Big East Basketball Tournament 2011 logoBig East Basketball Tournament 2011

Big East Tournament 2011: Predicting Every Game of Madison Square Madness

Eric GarmentContributor IMarch 7, 2011

Big East Tournament 2011: Predicting Every Game of Madison Square Madness

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    Spanning 15 games over five days, the Big East conference tournament is the largest in all of college basketball. Since 2009, all 16 teams have been participating in the tournament, allowing even the conference's worst team to have a chance to storm through its opponents and grab a shocking NCAA tournament bid.

    Most sites are projecting the Big East to get an unprecedented 11 teams into the Big Dance, and this tournament has the potential to send teams up or down the seed lines, and in the case of a few teams near the edge, solidify their case or knock them out of the tournament completely.

    The defending champion West Virginia is the sixth seed this year. Will they repeat their feat of a year ago, or will another team walk away with an automatic bid on Saturday night? Let's find out.

No. 9 Connecticut Vs. No. 16 DePaul

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    Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

    Matchups This Season

    1/15: Connecticut 82 - DePaul 62 // at DePaul

     

    Key Performers

     

    Connecticut

    PPG: Kemba Walker, 23.1

    RPG: Alex Oriakhi, 8.3

    APG: Kemba Walker, 4.3

     

    DePaul

    PPG: Cleveland Melvin, 14.3

    RPG: Krys Faber, 5.4

    APG: Brandon Young, 3.7

     

    Breakdown

    The Huskies (21-9, 9-9 Big East) come into the first game of the Big East tournament on a slump, having lost four of five. The lone win in that stretch was a 67-59 win at Cincinnati. Star guard Kemba Walker hasn't suffered during that time, however, putting up 23 points per game. He'll most likely be covered by Brandon Young or Jeremiah Kelly for the Blue Demons, and either one will have their hands full of the national player of the year candidate. Alex Oriakhi also brings just under 10 points per game on a 6-9 frame underneath.

    Oliver Purnell left Clemson at the end of the 2009-10 season to come to DePaul and try to rejuvenate this program and make a splash in college basketball out of Chicago. Year one didn't bring as much success as Purnell hoped for his Blue Demons (7-23, 1-15), with their best win coming in conference in the form of a 79-76 win at Providence last month.

    The future isn't necessarily grim, however, as Melvin and Young, the team's top two scorers, are both freshmen. Both of them were named All-Big East rookies this season. Unfortunately, Melvin will be out for this game and any others DePaul might play due to a thumb injury, making this game even tougher for the Blue Demons. This doesn't take away from the fact that DePaul is not yet competitive in the Big East, and Connecticut will expose that in more ways than one.

    Winner: Connecticut

No. 12 Seton Hall Vs. No. 13 Rutgers

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    Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

    Matchups This Season

    1/22: Rutgers 66 - Seton Hall 60 // at Seton Hall

    2/12: Seton Hall 69 - Rutgers 64 // at Rutgers

     

    Key Performers

     

    Seton Hall

    PPG: Jeremy Hazell, 19.4

    RPG: Herb Pope, 8.0

    APG: Jordan Theodore, 4.4

     

    Rutgers

    PPG: Jonathan Mitchell, 14.2

    RPG: Dane Miller, 6.0

    APG: Mike Coburn, 4.0

     

    Breakdown

    The two New Jersey schools in the Big East split their season series with both teams winning on the road. The rubber game will take place in the conference tournament, with the winner earning a date with hometown favorites St. John's. 

    Seton Hall (13-17, 7-11) is led by senior guard Jeremy Hazell, who made the All-Big East third team. Hazell averages just under 20 points a game in just under 35 minutes a game and is the key player for the Pirates. He reached 2,000 points in his college career earlier in the season.

    On the inside, Jeff Robinson and Herb Pope provide some undersized force at 6'6" and 6'8" respectively, but combine to bring down 14.4 rebounds per game. Rutgers might be worrying too much about Hazell and leave Robinson and Pope unguarded at time.

