Villanova and Butler seem destined to meet in the Big East championship this season, but eight other teams have other plans.
The Wildcats have followed up last year's national championship with a 28-3 record this season, losing to Butler twice and Marquette once.
In addition to two wins over Villanova, Butler has an impressive nonconference resume that includes victories over Arizona, Cincinnati, Northwestern and Vanderbilt.
Will anyone take one of these teams down in Madison Square Garden?
Here's a look at the tournament schedule, the bracket, the latest odds and some predictions.
Big East Tournament Schedule
|Wednesday, March 8||7 p.m.||First||No. 8 St. John's vs. No. 9 Georgetown||FS1|
|Wednesday, March 8||9:30 p.m.||First||No. 7 Xavier vs. No. 10 DePaul||FS1|
|Thursday, March 9||Noon||Quarterfinals||No. 1 Villanova vs. 8/9 winner||FS1|
|Thursday, March 9||2:30 p.m.||Quarterfinals||No. 5 Seton Hall vs. No. 4 Marquette||FS1|
|Thursday, March 9||7 p.m.||Quarterfinals||No. 2 Butler vs. 7/10 winner||FS1|
|Thursday, March 9||9:30 p.m.||Quarterfinals||No. 3 Providence vs. No. 6 Creighton||FS1|
|Friday, March 10||6:30 p.m.||Semifinals||TBD||FS1|
|Friday, March 10||9 p.m.||Semifinals||TBD||FS1|
|Saturday, March 11||5:30 p.m.||Final||TBD||Fox|
Information via bigeast.com. All games will be played at Madison Square Garden in New York.
Big East Tournament Bracket
Big East Tournament Odds
Odds as of March 5 at BetOnline (h/t OddsShark)
At it stands, there looks to be five teams who can win this tournament: Villanova, Butler, Marquette, Providence and Seton Hall. Creighton and Xavier are playing so poorly down the stretch (the Bluejays have lost seven of their last 12, and Xavier lost six straight before a win over DePaul to close the season) that it's hard to see them overcoming their late-season struggles and making a title run.
The Wildcats check off every box to make another national title run. They have the experience after last year's title run. They have senior leaders (Kris Jenkins and Josh Hart). They have talented three-point shooters (four members of the rotation make at least 37 percent of their shots beyond the arc). Lastly, they are efficient on offense and defense, ranking third and 16th, respectively, in the Ken Pomeroy rankings.
Villanova has a short bench, though—the Wildcats only run six or seven deep unless they completely blow an opponent out, in which case the subs will come in en masse. That hasn't hurt them much this season, however.
Butler won its two games against Villanova thanks in part to a deeper bench, though, which outscored the Wildcats, 57-12. That's in large part due to the best sixth man in the country, guard Kelan Martin, who is basically college basketball's version of old Detroit Pistons sixth man Vinnie "The Microwave" Johnson. In other words, he comes in and lights up the scoreboard.
Martin averages 16.1 points and 5.8 rebounds in 29.1 minutes per game this season, leading the team in both categories. He is a nightmare matchup for any second unit in the country.
Marquette is like Butler, in that a deep rotation has led the Golden Eagles to success this season. They are rolling eight deep right now, and six players average between 20 and 26 minutes per game. The scoring is also balanced, too, as seven players post between 8.7 and 13.1 points per contest.
Providence rudely inserted itself into the NCAA tournament conversation in recent weeks, winning six straight games to close the regular season and earning the No. 3 seed in the NCAA tournament in the process. The win streak was kick-started by a win against Butler. The Friars are led by junior point guard Kyron Cartwright (11.3 points and 6.8 assists) and junior forward Rodney Bullock (16.1 points and 6.4 rebounds).
Seton Hall has three stars: rebounding machine Angel Delgado (13.1 boards a night to lead Division I), junior guard Khadeen Carrington (17.1 points per game) and junior forward Desi Rodriguez (16.1 points and five boards per game).
When they are all playing well, the team plays well, as was the case when they combined for 58 of Seton Hall's points in its 70-64 victory over Butler. When one (or two or all) of them are off their game, the team wilts.
Delgado, in particular, is the key to the entire team. He's like Baylor big man Johnathan Motley or Purdue big man Caleb Swanigan—they are large blocks of granite who are hard to move off the block. All three are quite skilled as well, and they all average double-doubles for the season (Delgado scores 15.7 points a game).
Villanova and Butler should waltz into the final. Seton Hall and Marquette will tire each other out with another close, emotional game (their two games this year were decided by three points each) in the quarterfinals, while Villanova will enjoy an easy victory over the St. John's/Georgetown winner in the quarters. That will help 'Nova outlast the Pirates or Golden Eagles in the semis.
On the other side of the bracket, Butler should exact revenge on Providence in the semifinals and meet Villanova for the third straight time.
Once there, expect Villanova to exact revenge of its own and beat Butler for the Big East title.