The 2014 Big East tournament kicked off on Wednesday night as the men's college basketball season inches closer to the NCAA tournament.
One recent March Madness Cinderella in the Butler Bulldogs needed a strong run just to get to the NIT in facing the Seton Hall Pirates, while the Georgetown Hoyas sought to fortify their NCAA tournament resume in taking on DePaul.
As is commonplace at this unpredictable juncture of the year, neither of the more heralded programs were able to succeed. Butler fell behind too far and lost 51-50 to Seton Hall, and DePaul pulled off the upset 60-56 over Georgetown.
Read on to find out how the opening two contests of the Big East tournament played out, along with a look ahead at the loaded schedule that defines Thursday's action.
|Game No.||Teams||Date||Time (ET)||TV Info|
|1||Seton Hall (8) 51, Butler (9) 50||Wed., March 12||7 pm||Fox Sports 1|
|2||DePaul (10) 60, Georgetown (7) 56||Wed., March 12||9:30 pm||Fox Sports 1|
|3||No. 1 Villanova vs.No. 8 Seton Hall||Thu., March 13||12 pm||Fox Sports 1|
|4||No. 4 Providence vs. No. 5 St. John's||Thu., March 13||2:30 pm||Fox Sports 1|
|5||No. 2 Creighton vs. No. 10 DePaul||Thu., March 13||7 pm||Fox Sports 1|
|6||No. 3 Xavier vs. No. 6 Marquette||Thu., March 13||9:30 pm||Fox Sports 1|
DePaul 60, Georgetown 56
The Hoyas had some quality wins over teams such as Creighton and VCU but needed a respectable effort in the conference tournament to enhance their Big Dance resume. Wednesday was not a good effort by any measure, as Georgetown lost to DePaul, who improved to just 12-20 on the season.
This loss will likely cost the Hoyas a shot at the NCAA tournament, and it is a big morale booster for the Blue Demons, who struggled to a 3-15 conference record. But as ESPN's Andy Katz said afterward, credit DePaul for playing with heart:
Have to give DePaul credit for continuing to play hard. Shocking loss for Georgetown team that could have played its way into field.— Andy Katz (@ESPNAndyKatz) March 13, 2014
Led by standout freshman Billy Garrett Jr., who poured in 17 points and iced the game late with two key free throws, an unprecedented confidence swelled over the Blue Demons. Junior forward Forrest Robinson was the man who stepped up most, though. After averaging 3.4 points on the season before this game, Robinson drained four of five three-pointers en route to 14 huge points.
The tide really turned when Robinson hit a rainbow shot from downtown to stretch the lead to 51-45 with just over five minutes left:
Georgetown played like a team afraid to lose rather than a squad seeking to attack and dominate an inferior opponent. When March Madness' official Twitter accounts suggests a team's NCAA tournament hopes are over, it's probably true:
Kieran Darcy of ESPNNewYork.com noted how long it had been since Georgetown lost to DePaul, as the underdogs snapped a 14-game losing streak against their conference rival:
Georgetown has not lost to DePaul since the 1993-94 season. 14 straight victories.— Kieran Darcy (@KieranDarcy) March 13, 2014
USA Today's Dan Wolken pulled no punches in his harsh but fair assessment of what the Hoyas did in defeat:
It really doesn't get any worse than losing to DePaul with your NCAA tournament hopes on the line. Sorry, Georgetown.— Dan Wolken (@DanWolken) March 13, 2014
Coach Oliver Purnell has taken heat for how poor the Blue Demons have been, but this win seems to justify the decision to retain him for the 2014-15 campaign. Athletic director Jean Lenti Ponsetto explained her reasoning for bringing Purnell back for a fifth season, per the Chicago Tribune's Chris Hine:
When he came here we talked about taking four or five years to get it turned and to get the caliber of student-athlete we want in the program. It's definitely a rebuild, this process that we're in, and we're going to stay the course, recruit, just get better and execute.
That patience paid off at least for one night on Wednesday, as DePaul pulled off a big shocker after being a doormat for the rest of the conference all year long. It took an extraordinary performance from Robinson and a great defensive effort, and this is a building point for the Blue Demons.
