Another year at Madison Square Garden, and another great day of quarterfinal matchups in the Big East tournament. Defending tournament champion Villanova is seeking a repeat championship and a number-one seed in the NCAA Tournament. Xavier is looking for its first title and a number one seed of its own, and Seton Hall attempts to remain hot and win its first Big East tournament championship since 1993. Providence and Butler will battle for seeding and an easier Sunday Selection Show experience, and Creighton, Marquette and Georgetown are attempting to run the table to secure an NCAA Tournament bid. All of this, coupled with a slew of star players, sets the stage for what should be a tremendous few days at MSG.
Villanova Looks to Repeat
There have been four repeat Big East tournament winners in history: Georgetown 1984-85, Connecticut 1998-99, Syracuse 2004-05, and Louisville 2012-13. Georgetown, Connecticut and Louisville all won a National Championship in their respective two year stretch, and Syracuse won the title a year prior, and went to the Sweet 16 in 2004. All of this puts Villanova's recent success into perspective, and they are currently the favorite to win the tournament and are in line for a number one seed. A repeat title and a strong NCAA Tournament showing would put Villanova's current run on par with some of the best runs in conference history. Georgetown senior D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera and the upset minded, back against the wall Georgetown Hoyas will be playing loose and with nothing to lose. Nova did lose to Seton Hall as the one seed in this round two years ago. You never know.
Third Time's the Charm for Butler?
It's tough to beat a good team three times in one year, as the old adage dictates, and that's what Providence will try to do in this one. In the first meeting Providence trailed by 11 at the half, but jumped on Rodney Bullock's back (25 points, 10 rebounds) in a 56 point second half to notch an 81-73 road win. In the second meeting, in Providence, the Friars won a back and forth affair 71-68. Both teams appear to be safely in the NCAA Tournament, as postulated by CBS Sports analysts in a roundtable discussion that occurred yesterday with the BECB team, but seeding and peace of mind will be in play, along with Butler's determination to avoid a season sweep against the Friars.
Early on in conference tournament play, teams such as Iona and Gonzaga have pulled off upsets and taken potential NCAA Tournament bids away from other prospective at-large teams. In a season full of parity, current at-large hopefuls are hoping that conference tournament results are chalk, and that the top seeds prevail. While Villanova and Xavier will be the odds on favorites to win the Big East Tournament, non-NCAA tourney teams Creighton, Georgetown and Marquette are hoping to surprise. Marquette owns two wins against Providence, Georgetown beat Xavier, and both teams have the firepower to pull off an upset or two. But the most likely bid thief is the Creighton Bluejays, owners of nine conference wins, including games against Xavier, Seton Hall and Butler. Anything can happen in tournament play, and bubble teams will take notice if one of these teams makes a run.
Xavier and Seton Hall
The second and third seeded teams in the tournament and Villanova's prime contenders, Xavier and Seton Hall are NCAA Tournament locks looking to improve their resumes in New York. Xavier is working on the best season in program history, hoping to attain its first Big East Tournament title and top two NCAA Tournament seed (Xavier was seeded third in 2003 and 2008). Seton Hall will dance for the first time since 2006, and hasn't received better than an eight seed since 1993, when it received a two seed. Both of these teams are poised to make deep runs in the Big East Tournament, and have the potential to enter the NCAA Tournament with historic relevance for their respective programs. Xavier will play Marquette in the quarterfinals, looking to complete a season sweep of the Golden Eagles. The previous two games were both decided by eight points. Seton Hall split the regular season series with Creighton, winning by 10 on the road and losing by 15 at home. Look for one of these teams to make a run to the tournament championship.
Will a Star Steal the Show?
Every year the Big East tournament provides the platform, and through the years we have been gifted with some great performances. Allen vs. Allan in 1996, Gerry McNamara's heroics in 2006, Kemba Walker's miracle run and ankle-breaking tournament winning jump shot in 2011, Bryce Cotton and Doug McDermott battling in 2014, and many others. This year there's no shortage of candidates, including last year's tournament MVP Josh Hart. Brooklyn native Isaiah Whitehead could certainly put up some big numbers and lead Seton Hall to a title in his home state, and Providence's duo of Kris Dunn and Ben Bentil have shown the ability to win games single-handedly. Xavier has no shortage of firepower with Trevon Blueitt, Edmond Sumner and Myles Davis capable of filling it up. And a few dark horses, such as Marquette's Henry Ellenson and Georgetown's D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera, are high volume scorers in need of a tournament championship to lift their respective teams into the dance. Someone will win the MVP, and we can all hope it happens in spectacular fashion.