    On the Rutgers (14-16, 5-13) side of things, Gilvydas Biruta, an All-Big East rookie of the year, has provided the Scarlet Knights with 53 percent shooting and 9.5 points per game in only 22 minutes per game. Jonathan Mitchell leads the way for this team, however, as was evidenced by his 25 points in Rutgers' upset of then No. 10 Villanova on February 9. Mitchell against (most likely) Herb Pope will be an interesting matchup to watch in the low block, as both 6'8" forwards will hustle for points and tough rebounds.

    While Rutgers has its lone signature win over Villanova, Seton Hall can point to wins against Syracuse, St. John's and Marquette to show why they'll move on to round two.

    Winner: Seton Hall

No. 10 Villanova Vs. No. 15 South Florida

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    Nick Laham/Getty Images

    Matchups This Season

    1/6: Villanova 83 - South Florida 71 // at South Florida

     

    Key Perfomers

     

    Villanova

    PPG: Corey Fisher, 15.5

    RPG: Antonio Pena, 7.3

    APG: Corey Fisher, 4.8

     

    South Florida

    PPG: Augustus Gilchrist, 13.2

    RPG: Ron Anderson Jr., 6.5

    APG: Anthony Crater, 4.6

     

    Breakdown

    Villanova (21-10, 9-9) has suffered a meltdown in the second half of the season. Since their January 15 win over Maryland that pushed them to 16-1, the Wildcats have gone 5-9, including losses to Providence and Seton Hall. Granted, they also had wins at Syracuse and at home against West Virginia in that time, but this was, and is, a team that should have had a better stretch run.

    Despite their issues in the second half of the season, Villanova still sports four players who average in double digits: Corey Fisher, Corey Stokes (14.9), Maalik Wayns (13.7) and Antonio Pena (10.0). The two Coreys, both seniors, will be the biggest key for the Bulls if they want to shock the Wildcats and score an upset.

    South Florida (9-22, 3-15) is still waiting for the breakout year like their football team experienced with Matt Grothe at quarterback a few years ago. Unfortunately, this was not the year, and this game won't be the start of something new. Stan Heath's Bulls still have a lot of work to do before they can be considered Big East contenders. Augustus Gilchrist's senior year in 2011-12 might see the team fare a little better, but for now, they're still a conference doormat.

    Winner: Villanova

No. 11 Marquette Vs. No. 14 Providence

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    Chris Chambers/Getty Images

    Matchups This Season

    2/27: Marquette 86 - Providence 62 // at Marquette

     

    Key Performers

     

    Marquette

    PPG: Jimmy Butler, 16.2

    RPG: Jae Crowder, 6.9

    APG: Dwight Buycks, 3.9

     

    Providence

    PPG: Marshon Brooks, 24.8

    RPG: Marshon Brooks, 7.2

    APG: Vincent Council, 5.9

     

    Breakdown

    Buzz Williams' Marquette (18-13, 9-9) squad is coming into this game following two losses to Seton Hall and Cincinnati. The game before those, however, set a precedent for this matchup, as the Golden Eagles dismantled the Friars in a 26-point win. Senior swingman Jimmy Butler and junior guard Darius Johnson-Odom put up 33 points per game for Marquette, who could fall into bubble territory with a loss in the first round.

    Keep an eye on 6'11" center Chris Otule, who gets 5.5 points and 3.5 rebounds per game off the bench.

    Marshon Brooks burst onto the national spotlight with his Big East-record 52-point effort in a 94-93 loss to Notre Dame. His nearly 25 points a game and explosiveness for the 14th-seeded Friars (15-16, 4-14) propelled him to a spot on the All-Big East first team this year. Providence's foil to Chris Otule could be 6'8" sophomore Bilal Dixon, getting about six points and rebounds in 20 minutes a game.

    This game will be hotly contested and could arguably be the best game of day one. In the end, I think it's going to be a shootout between Jimmy Butler and Marshon Brooks, with the Providence guard guiding his team to an upset.

