Stew Milne/USA Today Sports

Big East tournament preview

WEEI
March 06, 2018 - 1:06 pm

By John Rooke

Yes, it’s quite possible that for many New Englanders (or more specifically, Bostonians) March Madness is but a fleeting moment on the way to sunnier days at Fenway Park, heated spring-time moments inside TD Garden, and a minor distraction before OTA’s and training camp return for the Patriots.

In other words, who cares?

Granted, college basketball has taken a beating recently with FBI probes, coaches caught bribing recruits and shoe companies deciding where some players should play.  It’s ridiculous.  But you should still pay attention to the Madness.  Why?

Because anyone can win.  Postseason college basketball stretches into the far reaches of our country and involves nearly everyone.  Where else can you find fans in South Dakota sharing something in common with fans in Durham, NC? 

Or Providence?  Or Boston?

The beauty of postseason college basketball lies in the competitive nature of the sport, the excitement on and off the floor, in venues across America.  So, you prefer the NBA or NHL?  That’s fine, too.  But you’re missing out on a pretty good training ground for, let’s say, the NBA.  Complete with bands, cheerleaders, student sections, painted faces and plenty of emotion under the bright lights of national TV – unlike the NBA’s G-League and even several NBA arenas.

The rest of the nation is tuned in.  And you won’t fill out a bracket for your work pool?  Of course, you will.  So pay attention, you might learn something.

Much of the country will be tuned into New York this week, where the Big East holds its annual tournament at Madison Square Garden, and the ACC holds court at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center.  And these two events come the week after the Big 10 held its event at MSG, because the Big East has an annual contract for this week through 2026. 

25 teams, their students and fans and two national television networks will dominate the attention and sports conversation this week, including Providence playing at the Garden and Boston College in Brooklyn.  And in two weeks’ time, much of this scene will shift to TD Garden in Boston, when the NCAA Eastern Regionals arrive.

The Big East this year stands to place two #1 overall seeds for the upcoming NCAA’s, with both Xavier and Villanova likely receiving top nods.  Xavier won the regular season title for the first time since the league reincarnated itself five years ago.  And Providence is the only team in the Big East (or in the country, for that matter) to have beaten BOTH Xavier and Villanova this season.

Here’s the Big East Tournament pre-tourney breakdown, divided by “have a shot” and “have no shot.”  Because it pretty much comes down to this – anyone (save for one or two) can win.

HAVE A SHOT

The obvious candidates here are regular season champ Xavier and runner-up Villanova as the one-and-two seeds.  But possibilities from the pack include Seton Hall, with a senior-laden team; Creighton, with a team averaging nearly 90 points per game, and perhaps even Providence – with seniors that seemingly have a penchant for playing a mistake-prone game of late.

But clean it up, who knows?  Experience has certainly counted before when it comes to the postseason.  And the Friars already have two wins at MSG this season, having won the 2K Classic in November.

Butler and Marquette, with the Bulldogs a likely NCAA participant already, could make for real trouble when matched against the above teams.  Marquette probably needs to advance to the semis, at the least, for an NCAA shot, but much will depend on what happens in mid-to-low major conference tournaments and other bubbles that may burst. 

You also can’t completely erase St. John’s here, because the Garden is their home floor – and they’ve beaten ACC top dog Duke, as well as Villanova.

HAVE NO SHOT

Probably DePaul and Georgetown.  Although both teams have some decent wins, it seems unlikely either will run the table with four straight wins over four days.  But it has happened before – just ask UConn when they were in the Big East. 

Handicapping the Big East race:  Xavier & Villanova 4-1; Seton Hall, 6-1; Providence & Creighton 8-1; St. John’s 10-1; Marquette 20-1; Butler 25-1; Georgetown 50-1 & DePaul 100-1. 

The Pick:  One of Xavier and Villanova won’t reach the final.  It wouldn’t shock me to see St. John’s advance to the semis, either.  So, let’s take Providence against the Wildcats in Saturday night’s Garden spotlight.  A homer choice, perhaps, but as good as any other.  It’s anyone’s game – or tournament – to win.

Big East Opening Round, Wednesday night @ MSG:

Ed Cooley Radio Show, Live from P.J. Clarke’s (55th & 3rd, NYC) 7:00 pm (103.7 WEEI-FM)

8th seed Georgetown vs. 9th seed St. John’s, 7:00 pm

7th seed Marquette vs. #10 DePaul, 9:30 pm

Big East Quarterfinals, Thursday:

#1 Xavier vs. 8/9 winner, 12 Noon

#5 Providence vs. #4 Creighton, 2:30 pm (103.7 WEEI-FM at 2:15)

#2 Villanova vs. 7/10 winner, 7:00 pm

#3 Seton Hall vs. #6 Butler, 9:30 pm

Big East Semifinals, Friday:

TBD, 6:30 pm

TBD, 9:00 pm

Big East Championship, Saturday:

TBD, 6:30 pm

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