Location: Madison Square Garden
Championship Game: March 12th, 9:00 pm, ESPN
Outlook: If there is anything you need to know about the Big East Tournament this season, it’s this: UConn and Villanova are the 9th and 10th seeds, meaning that two of the conference’s flagship programs, who have both spent the majority of the season in the top 25, will be playing on the first day of the five day event.
That’s crazy, right?
The Big East this season is very deep, but there is not a ton of firepower at the top. Both Pitt and Notre Dame are in the running for a no. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, but that is more a result of the quality of the Big East conference than it is either team being considered a national title favorite.
That said, the Irish and the Panthers have distanced themselves from the pack as the two best teams in the conference. At the other end of the spectrum, its tough to see Georgetown (without Chris Wright) or Villanova (who has collapsed the past month) making a run at the title. UConn and Marquette and in a tough situation due to playing on the first day. Beyond that, I could make a legitimate argument as to why each of the top seven seeds should be considered a favorite.
While I won’t put you through that, here’s three semi-crazy predictions:
- Louisville: The Cardinals landed a double bye as the third seed, which means they will likely get West Virginia or Marquette in the quarters. Louisville is a rhythm team. Once they get a couple of turnovers and hit a few threes, they roll. The double-bye may throw off their rhythm, but facing that pressure with tired legs will be tough.
- St. John’s: The Johnnies were a dominant home court team this season. Guess where the Big East Tournament is being played?
- West Virginia: The Mountaineers seem to finally be coming together. Casey Mitchell isn’t causing problems (for the moment), Joe Mazzulla is playing great basketball, and Kevin Jones looks to have finally found a rhythm. We all know about their ability on the offensive glass, but if they can rebound on the defensive end of the floor, they have a shot at winning this thing.
Players to Watch: Marshon Brooks, Providence, and Jeremy Hazell, Seton Hall
I’m digging deep with this one, but these two high-scoring seniors get no where near enough credit or publicity. Hazell has battled back from a broken wrist and a gunshot wound suffered on Christmas to average 19.4 ppg and lead Seton Hall to a nice, late season surge. Brooks probably will be one-and-done in the Big East Tournament, but he’s a potential first round draft pick that has a 52 point game on his resume already this season.
Champion: Notre Dame
I’m not trying to be a pot-stirrer here. I have a legitimate argument for Notre Dame over Pitt as the favorite. And it goes beyond the simple fact that the Irish own Pitt. Mike Brey has developed what he calls the “Burn Offense”, which is essentially the shot-clock era version of four corners. Ben Hansbrough dribbles the clock down to about 10 seconds and runs a pick and roll. Its worked, as the Irish have won three games the last two seasons against Pitt.
There’s more. Pitt is playing without, statistically, their best offensive rebounder in Talib Zanna. For a team that thrives on the easy buckets that come from cleaning up missed shots, that is a huge loss. Gary McGhee and Dante Taylor are still on the roster, but guys like JJ Moore and Lamar Patterson are no where near the rebounders Zanna is.