The 39th Big East Tournament will get under way today at Madison Square Garden. The world’s most famous arena is hosting the festivities for the 36th consecutive year. Xavier took the regular season crown and thus will be the 1 seed, while Villanova had to settle for second place, snapping their streak of Big East regular season titles at four. The league’s bottom four will square of Wednesday night and it will see St. Johns taking on Georgetown and Marquette will face DePaul. So lets take a look at the favorites, a dark horse, some storylines, and my predictions.
Villanova Wildcats– Although they finished in second place, the Villanova Wildcats are seen by many as the favorites to cut down the nets on Saturday night. Villanova may have lost four Big East games this season but they were able to beat the #1 seed Xavier Musketeers twice this season. NCAA Player of the Year favorite Jalen Brunson leads a Wildcat team that is probably the most complete in the field. The downside for Villanova missing the 1 seed is they could potentially have to face a talented Seton Hall team, the only team thats been able to eliminate Villanova in the tournament since the conference’s reconfiguration.
Xavier Musketeers– The Musketeers are coming off their first Big East regular season title and they bring a team that has a lot of tournament experience, reaching the NCAA’s Elite Eight last season. Trevon Bluiett and J.P. Macura are the Musketeers everyone seems to talk about and for good reason but Xavier has a deep front court consisting of seniors Sean O’Mara and Kerem Kanter and sophomore Tyrique Jones. Big East Coach of the Year Chris Mack and his squad beat everyone in the Big East not named Villanova or Providence, a team they could potentially face in the semis.
Seton Hall Pirates– While many may not be talking about the Hall as being favorites to win the tournament, the certainly have the talent and experience to do so. The Pirates have a trio that I think is the best the conference has to offer. Angel Delgado is the double-double machine down low, Desi Rodriguez is the long athletic wing and Khadeen Carrington is the scoring guard at the point and they are all seniors. On top of all of that sophomore guard Myles Powell has really developed his game and has been a go to scorer for the team. Seton Hall has as good of a chance as any to cut down the nets.
The Dark Horse
Providence Friars– The Providence Friars are the dark horse in this race because they are the only team in the conference to beat BOTH Villanova and Xavier. Ed Cooley’s team is deep, long on the perimeter and when they are playing at their best can beat anyone in the country let alone the Big East. Unfortunately for the Friars their consistency is sorely lacking and it’s the teams achilles heel. PC has a tough opening matchup against the 4 seed Creighton Blue Jays, if they can get past them they will be Nova and Creighton’s biggest threat.
Ewing v Mullins
While the opening round of the Big East tournament usually doesn’t feature the best games I’m really looking forward to SJ vs Georgetown. The first time Patrick Ewing and Chris Mullins faced each at MSG as coaches the game was very tightly contested. Georgetown ended up winning 69-66 and late in the game the action picked up and you could really sense the nostalgic atmosphere in the Garden. I’m looking forward to this opening matchup.
Can Marquette Make the Big Dance?
The Golden Eagles are really the only team in the Big East that are squarely on the bubble. Some say that the Friars are on the bubble but I believe they will be safe regardless if they win or lose against Creighton. Marquette is 18-12 and while they swept Creighton and Seton Hall, their resume is lacking that signature victory. Assuming they get by DePaul, their next game against Villanova would be that signature victory.
Can Butler Win a Game?
The Butler Bulldogs are the only team in the Big East that has yet to win a Big East tournament game. In their four seasons in the Big East, Butler have only made a quick cameo at MSG. First year coach Lavall Jordan will be the 3rd Butler coach to have their crack at it. Kelan Martin and Kamar Baldwin are very talent players but they draw a tough game against Seton Hall on Thursday.
Does Villanova Get Their Revenge?
While the Wildcats have bigger aspirations than a Big East regular season title, I’m sure they’re looking at this as an opportunity to reaffirm their dominance in the conference. For Jay Wright and the boys it would be their 3rd Big East Tournament title in five years. If the Wildcats ended up meeting the 1 seed Xavier Musketeers in the championship, it could be Xavier whose looking for revenge.
