Big East Tournament Preview
As the snowy ground returns to its state of green and the calendar flips into March, the scene of college basketball continues to heat up with conference tournament play this week. Every team has an eye on getting asked to the dance and is prepared to leave it all on the hardwood before judgement day comes on Sunday, and for the teams in the Big East there are plenty of teams who need a good outing in this week’s battle for the conference crown.
The teams in the Big East have come a long way since the start of the season. With the exception of predicting the conference’s champion and bottom-dweller, Villanova and St. John’s, the Preseason Coaches’ Poll was much less than spot-on.
Placing second in the polls were the Georgetown Hoyas, fresh off a split for second place in the Big East last season with Butler and a talented group of freshmen coming in, they seemed to be the sure favorites to be the Wildcats biggest threat to the throne. Their mask was removed in the first game of the season with a double-overtime loss to Radford and then only got worse. The Hoyas have lost over 60 percent of their conference games and finish the regular season eighth, thanks to losing nine of their last ten contests.
Others have thrived in the underdog role and propelled themselves to the unfamiliar top-tier of the Big East. In just its third season in the conference, Xavier will once again be heading to the NCAA tournament thanks to a phenomenal season that has seen the Musketeers go 15-1 at home, finishing the regular season a top-five team in the nation.
Seton Hall has come out of nowhere to place among the best in the league. The Pirates catapulted themselves from seventh in the preseason poll to a near-lock for the national tournament with a big year from Isaiah Whitehead who sits top three in the conference in points, assists, three-point baskets and blocks. The sophomore and Player of the Year candidate helped lead his teams to big wins during the year which included top-25 wins against Xavier and Providence.
After the three top dogs, the rest of the field remains on-the-bubble or out-of-contention for the big dance. Providence and Butler should be able to earn an invite, but an early exit in the Big East Tournament could prove to be the final straw that breaks the teams’ backs. The Friars found themselves in the top 25 for a good deal of the season before going on a 5-of-7 slide in February. Meanwhile, the Bulldogs are still balancing out their transition from their defensive-first presence that has proved successful in past years into an offensive-oriented attack, but they currently sit as one of the last four byes according to ESPN’s Joe Lunardi.
The remainder of the teams seem to be out barring a tournament championship win, but do not be surprised if one does occur. Top-seed Villanova has fell to Providence and Xavier and the Musketeers have a list of upset losses, including to Seton Hall, Creighton and Georgetown.
The Big East looks relatively thin this year and it is not out of the question to argue that just one year after booking six teams for March Madness a season ago that as few as three could have their names called this season. Despite the uncertainty, I will still back the Wildcats and their conference-best defense to take the Big East title, but come time for national play I think a team like Xavier, Seton Hall or Butler will be the team that makes it the furthest in the tournament.
Ryan Berti is a sophomore majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter: @RBirdman7