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Previewing the retooled Big East's first conference tournament
The Big East Tournament will tip off at the Garden tonight when Seton Hall takes on Butler. With only Villanova and Creighton considered to be locks for the NCAA Tournament, most teams still have work to do in the first year of the realigned Big East Conference, which returns seven schools -- Villanova, Providence, St. John's, Marquette, Georgetown, Seton Hall and DePaul -- from last season.
amNewYork breaks down each team -- ordered from top seed to bottom -- and their chances in the conference tournament.
Villanova (28-3, 16-2 Big East)
Should the No. 3-ranked team in the country be the favorites? With three players averaging more than 14 points per game, the Wildcats have a balanced offensive attack capable of running the table. That said, two of their three losses this season came at the hands of No. 2 seed Creighton, a realistic cause for concern. However, impressive wins over teams such as Big 12 regular-season champion Kansas are encouraging.
Creighton (24-6, 14-4)
Senior Doug McDermott leads the nation with 26.5 ppg and is a finalist for the Wooden Award. The two wins against Villanova by a combined 49 points should give the 14th-ranked Bluejays confidence against the tournament's top seed. Perhaps Creighton, formerly of the Missouri Valley Conference, is Villanova's kryptonite and the realigned Big East provides an opportunity for this rivalry to develop.
Xavier (20-11, 10-8)
Although many believe Xavier will make the NCAA Tournament in their first season since leaving the Atlantic 10, they may still be on the bubble. With seemingly everything riding on their conference tournament performance, the Musketeers will need a solid performance this week. They have lost to Villanova twice -- a 81-58 blowout on Feb. 3 and a 77-70 defeat last Thursday -- which doesn't bode well if the two meet a third time. However, Xavier did beat Creighton, 75-69, on March 1, and impressive sophomore Semaj Christon could be a difference-maker.
Providence (20-11, 10-8)
After a hot 10-2 start, the Friars have come back to earth and have gone 10-9 since Dec. 28. Although they beat Creighton, 81-68, on Jan. 18, they lost to Villanova twice. The first loss was a 91-61 blowout on Jan. 5, but it took the Wildcats two overtimes to shake Providence on Feb. 18. While this bubble team is not currently in the NCAA Tournament picture, an impressive week could change everything.
St. John's (20-11, 10-8)
The Johnnies are another bubble team and they will need a great Big East Tournament to erase their five game slide from Dec. 31 to Jan. 16. They have lost five of six games against ranked opponents, with their lone win coming against Creighton on Feb. 9. Junior D'Angelo Harrison leads the Red Storm in scoring with 17.6 ppg, and he will need to carry the team deep into this tournament if the Red Storm want to return to the Big Dance for the first time since 2011.
Marquette (17-14, 9-9)
The Golden Eagles need to win the Big East Tournament in order to make the NCAA Tournament this year, but don't count on it. Their .500 conference record doesn't exactly foreshadow a deep run in the tournament, and they have lost three in a row, all to Big East rivals. Top gun Davante Gardner will have a tough task helping his squad run the table and earning an automatic bid.
Georgetown (17-13, 8-10)
A once-promising Hoyas season was derailed by a tough stretch that included losses in six of seven games from Jan. 8 to Jan. 27. Although Georgetown will not make the NCAA Tournament unless they win the Big East Tournament, the rapid progression of sophomore D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera, who has increased his numbers across the board, should be a promising sign for the school moving forward.
Seton Hall (15-16, 6-12)
There was very little improvement in Seton Hall's program from last year, which is a troubling sign. The Pirates haven't been to the NCAA Tournament since 2006 and won't get there this year unless they make an incredible run at the Garden.
Butler (14-16, 4-14)
The Bulldogs lost 14 of 16 games from Dec. 31 to Feb. 26, all but erasing any hopes they might have had of making the field of 68. Their 4-14 record in the Big East suggests that they aren't going anywhere in this tournament, but anything is possible. Butler, an A-10 tournament semifinalist last season, is learning that life in the Big East isn't so easy.
DePaul (11-20, 3-15)
After getting destroyed by Butler, 79-46, last Thursday, it would appear that the Blue Demons will have to wait until next season to be competitive. Entering tonight's game, they have lost 12 of their last 13 games, and, since they face the same team that just beat them by 33, their stay in the conference tournament could be very short.