Big East Tournament Preview

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For the last time ever, we will be watching the Big East Tournament as we know it.

Next season, West Virginia will be gone, headed to the Big 12. Pitt and Syracuse won’t be far behind them, replaced by powerhouse programs like SMU, Houston and UCF. Saying the league will be diluted is akin to saying “The OC” went downhill after Marisa shot Ryan’s brother at the end of season two. Stating the obvious.

The shame is that the Big East conference, as a whole, is on a downswing this season. Yes, they may get as many as ten teams into the NCAA Tournament if things break the right way this week, but four of those teams could also get relegated to the NIT. There is a lot of ‘meh’ in the league this season, epitomized by the fact that the four seed, Cincinnati, and the six seed, South Florida, are both currently sitting on the bubble despite going 12-6 in conference play.

That normally doesn’t happen in this conference.

But the foreshadowing that it provides is plain to see.

This tournament — any conference tournament, for that matter — is never not going to be fun to watch. I truly cannot imagine a better way to spend a day than sitting in a gym for 12 hours and watching the quarterfinal round of any tournament. But would you rather watch UConn play Pitt or SMU? Georgetown take on Syracuse or UCF? Even a game pitting USF and Rutgers is a tough sell in New York City.

The Big East Tournament used to the place to be the first week of March. And now its just like everywhere else.

The Bracket

Where: New York City

When: March 6th-March 10th

Final: March 10th, 9 p.m. ESPN

Favorite: Syracuse

Who else could you possibly pick here? The Orange had one loss the entire season and that came on the road against the team that finished in third place in the conference when they were missing Fab Melo, the most important piece in their zone. The Orane have become synonymous with early exits in March, but I think this group is different. With Scoop Jardine taking over the leadership role and Dion Waiters and Kris Joseph continuing to play up to their potential, the Orange have plenty of talent and experience on their roster. This group works well together.

And if they lose?: Marquette

I have been leading the Golden Eagle’s bandwagon since way back in November, and what stands out the most about this group is that they have combined the toughness we’ve come to expect from the program with a very talented group of kids. They are a dangerous team when they are able to pressure the ball and they are surgical in transition. I’ve been pumped Jae Crowder non-stop the past few days, but Darius Johnson-Odom is just as important to this team’s success.

Other contenders?: There are other teams capable of winning this tournament, but I am not sure if anyone else in the league is up around the level of these two. I just don’t see Notre Dame putting together the kind of winning streak they need and I am not yet ready to buy into South Florida or Cincinnati just yet.

Sleeper: Georgetown

It feels weird saying Georgetown is a sleeper in this tournament. They finished tied for fourth in the conference standings and, frankly, they are Georgetown. But as the fifth-seed, I think they qualify for the sleeper category. I just think that this group is so well-coached and so long, athletic and versatile defensively that they are going to be a nightmare matchup.

Deeper sleepers: Honestly, I think UConn has a shot to win this thing against. They have the talent. They have their coach back. Win a couple of games and get the confidence back? They’ve done it before, making the run to the title from the No. 9 seed last season. They’re in the same spot this season.

Studs:

Jae Crowder and Darius Johnson-Odom, Marquette: The Golden Eagles have the luxury of playing with the league’s Player of the Year and a First Team All-Big East member. Crowder is the more important of the two thanks to his ability to play on the perimeter and defend the paint.

Kevin Jones, West Virginia: Jones is the leading scorer and the leading rebounder in the conference. That’s not easy to do.

Moe Harkless, St. John’s: If he lasts four years, he might end up being the Big East Player of the Year one day.

Vincent Council, Providence: The Friars didn’t win a lot of games, but Council had arguably the best year of any point guard in the conference: 16.2 ppg, 7.5 apg, and 4.0 rpg.

Dion Waiters, Syracuse: I truly believe Waiters is the best player on a very, very good Syracuse team.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.