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    Monday, April 15, 2024

    Big East coaches dealing with all the scheduling changes

    When Villanova coach Jay Wright's phone rings, his heart starts pounding.

    Bad news regarding COVID-19 test results is usually delivered via phone.

    Good news comes by text message.

    That's the procedure for Wright as well as UConn's Dan Hurley and some other Big East basketball coaches.

    "I get a report from Arleshia Davidson, our assistant, every morning...," Wright said. "She usually texts me, all negative, with smiley faces and I send back prayer signs. But if she calls me, I'm telling you my heart is pounding because that's when she's told me that we had a positive.

    "It's every day, literally."

    Villanova and UConn are two of nine Big East teams that have had at least one pause due to COVID-19 issues within their respective programs.

    Xavier is the latest team to come off a break, as it will play for the first time in 20 days on Saturday when it visits Butler.

    Butler, DePaul, Creighton, Seton Hall, Georgetown and Marquette also have had interruptions because of positive tests. Marquette's shutdown came in October prior to the start of the regular season.

    St. John's isn't on that list but did have a scare in early January when a suspected positive test forced the postponement of a home game versus DePaul on Jan. 2. Follow-up testing determined the previous result was not accurate and the Red Storm resumed team activities after a short two-day break.

    Providence is the only Big East team in the clear so far.

    Of course, every team has been impacted by COVID-19 related postponements. Valuable practice time is lost for those teams with positive tests. And the length of a pause can vary depending on each school's local and state health guidelines.

    The reason behind a postponement isn't always connected to a team.

    Earlier this week, UConn was forced to postpone two games and go on pause for the third time this season after an official working Tuesday's home game against Butler tested positive.

    Hurley recently spoke about the difficulties in managing the season while dealing with the disruptions. The Huskies have had 10 games either postponed or canceled.

    "It just puts you in a practice by practice, game by game, almost minute by minute mindset with this," Hurley said. "You're just trying to win the next game, you're just trying to have a great practice, you're just hoping that you get a text message instead of a phone call. Usually, the text message means all negative and a phone call means there's a problem with a likely pause or an opponent.

    "We're not looking too far down the line here with anything."

    Entering the weekend, the Big East has played 46 games out of the 110 on the schedule for the season.

    Squeezing the remaining 64 games into the final five weeks of the regular season will be an enormous challenge, especially considering there will be more postponements ahead.

    About a dozen games still need to be rescheduled.

    "Some have tentative dates and some we are still working on," said John Paquette, Big East Senior Associate Commissioner, Sports Media Relations. "Realistically, we know it's going to be very difficult to get every game played."

    Wright is willing to play as many as three games a week at times to try to get in as many as possible.

    "That's the difficult question that we're all dealing with now in the Big East," Wright said. "We would agree to play a third game in a week, we just have to be careful about how we do it, how much travel."

    Making a point

    When starting point guard Jared Bynum went to the sidelines with a groin injury earlier this month, Providence coach Ed Cooley turned to freshman Alyn Breed to run the offense.

    Breed has delivered while starting the last five games.

    Last week, Breed averaged 16.5 points, 8.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists on the road against then No. 11 Creighton and No. 3 Villanova, helping the Friars split the two games. He finished with career highs in points (18) and rebounds (11) in the loss to the Wildcats.

    In a 72-63 overtime win over Marquette Wednesday, Breed buried a big 3-pointer to push PC's lead to five with 35.5 seconds left in overtime and also made a huge steal.

    It was a much-needed victory for the Friars (9-7, 5-5), who've won two of their last three games heading into Saturday's game at Georgetown.

    Breed, who's from Powder Springs, Ga., is averaging five points and 2.6 rebounds overall in 13 appearances. Before his injury, Bynum averaged 5.8 points, 4.5 assists and 1.7 rebounds in 11 starts.

    Quote of the week

    Creighton coach Greg McDermott after his team rallied from a 16-point second half deficit to beat Seton Hall, 85-81, on Wednesday in Newark, N.J.:

    "Crazy game, crazy game. Basketball, it's a goofy game. It's a game of momentum and a game of stick-to-itiveness. We were not ourselves that first half defensively. I didn't recognize that team. But we kept fighting and kept plugging. ... It's a heck of a win against a really, really good basketball team."

    The Bluejays (12-4, 8-3) gave up 54 points in the first half before rallying. They improved to 4-1 in league road games.

    NET rankings update

    Villanova is the only Big East team in the top 20 of the NCAA's NET rankings, checking in at No. 8.

    Here's where other league teams reside as of Friday: Creighton, 22nd; Xavier, 36th; UConn, 45th; Seton Hall, 56th; Providence, 67th; Marquette, 85th; St. John's, 88th; Butler, 129th; Georgetown, 145th; DePaul, 158th.

    News and notes

    Earlier this week, Big East commissioner Val Ackerman received a three-year contract extension, running through June 30, 2024. ...  The Champagnie brothers, Julian at St. John's and Justin at Pittsburgh, lead their respective conferences in scoring. Julian is averaging a Big East best 19.7 points while Justin is scoring 20.2 points per game in the Atlantic Coast Conference. ... Providence junior David Duke played like a Big East player of the year candidate in Wednesday's overtime win over Marquette, finishing with 31 points, six rebounds, six assists and three steals. The Friars are 3-0 in OT games. ... Villanova's Jeremiah Robinson-Earl is the lone Big East player on the 2021 Karl Malone Power Forward Award of the Year top 10 list and PC's Nate Watson is a top 10 candidate for the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Center of the Year Award. ... Big East home teams are just 25-21 in league play. ... More schedule juggling: St. John replaced its postponed game against UConn on Sunday with a trip to Milwaukee to face Marquette. ... Three-point barrage: Creighton went 17 for 35 from beyond the arc in its comeback win at Seton Hall. Mitch Ballock was 7-for-12 and finished with a season-high 29 points. ... Entering the weekend, only five Big East teams own winning league marks — Villanova (5-0), Creighton (8-3), UConn (5-3), Xavier (3-2) and Seton Hall (6-5). ... Upcoming game to watch: Villanova at Seton Hall at 3 p.m. Saturday on Fox. ... Big East individual leaders overall: Champagnie, scoring; Georgetown's Jamorko Pickett, rebounding, 8.7; Xavier's Paul Scruggs, assists, 6.3; St. John's Posh Alexander, steals, 2.5.

    g.keefe@theday.com

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