College basketball will be at the peak of its popularity in the next couple of weeks. However, before brackets can be filled out and the madness that comes with it, it all must be put on pause…for right now. We still have to crown conference champions to determine automatic placement in the NCAA tournament. One of the major conferences that always garners a lot of attention is the Big East.
With potential favorites to win it in Villanova, they look to avenge their hiccup last year in not walking out of Madison Square Garden the Big East Champions. Rather we saw Seton Hall take the crown. This just goes to show you, this is why we play these games and why this tournament could go a long way in boosting several teams chances of breaking into that bracket come selection Sunday. For a few bubble teams an early exit in this tournament could spell the end of their season as well. Lets get it started!!
First round- 8 St. Johns 74 vs 9 Georgetown 73
This was the perfect game to open up this tournament. Coaches having a rift between old foes resulting in an shoving match and the crowd getting into the game as well. Big East basketball of past years felt like it was back. The game itself saw both of these teams fighting to save what was left of their chances to keep playing deep into March. The Red Storm playing on their home court were led by their two primary play-makers in Shamorie Ponds and Bashir Ahmed. Ponds was the top scorer for St.Johns pouring in 17 points on 5-14 shooting. Ahmed was able to log 14 points on a more efficient 4-10 from the field. Normally solid scorer Marcus LoVett was held to just 4 points and had trouble getting going offensively.
To combat the guard play of St. Johns, the Hoyas of Georgetown sent out upperclassmen guards in L.J Peak (JR.) and Rodney Pryor (SR.). The two veteran guards were unable to contain Ponds in this match-up as well as their last regular season match-up which saw ponds score 24 points then. However, both Peak and Pryor were both able to put up 24 and 17 points respectively in this game.
Peak and Pryor alone kept them in this game and it came down to a final possession for the Hoyas with a chance to win the game. The final possession saw Georgetown trailing by 1 with 6.6 seconds remaining on the clock. The ball was in-bounded to the hot hand that night in Peak, Peak drove to the rim but would come up short and the follow attempt was missed as time expired.
The veteran guards of Georgetown were able to relatively slow down the young and upstart Red Storm back-court. However, in doing so were still unable to walk away victorious. The Hoyas can walk away from that game with their heads held high as the winner of last night could have gone either way. For St. Johns this was a good practice for facing their match-up in the next round which will be Villanova. Enough has been said about Villanova point guard Jalen Brunson, but the confidence that follows the Red Storm could play a factor in how they come at Villanova.
First Round- 7 Xavier 75 vs 10 DePaul 64
This game saw the worst Big East team in the regular season DePaul come out and compete against a pretty weak and exposed Xavier side. College basketball in the month of March is far from predictable. The game itself was more tightly contested than most would have thought. Xavier had momentary lapses on the defensive side and costly turnovers which led to run outs for DePaul. However, we did not see an upset as Xavier was able to find a way in the second half to use a late surge and move to the next round.
For Xavier, they were led by their leading scorer in Trevon Bluiett who scored 17 points and was able to pull in 9 rebounds. Other players for Xaver like sharpshooter J.P. Macura and Quentin Goodin aided in the win by each contributing 13 points. Going into the game Xavier was struggling as of late and the only wins they were able to drum up in their past 8 games, came against DePaul. After losing their second-leading scorer Edmon Sumner to a torn ACL earlier in the season, Xavier has still been struggling to pick-up the production Sumner provided. Fortunately for them, they got DePaul in the first round and avoided facing a team which could have easily sent them home early.
For Depaul senior guard Billy Garrett Jr. played his last NCAA game and did so while leading the Blue Devils in scoring with 16 points in their losing effort. Helping Garrett Jr. was back-court teammate Eli Cain who provided that spark-plug type energy and scored 15 points to keep them in the game with timely baskets. Much was not expected from DePaul heading into this tournament but the effort was seen by many and hope is on the horizon with a recruiting class that sees four-star talent Justin Roberts and three-star Jalen Butz join their roster next year.
There is hope for a higher seed in next year’s Big East tournament for DePaul. For Xavier, they remain a bubble team to watch and still remain on the fringe of getting into the tournament. Another win and a semifinal appearance may help their chances, but as is March, nobody really knows anything.
Quarterfinals- 1 Villanova vs 8 St.Johns
It isn’t likely to see Villanova get upset early in this tournament. Seeing as how they have handled the Big East with relative ease the past four years, winning the regular season title in all of those four years. The Wildcats have gotten to the finals of this tournament the past two seasons, once winning the tournament and the other losing last year to Seton Hall.
In this game, the difference will be the impact of Daryl Reynolds returning for the Wildcats. Villanova was thin in their line-up when he went down with a rib injury. His return will provide fresh legs and added depth that was missing for a short amount of time. St. Johns will have trouble limiting the high-powered Villanova offense who has the skill to go along with the experience.
