Big East tournament primer: From the top seed all the way through No. 16
Scoop Jardine of top-seeded Syracuse moves against Michael Bizoukas of 16th-seeded DePaul. Syracuse won their January meeting with the Blue Demons 59-57. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Last year’s Big East Tournament produced several memorable games, including an unforgettable six-overtime quarterfinal win by Syracuse over Connecticut. Here’s a preview of what to expect from this year’s tournament, which tips off Tuesday with four games at Madison Square Garden.
1. Syracuse Orange (28-3, 15-3 Big East)
Key wins: at West Virginia, at Georgetown, vs. Villanova; Key loss: vs. Louisville
This is the most balanced Syracuse team in recent memory, with five players averaging double-figures in points. The Orange lead the conference in victory margin (+15.3 ppg), assists (19.4 apg), and steals (10.0 spg). Moreover, Syracuse has not lost this year to any opponent it may face prior to the conference finals.
2. Pittsburgh Panthers (24-7, 13-5)
Key wins: at Syracuse, vs. Villanova; Key losses: at Seton Hall, at South Florida
Pitt enters the tourney as one of the conference’s hottest teams, winning eight of its last nine. Many expected last year’s No. 2 seed to take a step back after losing its top three players, but coach Jamie Dixon has successfully transformed the Panthers into the conference’s stingiest defensive squad (61.7 ppg allowed).
3. West Virginia Mountaineers (24-6, 13-5)
Key wins: at Villanova, vs. Georgetown; Key losses: at Notre Dame, at Connecticut
Led by senior Da’Sean Butler, this Mountaineer team thrives in the paint. Their top three scorers are all forwards who average more than 12 ppg and 6 rpg, and West Virginia is tops in the Big East in rebounding margin (+6.6 rpg). If coach Bob Huggins can keep his cool, his experience could help WVU make a deep run.
4. Villanova Wildcats (24-6, 13-5)
Key wins: at West Virginia, vs. Georgetown; Key losses: vs. Connecticut, vs. West Virginia
Momentum is not on the Wildcats’ side. Winners of their first nine Big East games, the Wildcats have since gone 4-5 in conference play. Villanova averages a conference-best 82.8 ppg (with senior Scottie Reynolds chipping in 18.8 ppg), but has failed to top 77 points in its past six contests.
5. Marquette Golden Eagles (20-10, 11-7)
Key wins: vs. Georgetown, vs. Louisville; Key losses: at DePaul, vs. Notre Dame
Marquette may not put the “Big” in Big East, with its top five scorers all 6-foot-6 or below. However, they all contribute at least one steal a game and are efficient from long range, making the Golden Eagles conference leaders in turnover margin (+4.33) and 3-point percentage (.399).
6. Louisville Cardinals (20-11, 11-7)
Key wins: at Syracuse, vs. Syracuse; Key losses: at Seton Hall, at St. John’s
Last year’s regular season and conference tournament champs took a step back after losing two key starters to the NBA. Coach Rick Pitino has been able to refocus the Cardinals on 3-point shooting (eight made per game), and sophomore big man Samardo Samuels is a paint presence.
7. Notre Dame Fighting Irish (21-10, 10-8)
Key wins: vs. West Virginia, at Georgetown; Key losses: at Rutgers, vs. St. John’s
While the top six seeds are NCAA tournament locks, the Irish are on the bubble. Notre Dame, stronger with senior Luke Harangody (23.3 ppg) back from a knee injury, will need to win at least one game to bolster its at-large bid chances.
8. Georgetown Hoyas (20-9, 10-8)
Key wins: at Pittsburgh, vs. Villanova; Key losses: vs. South Florida, at Rutgers
The Hoyas have six wins against top-25 teams as well as their share of lapses. Junior guard Austin Freeman has recently been diagnosed with diabetes, but that didn’t stop him from dropping 24 points on Cincinnati. Sophomore center Greg Monroe is one of the NCAA’s best passing big men (3.6 apg).
9. South Florida Bulls (19-11, 9-9)
USF will need to beat DePaul and Georgetown to have a shot at an at-large bid. Fortunately, they’ve already beaten both teams this season.
10. Seton Hall Pirates (18-11, 9-9)
Junior guard Jeremy Hazell leads the Pirates with 21.2 ppg. The Hall closed out the season with a win at Providence, whom they face again in the first round.
11. Cincinnati Bearcats (16-14, 7-11)
Former Brooklyn high school star Lance Stephenson has not had the impact that Cincy had hoped for. Still, the Bearcats outrebound opponents by 6.1 rpg.
12. Connecticut Huskies (17-14, 7-11)
Ranked in the top 10 as recently as January, the Huskies dropped their past three games to unranked teams. Still, UConn has the talent to make a run.
13. St. John’s Red Storm (16-14, 6-12)
The lone senior on this squad, Anthony Mason Jr., hopes to channel his father’s successes at the Garden.
14. Rutgers Scarlet Knights (15-16, 5-13)
Former Jersey City standout Mike Rosario averages 16.4 ppg, while center Hamady Ndiaye ranks third nationally with 4.5 bpg.
15. Providence Friars (12-18, 4-14)
The Friars lead the Big East in three-pointers made per game (8.1) and offensive boards (17.1), but have one of the conference’s worst defenses.
16. DePaul Blue Demons (8-22, 1-17)
The Blue Demons hope to build on last year, when they scored an upset victory over Cincinnati as the No. 16 seed.