NEW YORK—It’s that time of year again. The snow is melting, the birds are chirping, and magic is in the air. The 10 teams of the Big East head to New York City to play on the world’s greatest stage, Madison Square Garden, for the conference crown, and an all-important automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. It’s the perfect opportunity for the kings of the conference to sweeten an already-impressive season with a conference title, or for the lowliest of underdogs to sneak into the Big Dance with a ridiculous record. The lights are on, the floor is polished, and the Garden will surely be packed. It’s the Big East Tournament 2016.
The Voice Sports Staff has you covered for everything and anything you need to know about all 10 teams in the tournament. Read up on the crash course below, turn on your television, and get ready to enjoy four wild days of Big East basketball.
No. 10 St. John’s (8-23,1-17 Big East)
First Game: No. 9 Marquette, Wednesday, March 9 at 9:30 p.m.
Record in Last 12 Games: 1-11
The Voice’s Odds of Winning Big East Tournament: Same as the odds of me graduating with a 4.0 GPA—Mathematically impossible .(infinite zeroes)1 percent
Most Impressive Thing They Did This Year: Win a Big East game!!!
What They’re Playing For: A chance to win more Big East Tournament games than Georgetown, who was picked to finish second in the league before the season.
Johnny to Watch: Graduate guard/forward Durand Johnson, who has incredible leaping ability. Johnson leads the team in scoring with 12.0 points per game, and can get to the rim when necessary. Very few in the Big East can put on a show in transition like Johnson, and he may have a few opportunities to get the MSG crowd on its feet.
Assistant Sports Editor Tyler Pearre’s Prediction: Does Chris Mullin have any years of eligibility left? If so, the Johnnies could very well win the tournament without ever trailing in a game. But without Mullin on the court, the Red Storm will most likely lose by double digits to Big East Freshman of the Year and future NBA lottery pick Henry Ellenson and Co. Of course, St. John’s is playing on their home floor, so anything could happen…On second thought, nevermind. 81-68 Golden Eagles over the Red Storm.
No. 9 DePaul (9-21, 3-15 Big East)
First Game: No. 8 Georgetown, Wednesday, March 9 at 7:00 p.m.
Record in Last 12 Games: 3-9
The Voice’s Odds of Winning Big East Tournament: About the same odds of a Kanye West/Taylor Swift world tour happening in 2016—.000000001989 percent
Most Impressive Thing They Did This Year: Pulling off a 77-70 upset at home against the then-No. 11 Providence Friars. Yes, Ben Bentil’s ankle was a little banged up and Kris Dunn had an uncharacteristically poor shooting night (5-of-20 from the field), but this gave the Blue Demons their first win in Big East Conference play and looked like it could have been a building block for the team…before they lost seven of their last eight games.
What They’re Playing For: An extra day or two of sightseeing and good pizza in the Big Apple.
Blue Demon to Watch: Senior forward Myke Henry, who lit up Providence for 27 points, and is DePaul’s leading scorer and rebounder on the season. If DePaul has any hope of beating Georgetown or staging what would be a colossal upset against Villanova, Henry would have to be dominant on both ends of the floor.
Co-Sports Editor Robbie Ponce’s Prediction: One and done. Georgetown didn’t need a big effort from injured center Bradley Hayes in order to defeat the Blue Demons twice this year, and even if they did defeat the Hoyas, they have been beaten by Villanova by a combined 48 points in their two meetings this year. For these reasons and more, things aren’t looking so hot for the Blue Demons.
No. 8 Georgetown (14-17, 7-11 Big East)
First Game: No. 9 DePaul, Wednesday, March 9 at 7:00 p.m.
Record in Last 12 Games: 2-10
The Voice’s Odds of Winning Big East Tournament: The same odds that you snapped a selfie with Leonardo DiCaprio a couple weeks ago at Tombs—.0000000000001 percent
Most Impressive Thing They Did This Year: The Hoyas had some really great losses this year. No, seriously think about it—Georgetown nearly defeated then-No. 3 Maryland in their second game of the season, and were one shot away from defeating then-No. 5 Duke. Also, Georgetown’s opening double-overtime loss to Radford was an absolute thriller, and the Hoyas dropped a few close games at the end of the season, which included a 75-72 loss to Providence and a 90-87 overtime loss to Butler. Things spiralled out of control near the end of the season as the depleted Hoyas floundered, but they certainly managed to raise your blood pressure every once in awhile along the way.
What They’re Playing For: A chance at avoiding total disaster with a first-night loss to DePaul. Their chances of winning this tournament are less than improbable, but by not losing to DePaul, John Thompson III and company might temper talks about an absolute nightmare season, if only just a little.
