The Big East regular season is heading down the home stretch. There are three games this evening and after tonight’s action, every team in the league will be down to the final four or five games of their regular season schedule.
Four Big East teams are solidly in the projected NCAA Tournament field at this point in time. Villanova is currently the projected #1 overall seed, Butler is a consensus 4 seed, Creighton a 5 seed and Xavier a 6 seed. Villanova, Creighton and Xavier have all lost back-court starters this season and have had to ask the “next man up” to rise to the occasion and try to keep them at their projected seed level. Creighton and Xavier have lost ground since losing Maurice Watson and Edmund Sumner, respectively. Villanova has been performing well without Phil Booth since Thanksgiving time but recently lost another starter as Darryl Reynolds is listed as day-to-day with a hairline fracture to a rib. Villanova Coach, Jay Wright has stated that Reynolds could give it a go as early as Saturday at Seton Hall - albeit wearing a protective vest. However, given the Cats’ 25-2 record, the risk/reward equation likely results in ‘Nova sitting Reynolds out against the Pirates on Saturday.
What is on tap tonight in the Big East?
Xavier at Providence (6:30 p.m. on FS1)
Providence is on the very bottom edge of the NCAA Tournament bubble right now - some would argue they aren’t on it at all. All three of the Friars’ good wins have been at home (URI, Seton Hall and Butler). Knocking off Xavier at home is practically a necessity for Providence to maintain NCAA hopes. With a loss, the Friars would drop to 5-9 in the league and be forced to run the table from here on out to get back to .500. That would be a tough task with a game at Creighton in the mix. Providence has beaten Georgetown and Marquette on the road and Memphis on a neutral court. The Friars close the regular season at St. John’s - the Friars lost to the Red Storm at home in OT in late January.
Providence generally gets consistent play from Rodney Bullock and Kyron Cartwright, but it usually takes at least a three-pronged scoring attack to become a great team. The Friars have had Jalen Lindsey and Emmitt Holt contribute with some consistency this season and Frosh, Alpha Diallo has had his moments as well. However, the Friars are an average shooting team and not a great rebounding team. They can go through scoring droughts and have trouble with turnovers.
Xavier has been rebounding the ball well but is struggling on both ends of the floor in terms of ball control. Without Sumner, they are turning the ball over more in league play then they had been with Sumner and they aren’t creating turnovers with their defense. The Musketeers have not been shooting the three-ball nor free-throws well in league action. If Providence can play Xavier straight up on the glass, they can beat the Musketeers in this one. The biggest X factor in the game is the availability of Trevon Bluiett. Chris Mack describes him as day-to-day with his ankle injury. X may be ripe for the picking without Bluiett - he is now listed as "doubtful".
Creighton at Seton Hall (8:00 p.m. on CBS Sports Network)
Even without Maurice Watson, Creighton has been doing a solid job of avoiding turnovers and getting good looks at the basket. Where they struggle is rebounding the ball and tonight they face as good a rebounding team as there is in the Big East in Seton Hall. The match-up between Angel Delgado and Justin Patton will be a fun one to watch. The Jays will need all hands on deck to keep Delgado, Michael Nzei and Ismael Sanogo from grabbing enough O-boards to off-set the Pirates’ poor shooting and penchant for turning the ball over.
Creighton has a handful of quality wins already and seems to be on track for an NCAA bid - but to maintain an opportunity to catch up on ‘Nova should the Wildcats slip up down the stretch and to stay on that 5 Seed line, it would behoove the Blue Jays to secure a quality road win tonight. Seton Hall has yet to secure a Big East win over a team with a winning record in conference - they have that opportunity against Creighton.
Butler vs. St. John’s (8:30 p.m. on FS1)
On paper, this is the least competitive of the Big East games this evening. St. John’s has a difficult schedule down the stretch and is projected to finish 7-11 in the league. Having the Red Storm currently at 6-7 and tied for 5th in the standings is perhaps a little misleading. The two, stud Frosh back-court mates for the Johnnies have lived up to their advanced billing so far. Marcus Lovett and Shamorie Ponds have demonstrated the ability to score the ball and decent floor games as well. The issues for St. John’s have been rebounding and defense. The Red Storm defense does two things well - create turnovers and block shots but they allow a lot of good looks at the basket and can’t keep teams from grabbing O-boards on them. They also foul a lot and send their opponent to the line.
Butler has not been shooting the three-ball well in BE play but the Bulldogs take great care of the ball. They have had some trouble guarding the three-point line and they don’t create many turnovers with their defense. However, given they have the versatile Andrew Chrabascz, all Big East candidate, Kelan Martin and the Hinkle home crowd behind them, they should be expected to win this one. The Bulldogs have lost three of their last four games including consecutive home losses to Georgetown and Creighton. A loss here may send them down a spiral to a double-digit NCAA Tournament seed.