Big East Tournament preview: Villaova, Xavier are favorites

Villanova still reign over the reconfigured Big East Conference.

The Wildcats enter the men’s basketball conference tournament, which begins on Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden, as the top seed for the third time in three seasons since conference realignment created a new Big East.

But Nova will face stiff competition as it looks to defend its 2015 tournament crown and, perhaps, sew up a top seed in the NCAA Tournament, which begins next week. Here’s a look at the Big East field, broken down into descending tiers.


No. 1 Villanova (27-4, 16-2 Big East), No. 2 Xavier (26-4, 14-4)

These are two of the top five teams in the country, and both are in play for a No. 1 seed in the Big Dance when the field of 68 is set on Sunday.

Reigning tournament MVP Josh Hart (15.3 ppg) continues to lead the charge for the Wildcats as a junior guard with great ability as a rebounder (7.2 rpg). Nova, currently No. 3 in the nation, only lost to ranked teams this season, so don’t bank on an unusual upset. Xavier and Providence handed the Wildcats their two conference defeats, and they’d likely need to defeat both to win it all.

The Musketeers, ranked fifth in the latest AP poll, topped Providence twice in Big East play and split with Villanova. They’re one of the most balanced teams in the country, but sophomore guard Trevon Bluiett (15.3 ppg) is the go-to scorer. Of all the teams in the field, Xavier is the most likely to get as far as the final thanks to the tournament matchups.


No. 3 Seton Hall (22-8, 12-6), No. 4 Providence (22-9, 10-8), No. 5 Butler (21-9, 10-8)

Although seeded fourth, Providence has to be considered the front-runner among these three to upset either of the Big East’s elite squads. Guard Kris Dunn (16.4 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 6.3 apg, 2.9 spg) has had a phenomenal junior season, and they’ve also got sophomore forward Ben Bentil, who led the Big East with 21.2 points per game. The pair is capable of carrying the Friars to their second championship in three seasons.

Seton Hall’s return to prominence has them in the mix. The Pirates split with Xavier and lost one of its two matchups against Nova by one point at home. The knowledge that they can play with the big boys will make Seton Hall dangerous.

The Bulldogs will have their hands full with Providence on Thursday, having lost both matchups this season. They did, however, sweep the Pirates. If Butler can make a surprise run to meet Seton Hall in the final, the odds should be in their favor.


No. 6 Creighton (18-13, 9-9), No. 7 Marquette (19-12, 8-10)

Neither team figures into the NCAA Tournament mix at present, so the Blue Jays and Golden Eagles likely need to win this tournament to reach the Big Dance.

Creighton has some credentials on the road, having blown out Seton Hall in Newark on Jan. 9. Junior guard Maurice Watson Jr. will need to have a strong tournament to make any sort of run.

Henry Ellenson, a 6-10 freshman, is talented enough to carry Marquette to a win or two, but a berth in the final would be quite a shock.


No. 8 Georgetown (14-17, 7-11), No. 9 DePaul (9-21, 3-15), No. 10 St. John’s (8-23, 1-17)

These schools just don’t have much of a shot.

Either the Hoyas or Blue Demons will advance past Wednesday by default, but neither should be expected to beat Nova.

It’s conceivable the Red Storm could get through Marquette. The Golden Eagles’ average margin of victory in two head-to-head meetings is just 5.5 points, so they’ve played each other tight. That’s as far as the Johnnies’ story can go.

Big East Tournament ScheduleAll games at Madison Square Garden


Game 1: No. 8 Georgetown vs. No. 9 DePaul, 7 p.m. on FS1

Game 2: No. 7 Marquette vs. No. 10 St. John’s, 9:30 p.m. on FS1


Game 3: No. 1 Villanova vs. Game 1 winner, noon on FS1

Game 4: No. 4 Providence vs. No. 5 Butler, 2:30 p.m. on FS1

Game 5: No. 2 Xavier vs. Game 2 winner, 7 p.m. on FS1

Game 6: No. 3 Seton Hall vs. No. 6 Creighton, 9:30 p.m. on FS1


Game 7: Game 3 winner vs. Game 4 winner, 6:30 p.m. on FS1

Game 8: Game 5 winner vs. Game 6 winner, 9 p.m. on FS1


Game 9: Game 7 winner vs. Game 8 winner, 5:30 p.m. on FOX/5