With UConn coming off a blowout win over the No. 11 seeded DePaul 94-60, the Huskies find themselves one step closer to claiming the Big East Tournament crown. Up next is a primetime matchup with the #2 seed Creighton, with the other side of the bracket coming down to a potential championship game against either Seton Hall or Georgetown. Here we’ll take a quick peek into the matchup with the Blue Jays and look ahead at the two potential matchups that UConn will have during the remainder of the Big East tournament.
Semifinal vs. Creighton
Creighton’s Record: 19-7 (14-6)
Their tournament path: Win vs. Butler 87-56
Let’s be honest. This feels like the Big East championship game. A matchup between the clear two best teams in the Big East right now, it’s a travesty that this game is not the climax of the tournament. But, we digress. The Bluejays came into their last game of the season having dropped two straight to Xavier and Villanova. However, they have since turned things around quickly, shredding Butler by 20-plus in back to back games. There’s two narratives here. Creighton has either had laser focus, total eyes on the prize, and has not let the negative press surrounding their program affect them on the court. Or, that Butler isn’t very good. It’s likely a mixture of both, but Creighton still appears to be firing on all cylinders at the moment, as is UConn, coming off an absolute drubbing of DePaul 94-60.
Creighton runs a top ten offense in the country based on efficiency per KenPom (No. 9 nationally), and are the only other team in the Big East that can match UConn’s tremendous depth. This is how the Blue Jays have managed to knock off UConn twice this year already, sharing the wealth and getting as many able bodies involved in the well-oiled machine that is their offense.
They had 34 bench points against Butler in their last game, a season-high. This was partly because they were up by a comfortable margin for a majority of the game but also due to the fact that they simply have a lot of guys who can legitimately contribute. They possess multiple athletic and long guard-forward types who can slash, shoot, and also ignite a break. Ramping up the ball pressure on them and not biting on fakes will be a major key in limiting scoring opportunities.
One of the two losses UConn suffered to Creighton this season was without Bouknight, and after dropping 40 on them in the first contest, he is likely itching to get another crack at it, hopefully this time ending in a win. UConn cannot rely on him to score another 40 points tonight, though, because they won’t win without some semblance of balance. Good thing that’s exactly what they have been demonstrating, as over the past three games UConn has at least four players score in double figures. Again, this matchup would have been perfect for a tournament finale, but at least the college basketball world will get one more Big East first-team showdown between Bouknight and Zegarowski for good measure.
Potential Matchups for the Big East Championship game (Should UConn win vs. Creighton)
Record: 11-12 (7-9)
Their tournament path: W vs. Marquette 68-49, W vs. Villanova 72-71
UConn has had Georgetown’s number this year, winning both of their matchups this season with relative ease. However, the Hoyas have been a very scrappy team this year under fourth year head coach Patrick Ewing and have made it clear that they are not to be slept on. Georgetown has upset a few of the top teams in the conference, with the most recent shocker coming Thursday against Villanova in the quarterfinals.
The dynamic pair of Qudus Wahab and Jahvon Blair have combined for 70 points over the first two tournament games thus far. UConn hasn’t done a great job of neutralizing both players over their first two matchups, but even then it wasn’t much of an issue. Georgetown just doesn’t have the depth that the Huskies possess, and if Dan Hurley can keep throwing fresh bodies out there to help slow down Blair, and Sanogo can once again compete with Wahab for space down low and make him uncomfortable, UConn shouldn’t have a problem putting away Georgetown for a third time this year.
Seton Hall Pirates
Record: 14-12 (10-9)
Their tournament path: W vs. St. John’s 77-69 (OT)
Seton Hall is definitely the scarier of the two teams on the other side of the bracket in terms of talent and coaching. Head coach Kevin Willard leads this hungry squad into the semifinals of the Big East tournament and is fresh off of an impressive win over St. John’s in overtime — a game they needed to win to keep their NCAA tournament hopes alive — after blowing a 18-0 first half lead against the Johnnies in their season finale. Seton Hall was led by their co-Big East Player of the Year Sandro “Mamu” Mamukelashvili and athletic junior Jared Rhoden. The duo combined for a whopping 39 points and 27 rebounds. Rhoden, a 6-7 guard, had 16 rebounds alone, which was a career high. There’s no getting around it, Seton Hall has one of the most talented rosters in the conference, and can be dangerous if given ample opportunity. UConn split their season series with the Pirates, dropping the game in which Bouknight was still recovering from elbow surgery.
Once again, the matchup between Isiah Whaley and Mamu is going to be the biggest difference maker here. Winning this matchup was a major reason why UConn came out of the last battle victorious as he made life very difficult for Mamu, especially around the rim, sending multiple shot attempts right back in his face. The Huskies can’t underestimate the power of a team fighting for their postseason lives as well, as Seton Hall could still be playing for an at-large bid even if they knock of Georgetown in the semis.
As always, limiting turnovers will be huge, because Seton Hall, like Creighton, has four starting players who can all get out on the break and spread the floor. There’s not a doubt that playing Seton Hall over Georgetown in the championship would feel more like a final game, but either way, if the Huskies can make it back there, it would be a feat of its own.