The Big East Tournament At Madison Square Garden is widely regarded as the most anticipated in all of College Basketball. All 16 teams make their way to New York, all of them with something to gain. For some teams it may be getting a one or two seed for the NCAA tournament; for other teams the hope is to prove their case to the selection committee. Then there the bottom feeders who hope to play spoiler and maybe make a Cinderella push.
This tournament is no different. With 11 teams projected to make the NCAA field, the Big East is easily the most competitive in the game, and when they all come to MSG, things tend to get crazy. A few years ago, in the quarterfinals, Syracuse took UConn to a sixth overtime despite not having had a lead once the entire game. They then went out the next night and won in overtime again.
Last night, with 35 seconds to go, Villanova was up three and had the ball but somehow found a way to give the No. 15 seed South Florida a 70-69 thrilling victory.
There are always surprises, and they are hard to predict; here are the teams that you should look for to maybe raise your eyebrows.
Despite having a rocky start to their season losing to both Fordham and St. Bonaventure, two of the lowly teams in the Atlantic-10, the Red Storm have been playing lights out. Under new head coach Steve Lavin, they climbed to a ranking of 15th in the country last week after defeating such teams like Pittsburgh, Georgetown, UConn, Duke, Notre Dame, and Villanova. They are not a consistent team and they need to be red hot in order to make a good run. They won their last game over South Florida coming in to their game against Rutgers, who had to play overtime to defeat Seton Hall. The Red Storm will need to play a press defense and get out in transition off of rebounds and turnovers.
Although many would—and could—contend that Pitt is the best team in the Big East, I would prefer to give that honor to Notre Dame. They have the most well-rounded squad containing some very experienced players in Tim Abromaitis, Ben Hansbrough, Carleton Scott, Tyrone Nash and Scott Martin, all seniors and the top five scorers on the team. They are playing well right now, and they do have one win over Pitt this season on the road back when Pitt was ranked second in the nation. This team is a force to be reckoned with—just wait and see.
Despite finishing the season on a strong note, don't expect Syracuse to do all that well this season. They didn't fare well after starting in the quarterfinals like they will this year, and they have just been a very inconsistent team this year. One night they go out and beat Notre Dame by 12, then one night they can come out and lose at home to Seton Hall by 22. If they can score a lot and keep teams contained with the zone defense, then they may have a shot. I just don't see a title run this year with the Orange, a year removed from losing fifth year senior Andy Rautins.
They may be the least talked about team in the Big East, but they should not be forgotten. Many criticized their non-conference scheduling in which they played not a single decent team aside from rival Xavier. They had a perfect non-conference season, but many thought that they would have a lot of trouble when the Big East season started. However, they were able to hold their own, thanks to players like Yancy Gates and Dion Dixon. They went 11-7 in the conference and beat teams like Georgetown (twice), St. John's and Louisville. They also have a not-so-tough game against USF in their matchup tonight.
With a coach like Buzz Williams, you should not doubt this team's potential. Marquette is one of those teams that is better than its record suggests. Out of their 13 losses, only two were by more than 10 points, and the biggest difference was 13 points. 12 of the 13 losses were to teams either ranked or have been ranked this season with the one exception being Seton Hall, a team much improved with the addition of its star Jeremy Hazell. The Golden Eagles are very well rounded and have three players averaging at least 12 ppg, led by senior Jimmy Butler, who averages 16.3 a game. Marquette is a high-scoring and offensively efficient squad. The Golden Eagles will contend for this conference title after putting a beating on Providence last night.