    Winner: Providence

No. 8 Georgetown Vs. No. 9 Connecticut

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    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    Matchups This Season

    2/16: Connecticut 78 - Georgetown 70 // at Connecticut

     

    Key Performers

     

    Georgetown

    PPG: Austin Freeman, 17.8

    RPG: Julian Vaughn, 6.2

    APG: Chris Wright, 5.4

     

    Connecticut

    PPG: Kemba Walker, 23.1

    RPG: Alex Oriakhi, 8.3

    APG: Kemba Walker, 4.3

     

    Breakdown

    Georgetown (21-9, 10-8) comes into this game having lost four of five, including one to Connecticut and two to Cincinnati. Their lone win in that stretch was a tight 61-55 win at South Florida. Leading scorer Austin Freeman only had 12 points in the loss to Connecticut last month; that'll have to change if the Hoyas want to top the Huskies. Freeman will likely be matched up with Kemba Walker, and that'll surely be a sight to see.

    The Huskies' Alex Oriakhi will be in for a dogfight with Georgetown forward Julian Vaughn. Both players lead their teams in rebounding and both shoot over 50 percent from the field. That matchup, along with Walker against Freeman, will surely be the two to watch in the first matchup of day two in the Big East tournament.

    Both of these teams have underachieved at times this year, but with the best player on the floor and the recent matchup to back them up, I feel that Connecticut will squeeze by Georgetown and head to the quarterfinals.

    Winner: Connecticut

No. 5 St. John's Vs. No. 12 Seton Hall

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    Chris Trotman/Getty Images

    Matchups This Season

    3/3: Seton Hall 84 - St. John's 70 // at Seton Hall

     

    Key Performers

     

    St. John's

    PPG: Dwight Hardy, 17.9

    RPG: D.J. Kennedy, 5.9

    APG: Malik Boothe, 2.9

     

    Seton Hall

    PPG: Jeremy Hazell, 19.4

    RPG: Herb Pope, 8.0

    APG: Jordan Theodore, 4.4

     

    Breakdown

    Steve Lavin's Johnnies (20-10, 12-6) will be out for blood after they lost their shot at a double-bye to Seton Hall last week. In addition to Dwight Hardy, Justin Brownlee and D.J. Kennedy are double digit scorers for St. John's. They combined for 21 points in the loss to Seton Hall and will want to improve on that number. Justin Burrell and his 51 percent shooting stroke might be a surprise for the Pirates in this game.

    Seton Hall halted St. John's winning streak by using the combined 50 points of Hazell and freshman Fuquan Edwin to bolt past the Red Storm and make another notch in top Big East teams that Seton Hall has cut down this year. To do it again, and on St. John's defacto home floor, would be a remarkable task. Hazell knows how to beat this team, however, and it should be a well-fought battle.

    St. John's reached the polls this year for the first time in over a decade, and Steve Lavin is bringing in the No. 2 ranked recruiting class. With a good run in the tournament, it's plausible that St. John's could pick up a three-seed in the NCAA tournament. It starts with a win against Seton Hall.

    Winner: St. John's 

No. 7 Cincinnati Vs. No. 10 Villanova

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Matchups This Year

    1/9: Villanova 72 - Cincinnati 61 // at Cincinnati

     

    Key Performers

     

    Cincinnati

    PPG: Yancy Gates, 11.3

    RPG: Yancy Gates, 6.9

    APG: Cashmere Wright, 3.9

     

    Villanova

    PPG: Corey Fisher, 15.5

    RPG: Antonio Pena, 7.3

    APG: Corey Fisher, 4.8

     

    Breakdown

    Cincinnati (24-7, 11-7) comes into this game having won five of six, including a sweep of Georgetown and a nine point win over Louisville. The inside-outside combo of Yancy Gates and Dion Dixon is the key for the Bearcats in this matchup. They only combined for 19 points in their loss to Villanova in January while Rashad Bishop led the way with 14. Gates and Dixon will really need to show up to fend off the guard-heavy play of the Wildcats.

    Villanova, as was mentioned before, is limping into the Big East tournament. Their most recent "good" win came a month ago over West Virginia at home. If Villanova wants to be taken seriously when the NCAA tournament starts next week, they'll need to show that they're ready to win.

    I think that Maalik Wayns will come up huge in this game and bring Villanova through to the quarterfinals and help them regain confidence before next week.

