By Ethan Burke
This Big East season has definitely been one to remember. Upsets have been happening such as Butler blowing past top ranked Villanova and Marquette knocking off Xavier to put the Musketeers tourney hopes in jeopardy, shows that nobody is safe and anything could happen this upcoming tournament. With multiple teams competing for a spot in the big dance, this conference is definitely something that college basketball fans should get excited for.
Player to watch: Jeremiah Robinson-Earl
There are definitely many players in this conference that are worth watching this week but the player that sticks out the most to me is Villanova Forward Jeremiah Robinson-Earl. The 6’ 9 sophomore has put together an impressive season as he is averaging 15 points and eight rebounds a game. Robinson-Earl also ranks 11th in field goal shooting, making 48.3 percent which helped him earn a spot on the first-team all Big East roster. You are probably wondering why I picked Robinson-Earl over other first team players like Uconn’s James Bouknight and Creighton’s Marcus Zegarowski. Well, it is because of Robinson Earl’s teammate Collin Gillespie’s season ending injury. Gillespie was also named to the first-team all Big East roster and averaged 14 points per game before suffering a torn MCL against Creighton last Wednesday night. With Gillepsie out, Robinson Earl is going to have to expand his role even more and take over Gillespie’s leadership position as the Wildcats try to repeat for another Big East Title and make another run for a national title. If Robinson-Earl plays his best and is able to get more teammates involved, then the Wildcats should still be in decent shape as they enter postseason play.
Sleeper team: Xavier
The Xavier Musketeers probably have the most to play for this week then any other team in this conference. Right now, Joe Lunardi has the Musketeers on his last four in list but we all know that could fall off with an early exit in this tournament. Travis Steele’s squad can definitely be dangerous as they have some key wins against teams like Creighton and Oklahoma. Unfortunately for Xavier, some tough conference losses really hurt them such as at Providence and at Marquette. Xavier finished the regular season sitting at seventh in the Big East with a 6-7 record. However, If the Musketeers are at their best this week, there is no doubt that they can find success and make a deep run since they can succeed in many aspects of the game.
Led by senior guard Paul Scruggs who leads the conference in assists per game (5.8) along with 14.2 points. Scruggs was also named to the second-team All-Big East roster. Along with Scruggs is sophomore Forward Zach Freemantle who leads Xavier in scoring with 16.3 points per game and leads the Big east in rebounding with nine per game. Let’s also not forget about the young talent that the Musketeers have such as Colby Jones who was named to the all Big-East freshman team after averaging 7.5 points and 1.4 steals per game. Jones, Fremantle and Scruggs all need to be on the same page if they want to secure a spot in the big dance. One thing the Musketeers need to improve on this week is the defense as they currently let up 70 points per game. With a lot of explosive offenses in this conference, the Musketeers will have to make some defensive adjustments to help better their chances of making a run in the tourney.
Xavier is definitely one of the more interesting teams in the country. They have proven that they can beat anybody at their best but could lose to anybody at their worst. Playing with their backs against the wall, it will be very interesting to see how Coach Steele’s team responds to this pressure.
Team to win: Uconn
Although they are the third seed, I’m picking the Uconn Huskies. At this point in the season, every coach wants their team to be playing their best basketball and Dan Hurley is currently seeing that with his group. The Huskies are heading into the tournament on a four game winning streak coming off a blowout victory against Georgetown. With the combination of Gillespie out for Villanova, Creighton having controversy with head coach Gregg McDermott and Uconn becoming a fully healthy team, makes them my pick to win it this weekend. A big name for Uconn is 6’2 guard James Bouknight. Although Boukknight missed eight midseason games due to an elbow injury, he still found his way to the all-Big East roster by averaging 20.2 points per game and 5.6 rebounds. The Huskies are currently 10-2 with Bouknight on the floor proving how important he is to this team. The Huskies are also heading into this weekend with an advantage in senior experience as two senior leaders won Conference awards. Forward Isaiah Whaley won Co-Defensive player of the year and Tyler Polley earned Sixth man of the year. Let’s also not forget about Forward Adama Sanogo who is representing Uconn on the Big East all-freshman team averaging five assists per game.
Now don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that Uconn should be a higher seed than Villanova and Creighton in the NCAA tournament. I just believe that coming into this week, the Huskies seem to be the most complete team in the Big East as both their backcourt and frontcourt will be a force to be reckoned with during postseason play. I think Uconn is definitely the most complete team in the Big East which is why I believe that they will be cutting down the nets at Madison Square Garden on Selection Sunday.
Edited by Emma Moloney