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Big East Conference Tournament Preview, Bracket and Conference Postseason Awards

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Big East Player of the Year: Josh Hart, Villanova

Josh Hart confirmed what was almost unanimously believed in November: he was the best player in the Big East. The senior wing averaged a conference-leading 18.7 points — shooting 50 percent from the field and 40 percent from three — to go along with his 6.5 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 1.5 steals per game for first-place Villanova. One of the best two-way players in the nation also had some of his best single-game performances outside of the conference slate.

Big East Coach of the Year: Ed Cooley, Providence

Two days before Christmas, Providence closed out the non-conference slate with a loss at Boston College. The Friars followed by dropping the first two conference games. All three losses were by a dozen or more points. Yet, this team — without Kris Dunn and Ben Bentil — is in possession of another 20-win season, and tied the highest finish Providence has had since the conference’s relaunch. This is a competitive race, especially when you consider what Chris Holtmann and Steve Wojciechowski has done. And that doesn’t include Jay Wright’s continued dominance. But Cooley took a young roster with all the makings of a rebuild and turned it, in all likelihood, a fourth straight NCAA Tournament appearance.

First-Team All-Big East

  • Josh Hart, Villanova
  • Andrew Chrabascz, Butler: The statistics don’t jump off the page, but the senior forward impacts the game in so many different ways for a Butler team that was projected to finish sixth, but ended as the No. 2 seed.
  • Jalen Brunson, Villanova: Taking the full-time ball handling duties this season, the sophomore averaged 14.8 points per game, shooting 54 percent from the field. He also registered a 2:1 assist-to-turnover ratio.
  • Angel Delgado, Seton Hall: The nation’s leading rebounder (13.1 RPG) has recorded 24 double-doubles this season. He’s also improved his offense, posting 15.7 points per game.
  • Marcus Foster, Creighton: The transfer guard is second in the conference in scoring at 18.5 points per game. He’s taken on a bigger role since Watson’s season-ending injury.

Second Team All-Big East:

  • Trevon Bluiett, Xavier
  • Khadeen Carrington, Seton Hall
  • Kyron Cartwright, Providence
  • Kelan Martin, Butler
  • Justin Patton, Creighton

RELATED: Player of the Year | Coach of the Year | NBC Sports All-Americans

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Villanova brought the Big East the national championship in 2016, ending critcism of the program’s shortcomings in March and providing the league with an added level of legitiamcy it yearned for since its relaunch in 2013.

So, what will the Big East do for an encore? The conference might send 70 percent of its members to the NCAA Tournament.

Like the previous three seasons, the league was dominated by Villanova, which won its fourth consecutive regular season championship. Butler finished second, and spent much of the year in the top-20. Creighton looked every part of a Final Four contender until Maurice Watson Jr. tore his ACL in mid-January. Xavier, which began the season ranked, has struggled since Edmond Sumner suffered the same season-ending injury. Marquette, Providence and Seton Hall have all made late pushes for at-large bids, resulting in a wild finish to the regular season. Four days in New York should be eventual, to say the least.

The Bracket

When: March 8-11

Where: Madison Square Garden, New York City

Final: Saturday, March 11 5:30 p.m.

Favorite: Villanova

This should come as a surprise to no one. This reigning national champions enter the World’s Most Famous Arena as the top seed for the fourth straight season. Villanova has at its disposal the conference’s player of the year, another unanimous first-team selection, a national coach of the year candidate and the athleticism and versatility not many teams can brag about. Depth is a concern, with Phil Booth out for the season and Darryl Reynolds, the only true big man in the rotation, recently returning from injury. It’s also worth noting that two of three Big East losses came against the same opponent.

And if they lose?: Butler

The Bulldogs have twice defeated the Wildcats. They did so in Hinkle Fieldhouse on Jan. 4, handing Villanova its first loss of the season. Butler went for the sweep by knocking off the Cats on Feb. 22, the only time they lost at the Pavilion this season. In both contests, Butler made the key plays down the stretch for hard-fought victories. Butler has an improved defense from last season to compliment with its always-efficient offense. With a big like Andrew Chrabascz, the Bulldogs are more equipped to match up with Villanova. Also, Kelan Martin, since his move to a reserve role, has caught fire in the last five games of the regular season.

Kelan Martin (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Other Contenders:

  • Providence: The Friars have won six straight, with wins over Butler, Xavier, Creighton and Marquette. Kyron Cartwright and Rodney Bullock may not be Kris Dunn and Ben Bentil, but they are anchoring a hot team that could give Providence its second postseason championship in four years.
  • Marquette: The Golden Eagles are the only Big East team team other than the Bulldogs to defeat Villanova. They have a nice balance with a deep roster. Five players average double-digits in points, and Andrew Rowsey, the Big East Sixth Man of the Year, and Katin Reinhardt have been huge in the second unit.

