With just a little over a week in the books for the Big East, there are many takeaways. Each team has at least two games played and many things happened that were expected, surprising and flat out amazing. With such a small sample size thus far, it’s tough to distinguish many player’s performances from the others, but here are the biggest takeaways from the first week.
Player of the Week
Markus Howard, G, Junior, Marquette Golden Eagles
One of the consensus top players in the Big East coming into the season and one of the deadliest scorers the past two seasons picked right up where he left off. In three games to start, he is averaging 23.3 ppg, 6.0 rpg and leads the Big East with 70 total points scored thus far. The 23.3 ppg are good for fourth to start among Big East players. His first big performance came last Saturday at home against Bethune-Cookman, where he exploded for a game-high 37 points on seven 3-pointers and 10-11 free throw shooting.
Howard is streaky and has been in the two-plus years. He was held to less than 20 points in the other two games (including a tough 96-73 road loss to Indiana this past week where he was just 6-14 from the field and 1-5 from beyond the arc). All that aside, Howard has already shown the conference he is ready to continue his previous work of scoring at will and leading an offense juggernaut. Marquette came into the week ranked No. 24 in the nation, the first time being ranked since 2013, and Howard has a lot to say for that. He can score wherever and whenever, be physical to rebound and get to the line and be the leader his team needs.
Mustapha Heron, G, Junior, St. John’s Red Storm
Heron was a transfer from Auburn this past season and was predicted to be a force for the Red Storm this season and help the Johnnies get over the hump. So far, so good.
Heron averaged 15.2 and 16.4 ppg in his two seasons at Auburn and brought that to the Big Apple. He has helped pace St. John’s to a 2-0 start with wins over Loyola MD and Bowling Green. The win over the Falcons last Friday was especially big, where he poured in 26 points, shot 8-16 from the field, had six rebounds and zero turnovers. Overall, he is averaging 20.5 ppg and 6.5 rpg to start the year.
Heron transferred to St. John’s to get closer to his hometown of Waterbury, Connecticut and his contributions are already paying big dividends for head coach Chris Mullin. One of the big issues, especially last year, for St. John’s has been offensive production. The defense has been one of the tops in the conference, but the offense hasn’t come through consistently. Now with Heron to compliment First-Team Shamorie Ponds, this season for the Red Storm already has a new feel.
Alpha Diallo, G, Junior, Providence Friars
Diallo is a different type of guard from the previous two because he’s a bit more dynamic in more aspects and has shown it early on. So far in three games, he is checking off the big boxes for the Friars. Scoring? 20.3 ppg. Efficient shooting? 51.3 field goal percentage and 10-19 from beyond the arc. He is averaging 4.3 apg which leads the team but amazingly, the 6’7” guard is leading the team with 10.3 rpg. He is literally leading the team in all categories and taking the reigns of Ed Cooley’s team.
It’s not fair to put any players here at this early stage of the season, since there isn’t enough of a sample size to see if anyone is underperforming yet.
Villanova has started their title defense at 2-1. The Wildcats lost four program staples from last season that helped them win their third national title: Jalen Brunson, Omari Spellman, Mikal Bridges and Donte DiVincenzo. Many people expected Jay Wright and Nova to have struggles out of the gate this season to find their rhythm. Even Wright probably knew that.
Well, it’s happened. Villanova’s started 2-0, but showed some significant breakdowns on defense and offensive deficiencies in their first two games. In their season opener against Morgan State, the Villanova defense never locked down until late in the game and frequently let Morgan State hang around and gain confidence.
Then Michigan game to town. In a rematch of last season’s title game, in a Gavitt Tipoff Game and with the Wolverines looking for revenge, Villanova was blown out 73-46 on their own floor. Eric Paschall shot just 3-14 from the field and led the team with 10 points. A team that prides itself on outside shooting was just 3-15 from beyond the arc and made only 14 field goals. Another glaring hole: Villanova committed 21 turnovers and their defense was all over the place. It was an utter embarrassment, the worst loss for Wright and Nova since 2003 (their first double-digit loss since 2015).
There’s no beating around the bush: Villanova isn’t as good as they were last year, not even close. Not yet at least. There’s a lot of season left and Wright is too good a coach to let the team play at this level all year. However, the defensive deficiencies, 46 total turnovers and 32.1 3-point percentage show this team isn’t clicking.
New Xavier Coach Travis Steele
It probably isn’t right to put a first-time coach here, but it wasn’t easy sledding for Steele to start the year. It’s his first time at the helm of a college basketball team and he took over for one of the best coaches in program history in Chris Mack. Steele also inherited a team that lost immense talent in the forms of Trevon Bluiett and J.P. Macura.
Xavier has been sluggish out of the gates to start. They are 2-1 and in their two wins, they haven’t really blown anyone out. They beat IUPU to start the season by only 13 and then four days later, survived by the skin of their teeth at home against Evansville 91-85. Their luck ran out at home against Wisconsin on Tuesday. The Badgers, who were defeated by the Musketeers at home last season, got revenge and handed Xavier a 77-68 home loss.
It’s a learning curve for Steele and he will get it eventually. It doesn’t get any easier, though, as now Xavier will travel to Maui for a date with No. 9 ranked Auburn.
Top Big East Out of Conference Matchups
5. Xavier @ Cincinnati (12/8)
It’s the annual Crosstown Shootout, the battle of Cincinnati. This game has been played every season between these two programs since 1927. The Bearcats lead the all-time series 50-35. Last season, the No. 21 Musketeers defeated the No. 11 Bearcats at home 89-76. Remember Cincinnati head coach Mick Cronin having to be restrained by his coaches at the end when he tried to go after Macura after their heated exchange? Yeah, this a bad blood rivalry.
4. Georgetown @ No. 15 Syracuse (12/8)
The Hoyas came were close to knocking off the Orangs last season in D.C., but came up just short in an 86-79 Syracuse victory. Now, Georgetown will travel up north to the Carrier Dome for another chance.
3. Xavier vs No. 9 Auburn (11/19)
This game as mentioned before will be Monday in Maui on a neutral court. It’s Xavier’s second straight matchup with a Power 5 opponent and after their loss to Wisconsin this week, it could be another long night against Bruce Pearl’s top-10 ranked Tigers.
2. Wisconsin @ No. 24 Marquette (12/8)
Like Georgetown vs Syracuse, this is another rematch from last season. In 2017, Marquette marched into Madison and stomped all over the Badgers 82-63. Now, the Badgers travel to Milwaukee in another battle of the state of Wisconsin.
1. No. 8 Villanova @ No. 2 Kansas (12/15)
Last time these two teams met, Villanova blew out the Jayhawks with a Final Four record 18 3-pointers in a 95-79 victory. That was last year. Things are different now. Nova has already shown their loss of production from last season is taking a toll. Jay Wright should have his guys ready to for this matchup and the Wildcats should be in better shape. However, it’s Allen Fieldhouse. It’s Bill Self and Kansas. It won’t be easy. It should be entertaining.