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Big East Tournament 2015: Dates, Bracket and Dark-Horse Contenders to Watch

Scott Polacek@@ScottPolacekFeatured ColumnistFebruary 28, 2015

Xavier center Matt Stainbrook (40) reaches for the ball against Creighton guard Avery Dingman (22) in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Wednesday, Feb. 4, 2015, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/David Kohl)
David Kohl/Associated Press

The SEC may be the most obvious conference in terms of separation between the top team and the rest of the league, but the Big East features the No. 6 squad in the country in Villanova and a grand total of zero other members of the top 20.

However, it’s called March Madness for a reason, and it starts in the Big East on March 11 in Madison Square Garden.

There are bound to be some upsets in the conference tournament, some of which could directly impact the seeding in the actual Big Dance. With that in mind, here is a look at some dark-horse contenders that could surprise Villanova at the Big East tournament.

A full schedule and bracket can be found here, courtesy of the Big East.

2015 Big East Tournament

Dates: March 11-14

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Location: Madison Square Garden in New York

TV: Fox Sports 1

Dark-Horse Teams to Watch

Xavier

OMAHA, NE - JANUARY12: Will Artino #31 of the Creighton Bluejays guards Matt Stainbrook #40 of the Xavier Musketeers during their game at the CenturyLink Center on January 12, 2014 in Omaha, Nebraska. (Photo by Eric Francis/Getty Images)
Eric Francis/Getty Images

To call the 2014-15 season a roller-coaster ride for Xavier would be an understatement.

Just look at its stretch from Dec. 20 on—loss, two wins, loss, win, two losses, win, loss, two wins, two losses, two wins, loss, two wins and loss. Thanks to impressive victories over Cincinnati and Butler in the last three games, Xavier is probably safely in the tournament, but it has been inconsistent to say the least.

It will still be dangerous in the Big East tournament.

The Musketeers lost their first game against Villanova, but they beat Butler, Georgetown twice and Providence, which are the top three teams behind the Wildcats in the standings. Xavier proved itself capable of pulling off upsets in this league, and there is no reason it can’t do so again in the conference tournament.

Gary Landers/Associated Press

The Musketeers also have solid pieces with Matt Stainbrook as a double-double threat down low, Trevon Bluiett as a top scoring option on the wing and Myles Davis as the guard running the show.

There is also something to be said about the urgency that comes with playing in March games as a senior. Stainbrook is the emotional leader and senior of this squad, and the emotion he shows on the court was fairly clear in his comments before his senior day Saturday, via Jeremy Rauch of Fox 19 in Cincinnati:

With Stainbrook leading the way on the inside and Davis and Bluiett on the outside as scoring threats, Xavier can knock off any team in the Big East. All it takes to win the tournament title is a hot week of basketball, and the Musketeers have the pieces to string together some wins and challenge the top seeds.

St. John’s

Seth Wenig/Associated Press

St. John’s is hitting its stride and playing its best basketball of the season, and it comes just in time for the Big East tournament.

In fact, the Red Storm have won five of six, including two over fellow dark-horse candidate Xavier, and have one of the best scorers in the league and even the entire country leading the way in D’Angelo Harrison. 

Harrison is averaging 18.4 points per game and has topped the 30-point plateau on three occasions this season. He can drill threes, attack the rim off the bounce and is a solid-enough passer to find teammates when opponents double him. Perhaps most impressively, Harrison really hasn’t been healthy much of the season, via Zach Braziller of the New York Post:

Throw in Sir’Dominic Pointer down low as a double-double threat who has scored in double figures in 13 consecutive games, and St. John’s has a scary one-two punch.

Some of the Red Storm’s most impressive work of the season came in the nonconference portion of the schedule, including a victory over Syracuse on the road and close losses against Gonzaga and Duke. They were ranked earlier in the season and are finally starting to live up to preseason expectations down the stretch.

The top teams in the Big East are officially on alert.

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