    Winner: Villanova

No. 6 West Virginia Vs. No. 14 Providence

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    Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

    Matchups This Season

    1/13: West Virginia 93 - Providence 63 // at West Virginia

     

    Key Performers

     

    West Virginia

    PPG: Casey Mitchell, 14.3

    RPG: Kevin Jones, 7.4

    APG: Joe Mazzulla, 4.1

     

    Providence

    PPG: Marshon Brooks, 24.8

    RPG: Marshon Brooks, 7.2

    APG: Vincent Council, 5.9

     

    Breakdown

    In its last two regular season games, West Virginia (20-10, 11-7) knocked off Connecticut and Louisville at home to improve their position in the conference tournament. Bob Huggins' squad is led by 6-8 junior Kevin Jones, who scores 13 points a game to go with his 7.4 rebounds. Jones gets outside help from guards Casey Mitchell and Darryl Bryant, who put up 25 points a game combined. In their one matchup, Jones put up 19 points and 13 rebounds on Providence while John Flowers led the way with 24.

    If the Mountaineers can perform even just similarly to how they did against the Friars the first time, they should have no trouble winning.

    Marshon Brooks will be looking for revenge against West Virginia's defense, which held him to 13 points in their first matchup, his third-lowest total of the year. Brooks will need to be absolutely phenomenal in this game to give the Friars a chance of advancing to take on Louisville in the quarterfinals. Big games from Vincent Council and Gerard Coleman would be much appreciated as well.

    When it comes down to the Mountaineers and the Friars on the court, however, West Virginia simply has a higher level of overall team quality and will beat Providence for that Thursday night date with the Cardinals.

    Winner: West Virginia


No. 1 Pittsburgh Vs. No. 9 Connecticut

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    Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

    Meetings This Season

    12/27: Pittsburgh 78 - Connecticut 63 // at Pittsburgh

     

    Key Performers

     

    Pittsburgh

    PPG: Ashton Gibbs, 16.4

    RPG: Gary McGhee, 7.8

    APG: Brad Wanamaker, 5.2

     

    Connecticut

    PPG: Kemba Walker, 23.1

    RPG: Alex Oriakhi, 8.3

    APG: Kemba Walker, 4.3

     

    Breakdown

    Jamie Dixon's Panthers (27-4, 15-3) are 8-2 in their last 10 games, with the two losses coming by one at St. John's and by three at Louisville in overtime. This is a team that has its eyes on a one-seed in the NCAA tournament. Beating Connecticut for a second time this year will help them achieve that goal.

    Ashton Gibbs and Brad Wanamaker are the two big stars for this team, but 6'11" center Gary McGhee's presence underneath the basket might be too much for Alex Oriakhi to handle.

    Just as Marshon Brooks had a daunting task against West Virginia, so too does Kemba Walker have one against Pittsburgh. The national player of the year candidate would need to have a game similar to the one he had against UMBC in early December: a triple-double with 24 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists.

    The problem is that that Panthers are not the Retrievers, and although Walker scored 31 points in their first matchup, there's no guarantee that he'll be able to explode against Pittsburgh's defense.

    The Pittsburgh Panthers are a team that's ready to make a Final Four run right now. To prove that they're worthy of consideration, they'll have to dispatch of the Connecticut Huskies on Thursday afternoon. They will.

    Winner: Pittsburgh


No. 4 Syracuse Vs. No. 5 St. John's

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    Nick Laham/Getty Images

    Matchups This Season

    1/12: Syracuse 76 - St. John's 59 // at St. John's

     

    Key Performers

     

    Syracuse

    PPG: Kris Joseph, 14.2

    RPG: Rick Jackson, 10.7

    APG: Scoop Jardine, 6.0

     

    St. John's

    PPG: Dwight Hardy, 17.9

    RPG: D.J. Kennedy, 5.9

    APG: Malik Boothe, 2.9

     

    Breakdown

    Syracuse (25-6, 12-6) clinched its double-bye in the Big East tournament with a 107-59 rout of DePaul on Saturday. They've already beaten St. John's on the Garden floor, a 17-point win about two months ago. Since then, they're 8-6, including the ugly 22-point loss at home to Seton Hall. Jim Boeheim's squad doesn't go down easy, though. They come into the tournament on a five game winning streak featuring wins at Villanova and Georgetown, so this group is ready to win some more.

    Kris Joseph leads a group of four double digit scorers for the Orange, who average 73.5 points per game.

