Big East Tournament 2021: Basketball Bracket and Championship Picks

Alex Ballentine@Ballentine_AlexFeatured ColumnistMarch 9, 2021

Villanova forward Jeremiah Robinson-Earl (24) shoots over Creighton center Ryan Kalkbrenner (32) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Wednesday, March 3, 2021, in Villanova, Pa. (AP Photo/Laurence Kesterson)
Laurence Kesterson/Associated Press

The 2021 Big East Tournament is set to get underway Wednesday with plenty of potential ramifications for Selection Sunday on the line. 

Villanova is in search of its third consecutive conference tournament title. Excluding the 2020 event which was canceled midgame due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Villanova has beaten a different team in the finals in three straight seasons. 

Jay Wright's Wildcats will once again be the top seed. But they are far from a sure thing this year. They finished the season with an 11-4 record in conference play including a 4-4 record on the road. 

They won't be in the friendly confines of Finneran Pavilion for the tourney. They'll have to try to make Madison Square Garden feel like home with a group of contenders who aren't too far behind this season. 

Jerry Palm of CBS Sports' most recent bracket predictions have Villanova joined by Creighton, UConn and Xavier in the tournament field with St. John's also on the bubble. A strong performance from any of those teams could result in a higher seed, while ESPN's Joe Lunardi also has Seton Hall on the bubble. 

Here's a look at the complete bracket along with the schedule for the weekend. 


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First Round—March 10

Game 1: No. 8 Georgetown vs. No. 9 Marquette, 3 p.m. ET on FS1

Game 2: No. 7 Xavier vs. No. 10 Butler, 6 p.m. ET on FS1

Game 3: No. 6 Providence vs. No. 11 DePaul, 9 p.m. ET on FS1

Quarterfinals—March 11

Game 4: No. 1 Villanova vs. Game 1 winner, Noon ET on FS1

Game 5: No. 4 St. John's vs. No. 5 Seton Hall, 3 p.m. ET on FS1

Game 6: No. 2 Creighton vs. Game 2 winner, 6 p.m. ET on FS1

Game 7: No. 3 UConn vs. Game 3 winner, 9 p.m. ET on FS1

Semifinals—March 12

Game 8: Game 4 winner vs. Game 5 winner, 6 p.m. ET on FS1

Game 9: Game 6 winner vs. Game 7 winner, 9 p.m. ET on FS1

Final—March 13

Game 10: Game 8 winner vs. Game 9 winner; 6:30 p.m. ET on FS1


The Wildcats will have their work cut out for them to make it four straight conference tournament championships. Guard Collin Gillespie's torn MCL will keep him out for the rest of the season, which leaves the team without it's leading distributor and second-leading scorer. 

The offense was lost in its only game since the Gillespie injury, losing to Providence 54-52 in the lead up to the tournament. To add injury to injury, fellow guard Justin Moore suffered an ankle injury against the Friars, and head coach Jay Wright classified him as doubtful for the tournament.  

The Wildcats were a precarious top seed as it was. With two key players out, the tournament feels really open. 

Hoping to fill in the role of tournament favorite is Creighton. The Bluejays had the most wins in conference play this season, and they feature a balanced attack that has five players scoring over 10 points per game and a lead guard in Marcus Zegarowski who can light up the scoreboard when necessary. 

In the season finale against Butler, he put up 32 points on 10-of-12 shooting including 5-of-7 from beyond the arc. Those are the kind of performances that can carry a team on a tournament run and make a statement heading into March Madness. 

UConn is another team hoping to take advantage of Villanova's misfortune. They too have a special guard in fellow All-Big East performer James Bouknight. The sophomore missed all but one game in January and the first half of February with injury but has come back on a tear. 

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He has 20 points or more in four of his last five contests and is shooting 47.2 percent from the floor. He's joined by Big East co-Defensive Player of the Year Isaiah Whaley on a well-balanced team. The Huskies are 25th in the nation in offensive efficiency and 29th on the defensive end, per KenPom

The quarterfinal matchup between Seton Hall and St. John's is the most intriguing early-round game. The Pirates and Red Storm's tournament chances are hanging on by a threat going into Championship Week and a loss in the quarterfinals would likely be a death knell for either side. 

The Pirates have suffered a total collapse heading into the tourney. They have lost four straight games including the season finale to the Red Storm in which they squandered an 18-point lead. 

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St. John's, on the other hand, hasn't recaptured its top form from January, but it has played well in the last two games. It'll need big performances from first team All-Big East selection Julian Champagnie if it wants to go beyond the quarterfinals.


Championship Prediction: UConn over Villanova

Even with the injuries, the Wildcats' road to the championship is such that Jay Wright should have them in good enough form to get to the championship game. Winning it is another matter.

The bottom half of the bracket is where the true threats to the Cats are. Whoever comes through that side is going to have an excellent chance to breaking Villanova's streak. 

Right now, it's tough not to like UConn for what they can do on both ends of the floor and the play of a healthy Bouknight. They are currently a No. 9 seed at the NCAA tournament based on the consensus of bracketology compiled by Bracket Matrix

A conference title may be enough to bump them up a few seeds.