The Big East Tournament starts on Wednesday and we get you set with the storylines to watch during Championship Week at Madison Square Garden.
After playing host to the Big Ten Tournament this past week, Madison Square Garden welcomes the Big East Tournament this week as we get closer to Selection Sunday.
It has been a competitive year in the Big East as they have six teams projected to make the Field of 68, but Marquette isn’t that far away from making the conference a seven-bid league. In his latest Bracketology, ESPN’s Joe Lunardi has Marquette as one of the first four teams out.
In addition to having two-thirds of the teams in the conference making the Big Dance, there’s a chance the Big East might have two number one seeds. Xavier won the regular season crown, but Villanova did beat the Musketeers twice in the regular season, so they will have that in their back pocket if the two teams meet in the championship game Saturday night.
Of course, will the locals make a big run this week the same way Rutgers entertained fans this past week in their run to the quarterfinals. Seton Hall is locked into an NCAA bid, but their seniors will look to capture a second Big East Tournament title. As for St. John’s, can Shamorie Ponds have another big week to capture the national basketball audience and maybe get the Red Storm into the NIT?
Before we go in-depth into the storylines and make some picks, here is the official bracket for this week:
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How far can St. John’s go?
It has been a roller coaster season for the St. John’s Red Storm. While the team did not live up to the expectations people had for them in the preseason, the team has had some great memories with upset wins against Duke, Villanova, and Butler in the regular season.
While St. John’s has shown they can beat anyone, they can also lose to anyone, which makes their potential run this week unpredictable. Of course, all bets are off if Ponds, an All-Big East First Team guard, can’t give it a go with an abdominal injury that kept him out of the Johnnies’ final two regular-season games. Without Ponds, St. John’s doesn’t have the playmakers on offense to pull off a bunch of upsets.
Despite finishing ninth in the Big East, they have a good matchup coming up in the first round against Georgetown. We will have specifics on this matchup in a separate piece before Wednesday’s game (7 p.m ET, FS1). While Georgetown won both regular-season meetings, the two matchups ended up being decided by a combined eight points.
With the lack of depth on the roster, it’s tough to see St. John’s winning four games in four days with mainly six or seven guys playing on a given night. If a run is going to happen, Justin Simon will need to take better care of the ball than he did against Providence on Saturday (10 turnovers) and Marvin Clark II needs to continue his consistent three-point shooting (7-for-15 in last three games).
One last stand for Seton Hall seniors
While Seton Hall’s senior quartet of Khadeen Carrington, Desi Rodriguez, Ismael Sanogo, and Angel Delgado will look to end their careers with a run in the NCAA Tournament, the Big East Tournament is never a bad way to gain momentum towards the Big Dance.
Seton Hall is dealing with its fair share of injuries as Rodriguez has been out with an ankle injury the last three games and Sanogo had to miss Saturday’s game against Butler with a left ankle sprain.
If the Pirates are healthy, Kevin Willard’s club has the experience to make a run this week and potentially into the second week of the NCAA Tournament with the right matchup. With Angel Delgado a double-double machine down low, the Pirates were third in the Big East in rebounding margin (+2.4).
It is a familiar matchup for Seton Hall on Thursday when they take on Butler (9:30 p.m, FS1). Seton Hall beat Butler 77-70 at the Prudential Center on Saturday and the Bulldogs aren’t coming into MSG on a great note. A win here for Seton Hall could set up a matchup with Villanova Friday night. Villanova beat Seton Hall 69-68 in overtime back on February 28.
With Delgado not making All-Big East First Team, you know he has to have a chip on his shoulder to prove the doubters wrong. If there is a team outside of Xavier and Villanova that cuts down the nets Saturday night, the Pirates should be the next choice.
Two Number One Seeds still in play?
All season long, it has been clear who the two best teams in the Big East are: Xavier and Villanova. Both have shown a great amount of consistency, which has put them in the conversation for number one seeds and as favorites for a trip to the Final Four at the end of the month.
When you talk about the Musketeers, the conversation starts with Trevon Bluiett. The senior guard, who, like Ponds, was named to the All Big East First Team, averaged 19.4 points per game and made a career-high 43.4 percent of his three-pointers. He is coming into MSG on a high note having scored 20 or more points in four of his last five games.
Blueitt is also a key part of what Chris Mack’s team does on the glass. In total, Xavier has six players that average over four rebounds per game. Their +6.9 margin on the boards was the best of any Big East team in conference play.
While Xavier did finish as the Big East regular season champs, there is still one hurdle they have to overcome. Out of their three losses in the league, two of them were against Villanova by a combined margin of 40 points.
Jay Wright’s club always finds a way to get his team ready for March and he has one of the favorites for National Player of the Year in guard Jalen Brunson. Brunson averaged 19 points and 4.8 assists per game.
Despite not having an assist against Seton Hall, Brunson has five or more assists in four of his last five games. Brunson and fellow backcourt teammate Mikal Bridges have been a dynamic duo. Bridges has found his way into the points column of the stat sheet lately, dropping 23-plus points in four of his last five games).
In addition to Brunson and Bridges, Donte DiVincenzo can provide a scoring spark off the bench. The sophomore has hit 39.2 percent of his three-pointers this season. On Monday, he was named the Sixth Man of the Year in the conference.
On defense, ‘Nova’s 4.1 blocks per game in league play was the second most behind St. John’s (5.4). Bridges and freshman Omari Spellman have each averaged over a block per game this year and when you watch the Wildcats late in games, Bridges always seems to make a big play defensively.
Can Marquette score its way into the NCAA’s?
If you are looking for a team this week that can entertain with the three-pointers, that would be Marquette. This season, the Golden Eagles as a team made 42.7 percent of their trifectas in conference play (best in the Big East).
Marquette has three great guards that can go on a hot stretch from downtown in Sam Hauser, Markus Howard, and Andrew Rowsey. When those three are all in heat check mode, it is very tough to stop their offense. All three players shot over 39 percent from downtown, including the 51.7 percent that Hauser had.
As they head into New York City, Marquette is squarely on the bubble after finishing 18-12 during the regular season and 9-9 in conference play. While they have two wins over Creighton and Seton Hall as well as a win over Providence, they also have some bad losses against St. John’s and DePaul. Marquette will face DePaul on Wednesday night (9:30 p.m, FS1).
While Marquette can score with anybody in the conference, they are not the best defensive team by any means. In conference play, they allowed 78.2 points per game, which was the most of any team and nearly three points higher than the second highest (Xavier – 75.4).
If Marquette wants to feel confident about their NCAA Tournament chances, they need at least two wins and one of them would come against Villanova. The Golden Eagles have had a good amount of wins in conference, but will their lack of a signature out of conference win hurt them on Selection Sunday?
Now, its time for some picks!
- St. John’s over Georgetown (If Ponds plays)
- Marquette over DePaul
- Xavier over St. John’s
- Providence over Creighton
I didn’t get the chance to talk about these teams in my storylines, but Creighton vs. Providence is the best matchup of the four possible quarterfinal games. Both teams have been great at home, but their road records in conference left a lot to be desired. Creighton was 3-6 away from home while Providence was 4-5.
Creighton has one of the best playmakers in the conference in guard Marcus Foster while guard Khyri Thomas won Defensive Player of the Year on Monday. However, the Friars get the checkmark in this game because of the way Kyron Cartwright distributes the ball to players such as Alpha Diallo and Rodney Bullock.
You can never count out an Ed Cooley-coached team in the Big East Tournament, so Providence wins a close game.
- Villanova over Marquette
- Seton Hall over Butler
- Xavier over Providence
- Villanova over Seton Hall
- Villanova over Xavier