By Jack Belanger ’21
After three straight Big East titles, Villanova University will likely be the favorites once again to be conference champions. If any team is going to end the Wildcats’ reign, it is going to be coach Greg McDermott’s Creighton University Bluejays. Outside the Wildcats, Creighton has the best combination of versatility and experience to make a deep run in the tournament.
The Bluejays are one of the most complete teams in the conference. The team has five players averaging over 10 points per game, led by Marcus Zegarowski, who is averaging 14.9 points a game. Center Christian Bishop leads the entire Big East in field goal percentage, shooting 70 percent.
Creighton’s team defense has played a huge factor in their success. Teams are shooting less than 40 percent against them as well as averaging 68.4 points per game. With all five starters standing between six-feet-two-inches and six-feet-seven-inches, the Bluejays rarely get caught in a mismatch. Where they lack in size they make up for in athleticism.
While they only average three blocks per game, Creighton is second in the Big East in steals, with 7.3 per game. The team does have one shot blocker in seven-foot center Ryan Kalkbrenner who can come off the bench when the team needs to protect the paint.
The Bluejays are one of the few teams that match up well against the Wildcats. In their first meeting of the season, Creighton won 86-70 with 25 points from Zegarowski. The team was hot from the three-point line, knocking down 46.2 percent of their shots. It was Villanova’s biggest loss of the season.
With five losses in the Big East, Creighton is far from a perfect team. They split their season series with Providence College thanks to center Nate Watson ’21 dominating the paint and a bad day behind the arc. While anything can happen in the tournament, what works in the favor of the Bluejays is they have an experienced team that is used to playing under pressure.
All of Creighton’s starters are juniors or seniors with experience playing in the Big East Tournament. With the cancelation of last year’s tournament, teams with freshmen and sophomores could be prone to mistakes when the game is on the line.
Even if they are not making shots, Creighton is one of the more disciplined teams in the conference. With the third best turnover margin, the Bluejays know how to protect the ball as well as create opportunities for themselves.
Everyone will be aiming to take down Villanova and end their reign as champs. Creighton is in second place for a reason. They can match up with the Wildcats better than anyone else and cover up their own flaws. After three straight titles, Villanova’s run will end thanks to the Bluejays.
By Liam Tormey ’22
Sports Assistant Editor
Villanova University has won the Big East Men’s Basketball Tournament four times in the last six years. This year, once again, the Wildcats will win the Big East tournament.
Currently one of the best teams in the country, as they sit at the top of the Big East standings, the Wildcats’ offensive firepower is going to carry them to a title. First things first: all of Villanova’s starting five is averaging double-digit figures. That five includes the reliable Collin Gillespie, alongside Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, Justin Moore, Jermaine Samuels, and Caleb Daniels. Any player in the group has the firepower to take over a game, and that will be crucial come tournament time.
Gillespie, a battle-tested senior, has done it all in his time at Villanova and will be a major reason why the Wildcats will come away with another Big East title. This season, Gillespie is averaging 14.4 points, 4.7 assists, and 3.3 rebounds. A part of the 2018 Villanova National Championship team, Gillespie’s leadership will continue to be infinitely valuable to the team when they enter Madison Square Garden in March.
Sophomore Robinson-Earl has continued to show all year why he was ranked as an elite prospect coming out of high school. He is the Wildcats’ leading scorer this season with 15.5 points per game to go along with 7.9 rebounds. His season high this year was a 28-point game against Arizona State, but he has proven to have the ability to put up consistent numbers every game.
Another sophomore, Moore, has also provided solid scoring for the Wildcats. Averaging 12.8 points and 4.4 rebounds, Moore is a two-way guard who has continued to improve his game since arriving at Villanova.
Samuels and Daniels finish out one of the most complete starting fives in college basketball. Samuels, the 6-foot-7-inch senior, has shown his capability all year long. Averaging 11.1 points per game and 6.3 rebounds, Samuels can put up big numbers, especially after his 32-point performance in early February against Georgetown University. Daniels adds another 10.6 points per game for the Wildcats, rounding out the starting five.
The Wildcats do not have a deep roster of guys coming off the bench, but the capable play of players such as Cole Swider and Brandon Slater will be beneficial come tournament time.
Let us not forget about how great of a coach Jay Wright is, too. In his 20th year as the head coach of Villanova, Wright has won the Big East tournament four times, has been to the Final Four three times, and has won a National Championship twice. There is no question he will have his guys ready to play in the tournament, no matter who they come up against.