It’s officially that time of year, Big East Tournament Week for men’s basketball. And after an up-and-down, all-around season that saw multiple upsets and close wins throughout the conference, it’s time to find out who is the best of the best in the Big East. In today’s roundtable, the DC Sports section will be giving our predictions for who will come out on top in this year’s Big East Tournament and earn an automatic bid to the 2021 NCAA Tournament. Slight bias is to be expected, but let’s get into it:
As you may or may not have seen, the door is wide open for anyone to win this conference. As much as everyone in Storrs wants UConn to win because of momentum, I am going to pick Creighton. This is not because of spoilers or anything, but because Creighton just has an incredible plethora of talent. Marcus Zegarowski and Mitch Ballock can score from deep while Christian Bishop can dunk like crazy. In addition, Denzel Mahoney and Damien Jefferson bring strong defense to the court that can limit just about any team from scoring that often. It will be interesting to see what Greg McDermott’s return does to this team’s confidence, morale and energy. Again, only time will tell. For sure though, Villanova might not win it because of the absence of their backcourt.
The Big East Tournament is there for the taking and multiple teams are more than capable of winning the title. It almost feels wrong to bet against the Huskies, so that’s who I have winning it all. Since the return of James Bouknight, the Huskies have been playing some of their best basketball. With the improved play of RJ Cole, Adama Sanogo and Jalen Gaffney, it looks as though Bouknight will have the offensive support that UConn has been missing. We all know how good defensively the Huskies are as well as their dominance on the glass, so all the pieces of the puzzle are starting to come together at the right time. With Villanova losing Collin Gillespie for the remainder of the season, and Creighton’s known locker room issues, the Huskies should have a clear view of the Big East Championship.
In order to avoid redundancy in talking about how I believe the UConn Huskies are the best team in the Big East with the best player and coach, I’ll talk about a team that was rolling in the middle of the season and might benefit from the Madison Square Garden environment: St. John’s. The Johnnies lost to DePaul at home, which brought their momentum to a screeching halt. However, led by the most likely Big East Coach of the Year in Mike Anderson, with the hopeful return of Big East Co-Defensive Player of the Year Posh Alexander at full strength, a favorable matchup if they beat Seton Hall in a rematch of the meeting this past Saturday leads me to think they have the potential to take down a reeling Villanova team that has to find scoring in other ways since star guard Collin Gillespie’s season-ending MCL injury. I believe we will get St. John’s and UConn in the final, two teams that are no stranger to the Big East Tournament in March.
Never have I seen so many people pick against the top seed in a tournament before. Across social media, it seems like everybody is picking some variation of UConn/Creighton/St. John’s to win it all at Madison Square Garden this week. But what about the regular season champion Villanova? I know they lost Collin Gillespie for the year, and Justin Moore is doubtful as well for the tournament with an ankle sprain. But even still, the Wildcats have the best coach in the conference by far in Jay Wright (who should be heading to Springfield this year), and they also have All-Big East first teamer Jeremiah Robinson-Earl and All-Big East honorable mention Jermaine Samuels. Those are two players in the top tier of this league. If guys like Cole Swidder and Caleb Daniels can step up this week, there’s no reason why Villanova can’t win it all. If there’s any team that can withstand injuries and still find ways to win, it’s a Jay Wright-led Villanova team, and that’s what I think will happen this week.
Associate Sports Editor
It’s sleeper time folks. I get the cases made for all four teams prior to this, but what confuses me most is how people continue to overlook Seton Hall. Sure, it was great to see UConn give them a beating last Wednesday, but a little momentum can go a long way, especially with a guy like Sandro Mamu on your team, who put up 18 and seven a game and was in the running for Big East Player of the Year. The Pirates have two other guys putting up double digits per game and have a somewhat favorable schedule against a likely overconfident St John’s team and followed by a depleted Nova team, so if anyone can make it, it would be the Pirates. It’ll definitely take some big games, but Seton Hall is my sleeper to go make it to the Finals and even give UConn a run for their money.