    St. John's has been rejuvenated this year under Steve Lavin. They have a host of quality victories, most of which came after their loss to Syracuse. St. John's is making college basketball relevant in New York City again. A win over Syracuse and a trip to the Big East semifinals would really fire up the city.

    Dwight Hardy, possible Big East player of the year, needs to and can step up in a game like this. The question is whether he does or not.

    I think that St. John's can continue riding their high and knock off the Orange in the Garden and move on to a huge test against Pittsburgh. Mark Justin Brownlee down for at least 16 points and eight rebounds in this game.

    Winner: St. John's 


No. 2 Notre Dame Vs. No. 10 Villanova

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    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    Meetings This Season

    2/28: Notre Dame 93 - Villanova 72 // at Notre Dame

     

    Key Performers

     

    Notre Dame

    PPG: Ben Hansbrough: 18.5

    RPG: Carleton Scott, 7.1

    APG: Ben Hansbrough: 4.2

     

    Villanova

    PPG: Corey Fisher, 15.5

    RPG: Antonio Pena, 7.3

    APG: Corey Fisher, 4.8

     

    Breakdown

    Notre Dame (25-5, 14-4) features the only unanimous selection to the All-Big East first team, Ben Hansbrough. Hansbrough shoots 49 percent from the field, a remarkable 45 percent from behind the arc, and a solid 82 percent from the line. Although Dwight Hardy and Kemba Walker may have had bigger performances at times, Hansbrough has been incredibly consistent for the Fighting Irish all season. Forward Tim Abromaitis has been on fire recently, averaging 20 points in each of his last five games.

    When the Wildcats fell to Notre Dame a couple of weeks ago, Hansbrough and Abromaitis each had 30 points while no one for Villanova outside of Corey Fisher (22 points) had more than 12. For a turnaround upset victory, Villanova will need to have at least two 20 point scorers while limiting the output of Notre Dame's stars. Easier said than done.

    Notre Dame has dreams of a 1-seed in the NCAA tournament, and they'll have to at least reach the final of the Big East tournament to even be considered for that top line. It starts with a win over the Wildcats.

    Winner: Notre Dame

No. 3 Louisville Vs. No. 6 West Virginia

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    Rick Stewart/Getty Images

    Matchups This Season

    1/26: Louisville 55 - West Virginia 54 // at Louisville

    3/5: West Virginia 72 - Louisville 70 // at West Virginia

     

    Key Performers

     

    Louisville

    PPG: Preston Knowles, 14.5

    RPG: Rakeem Buckles, 6.1

    APG: Peyton Siva, 5.0

     

    West Virginia

    PPG: Casey Mitchell, 14.3

    RPG: Kevin Jones, 7.4

    APG: Joe Mazzulla, 4.1

     

    Breakdown

    Louisville (23-8, 12-6) is coming off a season-ending loss in Morgantown, but they'd won their last four games before that, including a 62-59 overtime win against Pittsburgh. The Cardinals and Mountaineers split their season series by a single point, and this matchup proves to be just as close.

    Rick Pitino's bunch is led by guards Preston Knowles and Peyton Siva, who bring a combination of just under 25 points a game to the floor. Those two guards, as well as forward Terrence Jennings, will need to meet Pitino's standards and more to topple the Mountaineers at the Garden.

    Kevin Jones only had eight points and seven rebounds in West Virginia's loss to Louisville. In the win, he had 25 and 16. Likewise, John Flowers' fates went from five and nine to 12 and 12. Both players will need to have similar, if not better, games than the ones they had on Saturday to knock off the Cardinals for the second time in a week.

    Both of these teams come in looking good, but only one can win. With defense of their title from last year on the line, I think Casey Mitchell makes a huge shot for the Mountaineers to send them through to the semifinals.

    Winner: West Virginia 


No. 1 Pittsburgh Vs. No. 5 St. John's

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    Nick Laham/Getty Images

    Note: Now that all of the teams have had their "Key Performers" listed, the semifinal and final slides will only feature breakdowns.

