Oh, March, how the college basketball world has missed you. You are a month that draws fans to the game and even those who aren’t fans to tune in and see what all the buzz is about. However, before the 68 teams that are selected into the ultimate bracket, there is one major tournament that occurs first. The Big East tournament.
The Big East tournament has always drawn the interest of the everyday college basketball fan, and for good reason. The level of intensity between top-level talent, the venue in which it is played in, the rivalries that once existed, and finally the golden opportunity to punch their own ticket into the big dance. All of these factors make this tournament the most electrifying and intriguing tournament college basketball has to offer.
The field is drawn up and the tournament is now set to tip-off Wednesday night. See the match-ups along with predictions for each game, as well as the tournament’s MVP.
Winner – Green
Loser – Red
March 7th, 2018
#8 Georgetown vs. #9 St. Johns @ 7:00 p.m.
#7 Marquette vs. #10 DePaul @ 9:30 p.m.
March 8, 2018
#1 Xavier vs. #8 Georgetown/#9 St. Johns @ 12:00 p.m.
#4 Creighton vs. #5 Providence @ 2:30 p.m.
#2 Villanova vs #7 Marquette/#10 DePaul @ 7 p.m.
#3 Seton Hall vs. #6 Butler @ 9:30 p.m.
March 9, 2018
Semifinal – #1 Xavier vs. #6 Butler – 6:30 p.m.
Semifinal – #2 Villanova vs. #4 Creighton – 9:00 p.m.
March 10, 2018
Final – #1 Xavier vs. #2 Villanova 6:30 p.m.
Jalen Brunson – Guard – Villanova
Jalen Brunson joins the list of great Villanova guards to come through the program. He has taken it upon himself to be one of the players that the Wildcats turn to when they need a bucket. The Unanimous First-Team All-American possesses a dangerous repertoire of skills and a basketball IQ that is off the charts. Brunson plays with that edge that exists amongst all Villanova guards that play for coach Jay Wright.
Brunson is armed with a sweet stroke from beyond the arc, the ability control the tempo of the game, as well as the willingness to go down low and display his post-moves that are uncommon for most college guards to possess. I do not see another guard, outside of maybe Shamorie Ponds from St. Johns, that can check Brunson and limit or match his production. Setting Brunson up for a dominant tournament.
A junior who has played all three-years and has been crucial to the success of the Villanova program, Brunson has improved with each season. Averaging career-highs this season in points (19.0 PPG), assists (4.8 APG), and rebounds (3.0 RPG), his growth as a player and leader is clearly shown in the way he plays. He has managed to shoot a highly efficient field goal percentage by connecting on 52% of his shots from the field.
Coach Jay Wright sings praises to Brunson’s ability and performance as a player. Included in an article written by Adam Zagoria of ZagsBlog, Coach Wright states: “In terms of Jalen, I just think he’s the most complete player in college basketball. I think he has the biggest impact on making his team win.”
When you watch Brunson play, he mirrors the personality of his head coach, a calm and collected, steely-eyed confidence. This is now Brunson’s moment to take the next step as a player and etch his name along with some of the greats to play in the Big East and take the crown as the 2018 Big East Tournament MVP.
