Bill Streicher/USA Today Sports

Big East hands out awards prior to conference tournament

March 07, 2018 - 4:30 pm

By John Rooke

Should there be any surprise that to the victors, go the spoils?

Xavier is the first team not named Villanova to win the Big East regular season title since the league went through shape-shifting five years ago.  From a national perspective, it’s no longer the Villanova Invitational-and-everyone-else, so that’s a good thing.

True to form, the Big East coaches annually recognize the league Coach and Player of the Year through their votes – not the media picks – and selected Xavier’s Chris Mack as Coach of the Year.  The Musketeers finished 15-3 in conference play, 27-4 overall and ranked a program-best 3rd in the national polls as a result.

Ironically, two of their three league losses came at the hands of runner-up Villanova, with the third Big East loss coming from Providence.  A Friar-Musketeer rematch (each team won on their home floor this season) looms in the Big East semifinals, provided both teams win Thursday.

The Big East Player of the Year honor was given to preseason favorite Jalen Brunson from Villanova.  Brunson is a legitimate National Player of the Year candidate, having already been named to that honor by The Sporting News.  Brunson has been remarkably consistent for the nationally-4th ranked Wildcats at 19 points per game, 4.8 assists and a 41% shooter from distance.

But if you need a player to carry you on his shoulders, Brunson is the guy to do it.  He did it earlier this year for the Cats when fellow starter Phil Booth broke his hand playing against the Friars.  It has been his show for the past two seasons, after getting more than just part-time play during Nova’s national title run in 2016 as a freshman.

“I think he would rather be on a team that needed him to carry the team,” head coach Jay Wright told The Sporting News. “And he is more comfortable in that role.  But that’s the beauty of this.  He was willing to give that up and just do it when this team needed it.” 

The Big East’s Freshman of the Year is 6-9 Villanova forward Omari Spellman, who averaged 10.9 points and led the Wildcats with 7.8 rebounds per game.  The rebound number was 4th best among all players in the conference during the season.

Opening round play begins Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden with an old-fashioned Big East matchup featuring Patrick Ewing and Georgetown against Chris Mullin and St. John’s.  Only, the two former stars are coaching on their respective sidelines.  The winner advances to Thursday at 12 noon to face top-seed Xavier.

Wednesday’s second game features 7th seeded Marquette against #10 DePaul.  The Golden Eagles are in a must-win situation to keep NCAA at-large hopes alive, and the winner gets Villanova Thursday at 7:00 pm.

Providence and Creighton square off in Thursday’s second game of the opening quarterfinal session, with tip-off scheduled for 2:30, and pregame coverage on 103.7 WEEI-FM, and the TuneIn App beginning at 2:15.