Big East Tournament Preview

Villanova (Seed: 1)

Why They Can Win: 

This is not Villanova’s first time playing under the bright lights. Since the 2016-17 season, the ‘Cats are 11-1 in the World’s Most Famous Arena in regular and postseason play. Having won back to back Big East tournaments and three out of the last four, there is a certain familiarity that head coach Jay Wright’s squads have when playing in the Big Apple. In addition, Villanova has the star power to contend with anyone in the league. The ‘Cats are the only team in the conference that have two players that are top 10 in points per game in senior captains Phil Booth (18.6 PPG) and Eric Paschall (16.5 PPG). Their two First Team All-Big East selections will be heavily relied on to win three games in three days.

Why They Won’t 

When Villanova is hot, they’re red hot. When they go cold, it is not pretty. ‘Nova started out the Big East season running through the competition with 10 consecutive victories in conference, but the ‘Cats slumped their way to a 3-5 finish on the back end of conference play. Also, Villanova has developed the mantra throughout the season of “live by the three, die by the three.” The Wildcats attempted 932 triples total this season for tops in the league, but only shot 35.5 percent from deep, fifth in the Big East. If shots are not falling, it will be a short visit to MSG for the Big East regular season champions.

Marquette (Seed: 2)

Why They Can Win:

While their explosive offense steals the spotlight, the Golden Eagles sneaky defense is what makes them a legitimate contender for the Big East title. Led by tenacious red shirt junior guard Sacar Anim and shot-blocking sophomore phenom, Theo John, Marquette holds their opponents to just 40% from the field and 32.5% from the arc, leading the conference in both categories. On the offensive end, Marquette ranks fourth in scoring offense, fourth in field goal percentage, first in free throw percentage, and second 3pt field goal percentage. The high firepower offense runs through sharpshooting Big East first team selection, Markus Howard, who leads the conference in scoring averaging 25 points per game. Brothers Sam (junior) and Joey (freshman) Hauser provide additional shooting from the perimeter as Sam shoots a league best 44.3% from deep. 

Why They Won’t:

At one point during the season, over half of Marquette’s offense ran through Markus Howard, as KenPom reported that Howard has accounted for anywhere between 25-54% of Marquette’s points, and 30.5% usage. While he has the capability to put up 50 points in a night, teams focus on Howard as a threat and defend him aggressively, which has largely led to their recent four game skid. With that being said, what holds the Golden Eagles back the most is turnovers. They average a league worst 14 turnovers per game, and have a turnover margin of -1.87. It is certainly harder to win if Markus Howard and company are not able to get as many shots. During their current losing streak, Howard is shooting just 10/36 from the field, and isn’t getting much help from his three-point oriented supporting cast. When they’re hot they can beat anyone, and when they’re cold, as they have been in the past four games, they can lose to anyone.

Seton Hall (Seed: 3)

Why They Can Win:

The Pirates will arrive at the Garden fresh off of massive wins over Marquette and Villanova, the two top seeded teams in the tournament. They are undoubtedly one of most confident teams in the field right now. Led by junior guard Myles Powell (22.6 PPG), who can singlehandedly take over a game, Seton Hall is a tough team to stop once they get hot. Sophomore forward Sandro Mamukelashvili (7.7 RPG, 1.7 BPG) is a dominant force down low both defensively and on the glass. Seton Hall is one of the deeper teams in the conference, and they have often turned to different starting lineup combinations throughout the season. Their depth could prove invaluable in a tournament run, especially if they continue to get meaningful contributions off the bench from freshman Jared Rhoden who has stepped up late in the season.

 

Why They Won’t:

The Pirates inconsistent three-point shooting is a major weakness, and will definitely be exposed if they go up against a prolific shooting team like Marquette or Villanova. The only true deep shooting threats on this team are Powell (35.3%) and sophomore Myles Cale (39.5%), and as a team they rank ninth in the conference in FG% from behind the arc (32.5%). The Pirates also tend to struggle with ball movement, as they rank ninth in the Big East with an average of 13.67 assists per game. It will be a tough task for the Pirates to win three games in a row without consistent three point shooting and a focus on sharing the rock. 

Xavier (Seed: 4)

Why They Can Win

The Musketeers have momentum. The team enters the tournament having won six of their last seven games, flipping the script on what looked to be a disappointing season. Xavier features some of the most effective big men in the conference in Zach Hankins and Tyrique Jones, who each rank in the Big East’s top five for field goal percentage. In fact, the Musketeers ranked as the second most efficient offense in the conference, connecting on 47% of their shots collectively. Naji Marshall averaged a team high, 14.9 PPG, on his way to being named All-Big East Second Team, and Quentin Goodin dished out an average of 4.7 assists per game, good third in the league. First year head coach, Travis Steele, seems to have things coming together just in time for a Big East Tournament run. 

