Previewing the 2017 Big East TournamentPosted by Justin Kundrat on March 8th, 2017
Here we are again: four straight days of Big East basketball in the world’s most famous arena, Madison Square Garden. The conference is likely to follow up last season’s five-bid NCAA Tournament mark with seven teams this year, all of which will be vying for better seeding this week in New York. The other three teams are looking at a frenzied series of as many as four straight games, their only avenue to the Dance in what would be a surprising run to the Big East Championship.
Here’s a printable version of the bracket: 2017 Big East Tournament Bracket
And the Winner is: Villanova
The obvious but boring pick. Even amid a slew of injuries and an undersized but shockingly effective lineup, the Wildcats have again found their way to the top of the Big East totem pole. Few teams have been able to slow down an offense churning out 1.23 points per possession — as a matter of fact, games at Butler (0.99) and at St. John’s (0.99) were Villanova’s only two instances under 1.0 PPP. Sophomore star Jalen Brunson is arguably the most underrated point guard in the country, embracing an old-school style of play that lulls defenders to sleep before blowing by them. Every rotation player with the exception of one is a capable three-point shooter, and the incessant ball screen switching on the defensive end has remained effective because entry passes are such a persistent headache. There are some chinks in the armor, however, as Butler has demonstrated. Crowding the paint on drives and staying down on ball fakes can slow the offense, occasionally causing this team to lose its mojo.
If Not, Then: Butler
As noted above, Chris Holtmann has game-planned well for Villanova and his team poses the biggest threat to the Wildcats this week. Tyler Lewis’ under-the-radar breakout campaign has sparked the Bulldogs’ offense: the team’s effective field goal percentage jumps to 58.0 percent from 51.2 percent when Lewis is on the floor, thanks to a combination of 43.0 percent three-point shooting and a remarkable 31.7 percent assist rate (second in the conference). Bringing junior wing Kelan Martin off the bench has supplied a whirlwind of scoring (19.8 PPG in his last five games vs. 15.4 PPG as a starter) and freshman Kamar Baldwin has posted the third-highest steal rate of any Butler player over the last 15 years. Needless to say, the Bulldogs are a versatile group that can adjust to a variety of opponents and tempos.
Dark Horse With a Chance: Marquette
Outside of Butler, Marquette is the only team to have beaten the top-seeded Wildcats this season, and contrary to some opinions, it was no fluke. A 47.4 percent three-point shooting affair is not out of the ordinary for a team that leads the country in shooting from downtown, connecting on 43.0 percent of their attempts. Given personnel like guards Markus Howard (55.1% 3FG), Andrew Rowsey (45.5% 3FG) and Katin Reinhardt (38.3% 3FG), it should come as no surprise that Steve Wojciechowski ratcheted up his team’s three-point shooting frequency this season, with the result the team’s most efficient offense in KenPom history. When Marquette’s shots are falling, the Golden Eagles are the darkest of dark horses. The two things that could hold them back are Luke Fischer’s inability to stay out of foul trouble and a propensity for pushing the tempo at the expense of defensive focus.
Cinderella Potential: Providence
Denoting the third-place team in the conference standings as a Cinderella is odd, but per KenPom and Las Vegas’ odds, the Friars’ are the sixth most likely team to win the Big East Tournament. By that definition, a team with only a ~four percent chance of winning the championship this weekend is definitely a long shot. But let’s set the record straight: The Friars have outperformed all expectations so far, thanks in large part to the improvement of its supporting cast. Forward Rodney Bullock’s team-leading 16.1 PPG was virtually a given; the pleasant surprise has come in the form of Kyron Cartwright’s 6.8 assists per game (fourth nationally), Jalen Lindsey’s 46.9 percent three-point shooting (19th nationally) and the emergence of transfer Emmitt Holt into a dynamic inside-out scoring threat. Most impressively, Providence is sporting the conference’s second-most efficient defense and are excellent at controlling the tempo. The potential for a run this weekend is there.