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Road teams taking advantage of quiet Big East atmospheres

Game day atmosphere borders on bizarre this season with most Big East schools playing without fans in the building.

There's no deafening roar of the home crowd that's typical during a Big East game. No student band blaring the school's fight song.

There's no student section wildly rooting for their team and frantically waving their arms when an opposing player prepares to take a free throw.

Fan cutouts occupy the seats now.

"There's no question it's different," Marquette coach Steve Wojciechowski said. "Whether it's playing at home in front of a sold-out crowd or playing on the road in front of a sold-out crowd, one of the things that makes the Big East great is everywhere you go the fans and the fan bases are very passionate.

"So it's definitely different."

Different but basically the same for every Big East team.

Only a handful of teams are allowing fans due to COVID-19 related restrictions.

On Dec. 23, Creighton had 1,673 people in attendance at CHI Health Center in Omaha, Neb., for its Big East home game against Xavier while Butler had 1,724 seats filled against Providence.

Xavier is letting in a maximum of 300 people for its games at the Cintas Center.

At UConn, each player, coach and staff member gets four tickets per game. The attendance at Gampel Pavilion is usually about 125.

Without the vocal support, home court advantage has been greatly diminished.

Numbers back that up, as Big East home teams owned a 12-9 record in league games prior to Tuesday's action. Two more road teams won on Saturday, with Creighton winning on a buzzer-beating basket at Providence and Marquette rallying from a 16-point halftime deficit at Georgetown.

UConn coach Dan Hurley and DePaul's Dave Leitao compare the game atmosphere to that of a preseason scrimmage.

"Everything feels neutral," Hurley said. "Obviously there's an advantage of shooting on the rims and being comfortable with the surroundings. But these games all feel neutral. And it's eerie. It's an eerie feel on game day.

"Normally when the Gampel folks would be filing in, the police and security would be outside, there's a buzz; It's Game Day. They feel like secret scrimmages until you get in there and go through your game prep and it gets real quickly.

"It's eerie, man. ... It's just strange."

Leitao feels the same way. He says there's a way to seize the advantage whether playing at home or on the road.

"I think the home court advantage goes to the team that has the most energy," Leitao said. "You can't draw energy from your fan base, quite obviously."

On the flip side, Big East teams have a better chance to secure valuable road wins this season. There's no dealing with hostile crowds.

Until restrictions are lifted, Big East arenas will remain eerily quiet.

Let's hope that changes by the time the Big East tournament rolls around in March at Madison Square Garden.

Coaches For Action take action

All Big East teams are wearing Black Lives Matter (BLM) patches on their uniforms this season.

UConn associate head coach Kimani Young helped make that happen.

Young is one of the founding members of Coaches For Action, "a coalition of 21 ethnic minority Big East men's basketball assistant coaches formed to help raise awareness in the fight against racism and to develop a sustainable action plan to dismantle prejudice, discrimination and oppression in Black, Brown, Indigenous and minoritized communities," according to a Big East release.

"We've made tremendous strides in terms of the first three initiatives that we wanted to introduce, which includes having our players wear BLM patches to just raise awareness and make a life value statement for Black people, both young and old," Young said. "To be able to partner with the Big East and have the support of all the member schools was awesome."

Coaches For Action is encouraging student-athletes and college coaches to use their platform to speak out and raise awareness about social injustice issues.

Don't just be a "hashtag activist," Young says. Educate yourself, form an opinion and be part of the conversation and the solution.

Coaches For Action is working on creating a scholarship fund for "an African American high school student that wants to attend a Big East member school, that has shown some potential to have a presence in a social justice community and wants to speak out about what's going on across the country.

"... They are the future leaders of our world," Young added. "We want to educate them the best we can, support them, put them in a position where they're in a position of leadership so they can help create change and sustain that change."

Villanova pauses again

Villanova is dealing with another COVID-19 related pause, forcing changes in its league schedule. The Big East announced that Villanova's games at DePaul on Tuesday, at home against Marquette on Friday and at Xavier on Jan. 13 all have been postponed.

The Wildcats had just started practicing again on Sunday after pausing on Dec. 27, the day after coach Jay Wright tested positive.

They haven't played a game since Dec. 23.

"We are obviously going through a tough time right now in our program," Wright said on Monday in a school press release. "We had quarantined for 10 days with nine consecutive days of negative tests for all players. On the 11th day of our quarantine we practiced together for the first time (Sunday). We test every day before practice.

So, (Monday) we were getting ready to practice and head to DePaul (Monday) afternoon, and we learned we had two positive tests from players. That immediately shuts us down and puts into a 10-day quarantine at least. That's what we know exactly at this time. We're in that mode of trying to figure that out."

Villanova's next scheduled game is Jan. 15 at UConn.

Quote of the week

Senior Jamal Cain on Marquette overcoming an 16-point halftime deficit to beat host Georgetown 64-60 on Saturday:

"We stopped thinking about ourselves and we started to put the energy toward the team."

Cain finished with a career-high 25 points and earned a spot on the Big East weekly honor roll.

Big East blurbs

The NCAA released its first NET rankings on Monday. Big East rankings: No. 5 Villanova, No. 30 Creighton, No. 44 Seton Hall, No. 46 Xavier, No. 48 UConn, No 63 Marquette, No. 78 Providence, No. 112 St. John's, No. 149 Georgetown, No. 155 DePaul, No. 170 Butler. ... Big East rookie of the week honors went to Marquette's Dawson Garcia. Seton Hall's Sandro Mamukelashvili was selected as the player of the week after finishing with 24 points, nine rebounds and six assists in a 68-60 win over Butler Saturday. ... Butler senior Aaron Thompson, the team's leading scorer at 17.5 points per game, has missed five straight games with a knee injury. ... Three of Creighton's four Big East wins are by five points or less, including beating host Providence, 67-65, Saturday. ... Upcoming game of the week: Winners of seven of its last eight, Seton Hall (8-4, 5-1) visits Creighton (8-2, 4-1) Wednesday in a showdown between two of the Big East's top teams. ... Individual league leaders: Bouknight, scoring, 23.2; UConn's Tyrese Martin, rebounding, 9.3; Xavier's Paul Scruggs, assists, 6.8; Seton Hall's Ike Obiagu, blocks, 3.3; St. John's Greg Williams, Jr., and teammate Posh Alexander, steals, 2.4.

g.keefe@theday.com

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