Why They Won’t 

One of the biggest problems for the Musketeers is their inability to generate turnovers. Xavier ranks last in the Big East in turnovers forced, causing just 11.1 giveaways per game. There is also the question of whether sophomore, Naji Marshall, is ready to be the go-to guy on a consistent basis. While Marshall has certainly enjoyed some big games, his offensive production has not been there every night. At times, poor three-point shooting has also been an issue. On the year, Xavier is hitting only 34% of shots from deep – the third worst rate in the conference. If the team cannot stretch the defense by knocking down a few threes, it will make things difficult on the offensive end. 

Creighton (Seed: 5) 

Why They Can Win

This Creighton team can score the rock. The Blue Jays led the conference in both overall field goal percentage (48.5%) and three-point field goal percentage (39.6%), and come in having won their final five regular season contests. On the season, Creighton averaged a Big East best 10.9 made threes per game, in large part because of their lethal backcourt combo of Ty-Shon Alexander and Mitch Ballock. Marcus Zegarowski, a member of the All-Big East Freshman Team, is also a potent threat from deep, knocking down 42.5% of his three-point attempts. In addition to their terrific guard play, 6’9” forward, Martin Krampelj had an excellent year for the Blue Jays, averaging 13.6 points per game. Creighton’s versatile offense has the potential to carry them all the way at Madison Square Garden. 

Why They Won’t 

As good as the Blue Jays are on offense, their defense is not at the same level. On the year, Creighton allowed opponents to shoot 45.8% from the floor, the worst mark in the conference. The team also has the second lowest average in the Big East for blocked shots per game at just 2.52. What’s more, Creighton makes just 69% of their free throws as a team, tied with Xavier for the second lowest percentage in the league. This year more than ever, there are going to be a lot of close games in NYC. If Creighton can’t hit free throws late, it could spell disaster for Greg McDermott’s squad. 

Georgetown (Seed: 6)

Why They Can Win:

Patrick Ewing's squad is probably one of the best "dark horse" bets to make a run in this tournament because of their extremely talented young roster anchored by senior star big man Jesse Govan. Georgetown ranks first in the league in scoring offense, averaging 80.6 points per game on the year. With Govan (17.6 PPG, 7.6 RPG) virtually sure to fill the stat book night in and night out, if the Hoyas' Big East all-freshmen trio of James Akinjo (13.3 PPG, 5.4 APG), Mac McClung (13.4 PPG), and Josh LeBlanc (9.4 PPG, 7.5 RPG) get hot, they can beat any team they face. 

Why They Won’t: 

As exciting as teams fueled by young talent are, the odds are most likely against the young Hoyas. Even with Govan, conventional wisdom says they won't get consistent or substantial enough production from their young guns to win three days in a row, especially when they will most likely have to beat #3 Seton Hall, #2 Marquette, and #1 Villanova in that order. A lackluster defense which surrenders a conference worst, 78.5 points per contest could also hinder the Hoyas’ chances at MSG. 

St. John’s (Seed: 7)

Why They Can Win: 

The Red Storm enter the Big East Tournament with an advantage simply by virtue of the venue, as they played a third of their regular season home games under the bright lights of Madison Square Garden. They certainly won’t be intimidated by the massive stage, and will likely have the crowd behind them for their games, which is crucial for an underdog looking to make a run at the title. Junior guard Shamorie Ponds (19.8 PPG) is a dynamic playmaker who can score from anywhere on the court and carry this team to the finish line. He is complimented by sophomore LJ Figueroa (14.6 PPG), who has elevated his play down the stretch, and another capable scorer in junior Mustapha Heron (15.0 PPG). Defensively, St. John’s forces a league best, 15.5 turnovers per contest, which fuels their ability to score in transition. Junior Justin Simon, the Big East DPOY, is an outstanding perimeter defender who has proven that he can shut down some of the top players in the conference like Markus Howard. 

Why They Won’t:

The Johnnies lack the bench depth needed to support their starters, which could lead to their downfall in the tournament. The three main bench players who fill out the rotation for St. John’s average a combined 10.7 PPG. A key factor in many of their losses this season has been foul trouble, which forces Chris Mullin to turn to his lackluster bench. Additionally, this team has also struggled at times to rebound the ball and keep opponents off the offensive glass. The Red Storm have the worst rebounding margin in the Big East at -5.7 per game. St. John’s inability to get production from their bench puts them at a disadvantage against the deeper teams in this tournament. If the referees choose to call it tight in these games, or if St. John’s finds themselves at a size disadvantage, it would be a massive challenge for them to make through to Saturday.