Top Players to Watch
Xavier – Guard – Trevon Bluiett
There is a good reason that Xavier has received it’s highest ranking in school history this year when it climbed all the way to number three in the nation. That reason comes in the form of senior guard/forward Trevon Bluiett. Bluiett ranks sixth in the Big East in scoring with 19.4 PPG. Bluiett plays with a certain toughness and edge to his game that gives Xavier their competitiveness. He certainly has an all-around game that the Musketeers feed off of. Big things may come his way in the month of March. (Blueitt was named to 2017-2018 All-Big East First team)
Seton Hall – Center – Angel Delgado
Tied for third in the nation and first in the Big East with 21 double-doubles on the season and currently the career-record holder for most rebounds in Big East play, Angel Delgado is the heart and soul of this Seton Hall squad. Delgado has made it clear that he is an elite post presence and premier rebounder who can control the game. He is a player who is set up to play better down the stretch and somebody to keep an eye out on as the tournament gets deeper and deeper. (Delagado was named to the All-Big East Second Team)
Butler – Forward – Kelan Martin
The second highest leading scorer in the Big East in 2018 is the offensively dynamic and dangerous Kelan Martin. He has unlimited range and can pour in buckets with ease. With his big 6’7″ 220 pound frame, he is a match-up nightmare for opposing guards and forwards. Guards can’t match his size and forwards can’t stay with his athleticism and shot making ability. If Martin gets going early he can propel Butler deep into this year’s tournament. (Martin was named to the 2017-2018 All-Big East First team)
Villanova – Forward – Mikal Bridges
As one of the Naismith’s top 15 candidates for player of the year, Mikal Bridges is a lengthy and athletic wing who has built up his offensive game throughout the years. His ability to handle the ball, shoot the three, and attack the rim with reckless abandonment are just a small list of things that Bridges can do when he has the ball in his hands. He is a special talent that has gotten his name mentioned in some NBA mock drafts. Bridges is a player that is hard to miss when Villanova takes the floor. Just watch and you’ll see the true talent and hype that surrounds him. (Bridges was named to the 2017-2018 All-Big East First team)
St. Johns – Guard – Shamorie Ponds
If you are a St.Johns fan or just a big fan of Chris Mullin, then you must be in love with the sophomore guard for the Red Storm, Shamorie Ponds. It is no secret that this player has all the skill one could ask for in a guard. In order to play in the Big East, you need a certain toughness and a bit of swagger to your game and that is what Ponds brings, not to mention the fact that he finished the regular season as the Big East’s leading scorer with 21.6 PPG (17th in the nation).
Now, St. Johns isn’t necessarily the best team in this tournament, but with the guard play of Ponds, it makes them a threat heading into each game. Recall that St. Johns was one of the few teams to knock off Villanova just a few short weeks ago, and has lost to Xavier by margins of just five, and six. Crazier things have happened at the Garden in March. (Cough Kemba cough) excuse me, sorry. (Ponds was named to the 2017-2018 All-Big East First team)
The X-Factor for Each Team
#10 – DePaul – Center – Marin Maric
The 6’11” Croatian big man is a big bodied old-school style big man who does the dirty work and is great at doing it. He protects the rim and makes the most of his opportunities when given the ball, as his 55% field-goal percentage dictates. Marcic’s best game came against Seton Hall back on February 18th where he recorded 23 points on 10-12 shooting from the field and 2-3 from beyond the arc while also inhaling eight rebounds. Maric did all of this versus the best center in the Big East, Angel Delgado.
#9 – St. Johns – Guard – Justin Simon
The backcourt mate to Shamorie Ponds, Justin Simon is crucial to the success of the Red Storm. Simon tied with Ponds for first in the Big East with 2.5 steals per game. The pesky Simon gets under the skin of his opponents and knocks them off their game. Having a strong backcourt in March is crucial and St. Johns has arguably one of the best backcourts in the Big East, and the two are only sophomores! Simon also is no slouch on the offensive side of the ball either as he is St. Johns swiss army knife and a do it all kind of player. He rebounds well (7.1 RPG – 5th in the Big East), facilitates exceptionally well (5.2 APG – 2nd in the Big East), and can chip in the points when necessary (12.0 PPG – 25th in the Big East).
#8 – Georgetown – Center – Jessie Govan
The New York native will look to have a monster impact when they host the crowd favorite in St. Johns in the first round. Govan is a skilled big man who can really pour it on when he is involved right off the bat. Govan averaged a team-best 17.0 PPG and was clearly the player they turned to in their disappointing season. Georgetown goes as Govan goes, and if Govan is shut down, then the Hoyas will be leaving the big apple rather early.
