This was one of the wildest seasons the Big East has ever seen, from Connecticut beating Auburn in double OT to Providence consuming Lucky Charms until they’re no longer magically delicious. The regular season thrill ride is over, setting the path for the postseason to take center stage.
Writer’s Note: Providence-Villanova was the game of the week.
Writer’s Note II: For this year’s preview, I’ve gone with a team-by-team profile that includes at most two star players, the team’s X-factor (or two), their quality wins and losses and the odds they could take the Big East’s automatic bid. I also included a one-sentence summary of their season.
Player of the Week: Justin Lewis – Marquette
Freshman of the Week: Arthur Kaluma – Creighton
1. Providence Friars (14-3): Dublin, Friarland
Summary: The Friars must have a four-leaf clover or a St. Patrick’s Day birthday because this team never ran out of luck. In all seriousness, Ed Cooley’s “Be them dudes” mentality has thrived.
Quality wins: Wisconsin in Madison and Seton Hall at home
Worst Loss: Virginia in the Roman Legends Classic
Star Players: All-Big East Second Team selection Nate Watson (13.7 PPG) and Sixth Man of the Year Jared Bynum (12.9 PPG, 43.8% from downtown)
X Factor: Noah Horchler (9.9 PPG, 8.5 RPG)
Odds to win tournament: 13% (get it?)
2. Villanova Wildcats (16-4): Jay Wright’s the best Batman
Summary: The more things change, the more things stay the same.
Quality win: Tennessee at Mohegan Sun Arena
Worst Loss: Marquette at home
Star Player: All-Big East First Team selection Collin Gillespie (16.3 PPG, 43.1% from downtown)
X Factor: Jermaine Samuels (10.3 PPG, 5.9 RPG)
Odds to win tournament: 16%
3. Connecticut Huskies (13-6): It’s here
Summary: Please wear the throwback jerseys on a permanent basis.
Quality wins: Auburn in Double OT and Villanova at home
Worst Loss: Creighton at home (attendance and performance)
Star Players: All-Big East First Team selections RJ Cole (15.8 PPG) and Adama Sanogo (15.3 PPG, 8.6 RPG, 52% from the field)
X Factors: Andre Jackson (6.7 PPG, 7.1 RPG) and Tyrese Martin (13.4 PPG, 7.6 RPG)
Odds to win tournament: 16%
4. Creighton Blue Jays (12-7): Greg McDermott’s revenge tour
Summary: Can we credit the job Greg McDermott and his highly-touted freshman class have done this season?
Quality wins: Villanova and UConn at home
Worst Loss: Arizona State at home
Star Player: Ryan Hawkins (14.3 PPG, 7.7 RPG)
X Factor: Alex O’Connell (11.5 PPG)
Odds to win tournament: 12%
5. Marquette Golden Eagles (11-8): Boom Shakalaka Smart
Summary: Shaka Smart is the answer for Marquette.
Quality win: Illinois at home
Worst Loss: Butler on the road
Star Player: Most Improved Player Justin Lewis (17.1 PPG, 8.0 RPG)
X Factor: All-Freshman selection Kam Jones (7.5 PPG)
Odds to win tournament: 10%
6. Seton Hall Pirates (11-8): Swashbuckling on the seven seas
Summary: After two months of tough waters, the Pirates are sailing into the tournament with a five-game winning streak.
Quality wins: Michigan at Ann Arbor and Texas at home
Worst Loss: DePaul in Chicago
Star Player: All-Big East First Team selection Jared Rhoden (16.2 PPG)
X Factor: Alexis Yetna (8.6 PPG, 7.7 RPG)
Odds to win tournament: 11%
7. St. John’s Red Storm (8-11): The transfer portal brakes for no one
Summary: The transfer portal changed this team from top to bottom as eight players transferred out and 10 players transferred in.
Quality wins: Seton Hall at Walsh Gymnasium and Xavier both times
Worst Loss: Pittsburgh at The Garden (Gotham Classic)
Star Player: All-Big East First Team selection Julian Champagnie (18.9 PPG and 6.6 RPG)
X Factor: Joel Soriano (6.3 PPG and 5.7 RPG)
Odds to win tournament: 6%
8. Xavier Musketeers (8-11): Did the Bengals break them?
Summary: Xavier, once 12-2 and 17th in the nation, can make it to Friday night with their talent. If they don’t, then they may be on the outside looking in for the second consecutive season.
Quality wins: Ohio State and UConn at home
Worst Loss: DePaul at home
Star Players: Jack Nunge (13.1 PPG and 7.5 RPG) and Paul Scruggs (11.9 PPG)
X Factor: Nate Johnson (10.4 PPG)
Odds to win tournament: 7%
9. Butler Bulldogs (6-14): Serving up straight confusion
Summary: This team had unfortunate injuries to multiple key players resulting in several down years.
Quality wins: Marquette at home
Worst Loss: Providence at home (19-point lead in the second half)
Star Players: Chuck Harris (10.7 PPG) and Bo Hodges (10.4 PPG)
X Factor: Simas Lukosius (6.3 PPG)
Odds to win tournament: 3%
10. DePaul Blue Demons (6-14): In Stubble Fields
Summary: If this team is going to make a push toward March Madness, they’ll need to win the tournament by having Tony Stubblefield coach the best basketball of his life and forcing DePaul to rebound everything that moves in the air.
Quality wins: Rutgers and Marquette at home
Worst Losses: Butler both times
Star Player: All-Big East Second Team Selection Javon Freeman-Liberty (21.9 PPG and 7.3 RPG)
X Factors: David Jones (14.6 PPG, 7.4 RPG) and Brandon Johnson (10.5 PPG and 7.0 RPG)
Odds to win tournament: 5%
11. Georgetown Hoyas (0-19): A fall from grace
Summary: I feel bad for this program because it has turned into the league’s punching bag ever since Patrick Ewing took over the coaching duties.
Quality win: Syracuse at home
Worst Losses: The Big East (19x)
Star Player: Aminu Mohammed (13.8 PPG and 8.1 RPG)
X Factor: Kaiden Rice (11.2 PPG)
Odds to win tournament: 1% (they won it as a No. 8 seed last year, remember that now)
Especially with the parity within the conference, this tournament has the potential to be the greatest sporting event since the Super Bowl Halftime Show and possibly give the conference seven or eight March Madness teams. As the great Michael Keaton once said in “Batman” (1989), “You wanna get nuts? … Let’s get nuts.”