Sixteen wins and 17 losses later, neither happened.
The Big East Tournament of 2018 went the same for the Johnnies as it did last season: a win over Georgetown in round one followed by a blowout loss to the conference’s top-team in Xavier in round two.
But the difference between this year and last was that this season was, well, weird.
The Johnnies stormed out to a 10-3 record before Big East play began. With Marcus LoVett, the team’s second-best player before leaving the school in February, suffering a season-ending injury in late November, the Red Storm were in the process of moving on and centered around the talents of Shamorie Ponds, their superb sophomore.
Ponds’ main talent? Getting buckets.
And when the Red Storm opened with 11 straight Big East losses upsetting number-four ranked Duke, followed by number-one ranked Villanova in back-to-back games, Ponds was leading the way, solidifying himself as one of the nation’s most gifted scorers.
The four-game winning streak that began with the February 3rd win over Duke was capped off by a 2-4 record to end the season.
But Ponds, who dropped 44 points against Marquette on February 10, a new Carnesecca Arena record, earned All-Big East First Team honors after recording 21.6 points, 5.0 rebounds and 4.7 assists per game as a true sophomore.
And the future rests with him, assuming he stays.
Despite the early end to a season that could’ve been more, head coach Chris Mullin showed optimism after their Big East Tournament run ended on March 8.
“I think it's clear when we played unselfishly, played together, we're a pretty good ball club,” said Mullin, who will lose only two seniors in Bashir Ahmed and Amar Alilbegovic. “And when we didn't, we struggled. A lot of times we had some close games that didn't go our way, but I thought we fought through that.
“To finish up the way we did I thought was impressive after having that tough stretch in January,” he added.
As for the Big East Tournament, Xavier, who reached the semifinals after defeating St. John’s, fell to Providence in overtime, despite leading by as many as 17 points in the second half. The Friars of Providence took on the Villanova Wildcats in Saturday’s final, falling to the second-ranked Big East squad, 76-66, also in overtime.
Like Xavier, Villanova subsequently earned a number-one seed in the NCAA Tournament.
“What an incredible college basketball game and atmosphere at the Garden,” remarked ‘Nova head coach Jay Wright. “We just feel so lucky to be a part of it. Providence defensively was unbelievable. Just a really gutty performance, you don't see that as much in college basketball.”
In the victory, Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges combined for 56 points for Villanova. Bridges was named Most Outstanding Player of the tournament, while Brunson made the All-Tournament team.
New York native Alpha Diallo poured in a team-high 22 points for Providence en route to All-Tournament honors.
Big East All-Tournament Team
G Jalen Brunson, Villanova
G Kyron Cartwright, Providence
G Alpha Diallo, Providence
G Trevon Bluitt, Xavier
G Kamar Baldwin, Butler
Most Outstanding Player
F Mikal Bridges, Villanova
Big East teams in NCAA Tournament West Region
No. 1 – Xavier
No. 10 – Providence
No. 8 – Seton Hall
No. 1 – Villanova
No. 10 – Butler
No. 8 – Creighton