#7 – Marquette – Guard – Sam Hauser
Sam Hauser is the heartbeat of this scrappy and tenacious Marquette side. It is an understatement to call Hauser a cold-blooded three-point shooter. He is lethal from beyond the arc ladies and gentlemen. Shooting an absurd 51.7% from distance puts him first in the Big East and third in the nation…third! No doubt the Golden Eagles will look to one of the best shooters in all of college basketball to carry them deep in this tournament.
#6 – Butler – Forward – Tyler Wideman
This man simply does not miss when he is close to the basket. Tyler Wideman has posted a Big East-best 66% from the field. Wideman averages 20.5 MPG so essentially he is only out there for half of the game. He is a glue guy for this Butler side. A stocky and big frame allows for him to assert his strength on the court and it can be exhausting for opponents to defend him on one end just to be bullied by him on the other end. He may not put up glaring numbers, but he is a very good finisher around the rim and will most definitely play a role in Butler advancing further into their playing days in March.
#5 – Providence -Guard – Alpha Diallo
This sophomore guard plays above the rim and loves to get in the open court and either fill in on the wing or take it up himself. Alpha Diallo has playmaking ability and he can do things with the basketball that some only wish they could do. Providence has looked to Diallo to share the scoring load with forward Rodney Bullock and the two have given Providence a successful season and has put them into a good position going into the middle of March. While Bullock may be the primary scorer for the Fryers, Diallo is the X-factor for what he can bring to the table physically at the guard position. He is one of the bigger guards in the Big East and plays with a high motor, something that will be needed in this tournament. The raw skill that Diallo possesses is something that has yet to be released or seen consistently and this tournament brings out the best in its players.
#4 – Creighton – Guard – Marcus Foster
Marcus Foster has always been a thorn in the sides of Big East guards ever since he transferred over from Kansas State to play for Creighton last season. Foster is a player that when you watch him play, the game just comes easily to him. His knack for putting the ball in the net is something that is truly a sight to behold. Foster ranked fourth in the Big East in scoring this season but has recorded 16 games with 20+ points and one game where he put up 32 points (Dec. 18 vs. UT Arlington). While Foster may not garner some of the attention that some of the more popular Big East guards may receive, the coaches and players that play against him know if he gets hot then they are in some serious trouble. (Foster was named to the 2017-2018 All-Big East First team)
#3 – Seton Hall – Guard – Khadeen Carrington
Another New York City kid playing close to his hometown of Brooklyn, Carrington is as tough-nosed and scrappy competitor as there is in the Big East. The sweet-shooting lefty is an agile wing defender and has an underappreciated feel for the game when he has the ball. Carrington is Seton Hall’s best ball-handler and puts the team in great positions to score whether it’s from feeding the big-man in Delgado or kicking it to his running mate on the wing All-Big East Second Team player Desi Rodriguez. Having Carrington on the court for the majority of the game will be crucial for Seton Hall winning games this time of the year.
#2 – Villanova – Guard – Dante DiVincenzo
The Big East’s sixth man of the year could start on just about any ranked team in the nation had it not been for Jalen Brunson and Phil Booth starting for Villanova. The one phrase that could be used to describe DiVencenzo when you watch him play is ‘recklessly under control’. DiVencenzo is not afraid to take contested threes or take shots that are early in the shot-clock. His athleticism on both sides of the ball grants Villanova the privilege to bring him off the bench and seek immediate production from him. With a scorers mentality as well as a point to be active on the boards, DiVencenzo finds ways to give Villanova that extra boost to go along with added offensive possessions that play a big factor in the outcome of games.
#1 – Xavier – Guard – J.P. Macura
Who was once a spot up shooter, J.P. Macura has developed his game tremendously to being a serious threat in taking defenders off the dribble now. His ability to change his game into being more of a versatile threat on offense is bad news for others in the Big East. Macura is a player who may not be the fleetest of foot or the most skillful with on-ball dribble moves, however, he knows how to make it work for him and his team. Macura is a senior who is playing to honor a great career at Xavier and a senior with nothing to lose is an awfully dangerous beast to poke.