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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

DePaul lands well-traveled shooting guard

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DePaul added a perimeter option to its future rotation Monday afternoon, as NBCSports.com confirmed that former Ohio State shooting guard Austin Grandstaff has decided to join the Big East program. DePaul represents the third Division I program that the Texan has been a part of, as he decided to transfer from Ohio State to Oklahoma back in December.

Grandstaff was due to sit out until the end of the fall 2016 semester after making that move, but he decided in the spring to leave Lon Kruger’s program. With the decision to transfer once again, Grandstaff will need to apply for a waiver that would get him on the court after the upcoming fall semester. If a waiver were to be denied, he’d have three seasons of eligibility remaining beginning with the 2017-18 campaign.

The 6-foot-5 Grandstaff played in ten games at Ohio State, averaging 4.4 points in 11.5 minutes of action per contest. His high point total came in a home loss to Louisiana Tech, as he scored nine points in 12 minutes of playing time that night.

Grandstaff shot 39 percent from the field and 33.3 percent from three, with 36 of his 41 field goal attempts being three-pointers. When he signed with Ohio State in May 2014, Grandstaff was ranked 44th in the Class of 2015 by Rivals.com, with his shooting ability being one of the key reasons why.

DePaul will lose four perimeter players at the end of the 2016-17 season, led by Billy Garrett Jr., so the addition of Grandstaff will help the Blue Demons from a depth standpoint.

Jenkins and No. 3 Villanova romp over DePaul 83-62

(AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
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VILLANOVA, Pa. (AP) No longer at the top of the national poll, Villanova is still No. 1 in the Big East.

Stitch another year on the championship banner, the Wildcats are again the class of the conference – a familiar regular-season coronation they can only hope doesn’t produce the same old early March exit.

Kris Jenkins scored 14 straight points and a career-high 31 overall, leading No. 3 Villanova to an 83-62 romp over DePaul on Tuesday night and the outright Big East championship.

The Wildcats (26-4, 15-2) are Big East champs for the third straight season and had already clinched the top seed for the conference tournament next week in New York. The Wildcats won the tournament in 2015.

“It’s something at the end of the year, we will take great pride in,” coach Jay Wright said. “We really do take pride in the regular season. We evaluate our program by what we do in the regular season. That’s how we make all our decisions.”

But the ultimate jury is in March, where the Wildcats haven’t advanced out of the opening weekend of the NCAA Tournament since 2009. The Wildcats were eliminated three times over that span as a No. 1 or 2 NCAA seed.

“We know that we get judged publicly by how you do in the tournament,” Wright said.

Maybe Jenkins can help change the tourney ending. He scored 20 points by halftime and opened the second with consecutive 3s, topping his previous best of 23. The Wildcats shot 68 percent in the first half and proved they are still a force at any ranking.

The Wildcats slipped to No. 3 in the Top 25 after three weeks at No. 1. The Wildcats went 5-1 at No. 1 and lost last week at Xavier.

Jenkins, a 6-foot-6 junior forward, averaged 11.9 points in his first full season as a starter and stuffed a game’s worth of production in 3:31. With Villanova leading 11-10, Jenkins buried four straight 3-pointers. He forced a steal and went in for a layup that made it 25-10 and capped his outburst.

“My teammates do an unbelievable job of making the right play,” Jenkins said. “Recently, the right play has just been to catch and shoot.”

Jenkins came out for a breather and Ryan Arcidiacono promptly buried a 3 that stretched the lead to insurmountable for DePaul (9-20, 3-14).

Eli Cain led DePaul with 14 points.

“He’s become our most consistent player because his mindset has been tremendous and he’s just trying to do the right things to help our team be successful,” DePaul coach Dave Leitao said of Cain.

The outcome was never in doubt, Villanova has won 12 straight against the perennial Big East cellar dwellers.

With all the hype on freshman guard Jalen Brunson, and senior stalwarts Arcidiacono and Daniel Ochefu carrying a bulk of the scoring load, Jenkins went a bit unnoticed until the past month.

