By: Carter Woodiel
It’s that time of year again! When folks in Villanova gear crowd Penn Station, when Gus Johnson gets to call March basketball, and the Big East Tournament gets underway from Madison Square Garden. And while the Big East tourney may be lacking some of the luster from its glory days, it’s still got plenty to offer to basketball fans. Let’s take a look at how the tournament is shaping up.
Conference: Big East
Venue: Madison Square Garden, New York
Schedule: Starts with opening round games Wednesday March 9, leading up to the title game on Saturday March 12. Bracket here.
Where to Watch: The title game is on Fox, everything else is on FS1.
Top Dogs: Villanova
The Big East is a top-heavy league, and Villanova is the team riding high on top of the conference. A near-lock for a no. 1 seed in March Madness, the Wildcats are led by junior guard Josh Hart (15.3 ppg) and big man Daniel Ochefu (10.ppg, 8.1 rpg). Hart is the leader of the team, and a conference player of the year candidate. But it’s Ochefu’s presence down low that often presents the biggest problem for teams defensively — that is, if he can stay out of foul trouble. Either way, Jay Wright’s team will be disappointed if they leave the Garden without their second straight Big East tournament title.
Next in Line: Xavier
Chris Mack’s Musketeers have flown under the radar for much of this year — not that they’re complaining or anything. Behind trio of guards Trevon Bluiett, Myles Davis, and Edmond Sumner, they’re a nightmare to deal with defensively, to the tune of 81 points per game, second in the Big East. And that’s not mentioning their deeper-than-you-think low-post game. Led by Jalen Reynolds and James Farr, the Musketeers lead the conference in rebounding. Add in Big East Sixth Man of the Year J.P. Macura to the mix, and you’ve got a team that won’t just be tough to deal with at MSG — Xavier can make a run for the Final Four.
Player to Watch: Isaiah Whitehead, Seton Hall
Though the sophomore out of Brooklyn wasn’t in the player of the year discussion when conference play began, he’s since muscled his way into the conversation by lighting it up in the second half of the Big East season. In the Pirates’ last 11 games of conference play, Whitehead averaged over 22 points per game, dropped over five-and-a-half dimes per contest, and proved he could score from anywhere on the floor. His confidence will be high when he takes the court Thursday night, and with capable — if erratic — players around him, Seton Hall is positioned to make some noise this March.
Tournament Pick: Villanova
At the end of the day, the Wildcats are just too good. Perhaps this will be the year they make a deep run in March Madness, and put those NCAA Tournament choke rumors away for good.