Every year, every college basketball fan, regardless of their locale, gets excited over the Big East Tournament.
The bright lights of the Mecca of basketball, Madison Square Garden. The perennial powerhouses battling for the elusive conference championship. The new inclusion of all 16 teams. The thrilling outcomes (see: UConn-Syracuse, March 12th 2009; Six Overtimes).
It's safe to say that the hype surrounding the greatest thing in college basketball (outside of the big dance itself), the Big East Tournament, which begins on Tuesday, is second to none.
Here's my take on what will go down in the five-day gauntlet:
This should be the joke of the Big East Tournament.
UConn has NCAA Tournament seeding to play for, which should bring out a better team, especially against the bottom-dweller of the conference, DePaul.
If Saturday's excuse for a contest between DePaul and Syracuse was any indication of the current state of the Blue Demons (they lost by 48), then this game should be over by the 10 minute mark of the first half.
To add injury to insult (literally), Cleveland Melvin, DePaul's leading scorer and second leading rebounder will be sidelined for the game.
Prediction: UConn takes a double-digit lead in the early going and never looks back.
Uconn 84-DePaul 60
What a game on the first day of the Big East Tourney!
These Garden State Rivals will be meeting for the third time this season in what will be a rubber match.
Rutgers took the first matchup 66-60 while Seton Hall picked off Rutgers by a final of 69-64 in the second.
This game has thriller written all over it. These teams will be facing for the pride of New Jersey, so neither side will hold back. This will also be the final game for one group of seniors, so both teams will want to win it for the veterans.
Prediction: While Seton Hall is coming off of two quality wins, St Johns and Marquette, the Scarlet Knights and their far superior coach Mike Rice will pull out a bruising battle.
Rutgers 72-Seton Hall 68
To start the night cap of the first day, the Wildcats of Villanova square off against the Bulls of South Florida.
This game might be predicted as an easy 'Nova victory, but it will not be.
South Florida has been playing tough basketball over the past few games. They led at the half against St Johns and Pitt in their last two games, and, in the game before those two, they beat DePaul.
They do have some talent down low in Augustus Gilchrist and Jarrid Famous. Additionally, Villanova has been slipping as of late, losing six of their last eight, and barely beating DePaul in Overtime in one of those two wins.
Despite the mini-slump, Villanova should be advancing when it's all said and done, but it will be a hard-fought victory.
Prediciton: The Bulls give 'Nova a major test, but the better team prevails.
Villanova 70-South Florida 62
With this game comes the official start of March Madness.
I'm feeling a Friar upset of the Golden Eagles behind Big East leading scorer Marshon Brooks, who has reached the 20-point mark in 25 of his 31 games played.
On one occasion, he even erupted for a Big East Record 52 points against Notre Dame. This game, which will most probably be fast-paced and high-scoring, will be exciting to watch..
While Marquette will be playing for a spot in the Big Dance, Providence will be looking to squeeze out whatever chance they have to reach the NIT.
I think that incentive will be enough to put Providence in the Second Round of the Tourney.
Prediction: The Golden Eagles will be sleeping of Marshon Brooks and the Friars, who will pull out the victory by a slim margin.
Providence 83-Marquette 80
In the battle of the teams that finished off the regular season 1-4, UConn and Georgetown will be looking for something positive to take into the Tourney. But for Georgetown, this game is a chance to avenge a loss to the opposing Huskies during the regular season.
On top of that, a trio of Senior starters, Austin Freeman, Chris Wright and Julian Vaughn, will have their emotions running high.
On the opposing sideline, Kemba Walker will look to tame the Hoyas. The problem for the Huskies is that they don't have any true Senior leader to give them the emotional edge.
Prediction: The youth of UConn will show as the Hoyas will escape the garden with a slim victory.
Georgetown 72-Uconn 70
In the second Metro-battle of the Big East Tournament, Rutgers will face the streaking Jonnies.
St Johns has been superb at MSG, beating the likes of Duke, Pitt, UConn, Notre Dame and Georgetown in their second home.
I think they will be looking forward to Syracuse, and will be stunned by the Scarlet Knights.
Rutgers will be coming in hoping to avenge the close loss at the hands of St Johns.
For those who don't know, Rutgers came back from a double-digit deficit to tie the game up at 56 with about 10 seconds to go. On the ensuing possession, St Johns broke Rutgers' hearts with game-winning layup with 3.4 tics to go.
I think this game will be a nail-biter, but in the Scarlet Knights favor.
Prediction: Look for Senior leader Jonathan Mitchell to have a big-time showing to lead the Knights to a stunning upset of St Johns.
Rutgers 68-St Johns 67
If you remember from a year ago, the Bearcats of Cincinnati were one play away from making the Big East Tournament Semifinals.
They had the ball with six seconds to go, but Dion Dixon lost control of the ball with three seconds remaining. Any Big East fan remembers DaSean Butler's fade-away three as time expired that sent Cincy packing.
What I'm trying to say is that Cincinnati has been here before, and they won't waste their opportunity this time around.
They will face a struggling Villanova squad. Unfortunately for the Wildcats, they will be facing a team that has won five of six, three of those wins coming against top-20 teams.
I don't see the Bearcats' magical season being terminated by 'Nova.