He averaged 9.6 points through Jan. 10 before he scored 20 points against Marquette on Jan. 13. In 13 games since, he averaged 14.8 points and 4.4 rebounds. He shot 33 of 81 from 3-point range over that span.

Jenkins was 11 of 18 from the field and was the first Wildcat this season to top 30. He is a big reason why the Wildcats enter the Big East Tournament as the top seed for the third straight season. The Wildcats will play Thursday against the 8-9 winner from Wednesday night.

Win it all in New York and the Wildcats will surely enter the NCAA Tournament as a No. 1 seed.

But for a few days, there’s a Big East title to savor.

“I’ll love that accomplishment at the end of the season,” said Josh Hart, who scored 18 points. “Right now, it’s something cool. But we’re not focused on it.”

TIP-INS:

DePaul: The Blue Demons shot a solid 12 of 22 (55 percent) in the first half and made 6 of 9 3-point attempts. … DePaul made a 3 for the 705th straight game. … DePaul fell to 2-6 this season against ranked teams. … DePaul had 17 turnovers. “A lot of it was their gap defense and their hands being in good position, a lot of it was just our ineptitude of making point-to-point passes,” Leitao said.

Villanova: Villanova has 12 seasons of 25-plus victories in program history, six since 2006. … The Wildcats won their 39th straight game at the Pavilion and had their 169th consecutive sellout. … 76ers rookie center Jahlil Okafor was at the game. … Villanova held a moment of silence for Mike Daly, who played on the 1971 NCAA Final Four team, and died last week.

WHAT’S NEXT

DePaul hosts Seton Hall on Saturday.

Villanova hosts Georgetown on Saturday.

Bluiett helps No. 7 Xavier cruise past DePaul 86-65

AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh
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ROSEMONT, Ill. (AP) Trevon Bluiett scored 15 points and No. 7 Xavier used an impressive burst spanning the halves to put away DePaul for an 86-65 victory on Saturday.

The Musketeers trailed 32-25 before they ripped off 29 of the next 34 points to grab control. J.P. Macura made a 3-pointer and two free throws during a 17-1 run over the final 3:43 of the first half, and Bluiett had two layups and a jumper to help Xavier open a 54-37 lead with 16:13 remaining.

Macura and Larry Austin Jr. had 12 points apiece for the Musketeers (19-2, 7-2 Big East), who have won three in a row since their 81-72 home loss against Georgetown on Jan. 19.

DePaul (7-14, 1-8) lost for the eighth time in its last nine games.

The Blue Demons struggled to score after Xavier switched to a 1-3-1 zone late in the first half and never recovered.

Tommy Hamilton IV scored 13 of his 15 points in the first half, and Billy Garrett Jr. finished with 18 points. But DePaul committed 15 turnovers and its reserves finished with just 12 points, compared to 42 for Xavier’s backups.

The Blue Demons also were hurt by a pair of costly fouls on Joe Hanel late in the first half. The sophomore forward was called for over the back while going for a rebound, and then went chest to chest with Jalen Reynolds, drawing a technical.

The result was a pair of free throws for Myles Davis and Reynolds and a 40-32 lead for Xavier with 1:14 to go. Edmond Sumner tacked on a jumper for the Musketeers with 22 seconds left, and the Blue Demons trailed by nine at the break after leading by as many as nine in the early going.

Reynolds and Davis each scored 10 for Xavier, which led by as many as 26 on its way to its five win in the last six games in the series. The Musketeers also beat the Blue Demons 84-64 on Jan. 12.

TIP-INS

Xavier: Bluiett had two points on 1-for-4 shooting in the first half. … The Musketeers earned their fourth consecutive Big East road win. They also improved to 9-1 away from Cintas Center this season. … Xavier missed its first nine shots of the game and 11 of its first 12 overall.

DePaul: Women’s basketball coach Doug Bruno was recognized during the first half with a commemorative ball in honor of his 600th career win on Jan. 15 at Butler. … Hamilton fouled out with 5:35 left.

UP NEXT

Xavier hosts St. John’s on Wednesday night.

DePaul hosts No. 10 Providence on Tuesday night.