Hoyas to Watch: The seniors, or…should I say, senior. Senior center Bradley Hayes will likely miss his last Big Easy Tournament because of a broken hand he suffered in practice last month. Don’t get me wrong, watching senior guard Riyan Williams’ final pre-game dunk show will be fun and all, but all eyes will be on senior guard D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera. Georgetown’s season may be forgettable, but Smith-Rivera’s offensive spark within his four years at Georgetown is deserving of a fitting swan song at Madison Square Garden.
Co-Sports Editor Robbie Ponce’s Prediction: One win, one loss. Georgetown will defeat DePaul only to fall prey to the Villanova Wildcats. Maybe things will be closer than expected against ‘Nova, but at this point, it’s hard to predict which Hoyas you’re going to get—the team that smacked Syracuse and then-No. 5 Xavier, or the team that continuously struggled to find its identity.
No. 7 Marquette (19-12, 8-10 Big East)
First Game: No. 10 St. John’s, Wednesday, March 9 at 9:30 p.m.
Record in Last 12 Games: 7-5
The Voice’s Odds of Winning Big East Tournament: 2 percent
Most Impressive Thing They Did This Year: Playing the weakest non-conference schedule known to man. Unfortunately Little Sisters of the Poor wasn’t available, so the Golden Eagles decided to feast on the likes of Grambling State, Chicago State, Presbyterian, IUPUI, and Stetson during November and December. If they played a more competitive schedule, this team may have had a shot to dance in March.
What They’re Playing For: An NIT home game. Marquette is headed to the postseason this year, just not the NCAA Tournament barring a miraculous four-day run at MSG. But with the NIT looming, the inexperienced Golden Eagles will certainly want to assure themselves that they don’t have to leave Milwaukee for the first few rounds.
Golden Eagle to Watch: Freshman forward Henry Ellenson has taken the Big East by storm in his first year as the Big East Freshman of the Year and by earning a nod to the Big East All-First Team. The Wisconsinite nearly averaged a double-double, 16.8 points and 9.8 rebounds, this season.
Executive Editor Joe Pollicino’s Prediction: Marquette has the player, Ellenson, and coach, Steve Wojciechowski, a formula that many say is necessary to make an extended run in a conference tournament. But it doesn’t have the experience. With only one senior on the squad, we find it hard to believe that it can make the trek through unproven territory. They’ll whip St. John’s and give Xavier a close game, but the run will end there. See you in the NIT, Marquette.
No. 6 Creighton (18-13, 9-9 Big East)
First Game: No. 3 Seton Hall, Thursday, March 10 at 9:30 p.m.
Record in Last 12 Games: 5-7
The Voice’s Odds of Winning Big East Tournament: 5 percent
Most Impressive Thing They Did This Year: Finding a way to squander an 11-point lead to Georgetown with 2:32 left and lose the game? In all seriousness, the Bluejays throttled Xavier at home, 70-56, and defeated Seton Hall on the road earlier in conference play. Other than that, the Bluejays have beaten who they should have and lost to who they should have.
What They’re Playing For: Stealing an NCAA Tournament bid. Similar to Marquette, the Bluejays played a weak non-conference schedule that has their RPI bogged down unnecessarily despite an 18-win season and .500 league record. And just like Marquette, they’ll probably be playing in the NIT. But unlike Marquette, the Bluejays have the potential to explode offensively and take down anyone. It may be their time to be the newest team to steal a bid due to the absurd rule that a conference tournament winner receives an automatic bid.
Blue Jay to Watch: Junior guard Maurice Watson Jr. is the straw that stirs the drink for the explosive Creighton offense. The All-Big East Second Team selection and Boston University transfer can wreak havoc with his dribble penetration, as it opens up shots from the outside for the Bluejays’ renowned three-point shooting attack. If there’s one aspect that defines Creighton basketball it’s the three ball, and Watson’s penetration ensures that.
Executive Editor Joe Pollicino’s Prediction: We’re going out on a limb here. Creighton will unseat Seton Hall and Xavier before falling to Villanova in the final. The Bluejays have the weapons. And if those three-pointers start falling, look out. The Bluejays are easily the most dangerous team in the field that’s not a lock for an at-large berth for the NCAA Tournament. They’ll prove it at MSG.
No. 5 Butler (21-9, 10-8 Big East)
First Game: No. 4 Providence, Thursday, March 10 at 2:30 p.m.