8 Georgetown vs 9 St. Johns 7:00 PM FS1
Georgetown was able to sweep the season series against the Johnnies but Shamorie Ponds isn’t going to let the Hoyas win again. SJ advances to face Xavier in the next round- SJ 71 Georgetown 68 (UPDATE: SJ Wins 88-77)
7 Marquette vs 10 DePaul 9:30 PM FS1
As stated earlier this is a must win for the Golden Eagles and while DePaul is more competitive from prior seasons I don’t see them winning this one. This may be it for head coach Dave Leitao- Marquette 82 DePaul 68
1 Xavier vs 9 St. Johns 12:00 PM FS1
While SJ will try and use their defense to slow down Xavier’s potent offense, it’s St. Johns lack of offensive firepower outside of Shamorie Ponds that will be their downfall- Xavier 76 St. Johns 67
4 Creighton vs 5 Providence 2:30 PM FS1
PC needs to make sure Marcus Foster isn’t able to attack the basket at will but their perimeter defense should be able to disrupt Creighton’s offense. The Friars avenge their loss to Creighton in the tournament last year- PC 75 Creighton 70
2 Villanova vs 7 Marquette 7:00 PM FS1
If Marquette can get the victory it could mean the Big East sends 7 teams to the Big Dance for the second straight season. With Markus Howard, Andrew Rowsey and Sam Hauser they have the 3-point shooting to contend with Nova but their defense just isn’t good enough- Villanova 95 Marquette 81
3 Seton Hall vs 6 Butler 9 PM FS1
Seton Hall was able to sweep Butler this season but in their first meeting Butler had an 11-point lead with under 10 minutes to play before blowing it. Think this will be the most entertaining game on Thursday but it will be Seton Hall who gets the victory. Maybe next year Butler- Seton Hall 78 Butler 77
1 Xavier vs 5 Providence 6:30 PM FS1
In the last time these two teams met the odds were stacked against the Friars. PC had to face the Musketeers on their senior night and had to deal with serious foul trouble from their two seniors Kyron Cartwright and Rodney Bullock. The Friars only ended up losing by 10 and Ed Cooley said he’d be excited if the Friars were fortunate to play them again, the last time he said that it was about Villanova and they beat them the next time out. I think PC’s length on the wing really matches up well against Xavier’s stars J.P. Macura and Trevon Bluiett and barring crazy foul trouble I think the Friars will get the win against Xavier- Providence 78 Xavier 72
2 Villanova vs 3 Seton Hall 9:00 PM FS1
In the last meeting between these two teams the Seton Hall Pirates nearly pulled off the upset but fell to Nova 69-68 in an overtime thriller. The Pirates came within a point of the #4 team in the nation and that was without one of their three senior stars, as Desi Rodriguez missed the contest due to a sprained ankle. I expect this game to be another exciting game but as good as the Pirates three senior stars are they don’t have a guy that can take over in crunch time like Villanova does with Jalen Brunson- Villanova 79 Seton Hall 77
Big East Championship- 2 Villanova vs 5 Providence 6:30 PM FOX
in the 5th year of the “new” Big East, Commissioner Val Ackerman finally gets a dream matchup in the title game. Based on where St. John’s and Georgetown’s programs currently stand, a Villanova vs Providence title game would be great for business. In terms of the game itself after PC’s first loss to Villanova had mentioned that you need to play a near perfect game in order to beat the Wildcats. What he hadn’t considered would be if Villanova had an off night and that’s what he got when the Cats made the trip to the Dunk. The Friars held the Wildcats to shoot a atrocious 3/20 from beyond the arc and the Friars got the victory. I think this will be a highly competitive game and a tightly contested game but asking for a Villanova have another off shooting night from deep is asking a lot. I’m taking the Villanova Wildcats to cut down the nets as Big East Tournament champions, for PC their run greatly improves their NCAA tournament seeding.
Enjoy the games everyone and as always GO FRIARS!