The Big East Tournament Starts Today at MSG
The beginning of March marks the start of conference tournament season; hearts will be broken and tickets will be punched to the Big Dance. Tomorrow the Big East tournament begins as 10 teams will play for the ultimate prize of a coveted Big East championship. But going into this year’s tournament, can anyone beat Villanova?
Villanova 28-3 (15-3):
The regular season and defending national champions will be heading into the Big East tournament as the favorites to win it all once again. According to ESPN’s BPI rankings the Wildcats have a 70% chance to win the tournament. That percentage is the highest for any No. 1 seed in the top six conferences in the nation. Most people believe it should be an easy walk for the Wildcats, but this is March, and we all know nothing is easy around this time.
While Villanova has been the top team in the conference since the Big East was revamped in 2014, they haven’t completely dominated conference tournament play. One team that could be the Wildcats’ kryptonite this year is the Pirates of Seton Hall; in recent history the Wildcats have not been able to beat them at MSG. In 2014 Seton Hall edged Villanova on a buzzer beater from Sterling Gibbs, and last year Isaiah Whitehead took down the Wildcats in overtime in one of the best championship games in Big East Tournament history.
Winning this year’s Big East championship is crucial for the Wildcats’ aspirations of repeating as National champions. They are currently projected to have the No. 1 seed in the East Region, which would open up a path to a Madison Square Garden return for the Sweet 16 and a de facto home-court advantage. Losing in the Big East Tournament will possibly cost the team that top seed.
Josh Hart, the Big East Player of the Year, has the experience and the toughness to carry the Wildcats to the title.
Favorite player going into the tournament: Khadeen Carrington, G, Seton Hall
As I mentioned above, Seton Hall could likely be that team standing in Villanova’s way this year, and one main reason is because of Seton Hall’s Khadeen Carrington. The 6-4 guard from Brooklyn, New York has came up huge in many of Seton Hall’s biggest victories this season. Carrington’s best performance came in a win over Creighton in which he scored 41 points, dished out seven assists, and grabbed five boards. On the season Carrington is averaging 17 points per game on 43% shooting, including over 37% from three. Carrington’s offensive rating on Kenpom is 108.4. The junior guard isn’t afraid of the big stage and he will show that once he starts at MSG on Thursday Night.
MBB (@SetonHallMBB) February 16, 2017
Set Matchups: (Matchups, Bubble Teams Involved, Title Contenders)
First Round: No. 9 Georgetown vs. No. 8 St. John’s
The dreaded 8 vs 9 matchup is an unlikely one because it features two storied programs who are rivals and have finished at the bottom of the conference, even though one of them has improved over the last year. The young St. John’s Red Storm find themselves in a good position to get their first tournament win since 2011 since they are playing at home. Despite finishing conference play at 7-11 they proved to show a huge improvement from last year when they were 1-17. The Red Storm have one of the best backcourt duos in Big East Rookie of the Year Shamorie Ponds and point guard Marcus Lovett, something they didn’t have at all last year.
Two glaring issues with St. John’s is their lack of ball movement at times and their underwhelming frontcourt. When St. John’s is moving the ball well and they are getting great play from their bigs they are difficult for most teams to handle. It comes down to which team will show up at 7pm on Wednesday night. This season the Garden has been friendly to the Red Storm, who won three of their last four games at MSG.
Georgetown, which has had one of its worst seasons in the school’s illustrious history, is facing a lot of pressure going into this game. Both teams are limping into this game. In the first meeting, the Hoyas dismantled St. John’s 83-55. The Storm would end up avenging that loss by beating them 86-80 at MSG on February 25th. Georgetown needs a big game from their leading scorer Rodney Pryor (18.1 ppg) if they want to snag this road victory. Even though most will look at this game to see which team will be Villanova’s victim on Thursday afternoon, we may learn which direction each program could be going when the final buzzer sounds at 9:15 pm.
First Round: No. 7 Xavier vs No. 10 DePaul
It’s safe to say that Xavier (19-12, 9-9 Big East) is the lone bubble team in this tournament, where they face an upset-minded team in DePaul. Xavier suffered six straight defeats after losing their point guard Edmond Sumner and while we don’t know how the committee will look at that situation, losing to DePaul is a travesty a bubble team can ill afford. A deep run in the Big East Tournament would pad the Musketeers’ resume, but it’s not needed. The path is simple: beat DePaul or fall off the bubble.
This game will give DePaul another chance at playing spoiler, but we know Xavier coach Chris Mack is all business at tournament time. He will have his team ready on Wednesday night, as Xavier needs to set the tone early in this game or tempt fate.
Quarterfinals: No. 4 Seton Hall vs No. 5 Marquette
Seton Hall and Marquette are locks to be in the NCAA Tournament, but this game is still important because both have an outside shot of reaching the championship and their NCAA tournament seeding could be affected by this game. These two teams split the season series, with the winning team staking a three-point victory in each contest. Thursday night’s game should be no different as both teams duke it out to see who faces No. 1 seeded Villanova in the semifinals.