Record in Last 12 Games:8-4
The Voice’s Odds of Winning Big East Tournament:15 percent
Most Impressive Thing They Did This Year: Going 3-for-3 to end the regular season following a loss at Villanova to emerge from 7-8 in conference play to 10-8 and the No. 5 seed heading into the tournament. Those three wins include an overtime thriller away at Georgetown, a completed sweep of the impressive Seton Hall Pirates, and a sweet 95-74 throttling of Marquette to prove that their loss to the Golden Eagles in Milwaukee really was a fluke. The Bulldogs may have saved their season over that week-and-a-half, and have moved from Joe Lunardi’s bubble to a projected No. 9 seed in the Big Dance.
What They’re Playing For: Saving themselves from stress come Selection Sunday with a marquee win over Providence.
Bulldog to Watch:Senior guard Kellen Dunham. You can’t go wrong with either of Butler’s two star seniors in Dunham or senior guard Roosevelt Jones, but Dunham was as hot as anyone in the country over the Bulldogs’ three-game winning streak to close out the regular season. Dunham put up 29 points at Georgetown, 22 against Seton Hall, and 12 in the rout of Marquette, when he went a perfect 3-for-3 from the floor and 5-for-5 from the line. He also ties with his teammate, sophomore Kelan Martin, for sixth in the conference at 16.2 points per game. It’s Dunham’s last chance to make some big noise in a Butler uniform, and he won’t disappoint.
Co-Sports Editor Alex Boyd’s Prediction: The Bulldogs just can’t seem to figure out the Friars this year, and will fall for the third time to Providence Thursday afternoon. Dunham and Martin will both break 20 points to keep it within five in the final minutes, but they won’t be able to keep up with Kris Dunn or Ben Bentil.
No. 4 Providence (22-9, 10-8 Big East)
First Game: No. 5 Butler, Thursday, March 10 at 2:30 p.m.
Record in Last 12 Games: 6-6
The Voice’s Odds of Winning Big East Tournament: 30 percent
Most Impressive Thing They Did This Year: Overtime win on the road at then-No. 4 Villanova. Providence sophomore forward Ben Bentil had 31 points and 13 rebounds in Philadelphia in the Jan. 24 game. Junior guard Kris Dunn added 13 points and 14 assists.
What They’re Playing For: This is the first season in a while where the Friars have come in and can plan to make a serious run in both the Big East and NCAA Tournaments. The Friars are looking to use the Big East Tournament to get ready for the competition they’ll face later in March. Also, Bentil and Dunn are both looking to be drafted this year, and they will both look to impress scouts.
Friar to Watch: Junior guard Kris Dunn. Dunn’s skill has been praised by coaches and analysts alike who point out his excellent mixture of court vision, shooting ability, and defensive skill. Dunn will certainly look to be a lottery pick in the NBA Draft and will look to dominate what will surely be his last Big East tournament.
Halftime Sports Assistant Editor Chris Dunn’s Prediction: Providence, like just about every other team in this conference, has been inconsistent in their 2015-16 campaign, so the Friars’ performance will depend on which team shows up. If the Providence that beat Villanova comes to play, the conference crown might just be theirs for the taking. If the team that lost to DePaul plays in MSG, it might be a short tournament for the Friars.
No. 3 Seton Hall (22-8, 12-6 Big East)
First Game: No. 6 Creighton, Thursday, March 10 at 9:30 p.m.
Record in Last 12 Games: 9-3
The Voice’s Odds of Winning Big East Tournament: 39 percent.
Most Impressive Thing They Did This Year: Putting the league on notice on Jan. 16 following an 81-72 victory over then-No.12 Providence on the road. The Pirates then solidified their place among the conference’s best after defeating No. 5 Xavier 90-81 at home on Feb. 28.
What They’re Playing For: A chance to win the conference tournament for the first time since 1993, when the team boasted the likes of Big East Defensive Player of the Year Jerry Walker and prolific scorer Artūras Karnišovas. Seton Hall has a real chance of making it to the second weekend of the NCAA tournament this year, and a good showing in NYC could improve their seeding come Selection Sunday, making the journey to the Sweet Sixteen a little bit easier.
Pirate to Watch: Sophomore guard Isaiah Whitehead, who is currently second in the conference in scoring, averaging 17.9 points per game. Whitehead is shooting just a shade under 40 percent from behind the arc this year, but has become lethal with the ball due to his refined passing ability. With 4.9 assists per game (third best in the conference), Whitehead has the ability to keep defenses on their heels, as his playmaking ability must be respected at all times. Fresh off of a 33-point performance at DePaul to end the regular season, Whitehead will look to carry his hot shooting with him on the short bus ride from the Seton Hall campus to MSG.