     

    Matchups This Season

    2/19: St. John's 60 - Pittsburgh 59 // at St. John's

     

    Breakdown

    Pittsburgh will come into this game ready to pounce on the Red Storm, who will be coming off an emotional win over Syracuse to advance to the semifinals since they won the tournament in 2000 under Mike Jarvis. Ashton Gibbs will be more than ready to face Dwight Hardy and try to shut down St. John's top scoring option and emotional leader, and Brad McGhee will be ready to crash the boards and keep St. John's off the board as much as possible. Jamie Dixon can get his team ready for this.

    On the other bench, Steve Lavin will be stressing the importance to this game to his team like nothing else. His roster features nine seniors, all of whom want to make the most of their final season in Queens. Hardy, Justin Burrell, and Malik Boothe are all from the five boroughs and will have a huge familial presence in the Garden for this game. Although they had their real senior night in Carnesecca Arena on Saturday against South Florida, this entire tournament will be Senior Week for the Red Storm as fans, friends and family come to root for the Johnnies at the Garden. 

    There always seems to be at least one huge, surprising victory in the Big East tournament each year. Last year, it was 8-seed Georgetown topping 1-seed Syracuse on their way to the final, where they lost against West Virginia. In 2009, doormat 16-seed DePaul upset 9-seed Cincinnati 69-59 for their last win of the season. In 2011, it will be St. John's upsetting the 1-seed Pittsburgh Panthers and making the final on Saturday night.

    Winner: St. John's

No. 2 Notre Dame Vs. No. 6 West Virginia

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    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    Matchups This Season

    2/19: West Virginia 72 - Notre Dame 58 // at West Virginia

    Breakdown

    In their earlier matchup with the Mountaineers, Notre Dame's bench was shut out. They compiled no points, five rebounds and four assists in 34 combined minutes. The Fighting Irish bench will need to show more fight than that to top West Virginia this time around.

    Carleton Scott's double-double of 11 points and 11 rebounds might be a sign of things he can pull off against West Virginia's highly athletic Kevin Jones. Naturally, big games from Ben Hansbrough and/or Tim Abromaitis will go a long way in seeing Mike Brey's boys through to the final.

    Darryl Bryant shined in the first matchup between these two teams, scoring 24 points in 28 minutes while big names Kevin Jones and Joe Mazzulla each played the whole game and combined for 30 points. If "Truck" can have a game similar to the one he burned the Fighting Irish with a few weeks ago, West Virginia could easy make it to the final to defend their title against St. John's. Kevin Jones' double-double of 14 and 10 could be a sign of what he can do against Carleton Scott underneath.

    West Virginia is a team that has a solid NCAA tournament bid and is just trying to improve its resume. Notre Dame is a team that has a solid NCAA tournament bid and is trying to steal a 1-seed. With Pittsburgh having lost to St. John's, if they can top the Red Storm in the final, they might get it.

    Winner: Notre Dame 

No. 2 Notre Dame Vs. No. 5 St. John's

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    Nick Laham/Getty Images

    Matchups This Season

    1/8: Notre Dame 76 - St. John's 61 // at Notre Dame

    1/16: St. John's 72 - Notre Dame 54 // at St. John's

     

    Breakdown

    Ben Hansbrough was a stalwart for the Fighting Irish in their two matchups with the Red Storm this year, netting 26 in the win and 18 in the loss. Carleton Scott missed both games, so this will be his first contact with Justin Brownlee underneath the hoop this year. Tim Abromaitis was off his game, totaling 22 points in the two tilts.

    Those three players will be the keys for the Fighting Irish, as I've stressed throughout this article. If they can all have above average or better games, then there's no reason that the Fighting Irish shouldn't take this tournament away from the Red Storm at the very last.

    Although St. John's was just finding its groove when they avenged their loss to Notre Dame, that groove is more than prevalent now. Steve Lavin's nine seniors have truly jelled over the last two months and are ready to win as much as they can in their swan song. Dwight Hardy, Justin Brownlee and D.J. Kennedy, among others, want this Big East title as much as the rest of the field, if not more due to it being at Madison Square Garden, where they've had so many big wins this year.

    Like I said before, this year's tournament is a glorified Senior Week for the St. John's nine. What better way is there to close out the Big East careers of a huge group of seniors than with a Big East title with a rookie head coach?

    Tournament Champion: St. John's Red Storm 

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