UPDATE 3/12/20: The Big East Men’s Basketball Tournament has been canceled due to concerns about the Coronavirus. We will update when more information becomes available.
The Big East Tournament returns to Madison Square Garden this week for one of the most highly anticipated conference tournaments in all of college basketball.
Here’s a quick primer of eight things you need to know before play tips off on Wednesday:
1. Villanova is the favorite
Jay Wright’s club has won this tournament for the last three years and comes into this year’s event having won seven of their last eight to capture the top overall seed. Given all of that, it should come as no surprise that the Vegas odds-makers have them as the favorite. Sophomore forward Saddiq Bey earned first-team all-conference honors while junior point guard Collin Gillespie is the undisputed leader of the club. Jeremiah Robinson-Earl is a favorite to win the league’s rookie of the year while Justin Moore has been equally impressive in his freshman campaign. Jermaine Samuels gives the Wildcats a fifth double-figure scorer.
2. Seton Hall slipped to 3
The Pirates were atop the conference standings heading into the final week of the regular season but slipped all the way down to the third seed after going 0-2 last week. While they finished in a three-way tie for the top spot at 13-5, Kevin Willard nonetheless said he was “pissed off” following a loss to Creighton that allowed the Bluejays to cut down nets as one of the league’s co-champions. Whether or not that will be enough to motivate the Pirates this week remains to be seen but there’s no denying that if Myles Powell and company play their best, they are certainly among the top contenders.
3. Kamar Baldwin is back
Butler exceeded all expectations in the non-conference slate, winning 12 of their first 13 games and only falling to one of the nation’s top programs, Baylor. They’ve been solid, but not quite as dominant, in Big East play. Things seemed to be bottoming out just a couple of weeks ago when Kamar Baldwin went down with an ankle injury in the first half against Creighton and the Bluejays delivered the Bulldogs their most lopsided loss of the season. Baldwin returned six days later against St. John’s but wasn’t himself for either of his next two games. This weekend though, he was back to peak form as he went for a career-high 36 points to lead Butler over Xavier.
4. Marcus Zegarowski is out
Just when everything seemed to be going right for Creighton, they got some bad news on Monday when sophomore guard Marcus Zegarowski was diagnosed with a meniscus injury to his right knee and considered doubtful for the Big East opener on Thursday. That may not sound like too big of a deal but consider this – Creighton will play the winner of the St. John’s/Georgetown game. They’re coming off a 91-71 loss to St. John’s just ten days ago. The Johnnies are playing well right now and the tournament is being held in their home arena. In other words, that’s a tough match-up for Creighton if they’re missing their point guard.
5. Providence is hot
Ed Cooley’s Friars are riding a six-game winning streak coming into the tournament and have pulled off what seemed like an impossibility just a month ago, as they now appear to be a lock for the NCAA tournament. It hasn’t always been pretty, but the Friars have banged it out, pounded it inside, slowed it down, and finally gotten everyone on the same page. Alpha Diallo has been revitalized after a brutal start to his senior campaign while grad transfer Luwane Pipkins has provided a bucket-getting tough shot-maker in late clock situations.
6. Marquette is not
One team that has struggled as of late is Marquette, who have lost three in a row and six of their last seven. The Golden Eagles have the league’s all-time leading scorer Markus Howard, so they’re certainly capable of turning things around, but their late-season struggles, couple by Seton Hall’s unexpected drop to the third seed, has created a more than daunting quarterfinal match-up, albeit one that will delight fans as Howard and Powell go head-to-head one more time.
7. Xavier can’t get upset
The Big East is hoping to get seven teams to the Big Dance this year with Marquette and Xavier now looking like the tail end of that list. For that to happen, the Musketeers need to take care of business in an opening-round match-up against DePaul after losing a tie-breaker that pushed them into Wednesday’s schedule. A win over the Blue Demons would be the 20th of the season for Travis Steele’s club, and it’s hard to imagine them not getting an invite given that resume.
8. Corona call was close
According to numerous sources, league presidents and athletic directors seriously considered the possibility of playing this week’s tournament with no fans present given the increasing spread of the coronavirus, especially in the New York area. After reportedly lengthy conversations this weekend though, the decision was made to move forward as originally planned.