BIG EAST PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Markus Howard, Marquette
There really isn’t all that much of a discussion to be had here. Howard was the best player in the Big East this season, and I’m honestly not sure it was all that close. He carried the Golden Eagles for long stretches despite the fact that he’s playing somewhat out of position. Howard is a scoring guard. He’s a shooter first and foremost, but he is also the only ball-handler on Marquette’s roster. That put him in a difficult situation this season, and frankly, it came back to bite Marquette at the end of the year. Part of the reason the Golden Eagles finished in second in the Big East standings and not as the regular season champions is because they blew leads in four straight games to close out the year, a direct result of Marquette’s turnover issues.
But that shouldn’t take away from just how good Howard has been.
BIG EAST COACH OF THE YEAR: Kevin Willard, Seton Hall
To think that there were people that wanted Kevin Willard fired just a couple of years ago. In the last two seasons, he has more than proven that he is one of the better coaches in the Big East, but this year will likely go down as his best coaching job. Coming off of a year where the Pirates lost four senior starters — Khadeen Carrington, Angel Delgado, Desi Rodriguez, Ismael Sanogo — Willard found a way to get this group to the No. 3 seed heading into the Big East tournament and, barring something catastrophic, a spot in their fourth straight NCAA tournament. I don’t think anyone saw that coming in October.
FIRST TEAM ALL-BIG EAST
- MARKUS HOWARD, Marquette
- SHAMORIE PONDS, St. John’s
- MYLES POWELL, Seton Hall
- PHIL BOOTH, Villanova
- ERIC PASCHALL, Villanova
SECOND TEAM ALL-BIG EAST
- KAMAR BALDWIN, Butler
- MAX STRUS, DePaul
- NAJI MARSHALL, Xavier
- SAM HAUSER, Marquette
- JESSIE GOVAN, Georgetown
BIG EAST TOURNAMENT PREVIEW
WHEN: March 13-16
WHERE: New York City
FINAL: March 16, 6:30 p.m., FOX
FAVORITE: Villanova (+175)
I know Villanova is down this season and I know they lost four of their last six and five of their last eight regular season games. I know they lost the last five games that they have played away from home. I know all of that. I also know that this is a program that has won three of the last four Big East tournaments and two of the last three national titles. They know how to get the job done in a tournament setting, and in a conference where it appears that no one is actually good, that should be enough.
And here’s the other thing: Given the way that this bracket broke down, Villanova is going to have the two best players on the floor every time they take the floor until the Big East tournament title game. Eric Paschall and Phil Booth have both hit something of a slump late in the year, but their half of the bracket doesn’t have a surefire NCAA tournament team — Creighton pending.
One other note: I love this Marquette (+200) team, but considering that there is a very real chance that they end up playing St. John’s — who swept them — in the second round of the tournament, I am going to stay from them. Justin Simon’s length has given Markus Howard fits for years, and I’m not going to bet on him figuring it out today.
SLEEPER: St. John’s (+900)
So let’s talk about this St. John’s team. On the one hand, they are super, super talented. Shamorie Ponds, Marvin Clark, Justin Simon, Mustapha Heron, L.J. Figueroa. On paper, that might be the best starting five in the Big East, and yet the Johnnies still managed to put together a 20-11 season with an 8-10 mark in Big East play. That’s not ideal.
The reason I have them listed here is two-fold. For starters, they tend to turn up with the lights are the brightest. The Johnnies get swept by DePaul, Providence and Xavier — games that no one really cares about — but went 3-1 against Marquette and Villanova and would have swept Seton Hall if it wasn’t for a blown call in with 3.9 seconds left. This is the Big East tournament. They should care.
Oh, and should I mention that they are playing in one of their home arenas?
This is a risky play, but the value is there. Think about it like this: St. John’s is the No. 7 seed, but if they can win their first round game, they get Marquette — who they swept — in the quarterfinals. To get there, they have to beat No. 10 seed DePaul, who swept them.
BEST VALUE: DePaul (+5000)
OK, so hear me out on this one.
The Blue Demons finished in last place in the Big East, but this team is better than you probably realize they are. They won seven games in the league for the first time since 2007. They swept St. John’s, who they play in the first round. They swept Seton Hall, who they would play in the semifinals if seeds hold. They’ve won two of their last three games and they have a kid named Max Strus that is among the most dangerous scorers in the country; he had 43 points against St. John’s nine days ago.
In a league that makes absolutely no sense, 50:1 odds is pretty good value.
SETON HALL (NET: 62, SOS: 31): With a 6-7 record against Q1 opponents, a 12-10 mark against Q1 and Q2 and wins over Kentucky (5) on a neutral and at Maryland, the Pirates are probably safe regardless of what happens, but as a team sitting in that No. 10 seed range in most bracket projections, there certainly is a world where a first round loss costs them a trip to the tournament.
CREIGHTON (NET: 54, SOS: 15)
XAVIER (NET: 71, SOS: 48): The Bluejays face what could amount to a play-in game right off the bat as they draw Xavier in the 4-5 game on Thursday afternoon. Creighton is in a better spot than Xavier right now after winning five games in a row — including at Marquette (29) — to close the regular season. They also do not have any bad losses, while Xavier lost to DePaul (100) at home and to San Diego State (134) on a neutral. Creighton might still have a chance if they lose. Xavier probably needs to wins to have a real chance to hear their name called on Selection Sunday.
ST. JOHN’S (NET: 66, SOS: 68): In a normal year, we probably would barely consider a Saint Joh’s team that was swept by DePaul (100), swept by Xavier (71), swept by Providence (74) and lost to Georgetown (76) at home anything close to a bubble team, but here we are. The Red Storm swept Marquette (29), beat Villanova (25) at home and has a neutral court win over VCU (31). But they also played a non-conference schedule that ranks 211th nationally. I think that with a third loss to DePaul, the Johnnies — who currently sit as an 11 seed in our latest bracket — could be in some trouble.
GEORGETOWN (NET: 76, SOS: 77): The Hoyas are a longshot to dance, but their resume is awfully similar to St. John’s. They also have five Q1 wins. They are 11-10 against Q1 anf Q2 opponents as opposed to St. John’s’ 10-9 mark. They, too, have a pair of bad losses and an ugly non-conference schedule. If the Hoyas can get passed Seton Hall (62) in the quarterfinals, a win over Marquette in the semis might actually get them into the tournament.
WHAT ELSE IS ON THE LINE?
Beyond all of the bubble teams trying to play their way into the NCAA tournament, I think what’s on the line here is Villanova and Marquette finding a way to turn this thing around and get it going before the NCAA tournament starts. Villanova has lost four of six and five of eight to close the regular season. Marquette lost four in a row. These are the two teams that have a real shot to make some noise in the NCAA tournament this season — particularly Marquette — and if the Big East wants a representative. in the second weekend of the tournament, this is where it is going to come from.
I have no idea what is going to happen in this tournament, so my prediction is simple: None of the top three seeds — Villanova, Marquette and Seton Hall — will still be playing on Saturday.