Between bubble teams hoping for a spot in the Big Dance, teams looking to improve NCAA tournament seeding and squads that just plain want to bring home a trophy, there will be a whole lot to watch at the 2016 Big East tournament.
With just 10 teams, this is among the smaller leagues in the country, but there is no denying the amount of talent. Half of the conference should be headed to the NCAA tournament, while a few others are serious threats to pull off an upset or two during the week. At the top is a pair of legitimate Final Four contenders who could secure a No. 1 seed in the tourney with a Big East championship.
All of these teams will be in action at the World's Most Famous Arena, Madison Square Garden in New York City. Fans might still miss the old Big East, but there will be plenty here to keep things interesting.
For those who want to follow along with the action, here is a complete schedule to go with predictions for which teams will prevail in the competitive conference.
|Big East Tournament Schedule|
|Date||Game No.||Matchup||Time (ET)||TV|
|March 9||1||No. 8 Georgetown vs. No. 9 DePaul||7 p.m.||Fox Sports 1|
|March 9||2||No. 7 Marquette vs. No. 10 St. John's||9:30 p.m.||Fox Sports 1|
|March 10||3||No. 1 Villanova vs. Game 1 winner||Noon||Fox Sports 1|
|March 10||4||No. 4 Providence vs. No. 5 Butler||2:30 p.m.||Fox Sports 1|
|March 10||5||No. 2 Xavier vs. Game 2 winner||7 p.m.||Fox Sports 1|
|March 10||6||No. 3 Seton Hall vs. No. 6 Creighton||9:30 p.m.||Fox Sports 1|
|March 11||7||Game 3 winner vs. Game 4 winner||6:30 p.m.||Fox Sports 1|
|March 11||8||Game 5 winner vs. Game 6 winner||9 p.m.||Fox Sports 1|
|March 12||9||Championship Game||5:30 p.m.||Fox|
Championship Prediction: Villanova over Seton Hall
While picking the No. 1 seed to win a tournament isn't too bold, the truth is Villanova is just that good.
Before getting to the winner, though, it's important to examine the rest of the conference. Interestingly, Xavier as the No. 2 seed might have one of the toughest draws of anyone in the field. After a first-round bye, the Musketeers will likely face a dangerous Marquette team that should be able to handle St. John's in the opening game.
Xavier is a team with few weaknesses. It has a pair of trustworthy guards in Myles Davis and Edmond Sumner, while Trevon Bluiett has raised his game this year, averaging a team-high 15.4 points per contest. With James Farr taking care of business in the post, this will not be an easy team to beat.
With that said, Henry Ellenson has had an outstanding year for Marquette and has the ability to pull off an upset or two almost single-handedly.
If Xavier does survive its first game, it might be difficult to keep winning in a semifinal matchup against Seton Hall. Few teams in the nation have been as hot as the Pirates in recent weeks, as they ended the regular season with a 9-2 record. The key has been Isaiah Whitehead, who earned a lot of praise from his head coach based on his recent play.
"He has a unique ability when he's playing the way he's playing (to) make everybody better but make it very simple for them," Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard said, per Steve Politi of NJ Advance Media. "And he's been playing at an extremely high level seven of the last eight games, and that's why we've been playing at a really high level."
Whitehead averaged 22.1 points over the final 11 games of the year and has been difficult to contain. With support from Desi Rodriguez, Khadeen Carrington and others, Seton Hall can continue its recent hot streak and go all the way to the conference tournament finals.
On the other side of the bracket, however, there is one team that stands above the others. Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports broke down how dominant Villanova has been in league play over the past years:
Neither Georgetown nor DePaul should cause much trouble in the opening game, while both Butler and Providence have struggled since the beginning of the year. Both teams have excellent guard play with the talent to make a run in New York City, but the inconsistency we have seen indicates it is hard to expect an upset over the No. 1 seed.
Meanwhile, the Wildcats have been just too steady to knock off the top. They did lose a few games during the year, but they are easily the best team in the conference and one of the best in the nation because of the consistency to produce every single night.
Villanova does a great job of taking advantage of its balance. Ryan Arcidiacono is the engine that leads the team, while any of a number of players could be the leading scorer in a given game. Josh Hart, Kris Jenkins, Jalen Brunson or Daniel Ochefu could take over if needed, which helps in case one player isn't performing to his ability.
To make matters worse for the rest of the league, Villanova has both the No. 1 offense and the No. 1 defense in the conference in terms of efficiency, per KenPom.com. There won't be an easy way to beat this team.
Seton Hall has played well enough to make a serious run and help its seed, but the Wildcats will be able to defend their title at the Big East tournament.
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