Feature photo: USA Today
The Big East lost a lot of impact players last year so many believed it would be a down year for the conference. That showed in the first round of this year’s NCAA tournament. The only team left standing is defending national champions, Villanova. The 6th seed outlasted a very game St Mary’s team 61-57. Villanova may not be the championship team of last year but they still have proven tournament stars in Phil Booth and Eric Paschall. The experience of the two stars and an excellent tournament coach in Jay Wright will make the Wildcats a tough out. Their matchup with #3 seed and Big 10 power Purdue is a must watch game.
The rest of the conference did not fair as well. St John’s, a bubble team, made the first four in Dayton, Ohio but ran into a wall once they got there. The Red Storm can score in bunches but they lack size and are not known for their defense. The jump shots were not going down early and Arizona State was too big and physical in the paint. St John’s was never really in it and Bobby Hurley’s Sun Devils coasted to a 74-65 win.
photo: Columbia Missourian
Marquette, after starting the season strong, limped into the tournament after struggling down the stretch because they were unable to close out late leads. They still drew a 5 seed but were blown out by 12th seed Murray State and star point guard Ja Morant’s triple-double. It was a tough draw for Marquette because Morant could be one of the best players in the tournament. The early exit was still disappointing for the Golden Eagles who were ranked as high as 9th in the country in February but fell flat at the end of the season.
After losing four seniors, very few gave Seton Hall a chance at making to this year’s tournament. But they have a very special player in Myles Powell and got big contributions from young players like Myles Cale and Sandro Mamukelashvilli. That earned them a 10th seed at the big dance but it did not last long. They went up against 7th seed Wofford, a tiny school from South Carolina who sure didn’t play tiny. Led by the NCAA all-time leader in 3 point field goals, Fletcher Magee, Wofford got out to a big first-half lead. The streaky Pirates battled back in the second half and actually took the lead but Magee took over down the stretch and the Terriers closed on a 17-2 run and ran away 84-68. A disappointing end for the Pirates but it was a great achievement by head coach Kevin Willard to get his team back to the tournament with essentially a new roster.
Aside from Villanova, it was one and done for the rest of the conference. But never count this classic basketball conference out. Power conferences have their ups and downs and the Big East did lose their share of experienced players last year. But there are a bunch of young promising players coming up so we know this is a conference that won’t be down for long.