Prediction: This game will be surprisingly boring, as Cincy will have control all game.
Cincinnati 72-Villanova 62
In the final game of the second round, Providence will square off against West Virginia.
The Friars will be out-sized, out-rebounded and will lose in the raw talent department. But I'm staying on the Marshon Brooks bandwagon. I'm calling a 40+ point output from the Big East First Team star.
As is with most Providence games, this will be high-scoring without much defense. Also, the Friars will want to get revenge for a 30 point loss to the Mountaineers back in January.
Prediction: Marshon Brooks will shine once again under the bright lights of the Big Apple.
Providence 82-West Virginia 79
The heavyweights will start to emerge in the third round following the double-bye. The bruising battles and epic thrillers will probably emerge at this point. I just don't see it happening in this game.
While Georgetown is vary talented, Pitt is just too deep and talented for the Hoyas to handle.
Pitt will be fighting for that coveted one-seed. Georgetown will come out swinging, but Jamie Dixon will have an answer for anything that the Hoyas throw at his team.
Pitt, the tournament favorite, will take care of the business and advance to the Semis. Though, the fact that this is the Big East Tournament might make this one a close one throughout.
Prediction: Brad Wanamaker will have a big game for the title-hungry Panthers in a hard-fought victory.
Pittsburgh 70-Georgetwon 66
Rutgers will battle Syracuse in this quarterfinals New Jersey match up.
As much as I would like to see the Knights advance further, they simply will not.
The Orange have gotten hot at the right time, winning their last five regular season games, including a 48 point drubbing of DePaul. Additionally, I find it hard to bet against Jim Boeheim in the month of March, especially in the Big East Tournament.
Rutgers will put up a great fight, as they did in an overtime loss at Syracuse, but the talent of Syracuse will over-match the Scarlet Knights.
Prediction: Rick Jackson will be the key in Syracuse's victory over Rutgers.
Syracuse 68-Rutgers 64
This game will be a slug-fest for 35 minutes. Bodies will be on the floor. Bones will be bruised. Both teams will be engaged in a battle and neither will relent.
This will be a back and fourth affair, until, there are five minutes to play in the game. Those last five minutes are what I like to call Ben Hansbrough time. He did it against Pittsburgh, among others. He took over numerous games, taking the ball to the hoop at will and leading his team to hard-fought victories.
Prediction: The best closer in college basketball, Ben Hansbrough, will put away the feisty Bearcats.
Notre Dame 77-Cincinnati 72
Once again, Rick Pitino has taken a team that has good talent and made them great. For this reason, he and his Cardinals will prevail over Providence.
Despite losing some bad games earlier in the year, Louisville has been playing excellent basketball of late and have shown no signs of slowing down.
The combination of back-court fire-power (Preston Knowles and Peyton Siva) and size (Terrence Jennings and Rakeem Buckles) makes this squad one to reckoned with.
Marshon Brooks will once again have a monster output in the scoring column, but one player can lead his team only so far, especially in the bruising Big East.
I hate to put the top four seeds in the Final Four of the Big East Tournament, but they are seeded where they are for a reason
Prediciton: The depth and coaching for Louisville will end the Friars' magical run.
Louisville 80-Providence 74
This game will be the ideal college basketball game. A physical Big East battle in March that will feature two of the top teams in the country. I'm salivating just thinking about the game.
From the deep back-courts to the bruising front lines of both squads, these teams are just about even.
With the circumstances of the game, on top of the fact that these two teams match up extremely well, this could shape up to be the game of the year in college basketball.
This game can really go either way, but I think the better team will prevail. That team is the Pitt.
Prediction: Ashton Gibbs will out-do Scoop Jardine by a small enough margin to give the Panthers the victory in overtime.
Pittsburgh 78-Syracuse 76
In the other Semifinal game, the Cardinals will entertain the Irish.
This game, like the other Semifinal, has all the makings to be a thriller.
I think Notre Dame will take care of business, but don't get me wrong, this will be a battle, and a close one at that. But, as I stated before, Ben Hansbrough will do what he does best and throw the final punch at the Cardinals. This will be a nail-biter, but the favorite will come out on top.
Prediction: Notre Dame will escape this defensive battle with some clutch shots by their go-to guy, Ben Hansbrough.
Notre Dame 60-Louisville 59
Finally, the finale of the greatest conference tournament in all the land.
The top dogs in the best conference in college basketball. Madison Square Garden. A battle for a one-seed. But most of all, these teams will be looking to claim the prestigious Big East title.
Both teams combined for just nine losses, Pitt with four and Notre Dame with five.
During the regular season, the Irish had their coming out party at Pitt, when Notre Dame escaped by a 56-51 final score.
This will be a rematch to remember, as it will come down to the very end.
Legends will be born. Champions will be crowned. Unfortunately for Pitt, the opposing team has, you guessed it, the country's best closer, Ben Hansbrough (notice how I chose the picture that shows Hansbrough in his "closer" position).
Therefore, I'm calling an Irish victory, by the slimmest of margins.
Prediction: Notre Dame will be standing tall after a close, double-overtime affair.
Notre Dame 74-Pittsburgh 73
So, those were my predictions. Please feel free to comment on what you agree or disagree with in my predictions!