The top seeds in the Big East will hit the floor for their debuts in the 2014 conference tournament on Thursday at Madison Square Garden. Villanova is third in the AP poll and the prohibitive favorite to win the title, but second-seeded Creighton and third-seeded upstart Xavier should provide challenges as prospective finalists.
While the Wildcats and Bluejays have the clear path to the final, there should be no shortage of drama. It is the season of March Madness, and an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament goes to the champion of this conference showcase, so just about anything can happen.
Cinderella stories have the potential to emerge as the favorites attempt to keep their momentum going even though an at-large bid to the Big Dance awaits. Having said all of that, Day 2 shouldn't offer too many surprises, and the cream of the Big East crop should rise to the top.
Below is a look at Thursday's schedule as well as analysis and predictions regarding which teams will advance in the bracket.
Note: The Big East tournament will be live streamed on Fox Sports Go.
|Game No.||Teams||Date||Time (ET)||TV Info|
|3||No. 1 Villanova vs. No. 8 Seton Hall||Thu., March 13||noon||Fox Sports 1|
|4||No. 4 Providence vs. No. 5 St. John's||Thu., March 13||2:30 pm||Fox Sports 1|
|5||No. 2 Creighton vs. No. 7 Georgetown||Thu., March 13||7 pm||Fox Sports 1|
|6||No. 3 Xavier vs. No. 6 Marquette||Thu., March 13||9:30 pm||Fox Sports 1|
Day 2 Bracket Predictions
Villanova Steamrolls Seton Hall; Creighton Crushes DePaul
Coach Jay Wright will seek to continue pushing Villanova to new ground after notching a program-record 28 wins during the regular season en route to the Big East title.
Marc Narducci of the Philadelphia Inquirer pointed out that the Wildcats were picked fourth in the conference in the preseason before rattling off an extremely successful 2013-14 campaign:
It is no surprise that VIllanova's Jay Wright is The Big East's Coach of the Year. The Cats won the conf. after being picked 4th in preseaon— Marc Narducci (@sjnard) March 12, 2014
Keeping the positive momentum going shouldn't be difficult against the likes of Seton Hall, an inconsistent squad that almost gave away the game versus Butler after being up by as many as 15. The Pirates held on for a 51-50 win but lost to Villanova by 16 and 17 points, respectively, in two regular-season matchups.
The chances of a big upset in this one are slim to none, and the odds are even longer for the Bluejays to suffer an unfathomable letdown.
To no one's surprise, Creighton star Doug McDermott was named the Big East Player of the Year, per ESPNNewYork.com's Kieran Darcy.
The recognition was well-deserved after McDermott put together a phenomenal season, averaging 26.5 points per game—tops in the country. Don't expect the senior to let his team fall to the Blue Demons, who can't be taken lightly after upsetting Georgetown.
As highlighted by ESPN Stats & Info, McDermott already seems to be picking up the intensity if his career-high 45 points in the regular-season finale win over Providence are any indication:
Doug McDermott's career-high 45 points put him in the 3,000-point club and moved him past 2 legends. pic.twitter.com/LoKdYFOA50— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) March 9, 2014
That came after Creighton lost two straight, so the Bluejays should be back on track and ready to get their conference tournament off to a strong start against a far inferior opponent in DePaul.
Xavier Squeaks by Marquette
With the opportunity to punch a ticket to the Big Dance at home, the Musketeers fell short in a 77-70 loss to Villanova. It's critical that they recover from that letdown and take care of business against Marquette—and they will. Barely.
Cincinnati.com's Shannon Russell documented what Xavier coach Chris Mack had to say about overcoming the absence of center Matt Stainbrook, who also missed the Villanova game:
Marquette presents different challenges. They're bigger than Villanova and so not having Matt's size, we're going to have to figure out a way to keep our post players in the game and defend without fouling and keep guys like (Davante) Gardner and (Chris) Otule from having career nights against us.
Which lower seed is likelier to advance?
Depth is the big issue for the Golden Eagles, and they lost back-to-back games in double overtime to finish the season with a 17-14 record. Their top star is Davante Gardner, but since he's in the frontcourt and will have to deal with a revolving door of undersized Xavier adversaries, there's a good chance the 290-pounder could get duped into some early foul trouble.
Marquette just doesn't execute as well as the Musketeers do offensively, and it has no one to stay in front of Xavier's playmaking point guard Semaj Christon on a consistent basis. The sophomore's backup, Dee Davis, also plays significant minutes and helps keep ball movement crisp, averaging 4.9 assists.
It's all about matchups and personnel at this point in the season. While Gardner should have a big advantage inside against the Musketeers, the edge Xavier has on the perimeter will allow the higher seed to reign superior in this one.
St. John's Edges Out Providence
It's hard to get behind a St. John's team whose leading scorer, D'Angelo Harrison, shoots 38.7 percent from the field. Then again, Harrison did well just to make it back onto the squad after being suspended as a sophomore, and he now finds himself as a first-team all-conference selection.
Red Storm head coach Steve Lavin has been impressed with how Harrison has blossomed into a team leader.
"D’Angelo has put in the work and its paid dividends all season long," said Lavin, per the New York Daily News' Roger Rubin. "His performance on the court and leadership of the team has been outstanding. Dee is most deserving of the honor."
Seth Davis, of CBS Sports and Sports Illustrated, believes St. John's must win the Big East tourney to get into the NCAA tournament, and that starts with Thursday's showdown versus Providence:
not enough. Gotta win BE tourney RT @gmm71: what's St. John's have to do to make the tourney at this point! 2 BE wins?— Seth Davis (@SethDavisHoops) March 11, 2014
In a quick analysis of the Friars, this is a team that shoots a horrid 42.5 percent from the floor and just 34.8 percent from three-point range. However, they can pull off wins in tight games with their 78.3 percent conversion rate from the charity stripe.
That should help keep Providence within striking distance, but bear in mind that Madison Square Garden will serve as a de facto home venue for St. John's. In the end, the friendly crowd and Harrison's ability to create will help keep the Red Storm's March Madness dream alive by boosting the squad to a tight win.