This will be the final conference tournament for the original Big East, and it should be a good one. Early on it look as though Syracuse and Louisville would dominate the Big East, but Georgetown won 12 of their final 13 games behind conference player of the year Otto Porter, to gain a tie for the regular season title and the top seed in the conference tournament. Along with Georgetown, Marquette and Louisville went 14-4 in conference play to jump into the 3-way tie. Rounding out the byes into the quarterfinals is Pittsburgh, who went through the Big East rather unharmed, with the only bad loss being at Rutgers, in which the Scarlet Knights shot 51% from the field and 43% from three.
After being ranked in the AP Top 10 for the first 16 weeks of the season, Syracuse dropped to 19 after losing four of their final five games. Albeit the losses were to Georgetown x2, Louisville and Marquette, but it’s still not a good sign going into the postseason. ‘Cuse now has to play an extra game in the Big East Tournament as the 5th seed.
Notre Dame continues to be typical Notre Dame basketball. An underwhelming, extremely average team that wins at home and avoids bad losses. This will likely result in the Fighting Irish getting another 6-8 seed and being a popular pick to get upset in the first round. In the last three NCAA Tournaments, Notre Dame has lost to two 10 seeds and an 11 seed. Their only victory was against 15-Akron, who they may end up getting as a first round opponent this year, wouldn’t that be great.
With the departure of West Virginia to the Big 12 and suspension of Connecticut, the 9th and 10th ranked teams in the conference won’t play until the second day. It is less likely that we get one of those ‘five wins in five days’ champions, but it takes out two of the lesser competitive games on the first day.
Tuesday’s action resulted in an extremely slow-paced game. Seton Hall and South Florida went to overtime yet neither team reached the 50 point mark. Seton Hall pulled out the ugly 46-42 victory, and advances to play Syracuse in the second round.
Rutgers also advanced to the second round by beating DePaul by 19 points. DePaul ends yet another disappointing Big East season despite 25 from Cleveland Melvin, while Rutgers goes on to play Notre Dame.
Cincinnati’s solid non-conference season helped solidify a NCAA Tournament bid even though they were just mediocre in the latter portion of the schedule. Sean Kilpatrick improved to become one of the best players in the conferences, average over 17 points per game, and is still just a junior. Providence has been just okay throughout the Big East season, gaining victories over Villanova, Notre Dame and Cincinnati. They are an improving team, still working towards getting back to the Big Dance, but the Bearcats should take care of them in the second round.
With Seton Hall’s performance in the play-in games on Tuesday, it’s hard to believe they will come close to beating Syracuse. Despite their recent struggles, Jim Boeheim’s squad is still very talented and experienced. CJ Fair, James Southerland, Brandon Triche, or Michael Carter-Williams can go off at any moment and lead Syracuse to victory. They can beat anyone in the country if they are playing well. I think the beat down at Georgetown will have them working to get back into early season form, where they were one of the best teams in the country. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see them take the whole tournament.
Both Villanova and Notre Dame should triumph over their counterparts. The bottom tier of the Big East is not as good as it used to be, and teams like St. John’s or Rutgers are hard pressed to find wins in this conference.
The quarterfinals will likely consist of the best eight teams in the Big East. Cincinnati is technically the 9th seed, but they are better than Providence. All of these teams have effectively secured an NCAA Tournament bid, only Villanova would be slightly worried if they were to lose to St. John’s on Wednesday.
Once we hit Thursday, almost anything can happen in terms of who wins the tournament. There’s no reason Notre Dame couldn’t end up winning the Big East, they’ve beaten their potential semi-final opponent already.
Marquette looks as good as anyone with one of the best sixth men in the country in Davante Gardner. Overtime wins over Pitt and Georgetown launched Marquette into the top ranks of the Big East, finished out a season in which they were projected to finish seventh, tied for the conference regular season title.
However, I still believe it will come down to the top two seeds, Georgetown and Louisville. Georgetown has possibly the best player in the country in Otto Porter, who averages 16.4 points on 60% True Shooting, to go along with 7.4 rebounds and 2.7 assists. Porter can do everything for the Hoyas, but they still have Markel Starks. Starks has flown under the radar this season as a key part of this team. He shoots 41% from three-point range while taking over four per game, spreading the floor for Porter to work. Starks helped fill some of the scoring void left by Greg Whittington when he was deemed academically ineligible.
Coming off a Final Four run, Louisville started the season the second ranked team in the country. Losses of Kyle Kuric and Chris Smith weren’t supposed to hurt the team too badly, since they are very deep and their main focus is defense. The Cardinals hold opponents to the 23rd worst FG%, force the 3rd most turnovers, and have the best adjusted defensive rating, according to KenPom. Gorgui Dieng anchors their defense with an incredible 78.9 defensive rating, which is third in the country.
However, Russ Smith is the team’s X-Factor, and maybe even the biggest X-Factor for the entire NCAA. In Louisville’s wins, Smith shoots 41% from the field while scoring 18 points per game. In their losses, he shoots only 31% and scores 14 points. Being a very erratic scorer comes from poor decision-making at times, but when he is playing well Louisville rarely loses.
The Cardinals defend well, have solid post players in Dieng and Chane Behanan. Peyton Siva is their leader, with experience and a great basketball IQ. Their biggest flaw is outside shooting. Louisville shoots just 32% from behind the arc. Luke Hancock and Kevin Ware are their best shooters, but still aren’t great. If Louisville can spread the floor and take smart shots, they can win the Big East Tournament and later the National Championship.
Semi-Finals: Georgetown over Syracuse, Louisville over Marquette
Finals: Louisville over Georgetown