The Big East Tournament is back! College basketball fans received a glimpse of the madness to come during the Big Ten Tournament at Madison Square Garden. Now, the insanity that is conference title week is about to get underway. The Big East was one of the most competitive conferences in the country this season.
Who will emerge as the champion when the chips fall? Let’s take a look and find out.
Xavier won its first ever regular season Big East title, securing the number one seed in the tournament. Villanova, although they swept Xavier in the regular season, fell to the number two seed due to a slippage of play down the stretch. Both of these teams are projected number one seeds in the NCAA Tournament and are the heavy favorites to go head-to-head in the title game.
The next five teams in the Big East conference are fairly even in regards to record. Seton Hall, Creighton and Providence all sit at 10-8 while Butler and Marquette ended up at 9-9 Big East records. The egalitarian nature of the Big East conference resulted in numerous back-and-forth match-ups and unpredictable upsets.
Georgetown, St. John’s and DePaul make up the bottom of the conference. The Hoyas and the Red Storm each showed flashes of competitiveness throughout the season, with Georgetown losing to Xavier in overtime and St. John’s toppling Villanova at the Pavilion.
Ever since the creation of the new Big East, the conversation has started and ended with Villanova. Coach Jay Wright’s squad has been blowing opponents out of the building all season long. Wooden Award favorite Jalen Brunson has steered Villanova through injuries to be in a position to lock up a number one seed in the NCAA Tournament once again with a strong showing in the Big East Tournament. With Phil Booth returning from a fractured hand, the Wildcats are in prime position to defend their 2017 Big East Tournament title.
Xavier is Villanova’s primary threat to defending their championship. Even though Xavier won the Big East regular season championship, Villanova drubbed the Musketeers twice during the regular season in convincing fashion.
Xavier is led by senior All-Big East first team guard Trevon Blueitt. Blueitt averaged 19.4 points on 45.2 percent shooting per game this season. Streaky shooting plagues Blueitt at times, but when he is on, Blueitt is near impossible to slow down. Surrounded by a strong supporting cast that includes Quentin Goodin, J.P. Macura and Naji Marshall, it is now or never for the Musketeers.
The darkhorse: Seton Hall
While Seton Hall is a three seed in this tournament, they have the same record as the four and five seeds. There is also such a drop off between the top two teams record-wise that anyone aside from Xavier and Villanova has to be considered a darkhorse.
Seton Hall is an appealing choice because Coach Kevin Willard always brings out the best of his team during the Big East Tournament. Willard led his team to a Big East Tournament win in 2016 and nearly toppled Villanova in the semifinals last season.
The Pirates, after falling into a four-game losing streak, are peaking at the right time. They have won four of their last five games with their lone loss being a 69-68 overtime defeat at the hands of Villanova. Seniors Desi Rodriguez and Angel Delgado are capable of taking over any game with their physical style of play. Rodriguez and Delgado average 18.1 and 15.6 points per game respectively. Delagdo also averages 11.6 rebounds per contest.
Khadeen Carrington’s play-making abilities (four and a half assists per game) and Myles Powell’s outside shooting further enhance the offensive capabilities of this Seton Hall team.
The Champion: Villanova
If the bracket holds true, Villanova will face an explosive offense in Marquette and then Seton Hall. The Wildcats outgunned Marquette twice this season as they are capable of beating the Golden Eagles at their own game: high volume scoring. Villanova-Seton Hall Big East tournament slugfests are becoming something of a tradition nowadays. The pesky Pirates will push Villanova, but the Wildcats’ experience, solid guard play and crafty defending will be too much for the Pirates to handle.
And then there is Xavier. Although Xavier won the Big East title during the regular season, they will fall to the Wildcats for a third time this season in the title game of the Big East Tournament. No team will be strong enough to derail the inevitable: Villanova-Xavier Round Three. However, the Musketeers’ signature 1-3-1 plays right into Villanova’s strength: three-point shooting. In Villanova’s 95-79 win at Xavier, the Wildcats shot 47.1 percent from beyond the arc.
The x-factor for this Villanova team will be Donte DiVincenzo’s offensive production. If DiVincenzo can find his stroke during this tournament, Villanova will be close to unbeatable. DiVincenzo has been prone to shooting slumps, but when he is on point, his offensive versatility shines through as defenders have to respect his shot.
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