Jay Cohen can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/jcohenap

Bluiett scores 24, No. 7 Xavier beats DePaul 84-64

(AP Photo/Gary Landers)
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CINCINNATI (AP) Trevon Bluiett spent a lot of time shooting 3-pointers the last few days, finding his touch. It was all the way back Tuesday night.

The sophomore forward scored a career-high 24 points – 19 in the first half – and No. 7 Xavier took advantage of open shots on the perimeter while pulling away to an 84-64 victory over DePaul.

Xavier (15-1, 3-1 Big East) led most of the way as Bluiett got going right away, making his first four shots from beyond the arc. He tied his career high with five 3-pointers on 11 attempts. The Musketeers made a season-high 12 3-pointers.

Bluiett had been in a shooting slump, going only 2 of 15 beyond the arc in his last three games.

“I’ve been spending time in the gym and waiting for that to come out,” Bluiett said. “You go through some tough droughts. You’ve got to stay persistent.”

Myles Davis had 14 points and seven assists for the Musketeers, who had four double-figure scorers. Freshman Kaiser Gates had nine of his career-high 11 points in the second half as Xavier pulled away, leading by as many as 26 points.

“That’s what kind of sets us apart,” Bluiett said. “We’ve got seven to nine guys who can go out there and easily get 20 points if they want to. What also sets us apart is that we play together.”

Myke Henry scored 16 points for DePaul (6-11, 0-5), which dropped its fifth straight game. The Blue Demons couldn’t handle all of Xavier’s options on offense.

“They’re so balanced in how they go about things,” DePaul coach Dave Leitao said. “They have a half-dozen guys who can make a major impact and put their fingerprints on the game.”

Xavier forward Jalen Reynolds didn’t start a 74-66 win at St. John’s on Wednesday because coach Chris Mack was unhappy with his conduct during practice. He was back in the lineup on Tuesday and had six points and seven rebounds.

Point guard Edmond Sumner was in uniform and warmed up before the game, the first time he had done that since he fell hard on the court and suffered a concussion at Villanova on Dec. 31. He has missed three games, with Xavier showing its depth and versatility in his absence.

Bluiett made his first four 3-point attempts, including one when he came off a pick and did a catch-and-shoot. Rashaun Stimage fouled him on another attempt, and Bluiett made all three free throws as Xavier pulled ahead 18-8. The Musketeers made six of their first 10 shots from beyond the arc.

After DePaul cut it the lead to two points, Davis hit two 3s – one while falling backward – during a 10-point spurt that made it 28-16, Xavier’s biggest lead of the first half. The Musketeers led 41-31 at the break.

Xavier got so many open shots on the perimeter because the Blue Demons packed in their defense to take away the Musketeers’ front-line scoring. Reynolds and James Farr were a combined 1 for 7 in the first half.

J.P. Macura scored 11 points, including two three-point plays, as Xavier built the lead to 18 points early in the second half.

HONORING SMITH

The Musketeers had a moment of silence before the game for former Butler player Andrew Smith, who died of cancer on Tuesday at age 25.

“He’s been on our team’s mind,” Mack said. “We’ve got guys who played against him and coaches who have coached against him and have the utmost respect. It’s a terrible reminder of how fragile things are. Our thoughts and prayers go to the Butler community, especially the Smith family.”

TIP-INS

DePaul: The Blue Demons haven’t beaten a Top 10 team since a 64-57 win over No. 5 Kansas on Dec. 2, 2006.

Xavier: Davis made his first free throw and missed his second, ending his streak of consecutive free throws made at 24.

UP NEXT

DePaul: Hosts Creighton on Sunday.

Xavier: Plays at Marquette on Saturday.

Follow Joe Kay on Twitter: http://twitter.com/apjoekay

POSTERIZED: Butler’s Kelan Martin dunks on DePaul’s Darrick Wood

(AP Photo/Doug McSchooler)
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Butler’s Kelan Martin threw down one of the better dunks of the 2015-16 season as DePaul’s Darrick Wood stepped up to take a charge and got run over.

Wood clearly didn’t look for the restricted area when he stepped up and he got called for the foul on the play as well.

(H/T: Brady Collier)