We’re less than a week away from Selection Sunday, and already five teams have earned automatic bids to the NCAAs. Congrats to Belmont (Atlantic Sun), Winthrop (Big South), Cornell (Ivy), Drake (Missouri Valley) and Austin Peay (OVC) for securing bids over the weekend. Belmont (2006 and 2007), Winthrop (1999-2002 and 2005-2007) and Austin Peay (1996 and 2003) are old hands at March Madness, but some special love should go to Cornell and Drake, as Cornell hasn’t been to the Dance since 1988 and Drake since 1971!
Every year we always have trouble finding brackets for each of the major conference tournaments, so we decided to provide them for ease of use this time around. Over the next couple days, we’re going to do a quick analysis of each conference tournament, starting today with the Big East.
Where: Madison Square Garden, New York, NY
When: Wednesday – Saturday
The Favorite(s). We don’t see much of a difference between regular season champion Georgetown and runner-up Louisville. Both of their regular season games were low-scoring affairs marked by grinding defense and big plays down the stretch. If it comes down to a rematch, we like Louisville’s experience prevailing in the neutral court environment.
The Darkhorse. UConn. It’s difficult to ever think of Connecticut as a darkhorse in this tournament, but so long as the Huskies avoid playing Providence again (PC would have to upset WVU to reach UConn on Thursday), they are in prime position to make a run at Jim Calhoun’s seventh BE Tournament title. They have the size to counter Georgetown in the semis, and UConn always enjoys a quasi-home crowd environment at the Garden.
Bubble Buster Game. The first game of the tournament is also the most important game for the NCAA Selection Committee. Syracuse and Villanova have almost identical profiles – it would be hard for us to believe that the loser of this game will be chosen over the winner on Sunday afternoon.
Cinderella. With that in mind, we know that Syracuse loves to make runs in this tournament. They have a great following in NYC, and have very recently handled both Villanova and Georgetown, the two teams they will see in the first two rounds. Paging the ghost of Gerry McNamara…
Games We Want to See. The Big East is the strongest conference in America at the top, and therefore we’d love to see a strong semifinal group of Georgetown, Louisville, Connecticut and Notre Dame (or Marquette) on Friday night, followed by GU-UL part 3 for the title. All of these teams are Sweet 16 teams or better, and we wouldn’t be surprised to see two of them in the F4 this year. The quality of basketball should be better than any other conference at that level.
Champion. On Saturday night, whoever comes out of this group of teams will have definitely proven itself. We like Rick Pitino’s Louisville team. Since David Padgett returned to the lineup, the Cards have gone 15-4, including a strong 9-1 stretch run that included only the narrow road loss at Georgetown this past weekend. Surprisingly, Pitino is only 3-4 with no titles in the BE Tourney in two stints at Providence and Louisville. We think that this is the year he improves on that record.
Those Left Home. Depaul, St. John’s, South Florida, Rutgers. How embarrassing is it that St. John’s cannot even make the Big East Tourney, played ostensibly on its home floor at MSG?