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Big East Tournament preview: Will it be madness, or more of the same?

John Rooke
March 12, 2019 - 11:52 am

Yes, it was a nutty year.  Up was down, down was up, home was away, good was bad, Cats beat Dogs and…well, you get the idea.

But just because the regular season in the Big East was as wild and precocious as any in the previous five years of the reconfigured league – and perhaps beyond those years, too – does that mean the Big East Tournament will be just as unpredictable?

38 of the 90 Big East games played during the regular season were decided by six points or less, or overtime.  That’s about 42% of all games, in case you’re wondering.  The home team never had a definitive advantage either, although late in the year home teams managed to push the home-court winning percentage to 60% overall.

Not entirely reassuring if you had the home floor to play on or the crowd behind you.  Road teams never felt like they were out of it – and they weren’t.  They won two of every five games played within the league.

Madison Square Garden this week won’t be a true home court advantage for anyone – perhaps except for St. John’s – but even then, tickets in the Garden are evenly distributed among the schools.  It’s up to the fans to buy them and pack it in.  Last season, the Big East sold 97% of all available tickets – which made the 2018 Tournament the most-attended postseason tournament in the country.

And that was WITH Villanova dominating at the time.  Still, the eventual national champs were pushed to the brink by Providence, as the championship game was decided in overtime.  This year, while the Wildcats won the regular season for a 5th time in six years, virtually no one believes it will be an easy ride to Championship Saturday for the ‘Cats.

Why?  Villanova lost five of their last eight heading into the postseason.  Even virtually-unstoppable Markus Howard and Marquette stumbled at the end as well, losing four straight.  Two games separated 3rd from 10th in the league standings for most of the regular season, including at the end. 

Home teams were no shoe-in to win. Road teams, even with younger personnel, had more than a punchers’ chance in the arena.  Teams beat up on each other with so much regularity during the season, home courts more resembled MMA octagons than hardwood floors. 

Crazy.  It was bananas.  With nuts. 

Which means, if you believe public perception within college basketball circles, that the Big East is in trouble when it comes to the big picture and the upcoming NCAA Tournament.  And perhaps that’s true.  But it is quite possible that a team comes from the middle or back-of-the-pack this year to upset the (Big) Apple cart, and sneak in even though a pre-tourney resume may not be as complete as others.

Which puts a little added pressure, if not enjoyment for hoop-heads, on everyone this week in New York.  Including the head coaches.  Here is the Breakdown of Opportunity for the 2019 Big East Tournament:

FAVORITE(S)

When will Marquette break out of its’ slump?  Can Villanova, with the two senior leaders in all-Big East guard Phil Booth and all-Big East forward Eric Paschall, find their postseason magic?

The Wildcats and Golden Eagles may have finished one-two, but this view likes third-seeded Seton Hall as a potential cockroach falling into the mix, just to mess it up for everyone else.  Road-tested and Big East-toughened, they also have arguably the best go-to, big-shot guy in the league in all-Big East guard Myles Powell.

CONTENDERS

St. John’s may still have the most-talented starting five in the league.  But teams give them hell on the inside, which could be the Johnnies’ undoing.  Shamorie Ponds is capable of putting the team on his shoulders, but if Mustapha Heron, L.J. Figueroa or Marvin Clark can’t pick him up, the Red Storm will fizzle before they get started.

Georgetown has been sneaky-good all season long, as Patrick Ewing has done a superlative job with his trio of freshmen, Mac McClung, James Akinjo and Josh LeBlanc.  But for the Hoyas to be playing Saturday, senior big man Jesse Govan will need to do his best Ewing imitation somewhere along the way.  But they’re capable.

Call me a homer if you must, but I like Providence as a sleeper to come out of the Wednesday first-round against Butler – and to potentially knock off top-seeded Villanova to reach Friday’s semis.  Why?  Because the Friars LOVE playing at the Garden (they have an impressive win there this year against SJU), and they’ve suddenly found some offense to go along with one of the top defenses in the league.  If they can continue to hit shots, there’s no reason PC can’t play for the title.

Or does anyone not remember what UConn did as a 9th seed in 2011?  Five games, five wins in five nights.  Hello, Kemba Walker.  Four wins in four nights for the Friars?  Do-able.  The bracket gods, and the match-ups, may favor divine Providence.

LONG SHOTS

No one, seriously, is a long shot like they might have been coming from the bottom in the old Big East.  That includes DePaul, which owns a season-sweep against Seton Hall as their top credential.  2nd team all-Big East guard Max Strus and the Most Improved Player in the league, sophomore big man Paul Reed, will keep the Blue Demons interesting – if they can get past St. John’s Wednesday night. 

Xavier has momentum, having won six of seven to close the regular season.  It’s a bit tenuous to put the Musketeers in with the long-shots, but looking at their body of work, can they slug their way into Saturday?

Same thing with Creighton.  The Blue Jays are the hottest team going right now, having won five in a row coming into New York. Sophomore guard Mitch Ballock just hit 11 3’s in his last game, and Martin Krampelj is a vastly underrated presence in the post as a stretch-five.  The only thing that keeps the Jays in this spot are doubts over a quarterfinal match-up against Xavier.  The two teams split during the regular season, but if X makes it a physical rock-fight – and they should – the Musketeers can move on.

Butler might be the only team without an argument for winning it all.  The Bulldogs lost four of five to end the regular season, even with dynamic scoring guard Kamar Baldwin leading the way.  He needs help – a lot of it – for the Dogs to advance.  But they did that a year ago, after losing twice in the last two weeks of the season to Seton Hall, then beating the Pirates in New York.

Déjà vu?  It means, of course, (the) Butler did it, and could do it again.  It’s been that kind of a year in the Big East. 

Wide open?  It’s as wide as the Empire State Building is tall.  Enjoy the nuttiness.

Big East Final:  Providence vs. Seton Hall

Champion:  Seton Hall

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