Quarterfinals- 4 Marquette vs 5 Seton Hall
Marquette could be this year’s darlings to make some noise in this tournament. Four of the five Golden Eagles starters average double figures in points. Also, coming off the bench is Katin Reinhardt who averages 10.9 points per game and gives them solid minutes and energy each game. This is a team that is confident in their shooting ability and they let it fly. Just ask top seed in this tournament Villanova, who fell to Marquette earlier in the season.
Seton Hall returns to defend their Big East title and regain some of the magic that they had last year in this tournament. They will have to do so without Isaiah Whitehead who won it for the Pirates last year and went on to take his talents to the NBA. They will turn to their trio of Khadeem Carrington, Desi Rodriguez, and Angel Delgado to carry them deep in this tournament. Angel Delgado is the key for the Pirates in this tournament, raising his draft stock after each game averaging 15.7 points per game and 13.1 rebounds per game. I see Seton Hall winning a tightly contested game.
Quarterfinals- 2 Butler vs 7 Xavier
Although this game is almost as predictable as the Villanova game in the quarterfinals. We should see Butler advancing to the semifinals. With Butler being an under the radar team that has playmakers across their roster and can hang with the best teams in the nation. Butler also seems to have the perfect formula or some secret they won’t tell other teams about beating Villanova, as they have swept the defending national champions in the regular season.
The strength of these Bulldogs lies within their front-court in forwards Andrew Chrabascz and Kelan Martin. Martin is one of those players that wills the basketball into the hoop, he is a great finisher and a high riser. Martin can put up points in bunches and his 35 point performance earlier in the year against Georgetown made other teams pay that much more attention during their pre-game adjustments towards him. Xavier simply has just gone through too much this season and do not have the defense to match-up with Butler. Had Xavier had Sumner, this could be a different story.
Quarterfinals- 3 Providence vs 6 Creighton
This game should be one of the best games we see in the quarterfinals. Both of these teams split their regular season match-ups. The last time these two played Providence barely got by with a victory while visiting Creighton 68-66. The play style of these two teams differs, however. The Blue Jays have a true center on their team in Justin Patton who is as an athletic player who loves to attack the rim and when he is aggressive is capable of dominance. He has to be a bit more effective on the boards as he often has trouble boxing out the opposing team’s big men.
The battle down low between Patton and Providence’s Rodney Bullock will be the true match-up to watch. Assuming that they each cancel out in terms of production, whichever teams supporting cast steps up in this game will determine which team advances to the semifinals. The team that is more well-rounded would have to be Creighton. With their stellar back-court in Marcus Foster and Maurice Watson Jr. I do not see how Providence can defend all three of those threats. Watson leads the team in scoring with 18.5 points per game and scored 17 and 18 points respectively against Providence in the regular season.
His success against the Providence guards like Kyron Cartwright is vital to have in this game. Watson Jr. is the facilitator and the one who gets everybody going on this Blue Jays side and once the other players get into a groove then Watson Jr. starts to look for his shot, for which he is pretty good at, shooting 50% from the field and 46% from deep.
Semifinals- 1 Villanova vs 5 Seton Hall
A rematch of last year’s championship game should bring with it some classic Big East basketball. Both of these teams are fairly similar in terms of roster set-up since last year. Seton Hall only loses Whitehead in terms of their starting line-up. Villanova returns three of their five starters only losing Ryan Arcidiacono and Daniel Ochefu. The way that Villanova has played against Seton Hall in the regular season in which they have defeated the Pirates by 30 and 22, there is no reason to suggest that a different outcome will be expected in the semifinals.
Semifinals- 2 Butler vs 6 Creighton
This game could very well be the best match-up we see in this tournament. The momentum that Seton Hall would have going into this game with the guard play of Watson Jr. and Foster along big man Patton, Creighton would seem to look dangerous. You want to play the best ball at the end of the season and if they can defeat Butler then they could be the Seton Hall of last year and make Villanova a bit worried.
Let us not forget about Butler though who has had quite the miraculous regular season, defeating ranked team after ranked team and their fundamental way of playing winning basketball. It would not be a devastating blow to the Bulldogs, though. The only thing that would affect them would be seeding in the tournament. Assuming they get in as a three or a four seed expect them to be quite dangerous wherever they land in the bracket. If Butler were to win then Villanova should be afraid as the Wildcats have been unable to get past the Bulldogs this year.
Championship- 1 Villanova vs 6 Creighton
Creighton will have gained a lot of buzz across the nation for their deep run in this tournament at this point. David would face off against Goliath. Villanova wants to claim the title of Big East champion to go along with their regular season title. I see this being well fought until the 10-minute mark of the second half where Villanova turns to their veteran leadership and they go on one of those famous Villanova runs to close the game out. Seton Hall makes a strong case for getting into the tournament come selection Sunday with a very deep run in the Big East tournament. Villanova is your Big East Champion and turns their attention to defending their spot atop college basketball.