Big East Conversation: NCAA Tournament Takes

Posted by Justin Kundrat & Brian Otskey on March 13th, 2018

With six of its 10 teams in the NCAA Tournament, Big East fans have a lot to talk about this week. Big East microsite writers Justin Kundrat and Brian Otskey discuss what’s on their minds heading into Thursday’s action.

Justin Kundrat: Of the six Big East teams, which first round match-up are you most looking forward to?

LaVall Jordan Has a Tough First Round Match-up Against Arkansas (USA Today Images)

Brian Otskey: I think the Butler-Arkansas game will be tremendous. Both teams are fairly experienced (especially the Razorbacks), undersized and have guys who can fill it up, which should make for an aesthetically pleasing up-and-down game. Mike Anderson’s chaotic style of play caused another Big East team (Seton Hall) to lose focus in last year’s First Round on its way to a loss. The good news with Butler is that the Bulldogs are much more likely to stay composed and protect the ball — which could be the deciding factor. LaVall Jordan will need Kamar Baldwin to play at a high level in order to give his team a second scoring threat alongside Kelan Martin. Arkansas will counter with Jaylen Barford and Daryl Macon, who average nearly 35.0 PPG combined. Also keep an eye on the match-up in the paint. Tyler Wideman isn’t the tallest center around, but he’s strong and thick. Arkansas’ center is 6’11” Daniel Gafford, but he’s thinner than Wideman. How that size difference shakes out will be important when determining the outcome of this game.

JK: Which team do you like the most to reach the Final Four?

BO: With Xavier considered the weakest of the top seeds and the rest of the conference on the #8, #9 or #10 seed line, I think the obvious pick is Villanova. The Wildcats won the National Championship only two years ago and have three players on the roster who went on that title run: Jalen Brunson, Mikal Bridges and Phil Booth. Also, the Wildcats won’t have to travel far before the Final Four in San Antonio, playing the opening rounds in Pittsburgh and the regional in Boston. I actually think the biggest threat to Villanova will come in either the Second or Third round. Virginia Tech and Alabama are mercurial yet talented squads on the #8/#9 line, likely followed by West Virginia or Wichita State in the Sweet Sixteen. This Villanova team is incredible offensively and can turn up the defense when it wants to. I am a bit concerned about a cold shooting night derailing the Wildcats’ train, but play-makers like Brunson and Bridges should have enough to overcome that deficiency and lead this group back to the Final Four.

JK: Which team has the toughest First Round match-up?

BO: I would say Providence has the toughest first round draw. The Friars drew a Texas A&M team that boasts an incredibly talented frontcourt and went 11-2 in non-conference play. To me, the Aggies are a better version of Providence — stout defensively but struggles to score at times. College basketball is a guards’ game for the most part but I have a hard time seeing the Friars running their flex offense smoothly and getting into the lane against A&M’s front line. Providence’s Achilles heel all season long has been with its interior defense and that’s where the Aggies are at their best. A Providence win here would definitely be an upset.

JK: Will Providence’s hot play continue into the tournament?

BO: As I touched on in the previous question, I’m going to have to say no based predominantly on the draw rather than anything related to Providence’s recent play. If the Friars get hot from the three-point line they can stay close, but I think A&M’s frontcourt will wear them down in the long run. The Friars have rated poorly in the advanced metrics all season long and correspondingly have defied the odds, so I suppose you never know. That’s why they play the games after all.

JK: Which player is the biggest X-factor for his team’s early round success?

BO: Khadeen Carrington. The Seton Hall senior guard must protect the ball against NC State’s pressure defense and move the ball on offense. NC State is vulnerable defensively — especially in the paint — and Carrington must get to his bread and butter: slashing into the lane, the mid-range game and setting up Angel Delgado, Desi Rodriguez and Myles Powell. There has been a strong correlation between Carrington’s play this year and Seton Hall’s record. Down the home stretch of the season, he was getting into the lane and finishing while moving the ball and letting others do their thing offensively. When the Pirates struggled, it was often when Carrington would sit back and bomb three-pointers after pounding the ball into the floor for 15 to 20 seconds of the shot clock. He has talented offensive weapons around him and must put them in position to succeed if Seton Hall is going to beat NC State. Defensively, Carrington must at least keep NC State’s guards in front of him — all too often this season he has been burned by quick guards and high-ball screens.

Justin Kundrat (175 Posts)

Villanova grad, patiently waiting another 10 years for season tickets. Follow Justin on twitter @JustinKundrat or email him at

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