Sleeper: Seton Hall

The Pirates played strong basketball down the stretch last season to win the Big East Tournament championship. Isaiah Whitehead is playing in a different borough now, but Seton Hall is rolling, winners of seven of nine. The defense isn’t as strong as it was during last year’s run, but Angel Delgado, Khadeen Carrington and Desi Rodriguez are capable of a repeat performance.

The Bubble Dwellers:

  • Xavier: The Musketeers lost six of seven to close out the season. They have two wins in the past five weeks: both against DePaul. A loss to the Blue Demons on Wednesday night could burst Xavier’s bubble.
  • Marquette: The Golden Eagles should be safe at this point. Sure, they earned a come-from-behind win against Villanova, but that won’t stop critics from poking holes in their resume on Sunday, especially when four wins against Xavier and Creighton came after injuries to Edmond Sumner and Mo Watson.
  • Providence: A six-game winning streak and a third-place finish should mean the Friars are safe, but most bracket projections have them as one of the last at-large four bids.

Defining moment of the season: Marquette, down 17 points, comes back to stun No. 1 Villanova, starting a run for the NCAA Tournament.

CBT Prediction: Villanova

Has Xavier played its way on to the bubble?

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Heading into the weekend of Feb. 10, Xavier looked to be in a pretty good spot.

The Musketeers were ranked in The Associated Press Top 25, had won four straight and stood at 8-3 in the Big East with a chance to knock off defending champion Villanova at home.

It’s all gone to hell since.

Marquette dominated play for long stretches and defeated the Musketeers, 95-84, on Wednesday at the Cintas Center, furthering Xavier’s spiral from Big East contender to bubble resident.

The Musketeers have now dropped six games in a row, and it hasn’t just been a result of an unfavorable schedule. They’ve lost three at home and three on the road. They’ve lost to conference heavyweights Villanova and Butler, and they’ve lost to second-tier squads like Providence, Seton Hall and the Golden Eagles (twice).

Xavier is still probably in the field at this very moment, but they’re fading fast.

Of course, a big piece of their downfall is the loss of Edmond Sumner to an ACL tear, though the Musketeers did win their next three games after the injury. Still, Sumner’s loss was always going to be felt sooner or later. He was averaging 15.0 points, 5.0 assists and 4.3 assists at the time of the injury, and was critical in quarterbacking Xavier from the point guard position.

Losing Trevon Blueitt for two games during this losing streak certainly was a major blow, but the Musketeers have had four other chances with him in the lineup to shake free of this funk. X also only had senior Myles Davis for three games due to first a suspension and then his departure from the program.

Offense has often been a problem – especially 3-point shooting – but against Marquette, the defense faltered.

The Golden Eagles shot 61.1 percent overall and made 12 of 21 (57.1 percent) from 3-point range. Andrew Rowsey went for 20 while JaJuan Johnson had 19 and Katin Reinhardt 17. The 95 points allowed were the most allowed ever in the Cintas Center. Winning in Cincinnati was probably as much a boon for Marquette’s tourney hopes as it was a boondoggle for Xavier.

Before the loss, Xavier was 26th in the RPI, a metric which could be its saving grace.  They’ve got eight wins against the RPI top-100 and just one loss outside the top-100. A loss this weekend at DePaul, RPI rank 231, should be avoided at all costs.

The Musketeers aren’t sunk yet, but they’re taking on water fast with fewer and fewer tools at their disposal to plug the leaks. They might just have to hope they stay afloat for just long enough to hear their name on Selection Sunday.

Report: Froling to transfer to Marquette, petition NCAA

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SMU transfer Harry Froling will commit to Marquette and petition to the NCAA to be eligible for the entirety of the 2017-18 season, according to a report from FOX Sports.

Froling left SMU earlier this year, and NCAA rules would usually preclude him from playing until the second semester of next season. The Australia native will have two years of eligibility beyond next season.

The 6-foot-10 center averaged 14.6 minutes per game for the Mustangs, whose coach, Larry Brown, resigned last July, giving way to Tim Jankovich. Froling averaged 4.3 points and 3.2 rebounds per game.

The Golden Eagles should have an intriguing frontline of newcomers next season with Froling joining 2017 three-star recruits Theo John and Ike Eke in Milwaukee.

Marquette gets commit from ’17 forward

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Marquette coach Steve Wojciechowski is building an impressive frontcourt in his 2017 class.

The Golden Eagles secured a pledge from three-star Minnesota big man Theo John, he announced Tuesday night.

John selected Marquette over offers from Cal, Purdue and Illinois, among others. Perhaps the biggest threat to Marquette were the in-state Gophers, who pushed hard for John but weren’t able to secure his commitment. Minnesota offered six in-state players in the 2017 class, but did not get a commitment from any of them.

