Previewing the New Big East TournamentPosted by George Hershey on March 12th, 2014
The Big East Tournament kicks off tonight and it will be the first year without original members Syracuse and Connecticut. Taking their place are new members Creighton, Xavier, and Butler, which are expected to have plenty of fans making the trip to NYC. Listen to RTC’s Big East Tournament Edition podblast featuring Brian Otskey for a great preview.
What to Expect: Villanova and Creighton lead the group as the top two seeds, but the 3-7 seeds are looking to make a run that could secure their spot in the NCAA Tournament. Villanova could secure a #1 seed if they win, while Creighton also is fighting for a top seed. Xavier, St. John’s, Providence, and Georgetown need some wins this week to strengthen there resume, but with several of the bubble teams playing each other early, their hopes of dancing next week will wither. Fans of the Big East are probably hoping that Villanova and Creighton do not win so that the conference gets another team in the tournament, but it will not be easy for any of those bubble teams. Fox Sports 1 will televise every game with Gus Johnson, Bill Raftery,and Erin Andrews on site to report all the action, which is sure to bring plenty of excitement and drama after a great regular season.
Favorite: Villanova is easily the favorite coming in as the third ranked team in the nation and a probable #1 seed. They decimated the Big East, beating every team twice except for Creighton. If the final pits Villanova against Creighton, the Bluejays would probably be favored as they destroyed the Wildcats both times they played this year. Villanova is more likely to make the final than Creighton as Georgetown beat the Bluejays last week, and the way they have been playing, they are easily the favorite.
Darkhorse: St. John’s would have to be the sleeper to win the tournament. They struggled terribly early, but have only lost twice since February began. Helping their cause is the fact that they are playing in Madison Square Garden, where they play several games. The Johnnies have beaten Creighton and lost by three to Villanova, leaving them in a good position if they can handle Providence first. If they can get past the Friars, there chance to make the NCAA Tournament should help push them to the finals.
Who Wins: It is too hard to bet against Jay Wright and the Wildcats, having seen them easily beat all but two teams all year. They are 10th in KenPom adjusted offense and 13 in adjusted defense, a balance that only Florida and Wichita State beat. This is not the most exciting pick, and it is very possible that a bubble team makes a run like Pittsburgh in 2008 and Connecticut in 2011, but the Wildcats have been so strong that they are the smart pick to win.
Best Early Match-up: Easily the best opening game is Thursday at 2:30, with St. John’s playing Providence. They aren’t the two best teams, but they have the most on the line. The team who wins will be in position to play Villanova Friday night and cement a spot in March Madness, while the loser will likely see their hopes of returning to the tournament vanish. St. John’s has some home court advantage, but their should be plenty of Providence students who are on spring break. Both teams lost to each other at home. The Johnnies have played better in the past month, but the Friars should not be discounted as they are led by Bryce Cotton.
Players to Watch: Doug McDermott surpassed 3000 points on Senior night last Saturday in a game that could be mistaken for a movie. He is the clear National Player of the Year choice and the only thing remaining for him to do is win postseason games. He won Tournament MVP the past two years as Creighton won the Missouri Valley Conference and it would be a surprise if he does not win MVP in his only Big East Tournament. Bryce Cotton, of Providence, and Semaj Christon, of Xavier, are two players capable of willing their teams to a few wins and have both had exceptional seasons. Cotton could bring back memories of Kemba Walker, as an small guard who can take over games, and Christon will need to play very well as Xavier looks like they will be without starting center Matt Stainbrook.
Bubble Implications: Xavier, Providence, St. John’s, and Georgetown are right on the bubble with Xavier looking to be in right now. Providence, St. John’s, and Georgetown are all very close to making the field, with different opinions depending on the expert. Those three teams will need at least one win against a quality opponent, and likely two if they want to get in. Marquette was in the conversation last week, before they lost to double overtime games to Providence and St. John’s, so they will need to win three straight to go dancing, an unlikely event, but not out of the question with how competitive they have been.