Next up is Creighton on Thursday, which doesn't seem like a game DePaul is capable of winning. Then again, if Robinson plays as he did Wednesday and Garrett continues his fearless, strong form, perhaps the Blue Demons could keep this run going.
Seton Hall 51, Butler 50
The ninth-seeded Bulldogs were unable to conjure up quite enough magic in losing the opening game to Seton Hall 51-50 at New York City's Madison Square Garden. Now the No. 8 Pirates will move on to face top seed Villanova on Thursday, essentially hoping for a miracle.
Wednesday's battle of sub-.500 teams was reflected in the level of play in the early going, as the Pirates took a slim 23-22 halftime lead. Josh Newman of the Asbury Park Press hinted at that notion in his simple yet appropriate analysis:
Butler is bad. Seton Hall is less bad #Analysis— Josh Newman (@Joshua_Newman) March 13, 2014
But that doesn't mean the game wasn't entertaining—it certainly was in the last 20 minutes thanks to a furious Bulldogs rally. Seton Hall senior center Gene Teague proved to be a tough matchup for the undersized Butler bunch, scoring 14 points, pulling down 13 rebounds and giving the Pirates a key edge on the glass.
Gannett New Jersey's Jerry Garino highlighted how valuable Teague was down the stretch:
One Seton Hall player has scored over the final 9 minutes -- Gene Teague. Amazing.— Jerry Carino (@NJHoopsHaven) March 13, 2014
A woeful performance from the Bulldogs backcourt saw Kellen Dunham and Alex Barlow go scoreless well into the second half, making zero of their combined first 14 shot attempts, including 11 from three-point range. That still didn't crush Butler's trademark resolve, though, as it dug in on defense and kept things close.
Khyle Marshall led his squad with a game-high 22 points, and his extraordinary effort didn't go unnoticed by the Indianapolis Star's Zak Keefer:
Say this much for Khyle Marshall: If he's going down, he's going down swinging. Senior has 16 & is only Butler player in double figures— Zak Keefer (@zkeefer) March 13, 2014
A 7-0 run highlighted by an emphatic dunk from Marshall cut the Pirates' lead to 45-39 with just over seven minutes remaining in the game. Dunham finally got on the board with a bucket to cut even further into the lead, and Barlow's first three helped answer a three-point play from Teague.
When things were looking bleak for the Bulldogs, Dunham got a key steal and dunked it home to make the game 51-50 with approximately 47 seconds remaining. Ian Powers of the New York Daily News described the bizarre sequence as Seton Hall tried to get the ball out of its own end:
Crazy sequence where Seton Hall withstands 3 shots by Butler at 1-min mark, only to have mental lapse leading to TO and dunk by Dunham— Ian Powers (@BracketGuru) March 13, 2014
Unfortunately for Butler, the comeback fell short. Big East Defensive Player of the Year Fuquan Edwin stole a Dunham pass intended for Marshall with seconds remaining. However, Seton Hall missed the front end of a one-and-one, giving the Bulldogs one last glimpse of hope. Barlow's shot from halfcourt hit the backboard, sealing Butler's fate.
It would have been a Cinderella story for Butler to have even gotten deep in the conference tournament, much less in the Big Dance. Nevertheless, Pirates coach Kevin Willard knew better than to count Butler out even on Barlow's last-second heave, per Jim Lefko of the Indianapolis Star:
Seton Hall coach Willard on Butler's potential game winning shot at buzzer. "We just said a prayer."— Jim Lefko (@jimlefko) March 13, 2014
Villanova is ranked third in the AP poll and barring a stunning upset in the coming days, it's difficult to envision the Wildcats not being a No. 1 seed when the March Madness brackets are released. But this is a conference with a rich and storied tradition, so anything can happen.
The Pirates are an inconsistent team but managed to get themselves to .500, and would likely secure an NIT bid by upsetting Villanova. As unlikely as that seems, Seton Hall can put the clamps down on defense and have little else to play for at this point, so the ingredients are in place for a shocking, improbable victory.