It's that time of year again. The calendar has turned to March. The weather is in the 60's. People are scheduling fake meetings. Yup, it's time for the Big East Tournament. The 2016 version gets underway tonight at Madison Square Garden with the bottom four teams battling for a chance to play the top two teams in the quarterfinals on Thursday. Marquette and DePaul are making repeat appearances in the bottom four -- sidenote, DePaul's streak of being bottom four is.....longer than two straight -- while Georgetown and St. John's were both in the top 4 a season ago. The coverage begins at 6:30pm ET on Fox Sports 1 with a pregame show live from MSG and the first game tips at 7:00pm ET on Fox Sports 1 with the all-star crew of Gus Johnson, Bill Raftery and Molly McGrath on the call.
Here are five things to watch on opening night of the 2016 Big East Tournament.
1. DSR Go Nuts
D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera decided to come back for his senior season and try to lead a talented bunch of Georgetown Hoyas back to the NCAA Tournament after losing in the Round of 32 last year. The Hoyas, picked to finish second in the Big East in the preseason, have not had a good 2015-16 season and are one of the biggest disappointments in college basketball this season. They completed the regular season with a losing record for the first time since the 2003-04 season, the year before John Thompson III took over the program from Craig Esherick. Smith-Rivera now knows every game could be his last so, look for him to go nuts against DePaul for 25+ points.
2. DePaul to....Lose
The DePaul Blue Demons turned back time last spring and returned Dave Leitao as their head coach. The Blue Demons didn't exactly get the boost they were hoping for in year 1 of Leitao redux. They didn't improve on or equal their six Big East wins from a season ago despite having one of the better guards in the league back for his third season at DePaul. The Hoyas have been disappointing, but they will beat up on DePaul tonight.
3. Cheatham to Get 'em
Haanif Cheatham had a very good freshman campaign for the Marquette Golden Eagles. Henry Ellenson gets all the publicity when it comes to Marquette and their freshman class, but Cheatham was arguably the second-best Marquette rookie and I think he'll show off tonight against St. John's. Cheatham played well against the Red Storm both times during the regular season and with the attention of Ellenson, I think Cheatham will be able to get to the rim and find open spots all night long for the Fighting Wojo's.
4. Mullin Will Remember
The St. John's Red Storm had a rough season under first-year head coach Chris Mullin. Mullin had to replace virtually the entire roster and lost the top two would-be returning starters when Chris Obekpa opted to transfer and Rysheed Jordan stopped going to class before deciding to go play in the NBA D-League. Mullin assembled a crack staff of top recruiters and smart basketball people and has recruited very well early on. So, St. John's has been pretty bad this season, but they will be better and could challenge for the middle of the Big East in another season or two. The Red Storm will lose to Marquette tonight on their pseudo-home court, but Mullin will remember all the beatdowns and blowouts and he'll bring his club back to MSG next season and they won't be the 10 seed.
5. Madness to Ensue
It's March. Madness usually ensues. There have already been some whacky and wild finishes in conference tournaments all across America. Why should the Big East be any different? Marquette and/or Georgetown could possibly make a run towards Friday as both teams are very talented on paper. I'm sure many basketball fans would love to see a rubber match between 1 seed Villanova and 2 seed Xavier in the finals on Saturday night, but for the anarchists out there, a 4 seed vs 8 seed matchup might be just as fun. Look for madness to ensue and fun to be had. It's March, after all!