Sports Assistant Editor Tyler Pearre’s Prediction: The Pirates will take down a pesky and desperate Creighton team on Thursday to set up a date with Xavier in a rematch of one of the most exciting games of the regular season. With the bright lights on, Whitehead and his sophomore running mate, forward Dezi Rodriguez (aptly nicknamed Dunkin’ Dezi), will put on a show. In what will be the most exhilarating game of the tournament, Seton Hall will lead throughout the final 10 minutes of the game, only to blow a three-point lead with a minute left. Xavier is simply too good to lose to the same team twice this year, despite the best efforts of the Pirates. While they may not win the Big East Tournament, I see a Final Four run in the cards for this year’s Seton Hall team (you heard it here first).
No. 2 Xavier (26-4, 14-4 Big East)
First Game: Winner of No. 7 Marquette/No. 10 St. John’s, Thursday, March 10 at 7:00 p.m.
Record in Last 12 Games:10-2
The Voice’s Odds of Winning Big East Tournament: 40 percent
Most Impressive Thing They Did This Year:Enacting revenge against then-No. 1 Villanova with a healthy roster in a 90-83 win in the Cintas Center after an embarrassing loss to the Wildcats in the regular season opener.
What They’re Playing For:Wrestling the top spot in the conference from ‘Nova to complete their revenge story and maybe, just maybe, if they get a little help from the ACC and Big Ten Tournaments, making a case for a No. 1 seed come Selection Sunday.
Musketeer to Watch:Freshman guard Edmond Sumner. All-Big East First Team selection Trevon Bluiett is going to get his points, but look for Sumner to steal the show on the world’s biggest stage to cap an impressive freshman season that has already earned him All-Big East Freshmen Team honors. The 6-foot-5 Detroit product is well regarded as one of the fastest athletes in the conference, and plays an all-around game of 11.0 points, 3.1 rebounds, and 3.3 assists per game. He put up 19 points in the victory over Villanova, and though he struggled in the final two games of the regular season, Sumner will thrive under the bright lights of New York. There’s a chance we don’t even know what this guy is capable of yet.
Co-Sports Editor Alex Boyd’s Prediction: Xavier is a legitimate national championship contender. Period. However, so is Villanova. The Musketeers will blow past their first two games but ultimately fall to the Wildcats in the finals. Chris Mack’s squad has proven that they can play with anyone in the country, but the Wildcats have the experience and the grudge they need to edge out a victory in what will surely be a classic Big East Tournament final. It will come down to the wire, but the Musketeers will have to wait until the Big Dance to prove what they are truly capable of.
No. 1 Villanova (27-4, 16-2 Big East)
First Game: Winner of No. 8 Georgetown/No. 9 DePaul, Thursday, March 10 at 12:00 p.m.
Record in Last 12 Games: 10-2
The Voice’s Odds of Winning Big East Tournament: 45 percent
Most Impressive Thing They Did This Year: A 95-64 dismantling of then-No. 6 Xavier on New Year’s Eve. Senior guard Ryan Arcidiacono led all scorers with 27 as the Wildcats jumped out to an early lead and never looked back, throttling the Musketeers in all phases of the game.
What They’re Playing For: Villanova has locked up a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament barring an unlikely early exit from the Big East Tourney. For the Wildcats, it’s simply a matter of moving past Georgetown/DePaul in the quarterfinals and not sustaining any serious injuries in the proverbial warm-up to the Big Dance. A conference title would put the cherry on top, but the Wildcats are in a very favorable seeding position for March Madness. Villanova has its sights set on a bigger prize than another trophy at Madison Square Garden.
Wildcat to Watch: Junior guard Josh Hart is one of the least-talked about premier players in the country. Hart’s play will be the deciding factor in the Wildcats’ success in the postseason, as an active perimeter player who also crashes the glass better than most players his size, averaging 7.2 rebounds per game at 6-foot-5. An early collegiate exit to the NBA Draft is a possibility, so look for him to shine for scouts under the bright lights of Madison Square Garden.
Assistant Sports Editor Santul Nerkar’s Prediction: The Wildcats dismantle the winner of DePaul-Georgetown before sweating out a tough semifinal. In the finals, I think we will see an all-time classic between Villanova and Xavier, serving as the rubber match of the season series, with the Musketeers prevailing on a late Trevon Blueitt jumper. Not that it’ll matter though; these ‘Cats have bigger fish to fry. Expect a deep postseason run regardless of how the Big East Tournament plays out. Jay Wright’s switching to a zone defense this season has paid off tremendously, and we will see the results of that stinginess as the game slows down come tournament time. Of course, there’s always the chance they flame out in the second round to an eight seed again (let’s say Wisconsin this time) and we get the crying piccolo girl.