This week marks the end of an era for the Big East.
The 34th annual conference tournament will be the last for a number of current members, including Syracuse, Pittsburgh, Notre Dame, Louisville, Cincinnati, Rutgers and South Florida.
What a run it has been. There isn’t a better way to begin Championship Week than inside Madison Square Garden, where 14 teams will go toe-to-toe with hopes of securing the best-possible seed when next week's NCAA tournament tips off.
Of course, Louisville (26-5, 14-4) and Georgetown (24-5, 14-4) are the heavy favorites, though a few underdogs have potential to surprise the superior Cardinals and Hoyas.
Marquette lost Big East Player of the Year Jae Crowder and highly coveted scoring guard Darius Johnson-Odom to the NBA last season, and were picked to finish in the middle of the pack this season.
However, the Golden Eagles have been anything but mediocre. With a regular-season record of 23-7 and a 14-4 mark in conference action, the Golden Eagles are co-champions of the Big East—sharing the spotlight with both Louisville and Georgetown.
If you’re looking for stardom, Marquette isn’t the answer. The Golden Eagles don’t boast a single player worthy of the national spotlight. Rather, they possess multiple players who contribute both offensively and defensively.
Nine players average over 13 minutes per game, with five players averaging over 21 minutes of playing time.
Their leading scorers aren’t considered the norm. Vander Blue, a 6’4’’ junior guard heads the Golden Eagles with 14.4 points per game, while junior forward Davante Gardner—6’8’’ and 290 pounds—averages 11.5 points per contest.
Marquette will be a scary bunch to face in the Big East tournament. The Golden Eagles have won four straight, including wins over then-No. 12 Syracuse and No. 21 Notre Dame.
Another underdog is Pittsburgh (24-7, 12-6). After a shocking 5-13 finish in the Big East last season, the Panthers had a stellar bounce-back season, which saw them finish with the No. 4 seed heading into the conference tournament.
The Panthers are winners of four straight, with all four wins coming against mediocre teams. But that won’t stop them from potentially upsetting a top-seeded team in the conference tournament.
Tray Woodall heads the Panthers offense, averaging just under 12 points per contest. The 6' senior guard is more than capable of having a big game for the Panthers. Earlier this season, Woodall dropped 25 points on St. John’s at Madison Square Garden. He’s scored 10 or more points 21 times this season.
Syracuse (23-8, 11-7) is also among the pool of teams capable of going far in the Big East Tournament. The Orange began the season virtually flawless, winning 18 of their first 19 games.
They’ve been streaky since, however. The Orange were blown out by then-No. 5 Georgetown, 61-39 last Saturday, and have dropped four of their last five.
No matter, the Orange are an experienced bunch capable of getting hot at any time. The Orange boast nine upperclassmen on their roster, including junior forward C.J. Fair, who leads the team with 14.5 points per game.
The player to watch for Syracuse is senior forward James Southerland, who is third on the team in scoring, with an average of 13.6 points per game.
With Jim Boeheim behind the bench, Syracuse can’t be taken lightly.