Providence basketball

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Big East tournament 2020: Who will the lights shine upon?

John Rooke
March 10, 2020 - 11:09 am
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A quick check of the preseason Big East men’s basketball predictions by the league’s 10 coaches will show that, indeed, the coaches seem to know what they’re talking about…at least a little bit.

  1. Seton Hall
  2. Villanova
  3. Xavier
  4. Providence
  5. Marquette (T4th)
  6. Georgetown
  7. Creighton
  8. Butler
  9. St. John’s
  10. DePaul

Seton Hall was given a slight nod over Villanova as the eventual champ – and the two teams actually ended up tied for the regular season crown along with Creighton.  The Blue Jays were probably the outlier in the group – they were selected 7th prior to the start of the season and ended up winning a piece of their first hoop championship – in their 7th year as a member of the league.

Providence was picked to finish 4th by the Big East coaches – and that’s just where the Friars finished, albeit with a late-season surge that brought their postseason fortunes back to life.  PC’s first round tourney opponent, Butler, finished slightly better than originally predicted – going from 8th to 5th as all 10 teams’ head into Madison Square Garden.

  1. Creighton (T1st, seeded 1st)
  2. Villanova (T1)
  3. Seton Hall (T1)
  4. Providence
  5. Butler
  6. Marquette
  7. Xavier
  8. Georgetown
  9. St. John’s
  10. DePaul

What does this mean for the league’s 41st annual postseason tournament – and the 38th held at MSG? 

Mayhem, or matter-of-fact?  Chalk could certainly prevail but considering one game separated the top four teams in the regular season standings, you can make a case for just about anyone in the 2020 Big East Tournament.

Even last-place DePaul was 12-1 in non-league play, with wins over nationally-ranked Iowa and Texas Tech and road wins at Boston College and Minnesota.  The Blue Demons were just a few votes outside the AP Top 25 at one point in December, before the realities of the Big East settled in.

Reality – every team in the Big East was ranked in the Top 80 of the NET for most of conference play, with Providence charging hard from the outside.  Five teams finished the regular season ranked in the Top 40 for defensive metrics, according to kenpom.com.

Reality includes the need to defend the ball, as well as score it.  Big East coaches know defense will keep you in games when the offense isn’t there.  Therefore, the best defensive teams in the league are likely to be the championship contenders.

Unless, of course, someone’s hot hand prevails first. 

A look ahead to this week’s “hot hands”:

PRETENDERS

DePaul, St. John’s, Georgetown, Marquette

It would be remarkable of any of these three teams managed to win an opening round game Wednesday night at the Garden, and parlay that into a trip to Saturday night’s finals.  All are capable of winning Wednesday, however, which could make for anxious moments somewhere else.  Best guess here – St. John’s, because of the home-floor familiarity, might give Creighton some agita in Thursday’s quarterfinal round.

But, the Hoyas swept the Red Storm during the regular season.

Marquette, with potential National Player of the Year Markus Howard in tow, has a tough matchup in the quarterfinals with Seton Hall and Myles Powell, and the Golden Eagles have lost six of their last seven.  He probably won’t have enough help to overcome the Pirates’ being the better team top-to-bottom.

Unless he goes off for 50+.  And he could.  This could be some kind of quarterfinal game.

CONTENDERS

Xavier, Butler, Villanova, Creighton

Xavier has a punchers’ chance coming from an opening night game with DePaul, having swept the Blue Demons during the season, if only due to their strength and overall defensive abilities.  If the Musketeers could shoot with any relative accuracy – and they need guard Paul Scruggs to return to the lineup – X could be trouble for Villanova in the quarters.

Butler is listed among the contenders even though they’ve managed to win just one Big East Tournament game in six previous seasons since joining the league.  But Kamar Baldwin is capable of carrying the Bulldogs, much like Howard carries Marquette and Powell can carry Seton Hall.

Villanova?  How many tournament titles have they won, 75?  It just seems like it.

These Wildcats, however, are a younger group than in the recent past…even with Collin Gillespie running the show.  If Saddiq Bey (1st team all-Big East) uncorks his offensive abilities, Nova can play for the title again.

Creighton got the top seed thanks to tiebreakers, and the Blue Jays are clearly the top offensive team in the Big East with their ability to spread the floor and shoot/make three’s.  Yes, they’re fun to watch.  It says here, however, defense will win this championship.  Can they play enough of it to win?  And how healthy is 2nd team all-Big East guard Marcus Zegarowski?  He’s considered doubtful for the Jays’ first game, at least, Thursday at Noon against either St. John’s or Georgetown.

FINALS

Seton Hall, Providence

Seton Hall was the best team top-to-bottom over the course of the season.  They have the ingredients to win a national title if you’re building a team – top scorer, excellent defenders, rim protector, glue guys, depth.  The Big East Defensive Player of the Year, 7-2 center Romaro Gill, is also the league’s Most Improved Player.  1st team all-Big East guard Myles Powell, if he can avoid those 4-for-15 shooting games, will lead the Pirates.

Providence is an easy, trendy pick here – if only because of the way the Friars finished the regular season as the hottest team in the league with six straight wins.  They also had five straight wins over Top 25 teams in February.  PC found some offense to go along with the #1 rated scoring defense in the league, too.  So why were they so mediocre-to-poor early in the season?  

It takes time to make a stew.  A little of this, a dash of that has finally started to cook for the Friars.  They have seniors, too, who love playing in New York – which can make a big difference under the bright lights of Broadway.

“There is no greater tournament in the country than the Big East,” Providence head coach Ed Cooley said Monday. “The nostalgia of it, the history of it, the coaching in it, the players in it, the excitement around it.

“If any team is fortunate to get to Friday night to try and get to Saturday, it’s so much fun,” he added. “The bright lights of playing on that stage, there’s nothing greater.”

Tournament play tips off Wednesday night at 7:00 p.m.

BIG EAST TOURNEY NOTES

Providence sixth-year senior Emmitt Holt was named as one of three recipients of the annual Big East Sportsmanship award, along with Butler’s Kamar Baldwin and Georgetown’s Jagan Mosely.  Holt was granted the rare, 6th year of eligibility by the NCAA after suffering through intestinal issues and surgeries more than two years ago.  He returned to the floor this season and averaged nearly five points and four rebounds in 15 minutes per game this season off the Friars’ bench…Seton Hall center Romaro Gill was named as both the league’s Defensive Player of the Year and Most Improved Player. Gill led the Big East with 3.2 blocked shots per game…Creighton’s Denzel Mahoney was named as the Big East’s top Sixth Man…Coach of the Year and Player of the Year awards will be announced Wednesday afternoon.