“The Gophers are a great organization,” John told the Minneapolis Star Tribune. “(Coach Richard) Pitino is really turning the program around. I have a lot of respect for what he and his staff are doing. They’re going to be successful in the next few years. I just felt like Marquette was the better decision for me both academically and basketball-wise.”

In John, the Golden Eagles are getting a player that has made his mark on the defensive end.

“Theo John is a solid addition for Marquette,” NBCSports.com recruiting analyst Scott Phillips said, “and gives them a big man who has some upside. John is a solid positional defender and he’s been better with his post moves over the last year.”

The 6-foot-9 forward joins Ike Eke, a three-star forward from Detroit, as the first two members of Wojciechowski’s 2017 class, which will help ease the loss of senior big man Luke Fisher, who enters his final season with Marquette after starting every game as a junior.

Ellenson declaring for draft and hiring an agent

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Marquette freshman Henry Ellenson will declare for the NBA draft and hire an agent, he announced Tuesday night.
“This has been my dream ever since I fell in love with the game growing up in Rice Lake(, Wisc.),” Ellenson wrote in an Instagram post.
It’s certainly not surprising news, especially with his intentions leaking over the weekend and given he’s a projected lottery pick. The 6-foot-11 forward averaged 17 points and 9.7 rebounds per game last season for Marquette, though that wasn’t enough to help the Golden Eagles secure an NCAA tournament spot during his one year in Milwaukee.
“Henry was one of not only the top freshman in the country this season, he was one of the best players regardless of class,” Marqutte coach Steve Wojciechowski said in a statement released by the school. “As great as he was all season long for our program, his best basketball is still ahead of him and we wish him nothing but the best as he begins the next phase of his career.”
Ellenson’s stock is high given his combination of size, skill and quickness along with he’ll be one of the younger players in the class, having only recently turned 19 years old. His defense will likely be the biggest question mark going into June’s draft.
Losing Ellenson, while expected, is a blow for Marquette, but Wojiechowski won’t lose any contributors to last year’s team due to graduation while adding top-100 recruit Sam Hauser into the mix. Marquette could very well work its way into tournament discussion next year despite losing its best player.

Steve Wojciechowski and a basketball family led Henry Ellenson to Marquette

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Basketball is the driving force of the Ellenson family. John and Holly Ellenson were both college basketball players. They now have four kids: three sons playing college basketball and a daughter, Ella, who is junior in high school and is drawing high-major college interest in their hometown of Rice Lake, Wisconsin.

Monday night was special for the Ellenson family as Wally, a junior transfer from Minnesota, and Henry, a highly-regarded freshman, made their debut at Marquette against middle brother, Ellwood, and NAIA Valley City State.

The 98-57 exhibition win for the Golden Eagles will, in all likelihood, be the last time all three Ellenson brothers share the court at the same time.

“With all the brothers playing here tonight,” Henry told reporters after the game, “it’s definitely a day I’ll never forget.”

Henry is Marquette’s first McDonald’s All-American since 1982. Head coach Steve Wojciechowski knew that family mattered to the Ellensons when he started recruiting him. Wally’s addition, and Monday’s exhibition, were all a part of his plan to accelerate the Golden Eagles’ return to relevance.

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After a long and successful stint as an assistant coach at Duke, Wojciechowski took the head coaching job at Marquette on April 1, 2014. The first-time head coach almost immediately set his sights north to in-state big man Henry Ellenson.

Traveling 300-plus miles from Milwaukee to Rice Lake, Wisconsin, Wojciechowski first watched Henry Ellenson play in an open gym at Rice Lake High School that spring. As a consensus top-100 national prospect and the younger brother of two college basketball players, Wojciechowski knew Ellenson was talented and had the bloodlines but what he saw in the open gym still caught him off-guard.

“I watched Henry work out at 5:30 in the morning before school started. And he’s in there at 6-foot-11, doing ball-handling drills, and working himself out with the help of his sister. That kind of drive for a young player is not normal,” Wojciechowski recalled to NBCSports.com.

“Coach got to see me work out and he got to see my sister (Ella) work out that day,” Ellenson said with a laugh. “I think he got a sense of how my family is.”

Watching the open gym, the man commonly known in basketball circles as Coach Wojo, knew that he would be handling everything Ellenson on his own. Most head coaches delegate recruiting calls and responsibilities to assistant coaches. Wojciechowski made it a point to be the lead recruiter of Henry and his tight-knit family.

Henry describes his family as a “big basketball family” and the four Ellenson children come from parents who both played college hoops. John Ellenson played at Marquette and Wisconsin before playing for one year overseas while Holly Ellenson played college basketball at Wisconsin-Eau Claire.

