The Villanova Wildcats are the defending NCAA champions and in first place in the Big East. The Wildcats have been rolling most of the season, and as the regular season hits the home stretch, head coach Jay Wright has his team in a wonderful position to launch another long postseason run.
So, with the Wildcats rolling along with a 27-3 record, you might expect the rest of the Big East to bow down and kiss Wright's ring as the Big East tournament unfolds at Madison Square Garden March 8.
If you believe that, you've got the wrong league. While the Big East has undergone many changes since the late Dave Gavitt founded the basketball stronghold in 1979, it remains one of the most competitive and hotly contested college basketball leagues in the nation.
The No. 2-ranked Wildcats are a powerful and deep team with stars like Josh Hart (18.6 points per game, 50.6 shooting percentage) and Jalen Brunson (14.7 ppg), but they are sure to get a battle from second-place Butler (23-6) and perhaps third-place Creighton (22-7).
|Big East Tournament Bracket|
|March 8||7 p.m.||No. 8 seed||No. 9 seed||FS1|
|March 8||9:30 p.m.||No. 7 seed||No. 10 seed||FS1|
|March 9||Noon||No. 1 seed||8/9 Winner||FS1|
|March 9||2:30 p.m.||No. 4 seed||No. 5 seed||FS1|
|March 9||7 p.m.||No. 2 seed||7/10 winner||FS1|
|March 9||9:30 p.m.||No. 3 seed||No. 6 seed||FS1|
|March 10||6:30 p.m.||TBD||TBD||FS1|
|March 10||9 p.m.||TBD||TBD||FS1|
|March 11||5:30 p.m.||TBD||TBD||Fox|
|Big East Conference|
It doesn't stop there. Providence, Xavier, Marquette and Seton Hall are all .500 teams in the conference with 8-8 records, but all of them have overall winning records.
The Big East Tournament has often seen a lower-seeded team mount a charge and make a deep run at Madison Square Garden.
Butler has been impressive throughout the season, and it has been a strong second-place team in the conference. However, the 14th-ranked Bulldogs have much greater aspirations than the runner-up position. Head coach Chris Holtman has his team playing aggressively and effectively, and they take a four-game winning streak into the final week of the regular season.
Junior forward Kelan Martin is the leading scorer for Butler, averaging 16.0 ppg and 5.8 rebounds per night. He is getting plenty of support from senior forward Andrew Chrabascz, who is contributing 11.3 ppg and connecting on 45.8 percent from the field.
Creighton may be able to sneak up on the two first-place teams, but the Blue Jays have lost their last two games and are dealing with the recent arrest of Maurice Watson Jr., who was charged with first-degree sexual assault Monday. He is contending with a $750,000 bond after allegedly forcing a 19-year-old woman into nonconsensual sex.
Head coach Greg McDermott has a huge job in front of him. Not only does he have to find a way to replace Watson's contribution of 12.9 ppg, he has to find a way to keep the team focused in light of the arrest and the attendant publicity that comes with it.
Marcus Foster is likely to lead the way if the Blue Jays are going to be successful in the conference tournament. He is averaging 18.8 ppg and shooting 48.2 percent from the floor.
Providence may be the team that emerges from the Big East's middle tier. The 18-11 Friars are led by junior forward Rodney Bullock, who is averaging 16.6 ppg and fellow forward Emmitt Holt, who is scoring 12.2 ppg.
The Friars have won four straight games and are clearly surging at the right time of year. Head coach Ed Cooley would love to see Providence make its big move at the most important time of the year, and he may get his wish.
We don't see St. John's, Georgetown or DePaul, the bottom three teams in the conference mounting any kind of a challenge to the upper- or middle-tier teams. St. John's should come up with the win over Georgetown in the first round, but the season will come to an end in the quarterfinals.
Look for Villanova and Butler to cruise into the semifinals. Third-place Creighton may be too distracted to make a run, but Providence should also get to the semifinal round. If the Friars face Butler, they are strong enough to push the Bulldogs hard for 40 minutes, but Butler will prevail.
That would likely create a Villanova-Butler championship game, and while the Bulldogs are not going to be pushed around, Hart will lead the defending national champions to the conference tournament crown.