The Big East Tournament returns to Madison Square Garden this week for the 35th consecutive season, once again hosting a March tradition in which hearts have been broken and new stars born.

Following Villanova’s national title last year, seven teams have an opportunity to reach the Big Dance. All 10 Big East squads will play in the four-day tournament, which begins Wednesday.

Here’s a look at the teams’ chances as they vie for an NCAA automatic bid in Saturday night’s final.

Leading the pack

Top seed Villanova, stunned in last year’s conference tournament final, are ranked second in the latest AP poll. Led by Wooden Award finalist Josh Hart (18.3 ppg), the Wildcats have beaten seven conference opponents at least once this season and are the clear favorite.

However, second-seeded Butler swept the regular-season series against the Wildcats, stifling them with tough defense. All-Big East first teamer Andrew Chrabascz and junior Kelan Martin lead a balanced Bulldogs attack. Not without setbacks, the Bulldogs have dropped games to nonconference Indiana State and St. John’s this season.

Dark horses

Behind the frontrunners are five teams that can’t be dismissed. Creighton has a win over Butler but also tough losses to Marquette and Georgetown.

Defending tournament champion Seton Hall has won its last four, including Saturday’s victory over Butler. Providence has been hot as well, winning its last six conference games.

Marquette is a shaky 5-5 since beating Nova, with losses against Providence and freefalling Georgetown.

Injury-riddled Xavier lost six straight before defeating DePaul on Saturday. On the bubble, junior Trevon Bluiett (18 ppg) and company will need to impress if they hope to make the Big Dance.

Forget about it

St. John’s has been a pleasant surprise this season but isn’t ready to take the next step. Young talent like Shamorie Ponds (17.6 ppg) and Marcus LoVett (16.4 ppg) need more experience and support before the Johnnies can be considered contenders.

Meanwhile, Georgetown and DePaul have both struggled mightily this year and have little chance to win the tournament.