Holly eventually became the girls basketball coach and a physical education teacher at Rice Lake High School. Four days after Henry was born, he was brought to his first basketball game, as Holly coached a road game 48 hours after leaving the hospital.

With a spare set of keys to the local high school gym, the three Ellenson boys were constantly playing basketball while growing up. As the youngest of the three brothers, Henry had to use his skill to match up with his more physically imposing older brothers until he hit his growth spurt. The 6-foot-6 Wally started his career at Minnesota as a dual-sport athlete also competing in high jump and 6-foot-8 Ellwood began his basketball career at Division II Bemidji State. As his older brothers left the house, Henry eventually grew to 6-foot-10 by the middle of high school.

With an ability to hit 3-pointers or handle the ball in the open floor like a guard, Henry elevated to a national recruit and he was eventually selected for the gold-medal winning USA Basketball U17 FIBA World Championship team last summer.

Blueblood college basketball programs like Duke, Kentucky, North Carolina and UCLA came calling, but Henry was most impressed that the head coach of the in-state school kept aggressively pursuing him without the aid of assistant coaches.

“Coach [Wojo] was the only head coach that called me every time and that made a big impression on me,” Henry said.

The recruiting of the Ellenson family turned up another level once Wally transferred into the Marquette men’s basketball program from Minnesota.

Having his older brother commit to Marquette certainly helped in recruiting, but Henry was most sold on his future coach’s vision of how he would use the versatile big man. Henry sees himself as a basketball player and he doesn’t like to label his game by a position on the floor. UCLA tried to sell Henry on being the next Kevin Love and other schools also compared him to past elite big men. Wojciechowski just wanted Henry to be himself and play his game.

“The playing style was huge,” Henry said of his reasons for picking the Golden Eagles. “I get to play all over the floor. I can handle a bit and shoot. I get a lot of freedom that I wouldn’t get in some other places.”

Marquette fans are hoping that kind of freedom allows Henry to have a huge season in what could be his only campaign in college basketball. Ellenson enters the Big East program with a substantial amount of local buzz.

Henry is also anxious to show off his skills on a national level after missing the spring senior all-star game circuit. A broken fifth metacarpal in his left, non-shooting, hand suffered in a state semifinal win for Rice Lake caused Henry to miss the Wisconsin state championship game as well as prestigious events like the McDonald’s All-American Game, Jordan Brand Classic and Nike Hoop Summit.

Without its star big man, Rice Lake lost in the state championship game and Ellenson had to sit on the sidelines and watch the next few weeks while his five-star peers locked horns in front of national recruiting analysts and NBA scouts.

“It was tough to sit out and watch knowing what I can do out there,” Ellenson said.

Once he recovered from the hand injury towards the end of spring, Henry worked hard to prepare for the college basketball season. Marquette saw a glimpse of what Henry was capable of during their overseas exhibition trip to Italy this August. In the first three games of a 4-0 exhibition trip, Ellenson averaged 23.6 points and 8 rebounds per game. He was also dominant in the exhibition win over Ellwood and Valley City State, as Henry had a double-double by halftime and finished with 16 points, 17 rebounds, five assists and two blocks in 27 minutes of action.

Wojciechowski has also been pleasantly surprised to see how open his new star has been to coaching and taking criticism since Henry joined the program.

“Until you get a player on a day-to-day basis, you don’t know how they’ll respond to coaching. Can you tell him the truth, even if the truth is hard?” Wojciechowski said. “Henry embraces that. He’s a guy, like most great players, who wants to be told how he can get better. And I admire that about him.”

Marquette is certainly hoping Henry and a talented freshman class can be as good as advertised. The program is trying to make the NCAA tournament after last season’s injury-riddled campaign. Henry being paired with 6-foot-10 big man Luke Fischer will be a tough combination for any team to stop.

“We can feed off of each other,” Ellenson said of Fischer. “Most teams don’t have two guys that size, but if they do, I can step out and open up some space for him inside.”

It will also be a fun season at Marquette for Henry because he gets to play with Wally, who sat out last basketball season due to NCAA transfer restrictions.

Now back with Wally for the first time since high school, Henry gets to team up with the elbow-throwing older sibling who used to beat him up during games of one-on-one-on-one. Henry is the star basketball player now, but Wally has aspirations of being an Olympic athlete in the high jump after starting his outdoor track career as a three-time, first-team All-American at both Minnesota and Marquette.

Basketball has always been the bond between the Ellenson brothers and the Golden Eagles are hoping to use their competitive fire as a key ingredient for this season. Although only a true freshman, Henry is going to be the focus of attention for opponent’s scouting reports and he’ll be asked to be a team leader this season.

“We’re going to need him to set an example as the team’s best player,” Wojciechowski said. “When you’re that good, you have to be a leader and I think he’ll embrace those challenges.”