Otskey’s Observations: Wednesday at the Big East TournamentPosted by Brian Otskey (@botskey) on March 13th, 2014
Brian Otskey will be reporting from the Big East Tournament all week.
While the makeup of the Big East has changed, much was the same on day one of the 2014 edition of the Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden. The crowd at the Garden was certainly not sold out but it exceeded expectations for what seemed, on paper at least, like a lackluster doubleheader featuring Seton Hall, Butler, Georgetown and DePaul. In fact, attendance was similar, if not better, than the Tuesday and Wednesday rounds in Big East tournaments past. The opening rounds have never drawn well so a decent crowd on hand Wednesday night has to be a positive sign going forward for the re-configured conference. The real test will come during Thursday’s quarterfinals with four games involving the league’s better teams.
In game one, Seton Hall survived Butler in a match-up of two hard-luck teams. The Pirates had lost seven games either by one point or in overtime this year but finally put a one point game in the win column, holding by the count of 51-50. Butler had lost five games by either two points or in overtime entering tonight. Seton Hall looked to be in command as it built a 13-point lead with under ten minutes to play but the Bulldogs whittled the deficit to one with only 47 seconds to play but neither team scored again, resulting in the final margin. Seton Hall did a great job taking Kellen Dunham out of the game, especially when you consider Dunham went off for 29 points when these teams met in Indianapolis just four days ago. Dunham and Alex Barlow combined to shoot 3-of-21 from the floor but senior Khyle Marshall picked up the slack, pouring in a highly efficient 22 points. The Pirates came out strong on the defensive end and it carried them to victory. The Hall isn’t a bad team when it plays hard, but getting this team to bring it every night has seemed to be head coach Kevin Willard’s major problem in his four years with the program. With nothing to lose, Seton Hall may be a tougher than expected challenge for top-seeded Villanova tomorrow afternoon, although the Wildcats should end up prevailing.
The second game started slowly with both teams trading baskets for most of the first half and into the second, but DePaul pulled off the upset of Georgetown thanks to a crucial 17 to 5 run spanning six minutes over the middle to latter part of the second half. Freshman Billy Garrett Jr. backed up his Big East Rookie of the Year award, scoring 17 points. Garrett Jr. is one of the more impressive DePaul players we’ve seen in quite some time, especially for a freshman. However, it was four three pointers by junior Forrest Robinson (three came during the critical run) that propelled the Blue Demons to victory. It is commendable that the Blue Demons played hard while playing out the string in another lost and miserable season. In the process, DePaul likely destroyed any hope that Georgetown had of making the NCAA Tournament. Now at 17-14 on the season and 8-10 in the Big East regular season with a sweep at the hands of Seton Hall and losses to the Blue Demons and Northeastern on their resume, it is hard to see the Hoyas hearing their name called on Sunday evening. With the victory, DePaul will advance to another house money game tomorrow night against high-powered Creighton.
Overall this was not a bad start to tournament week at MSG. While both games weren’t necessarily well-played, they were exciting and gave the fans a reason to stay in their seats. If you are Big East commissioner Val Ackerman, you have to be thrilled with how well the evening went from both an attendance and competitive standpoint. With Creighton expected to bring a few thousand fans and the league’s top teams on display tomorrow, day two should bring even more excitement and a better atmosphere to the World’s Most Famous Arena.