Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Big East Conference canceled its tournament last week, which I discussed in my previous article here.
I was lucky enough to cover the 2020 Men’s Basketball Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden as a credentialed member of the media during the first two games on Wednesday, March 11, 2020, and the first half of the quarterfinal game between St. John’s and Creighton on Thursday, March 12, 2020.
Now, this is where the fun starts.
(DISCLAIMER: ALL EVENTS DEPICTED AFTER THIS POINT ARE PURELY FICTITIOUS AND ARE MEANT TO PROMOTE A SENSE OF NORMALCY DURING THIS CONFUSING AND DIFFICULT TIME)
The Quarterfinal round presented us with four terrific games, featuring stunning finishes in many of the contests.
No. 9 St. John’s vs. No. 1 Creighton
Following a back-and-forth first half (that did indeed take place), the final 20 minutes yielded much of the same. After lethal performances from Creighton’s Jett Canfield and Mitch Ballock to start the game, the loss of star guard Marcus Zegarowski became too much for the Blue Jays to overcome. The Red Storm’s scoring tandem of L.J. Figueroa and Julian Champagnie, as well as clutch baskets, once again, from Marcell Earlington, gave Mike Anderson’s team the upper hand and resulted in a surprisingly early exit for Greg McDermott’s squad.
Final Score: St. John’s wins 73-72
No. 5 Butler vs. No. 4 Providence
The second quarterfinal game pinned two evenly-matched teams that had split the season series. The Butler Bulldogs, led by Senior guard Kamar Baldwin, started the game strong and held the upper hand for the remainder of the contest. Although Providence came into the tournament winning six consecutive contests, ineffectiveness from top scorers Alpha Diallo and Luwane Pipkins, who had been a tandem force against Butler in the regular season, resulted in the team’s eight-point loss. All season, the Bulldogs had relied on their defense to lead them to victories (11th ranked scoring defense in NCAA) and demonstrated a similar effort against the Friars to advance to the Big East Tournament Semifinals.
Final Score: Butler wins 78-70
No. 2 Villanova vs. No. 10 DePaul
After upsetting the Xavier Musketeers in the first round of the Big East Tournament, DePaul sought to keep its momentum going against the defending Big East champion, Villanova Wildcats. Jay Wright’s youthful team put those hopes away early, however, coming out firing on both ends of the court from the tip. As expected, Saddiq Bey and Colin Gilespie led the charge on offense, while star freshman big man Jeremiah Robinson-Earl displayed his defensive prowess throughout the contest, making it a nightmare for the Blue Devils, particularly Charlie Moore and Paul Reed, to drive to the basket. Advantage, Villanova.
Final Score: Villanova wins 82-67
No. 3 Seton Hall vs. No. 6 Marquette
The highly anticipated matchup between two of the best scorers in college basketball, Seton Hall’s Myles Powell and Marquette’s Markus Howard, was anything but disappointing. During the regular season, the Pirates won both contests between the teams handily, with Powell and Howard leading the scoring for their squads in both matchups. As expected, the two seniors were the focal points of their respective offenses, and similar to their previous two games, Seton Hall’s supporting cast of Quincy McKnight, Sandro Mamukelashvili, and Myles Cale was too much for the Golden Eagles to overcome.
Final Score: Seton Hall wins 75-72
With Butler, St. John’s, Villanova, and Seton Hall left, two more contests would give us our championship matchup:
No. 5 Butler vs. No. 9 St. John’s
Coming off consecutive upset victories over Xavier and Creighton, it was time for the Red Storm’s luck to run out. A lackluster first half by leading scorer L.J. Figueroa, who had set the tone for St. John’s in the first two Big East Tournament games, gave all the momentum to the Bulldogs, who followed a game plan similar to the one they followed against Providence in the Quarterfinals. LaVall Jordan’s supporting cast came up huge in this one, with Sean McDermott, Bryce Nze, and Jordan Tucker all having terrific nights from three-point range to lead Butler into the Big East Championship.
Final Score: Butler wins 71-56
No. 2 Villanova vs. No. 3 Seton Hall
After two wild games in the regular season between these Big East rivals, a semifinal matchup in the conference championship had all the storylines. Bey and Gillespie showed up once again for the Wildcats, while Myles Powell struggled from the field for much of the contest. Although the rest of the Pirates’ offense was able to carry some of the load, Villanova freshman Justin Moore’s two clutch threes in the final minutes gave the Wildcats the edge, ending another extremely promising tournament run for Kevin Williard’s Pirates.
Final Score: Villanova wins 81-76
Madison Square Garden. Automatic ticket to March Madness on the line. Finals.
No. 2 Villanova vs. No. 5 Butler
The main concern for Villanova coming into the Big East Tournament was its lack of experience, with three members of the starting five playing only their first or second year at the collegiate level. Those concerns subsided, however, as all-world coach Jay Wright provided his team with a steady hand throughout the tournament and the season as a whole. Butler, on a similar note, was recognized as one of the most underrated teams in college basketball all year long, even beating the Wildcats in their latest matchup. Nevertheless, the Wildcat’s abundance of weapons and scorers from all over the court was too much for the Bulldogs to beat.
Final Score: Villanova wins 77-73
For the fourth consecutive year, congratulations to the Villanova Men’s Basketball team on becoming the 2020 Big East Champs!