CINCINNATI — The (sometimes ugly) week that was in the Big Ten . . .
The last time Ohio State had played a regular season basketball game on the Xavier campus, the man in the White House was named Franklin Roosevelt and the bottom team in the Big Ten was the University of Chicago.
That was 87 years ago. So the Xavier universe — players, fans, The Blue Blob mascot — weren’t going to let Thursday night’s chance go by. The students chanted Or-al Ro-berts, reminding the Buckeyes — like they needed it — of the underdog who knocked them out of the NCAA tournament last March. During one timeout, the music blaring from the Cintas Center loud speakers was The Victors. Michigan’s fight song. Really, can you think of a better tune to annoy visitors from Columbus?
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Meanwhile, on the scoreboard, Xavier outmuscled No. 19 Ohio State 71-65, tormenting the Buckeyes with 16 offensive rebounds and a 10-point spread in points in the paint, the last of them a loud punctuation mark of a Paul Scruggs dunk in the faces of the Ohio State defense. “We need to embrace the idea that we need to play a lot tougher,” Buckeyes’ coach Chris Holtmann said afterward.
But the charged environment was a growth experience, anyway. “We came to shoot-around and there were 250 students greeting us, in a really friendly way on the way in,” Holtmann said. Well, maybe not the really friendly part. “Listen, that’s good for a team. It’s good for college basketball. It doesn’t feel good right now. It feels terrible.”
By the way, Xavier has now won 12 of its last 16 games against nine different programs from the Big Ten.
So it mostly went for the mighty Big Ten in the Gavitt Games. Eight contests against the Big East, six losses, three by ranked Big Tenners getting upended by unranked Big Easters. For surprises, for upsets, for the chance to see matchups that hadn’t happened in a generation, the Gavitt event was easy to like. All the participants could see that.
It just wasn’t always that much fun for the Big Ten.
No. 4 Michigan played Seton Hall for the first time since 1989 and lost 67-65, blowing an 11-point lead in the second half in Ann Arbor. The Pirates, who had a 37-9 advantage in bench scoring, had never beaten a top-5 team on the road in their history. “This is where we are as a program,” Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard said. “I expected to win this game.”
No. 10 Illinois played Marquette for the first time in 28 years, committed 26 turnovers and lost 67-66. The Illini outrebounded the Golden Eagles 50-30 and still that wasn’t enough, since the 26th turnover was a Tyler Kolek steal and go-ahead layup with 18 seconds left. This is Marquette, with five starters who played at five different schools last season. “The theme of this game was audacity,” coach Shaka Smart said after his first signature Golden Eagles victory. “Not a lot of people outside our locker room gave us much of a chance to win this game.”
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DePaul made its last five 3-point shots to beat Rutgers 73-70. The Blue Demons might have long-standing issues escaping the bottom of the Big East standings, but they’ve become a real Big Ten pain, winning five of their last six games against the conference.
Just like Creighton has now beaten Nebraska 10 of their past 11 meetings after the latest, 77-69. The Bluejays are also 16-4 in their past 20 games against the Big Ten. “We lost that game in the first five minutes,” Cornhuskers coach Fred Hoiberg said, noting their early 29-10 deficit. But then, bad starts against Creighton have recently become a nasty Nebraska habit. The Bluejays’ lead was 37-7 in 2019 and 38-8 in 2013.
Providence beat Wisconsin 63-58 by defending the Badgers into 32.8 percent shooting, which is not supposed to happen in Madison. “I’m in my 28th year coaching, and this is one of the better wins we’ve had,” the Friars’ Ed Cooley said.
Oh, and should we add the non-Gavitt result from College Park this week? George Mason 71, No. 20 Maryland 66. “We don’t know how to handle it yet,” coach Mark Turgeon said of the Terps' ranking.
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Or Massachusetts, who has lost to Yale by 20 points and Weber State by 15, crunching Penn State by 25?
It’s a good thing for the Big Ten that Tom Izzo’s bucket list trip to Butler went so well. He had always wanted to coach a game in Hinkle Fieldhouse. “This was a thrill for me . . . and it met every expectation,” he said after the Spartans’ 73-52 win. “It reminds me of going to Lambeau Field back in my (early) days.”
His players made sure no loss would mar the evening. “They knew it was a big deal for me, and I learned it was a big deal for them,” said Izzo, who so loves the movie Hoosiers (shot partly in Hinkle) that he mentioned his only disappointment was Gene Hackman — the actor who played the coach in the movie — didn’t show up.
Izzo wanted a Hoosiers flavor to the whole trip. That’s why he decided the Spartans would make the four-hour bus trip each way, instead of a charter flight. “We should’ve stopped at a farm on the way down here,” he said.
And it’s a good thing Indiana held on against St. John’s 76-74, after watching a 14-point lead vanish in Assembly Hall. St. John’s hadn’t played there in 29 years. Mike Woodson’s first batch of Hoosiers has endured a rather tense 3-0 start. They had a 21-point lead against Eastern Michigan shrink to one. It’d be easier for Woodson if they stopped missing so many free throws.
So these were not the smoothest past few days for what might be the nation’s deepest conference. The Big East had a ball, though, the cell phone waves alive with league coaches giving pep talks to one another.
“It’s what makes our conference unique. And it’s real. The coaches really do have a fraternity,” said Stu Jackson, the conference executive associate commissioner for basketball. “I’m on the (texting) chain and it started the first night after the second game.
“It’s really headed by Jay (Villanova’s Wright), Kevin (Willard) and Ed Cooley, because they have been around the Big East. They’ve seen the bad side of it, and they’ve seen the good side.”
And this week was very good. For the Big Ten, not so much.