Highlightin’ Hoops: The Big East Is Back
By Ryan Schneider
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It’s embarrassing to admit, but I forgot. I was addicted to NBA League Pass…I had to know what Durant was doing in Oklahoma City…after a quick flip, I could see Kobe in LA…Derrick Rose commanded my attention for most of his fourth quarters…on top of that, I needed to lock in for every minute of the now relevant New York Knicks. It takes a lot to try and follow to so many various storylines…but it’s like fulfilling a craving, and I have been craving NBA basketball…
UCONN dismantled DePaul in the first game of the day…Rutgers-Seton Hall followed and all of a sudden it started to hit me how much I missed the college game. 40 minutes of intensity…Mike Rice and Kevin Willard were in a defensive stance with their players, jumping up and down on made shots, pleading for an offensive rebound. There was no shame in screaming at the players, motivating their student-athletes to give everything they had for the name on the front of their jersey.
Jeremy Hazell created the first magical moment of the history-laden Big East tournament. With Seton Hall down three, Hazell knocked down a fade-away, contested, long-ball to send the game into overtime. His late-game heroics weren’t enough to seal a first round win for the Pirates. Jonathan Mitchell led the Scarlet Knight charge in overtime. Scoring eight of his 25 points in the extra frame, Mitchell helped Rutgers advance to a second round match-up against St. John’s. After watching Mike Rice’s Robert Morris team last season, there is no doubt that Rutgers will leave everything on the floor.
Even so, after the Rutgers game I just wasn’t back yet…it still wasn’t the NBA, it was exciting sure, but man, it wasn’t the League…and then USF-Villanova happened, and I was back. In the last couple of years Villanova has become synonymous with late season collapse. For whatever reason, half the ‘Nova team all of a sudden believes they can get drafted and forget how to play together…Jay Wright’s squad has just two wins in the last month. Those wins didn’t come easy either against bottom-feeders Seton Hall and DePaul.
It was a beautiful thing…USF led by Coach Stan Heath came in at 9-22, 3-15 in the Big East…you’d think this would be nothing more than a formality. It looked very much like that would be the case at halftime. Wright and Co. went into halftime with a 16-point lead. The Bulls looked like they were thinking about that flight down to Cancun for spring break.
Something changed in the second twenty, because South Florida played like a Big East contender. Multiple guys scored five or more, they dug in defensively and held the offensively capable Wildcats to a mere 20 points. Despite a furious comeback by Jwanza Poland and his teammates, it looked like their efforts would be futile. Villanova had knocked down all 22 free throws in the first 39 minutes and 12 seconds, but in the last minute two missed one-in-one free throws left the door open for the Bulls.
With 22 seconds left in the game and Villanova up by one, Maalik Wayns threw an inexcusable lob pass in the backcourt. Anthony Crater anticipated the poor pass perfectly and put in a quick two to take the lead. A foul on the other end enabled Wayns to redeem himself. ‘Nova went back up one, only to see Crater (who is one of the fastest players with the ball I’ve seen) penetrate the lane and finish with the game winning lay-up.
How dare I forget the magical month of March…it really is embarrassing…shameful…this is the time of year that college basketball players live for. It’s the opportunity to run around the court celebrating a game winner…it’s the chance to play at the world’s most famous arena on national television. Can it get any better than that? Yes, actually, because on ESPN2, there is a conference championship every night this week…and that’s only the beginning. The real madness starts next Tuesday.
Stan Heath and USF reminded me why college basketball deserves our full attention for the next 30 days. Will the Bulls lose today against Cincinnati? Probably, but it’s the possibility of an upset that makes this time of year so special. I’ll be watching.
For the second year in a row Buzz Williams has Marquette ready to play. I’ve always loved how Williams coaches that team. He puts a heavy emphasis on defense, and offensively has one of the top 30 scoring teams in the country. I love their match-up today against West Virginia. A team they beat earlier in the year, Marquette has the opportunity to get their 20th win of the season and solidify themselves as an at-large candidate.
For the rest of my life I’ll always pay respect to the MAAC. Read an article or two about John Dunne and what he has gone through since first accepting the job back in 2006. They were an awful team in his first year or two. But through great recruiting, solid player-development, and a commitment to a plan, St. Peter’s will now represent one of the most respected mid-major conferences in the country at the NCAA tournament.
Butler lost an All-American when Gordon Hayward left for the NBA. However, the Bulldogs will be back in the NCAA tournament after clinching the Horizon league championship last night. Even though they may not have much of an offensive threat outside of Shelvin Mack and Matt Howard, Butler held Milwaukee in the 40’s last night. The 40’s! That will make them dangerous against any team…as they say offense wins game, defense wins championship.
How many Big East teams will make the dance? Give us your prediction in the comments below…