Some of the biggest news this past week was UConn — a
proud charter member of the American Athletic Conference — officially rejoining the Big East. The move rekindles old rivalries, puts the Huskies back on the Madison Square Garden stage they’ve enjoyed so much and should, ultimately, strengthen the country’s favorite, um, mid-major league.
But not so fast!
We can’t have the Big East dominate the dry and largely-irrelevant-given-the-state-of-things college basketball news cycle without adding our two cents. Big-time programs in big-time conferences is exciting, but let’s not forget all the losses the Big East took to mid-major teams in 2019-20. As always, there were some good ones:
Nov. 28: Long Beach State 66, Providence 65
The Grandaddy of them all as far as last season was concerned. The Friars led by 17 points early in the second half, and by as many as eight with just under four minutes left and then...kerplunk. The Beach erased that all behind 23 points from Washington transfer Michael Carter III, who sank three free throws in the final second to seal the dramatic, one-point win. Just look at this win probability chart:
This wasn’t one of Dan Monson’s scrappier, high octane teams at LBSU. In fact, the Beach finished with their worst record (11-21, 6-10) since Monson’s debt in 2008, making this the highlight of the season. While at the time it seemed to come against a dull Friars team, PC may well have made the NCAA Tournament after a furious finish. But lest you forget, the Penn, Charleston and Rhode Island were all able to pip the Friars during the non-conference.
Nov. 16: Vermont 70, St. John’s 68
Days before taking Virginia to the wire, Vermont proved to the country what we know well at this site — the Catamounts are real. The Red Storm had sent Carnesecca Arena into frenzy when Rasheem Dunn stared down a deep three to tie the game with 19.3 seconds left. But this would not be a night where the high major narrowly avoided the upset, as Vermont star Anthony Lamb drilled the game winner near the elbow with 1.9 seconds left.
The win gave the Catamounts their first over a current Big East member since 1924, and first over a high major since beating, ahem, Rutgers in 2009. Like so many teams, it’s a shame we never got to see this version of Vermont in the NCAA Tournament, but this game gave the college basketball world one of Lamb’s exclamation marks on an incredible career.
Nov. 28: San Diego State 83, Creighton 52
That folks, is a lopsided score. For the Aztecs, the fact they planted a 31-spot on Creighton was not only a hello to the nation, but a resounding data point on their resume as their remarkable season went on. The blowout win in the semifinals of the Las Vegas Invitational was all the more impressive in hindsight when you consider what SDSU did it to a Blue Jay team that would finish with the third-most efficient offense in the country. Malachi Flynn scored 21 points in the win, the first of many times he’d crack the 20-point mark in his tremendous one-year stint in Southern California.
Dec. 8: Buffalo 74, DePaul 69
This was a cruel one, right to the hearts of a country starting to believe in Dave Leitao 2.0. After grinding out a win against Texas Tech in overtime, the Blue Demons had added more legitimacy to a 9-0 start that already included wins over Iowa and Minnesota. But in came the Bulls, who used a harassing defense (18 turnovers, eight by Blue Demon point guard Charlie Moore) and big night from Jayvon Graves (21 points) to get their first true road win over Jim Whitesell.
It portended different routes for both teams. The Bulls shrugged off their heavy personnel losses to post a quality 20-12 debut season under Whitesell, who kept the identity the program had flourished under with Nate Oats by playing up tempo, something he generally didn’t do over seven season at Loyola Chicago. Meanwhile, the Blue Demons wasted their good non-conference record by sinking to 3-15 in the Big East — earning Leitao an extension in the process.
Nov. 30: UNC Greensboro 65, Georgetown 61
Coming off a somewhat competitive loss to Duke, the Hoyas’ offense was chewed up by UNC Greensboro, something that should’ve been unsurprising to anyone who’s followed Wes Miller’s Spartans. UNCG controlled the final six minutes — where they held Georgetown to 2-for-11 from the field — to pick up the program’s first win against a current Big East team. Freshman Keyshaun Langley guard had one of his best games of the season (11 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assists), and will be a big part of the equation, especially with Isaiah Miller off to the NBA.