Home court wins crucial due to depth of conference

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Home court wins crucial due to depth of conference

Markus Howard (0) pumps up the crowd at Fiserv Forum Jan. 4. The Golden Eagles went on to upset the then-No. 10 Villanova Wildcats 71-60.

Markus Howard (0) pumps up the crowd at Fiserv Forum Jan. 4. The Golden Eagles went on to upset the then-No. 10 Villanova Wildcats 71-60.

Photo by John Steppe

Markus Howard (0) pumps up the crowd at Fiserv Forum Jan. 4. The Golden Eagles went on to upset the then-No. 10 Villanova Wildcats 71-60.

Photo by John Steppe

Photo by John Steppe

Markus Howard (0) pumps up the crowd at Fiserv Forum Jan. 4. The Golden Eagles went on to upset the then-No. 10 Villanova Wildcats 71-60.

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In a competitive league like the BIG EAST, it’s imperative for teams to win on their home courts.

“Certainly, every year in the BIG EAST you have to try and protect your home court to the best of your ability,” Marquette head coach Steve Wojciechowski said.

However, this season, home-court advantage hasn’t always been a guarantee. The 10 conference teams have a combined 18-11 record this season when on their respective home courts.

“All of us coaches think we coach in the best league in the country. Whether we’re the best, but we’re far from the worst, this year in particular you have to try to protect home court,” Providence head coach Ed Cooley said. “It’s so hard to win on the road in those environments. Every team is right there. Every team has great players, their systems are good. You have to protect home surface if you’re going to try to compete for a championship, (if) you’re going to try to compete in an NCAA bid.”

There are only two teams that have yet to lose to a BIG EAST opponent on their respective home courts: Seton Hall and Villanova. The Pirates are undefeated in conference standings, while the Wildcats are a perfect 9-0 this season at Wells Fargo Center and Finneran Pavillion.

Meanwhile, the other eight BIG EAST teams have accounted for 11 home losses. Out of those 11 losses, 12 points was the largest margin for the away teams to come out with a victory.

“The league is very balanced. Each and every night there’s going to be a lot of close games,” Creighton assistant coach Paul Lusk said.

In his first season with the BIG EAST, St. John’s head coach Mike Anderson said it is one of the best leagues in the country. Anderson has never had a losing season as a Division I head coach, competing in both the Southeastern Conference and the Big 12, most recently spending eight seasons with the University of Arkansas.

“We saw it in nonconference play, and it’s carried over into conference play,” Anderson said. “On any given night, anyone can get anyone. … We’re seeing it right now, where we’re beating up on each other. Hopefully, it continues and it puts us in position to get many, many teams in postseason play.”

Anderson said the only difference between other leagues and this one is that the BIG EAST is a basketball-only conference. Since every team from top to bottom in the conference can compete with each other, there’s only one thing teams can do.

“You have to bring it each and every night,” Anderson said. “That says a lot about the parity in basketball.”

For coaches like Villanova’s Jay Wright, who is in his 19th season as head coach of the Wildcats, typical BIG EAST basketball means six teams receive bids into the 64-team DI NCAA Tournament. In 2002, 2004, 2005, 2007, 2015 and 2018, six conference teams made a bid.

“I’ve said it every year that top to bottom, this has always been the best conference in the country,” Wright said. “Whoever’s in 10th place at the time, when No. 1’s playing 10 in this conference, it’s a tough game. I don’t think there’s any other conference like that.”

However, Wright said this year in particular is extremely unique.

“I can guarantee you whoever’s in 10th place right now probably has a great chance of being an NCAA Tournament team based on what they’ve done so far this season,” Wright said.

In BIG EAST history, the record of conference teams that made the 64-team NCAA Tournament was back in 2011 when 11 league teams qualified for the postseason: Connecticut was the conference champion that year and Syracuse, West Virginia, Villanova, Marquette, Cincinnati, Notre Dame, Louisville, Georgetown, Pittsburgh and St. John’s received at-large bids. That was the most of any conference by a landslide. In comparison, the Big Ten only had seven teams earn a bid that year.

In 2012, there were nine teams from the BIG EAST that earned bids. In 2006, 2008, 2010 and 2013, eight teams from the conference appeared in the NCAA Tournament. Seven league teams made the 2009 NCAA Tournament, and there was a span of four straight seasons from 1997-2001 where five conference teams made the NCAAs.

Since the realignment of the BIG EAST in 2013-14, the highest number of bids occurred in 2017 when seven league teams made the Tournament: Villanova as the automatic qualifier and Marquette, Providence, Xavier, Creighton, Butler and Seton Hall with at-large selections.

Last season wasn’t as successful, sending only four BIG EAST teams to the 2019 NCAA Tournament. The conference combined for a 1-4 record in postseason games, with only Villanova making a Round of 32 appearance.

“I’d love to see us test history and see if we can get the highest percentage,” Wright said. “I think we have a shot to do it.”

Though Wright’s team handed Creighton its lone loss at CHI Health Center Omaha Jan. 7, the Wildcats failed to beat Marquette at Fiserv Forum Jan. 4.

As far as other home court losses, the Bulldogs, Blue Demons, Hoyas, Golden Eagles, Friars and Red Storm have all dropped games at their respective home courts.

Butler dropped a game to Seton Hall at Hinkle Fieldhouse Jan. 15. DePaul fell to both Seton Hall Dec. 30 and Providence Jan. 4 in back-to-back games at Wintrust Arena.

“We have to play with confidence,” Georgetown’s head coach Patrick Ewing said. “We have to play with the same mindset going into Villanova or wherever else we have to go play. Come out with energy, effort, play confident and hopefully at the end of the day we’ll get a win.”

Georgetown dropped its first league game at Capital One Arena to Marquette Saturday in an 84-80 decision.

“If you can get a road win, that’s been hard to come by and it’s because teams are so good and home courts are so good,” Wojciechowski said.

Meanwhile, Marquette’s only loss at Fiserv Forum went to Providence in overtime Jan. 7. Providence’s one conference loss at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center was to then-No. 6 Butler Jan. 10. St. John’s lost to both then-No. 11 Butler at Carnesecca Arena Dec. 31 and No. 10 Seton Hall at Madison Square Garden Saturday. Xavier fell to both Seton Hall Jan. 8 and Creighton Jan. 11 at the Cintas Center.

After losing to Georgetown at Capital One Arena Jan. 8, Anderson said life in the BIG EAST means teams must defend home court and have players that bring physical defense on the road.

“We just had to have some guys out there that could bring the physicalness and bring the … toughness that you need to compete in the BIG EAST on the road,” Anderson said.

Regardless of being home or away, there are no automatic wins in this conference.

“The league is a grind,” Wojciechowski said. “I really think every win is gold.”

Cooley said the league will probably get seven to nine teams into the NCAA Tournament.

“If you can protect home court as best you can and try to get lucky on the road a few times, you’re going to position yourself to be an at-large team if you can’t win the conference championship and or post-season championship,” Cooley said. “Buckle up, it should be a lot of fun. That’s what our league’s about.”

 

This story was written by Zoe Comerford. She can be reached at isabel.comerford@marquette.edu or on Twitter @zoe_comerford.