Providence (Seed: 8)

Why They Can Win:

Alpha Diallo. Diallo has consistently been a key player for the Friars and has tallied nine double-doubles this year while averaging over 16 points a game. The second team All-Big East junior leads the Friars in points, rebounds, and assists. While Diallo is the focal point of the Providence offense, freshman guard A.J. Reeves, who started his Providence career with a 29 point effort, has been their most consistent shooter from distance, converting 40.2% of his shots from beyond the arc. After missing nine games over December and January, head coach Ed Cooley has eased Reeves back into action. Reeves seems to be getting back into the flow of things, ending Big East play with a 24-point effort against Butler. While the play of those two players will likely be the reason the Friars take home a Big East Tournament title, strong supporting efforts will be needed from redshirt senior Isaiah Jackson (9.6 PPG) and big man Nate Watson (11.7 PPG). Additionally, Coach Cooley is one of the best in the conference, and recently moved into third place on the Providence all-time win list. He has the Friars playing some of the best defense in the league, ranking third in points allowed (69.7 PPG) and forcing the second most turnovers per game in the league (14.3). Big East Tournament play always seems to have really tight, gritty contests, and the Friar’s strong defensive presence will be key in winning these match-ups. 

Why They Won’t: 

All throughout conference play, Providence has struggled to string together a series of wins against their Big East foes, only once winning consecutive games. While Diallo has been a relatively consistent force during his junior year, in key games, the youth of the team has shown and the team has struggled with turnovers, averaging 13.1 a game. In the tournament, where both youth and turnover issues can be magnified, Providence will need to look to play clean basketball to rip off enough wins for the championship. Although they made the championship last year, that was with key seniors Kyron Cartwright, Jalen Lindsey, and Rodney Bullock still on the roster. While Diallo has taken the reigns of the Friars, much of the team is underclassmen, and Diallo will not be able to win the conference on his own.  

Butler (Seed: 9)

Why They Can Win:

The Butler Bulldogs’ 16-15 regular season record isn’t particularly intimidating, but this is a team that should not be overlooked in the Big East Tournament. The Bulldogs have numerous scoring threats that can dictate the pace of the game. A top ten scorer in the Big East, junior guard Kamar Baldwin leads the team in points, rebounds, and steals, averaging a stellar 17.5 points, 5 rebounds, and 1.5 steals per game. Butler relies heavily on Baldwin’s performance, which is why it’s crucial for him to show out during the tournament. Other offensive threats on the Butler squad include senior guard Paul Jorgenson, who averages 11.5 points and 3.1 rebounds per game, as well as Sean McDermott, who shoots 39.9% from three, and Jordan Tucker, a Duke transfer capable of shooting the lights out.

Why They Won’t:

While Butler’s Kamar Baldwin is a huge threat to teams, if he struggles offensively, then the Bulldog’s cannot compete with other teams. While Butler does have other offensive weapons, there are no other players that can actually rise to the occasion and take over during games in replacement for Baldwin. Additionally, Butler has struggled defensively, allowing opponents to shoot 45.2% from the field, the second worst mark in the conference, and blocks a league-low, 1.97 shots per game. A lack of a strong interior presence will be tough for to overcome in what is sure to be a physical Big East Tournament.  

DePaul (Seed: 10)

Why They Can Win: 

Max Strus and parity. The 6’6” fifth year senior from Hickory Hills, Ill. has had a terrific final season at DePaul. The D-2 transfer finished the regular season averaging 19 points, 6.1 rebounds, and 2.5 assists on 37.2% shooting from behind the arc. Strus has put the Blue Demons on his back this season and led them to their first winning season since 2006-07. DePaul finished at 15-14 and 7-11 in Big East play. If Strus can replicate his best game of the season so far, coming on March 3 against St. John’s, when he scored 43 points including shooting 6-10 from three, he could carry the Blue Demons to a Big East Tournament championship and NCAA Tournament bid. In most years, the #10 seed making a run to win the Big East would be rather unlikely, but DePaul fell to the last seed on tiebreakers and finished only two games back from being the #3 seed. In a year when the Big East has made very little sense, DePaul leaving Madison Square Garden with a trophy fits the bill.

Why They Won’t: 

Well, for starters they are the #10 seed, even though it was only on tiebreakers. As a result, they will open tournament play with basically a road game against St. John’s. The Red Storm have had their struggles but are a very talented team and get to play on their de facto home court. There is a very real possibility the Blue Demons Big East tourney run ends before it begins, but even if they’re able to get by St. John’s they’ll have to face Marquette, one of the two Big East teams who had a pretty good season, before losing their last four games. The defense and depth for the Blue Demons can also be issues. The team’s defense is ranked 174th in the country, per kenpom.com, something that could be hard to overcome against many of the strong offensive teams in the Big East. Eli Cain has had a strong end to his to DePaul career, but behind Strus and Cain the rest of the team can be up and down.  

TOURNAMENT CHAMPION STAFF PREDICTIONS 

Greg Welsh – Georgetown

Tyler Kemp – Villanova 

Billy Vinci – Creighton 

Mike Keeley – Villanova 

Addison Drone – Seton Hall

Owen Carberry – Seton Hall

Gram O’Malley – Marquette 

Daniel Mezzalingua – Marquette