The defending tournament champions are riding high after getting a key road win over Butler last Saturday, and they will likely carry that momentum into Thursday night’s game. One question that remains is who will lead the Pirates on a deep run like Isaiah Whitehead did in 2016? Khadeen Carrington surely comes to mind, as do players such as Angel Delgado, Desi Rodriguez and freshman guard Myles Powell. Delgado, Carrington and Rodriguez have experience and Myles is a freshman who has shown to have a clutch gene. Another major advantage for the Pirates is that playing in the Garden will feel like a home game as the majority of the Seton Hall players are from the NY- NJ area and many of their fans are close to the school. Expect another tight battle between these two teams on Thursday night, just like the last two during the regular season.
Quarterfinals: No. 3. Providence vs No. 6 Creighton.
The Providence Friars are the hottest team coming into the Big East tournament, riding a six-game winning streak. What’s more impressive about the winning streak is that this is a Providence team that lost all of their best players from a season ago. Head coach Ed Cooley has the Friars playing at a very high level going into this tournament.
The Creighton Bluejays have found ways to survive without their point guard Maurice Watson Jr. One advantage that you can give to the Bluejays is that they are one of the best offensive teams in the country. The Bluejays are top 20 in points per game (83.5 ppg, 16th in the nation) and top five in assists per game (17.7 apg). Despite losing their floor general, they still have Big East Freshman of the Year Justin Patton, a 7-0 forward who can step out and shoot. Creighton is a tough matchup for any team on any given night. Patton averages 13.1 points per game on 69.3% shooting.
These teams split the season series as Creighton was able to beat Providence by 14 points in early January before the Friars beat the Bluejays by two on February 22nd. Both teams are locks for the NCAA Tournament, but there is a chance that the winner of this game could make an unexpected run to the title game.
Potential interesting matchups:
Quarterfinals: No. 7 Xavier vs No. 2 Butler
This game is another must-win for the Musketeers. Butler is a dangerous team that is coming into the tournament with a bad taste in their mouth after losing a tough one to Seton Hall. Butler swept the season series against Xavier, beating them by an average margin of seven points. The Bulldogs play excellent defense, evidenced by their ability to hold their opponents to 68.2 points per game. According to Kenpom, Butler is ranked No. 15 in offensive efficiency with a rating of 118.9. If DePaul somehow makes it to the quarterfinals to face Butler, the Bulldogs should have no problem beating them. But then again weirder things have happened, so either way expect this to be a trap game for the No. 2 seed.
Semifinals: No. 4 Marquette / No. 5 Seton Hall vs No.1 Villanova
If Villanova makes it to the semis as predicted, they will definitely run into their first test of the tournament if they face either Marquette (a team that has beaten them this season) or Seton Hall in a rematch of the 2016 championship. Marquette can definitely put up points on Villanova, as the Golden Eagles average 82 points per game and have a 120.7 offensive efficiency rating, ranking seventh according to Kenpom. When the Golden Eagles beat Nova on January 25th, they overcame a 17-point deficit. Nova can also put up points: the Wildcats went off for 93 in their first meeting on January 7th.
Nova swept the series vs Seton Hall but beating a team three times in one season is extremely difficult. If Seton Hall meets Nova in the semis, expect an all out war between both as the Pirates seek revenge while Nova tries to prevent themselves from losing to the Pirates for the third time in their Big East tournament history.
Player who can win the tournament all by himself: Josh Hart
When I covered my first Big East tournament in 2015, I got to witness the rise of Josh Hart as a sophomore. Hart scored 15 off the bench as Villanova beat Xavier in the Big East Tournament championship. Fast forward two years and Josh Hart is the Big East Player of The Year as well as a candidate for National Player of the Year.
It’s no question that the senior guard can carry this Villanova team to the Big East title.
The amount of experience he has compared to most players in the Big East is drastic. Of course he has a supporting cast of players like Jalen Brunson and Kris Jenkins, but Hart is the player that keeps the Wildcats going. He has carried the team to victory many times when his teammates are in a slump, and the Wildcats can rely on Hart step up in crunch time. Hart averages 18.7 points per game on 50% shooting from the field. If you need proof that Hart is that guy, look no further than the December 10th game vs Notre Dame, against whom Hart exploded for a career-high 37 points while the second highest scorer after him netted eight points.
It’s also worth noting that he’s a great defender. Hart, who shares Co-Defensive Player of the Year honors with teammate Mikal Bridges and Creighton’s Khyri Thomas, averages 1.5 steals per game.
Big East Tournament Predictions:
No. 8 St. John’s over No. 9 Georgetown
No. 7 Xavier over No. 10 DePaul
No. 1 Villanova Over No. 8 St. John’s
No. 2. Butler over No. 7 Xavier
No. 3 Providence over No. 6 Creighton
No. 5 Seton Hall over No. 4 Marquette
No. 1 Villanova over No. 5 Seton Hall
No. 3. Providence over No. 2 Butler
Championship: No. 1 Villanova over No. 3 Providence
Edited by Robert Hess.
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- Seton Hall