With all ten Big East teams above .500 at the end of non-conference play, the hype surrounding Saturday’s conference-opening games was palpable. Here’s what happened and how everyone got there.
Butler and Xavier led the Big East in non-conference play
The No. 22 Marquette Golden Eagles (10-3) and No. 19 DePaul Blue Demons (9-4) remain the conference’s two top-25 teams. However, they played significantly more difficult non-conference games than their other Big East foes against national championship contenders including No. 1 UConn (11-0), No. 2 Notre Dame (11-1) and No. 8 Mississippi State (11-1), which largely explains why they weren’t among the leaders in the standings.
Butler led the Big East with a 10-1 non-conference record. The Bulldogs’ most impressive win this season was a 66-53 win over Ohio State on Dec. 20. Xavier wasn’t far behind, with a 9-2 record heading into conference play, but their two losses came against then-No. 25 Minnesota on Nov. 14 and cross-town rival Cincinnati on Dec. 16.
And though they finished at the bottom of the standings earlier this week, the Creighton Bluejays climbed back to a 6-5 non-conference record after winning two consecutive games in back-to-back nights. Their first was an 83-76 win over South Florida on Dec. 20 and their second was a 75-55 blowout over Vanderbilt.
Big East play begins with a key upset
On Saturday, the Big East began conference play with four games. In the early afternoon, Marquette started their conference schedule on the right note by dominating Providence in a 85-46 rout after a first half where the Friars were held to just 12 points. Natisha Hiedeman scored 25 points to lead the Golden Eagles while Jovana Nogic led Providence with 12 points.
Xavier did well in non-conference play, but they started their Big East season on the wrong note with a 68-61 loss at Georgetown on Saturday afternoon. The Musketeers (9-3) led early thanks to some strong three-point shooting, but the Hoyas (7-5) countered with a 27-12 third-quarter run. Dionna White led Georgetown with 24 points and 12 rebounds in the victory, while sophomore Deja Ross led the Musketeers with 17 points.
Both of Saturday’s remaining games were upsets. First, Creighton beat DePaul on the road, 85-82. Brooke Kissinger and Audrey Faber scored 39 combined points for the Bluejays (7-5) who turned around a 42-35 halftime deficit to earn a hard-fought win. Chante Stonewall scored 17 points and grabbed 8 rebounds for the Blue Demons, who fell to 9-4.
Finally, Butler visited Villanova on Saturday night and the Bulldogs pulled out a 63-55 win over the Wildcats. Villanova fell behind early and came back to lead 30-28 at halftime and even ended the third quarter with a 47-43 lead. However, the Bulldogs came back with a dominant 20-8 fourth quarter to win. Tori Schickel led Butler (11-1) with 22 points and 9 rebounds, while Adrianna Hahn scored 16 points to lead Villanova (8-3).
Big East games of the week
St. John’s Red Storm (7-4) at Seton Hall Pirates (8-3)
When: Sunday, Dec. 30 at 1 p.m. ET
Where: Walsh Gymnasium, South Orange, NJ | TICKETS
How to watch: Big East Digital Network
Notes: The Red Storm and Pirates are the two teams in the Big East that haven’t played a conference game yet. Both teams haven’t had much success against many of the major-conference teams they played, nor against shared opponent UConn. However, they have done well against mid-majors. This is one of the Big East’s marquee rivalries, so this game should be a great way to end 2018.
Xavier Musketeers (9-3) at Villanova Wildcats (8-3)
When: Monday, Dec. 31 at 1 p.m. ET
Where: Finneran Pavilion, Villanova, PA
How to watch: Big East Digital Network | TICKETS
Notes: The Musketeers and Wildcats look to build from their losses on Saturday. Villanova should be the favorite in this game, but they cannot have another bad fourth quarter like they did against Butler.