The BarnBurner’s Big East Conference Tournament Preview

It may not be what it once was, but this year’s Big East tournament should offer plenty of excitement. The conference truly embodies the parity that was the 2019-20 College Basketball season. Eight of the ten teams finished with an overall record above .500, while Georgetown and DePaul currently sit at 15-16. Add in the MSG atmosphere and we should be in for another classic tournament. So without further ado, let’s break down the upcoming week at the Mecca.

Title Contenders

Creighton 

The Bluejays are riding high after clinching their first (shared) Big East regular season title with a dominant win over Seton Hall. The 77-60 drubbing of the Pirates was just the latest in a season full of great performances. This team is red hot, winning 11 of their last 13, and isn’t showing signs of letting up. 

Greg McDermmott teams can always score the basketball, but this year’s team may be his best offense yet (#3 Adjusted-O in the country per KenPom). They have a bonafide star in Ty-Shon Alexander, and compliment his scoring with a bevy of dangerous shooters in Marcus Zegarowski, Mitch Blalock, and Denzel Mahoney. Having that many options is key this time of year, as they can punish opponents who focus on shutting down their primary scorer. 

While the defense may not be elite, they’ve definitely improved from years past. Creighton are currently 13th in the nation in Defensive Free Throw Rate (FTA/FGA), which will be key against the Butler/Providence winner (two teams that rely on dribble penetration and getting to the line). 

All that said, the best case for Creighton may be their draw. By getting the top seed they won’t have to face Seton Hall or Villanova until the Finals. It won’t exactly be a cake walk getting there, but it’s hard to pick anyone else as the team most likely to cut down the nets this weekend.

Seton Hall

As a New Jersey native born in 1990, this is easily the best Seton Hall team of my lifetime. Myles Powell may be the greatest player to grace the South Orange campus with his presence (although you could make a solid argument for Eddie Griffin, RIP). Powell is exactly the type of player you want to have on your side in March – he can score from anywhere on the court (no matter how many defenders are on him), and wants the ball in all of the big moments. Add in a dynamic Stretch 4 in Mamukelashvili, a highly underrated glue-guy in Quincy McKnight, and you’ve got a team that can beat anyone in the country.

At the same time, therein lies Seton Hall’s biggest issue. Yes they are capable of beating anyone, but they can also be inconsistent and go through some rough stretches. If Powell is forcing tough shots this team can find themselves in trouble. Mamu and McKnight are great, yet they aren’t exactly the type of guys who can take over if Powell is off. They will be facing a desperate Marquette team in the Quarterfinals, who should give them a good scare. Seton Hall will be in for an early test, so let’s see if they can shake off the Creighton hangover. If they do the Pirates have the talent to win their second Big East tournament in 5 years. 

Upset Alert

Villanova

Jay Wright has turned Villanova into a machine. They’ve won two National Titles in the last four years, and four of the last five Big East Tournaments. Saddiq Bey should be a Lottery Pick, and Connor Gillespe has filled the Ryan Arcidiacano role perfectly. After that, there really isn’t too much to give you confidence in this team. 

In the past Villanova has featured phenomenal role players like Josh Hart, Kris Jenkins, and Mikal Bridges. Samuels and Robinson-Earl are fine, but you’d like to see a little more out of their secondary options. Any Jay Wright team will be well coached and limit mistakes, but this team just doesn’t have the lethal shooting and dominant defense that they’ve featured in years past. Because of that, I can’t see this team making it to Saturday, and they potentially may be in for an even earlier exit than that…

Sleeper

Xavier 

The Musketeers may have had their hearts (and likely their at-large bid chances) broken on Saturday night, but this team has been showing major signs of life lately. Naji Marshall has really stepped up in the last few weeks, scoring at least 20 points in his last four games. While Kamar Baldwin ruined what would have been Marshall’s second game winning shot in his last three games, you get the sense Naji is going to keep up this level of play for the rest of their season, however long that may be. 

Beyond that, Tyrique Jones gives Xavier a physical inside presence that can bother a team like Villanova. The outcome of their season may come down to the health of Paul Scruggs. If the Junior guard can recover by the quarterfinals, this team can be a serious threat to a weaker than normal Villanova squad.

Quick Hitters

Providence vs Butler should be a classic. Both of these teams are likely making the tournament, although a win would certainly help for seeding. I give the Friars the slightest of edges in this one,…. Marquette’s season has taken a hard nose dive the last few games, but when you have a player like Markus Howard you’ve always got a chance to win. As I mentioned earlier, they should give Seton Hall everything they can handle in the quarters, and they will need to if they want to go dancing. 

St. John’s has played well the last few games, and should take care of a beaten up Georgetown team. That said, I can’t see either team beating Creighton right now. I do have to give Patrick Ewing some props for the way his team is playing without their two stars, but at some point the injuries just become too much to overcome….  I really do feel bad for Paul Reed and DePaul. The perennial conference bottom feeders had everyone thinking this year may be different after early wins against Iowa, Minnesota, and Texas Tech, yet once again the conference season has been brutal for them. This season was certainly an improvement for the Demons, but they’ve got their work cut out for them in NYC.

Picks: Creighton +300 (Risk 1u)*, Xavier +1100 (.5u),

*Will play Seton Hall in a potential Hall/Creighton final

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