sr., F; #14 Nick Ongenda (6-11, 230) Sr., F; #21 Da’Sean Nelson (6-8, 205) Jr., F
2022-23 season series: 1-1 series split
- DePaul beat Xavier at home, 73-72, on Jan. 18
- Xavier beat DePaul at home, 82-68, on Feb. 18
The biggest question will be how does Xavier fare without standout big man Zach Freemantle. Freemantle hasn’t played since Feb. 1, and the Musketeers have been 6-3 in his absence.
The loss against Villanova seemed to be a wake-up call, and the Musketeers have gotten players to step up since then, as they enter the postseason with a three-game winning streak.
Meanwhile, DePaul will be riding in off the high of its insane finish against Seton Hall in the Big East Tournament opening round.
The Blue Demons noted that they’re finally playing at full strength and that Wednesday was only the third time all season they had a complete team, due to various injuries and setbacks at one point or another.
The emergence of Nick Ongenda will be interesting to watch, on top of Da’Sean Nelson off the bench, against a Xavier frontcourt that’s missing one of its best players.
The guard matchup of Umoja Gibson, Javan Johnson and Jalen Terry, who was hot in Wednesday’s win, against Xavier’s Souley Boum and Colby Jones will also be compelling.
Will lightning strike twice for the Blue Demons?
KenPom predicts: Xavier wins, 86-73, and is an 87% favorite to win
Vegas says: Xavier is an 11-point favorite, per DraftKings Sportsbook
My prediction: Xavier over DePaul
No. 3 Creighton (20-11) vs. No. 6 Villanova (17-15)
Time: 9:30 p.m. ET
Key players for Creighton: #2 Ryan Nembhard (6-0, 170) So., G; #11 Ryan Kalkbrenner (7-1, 260) Jr., C; #23 Trey Alexander (6-4, 190) So., G; #24 Arthur Kaluma (6-7, 225) So., F; #55 Baylor Scheierman (6-7, 205) Sr., F
Key players for Villanova: #5 Justin Moore (6-4, 210) Sr., G; #14 Caleb Daniels (6-4, 210) Sr., G; #22 Cam Whitmore (6-7, 232) Fr., F; #34 Brandon Slater (6-8, 220) Sr., F; #43 Eric Dixon (6-8, 255) Jr., F
2022-23 season series: 1-1 series split
- Creighton beat Villanova at home, 66-61, on Feb. 4
- Villanova beat Creighton at home, 79-67, on Feb. 25
For the first time since realignment, Villanova is playing a Big East Tournament game as the lower seed. On the bright side, it might just be the most manageable draw for the ‘Cats, as they’ve beaten every team on their side of the bracket at least once this season.
Creighton coach Gregg McDermott might’ve just jinxed himself when he said Villanova’s a team “nobody wants to play” at the Garden, when he gave the ‘Cats some respect after Villanova’s win over the Bluejays at home.
Surely enough, it’ll be the ‘Cats who they start their Big East Tournament journey with in a rematch of last year’s Big East championship game.
While the last Villanova-Creighton meeting was highlighted by a career 31-point outing from Eric Dixon, where he was sinking it from anywhere and everywhere on the court, the ‘Cats also played great defense on the Bluejays, limiting to just a 5-of-26 (19.2%) performance from deep.
Of course, a 31-point boost from Dixon would be great, but the key was getting staunch defender Ryan Kalkbrenner out of the paint and forced to step out to the perimeter, making it easier for the ‘Cats to get to work and making them even tougher to defend.
Villanova is coming off its best two-way performance, but Creighton is a much stiffer challenge compared to Georgetown.
Third meeting — not so sure the Bluejays allow the ‘Cats to race out to an early double-digit lead. It might just have to be settled in a similar manner as last season’s finals — a defensive battle, until the ‘Cats get a couple of key shots to pull away.
KenPom predicts: Creighton wins, 71-66, and is a 68% favorite
Vegas says: Creighton is a 5-point favorite, per DraftKings Sportsbook
My prediction: Villanova over Creighton