But while the Big East always puts on one of the best tournaments of ‘Championship Week,’ this year it has extra appeal. The conference is home to the defending national champion (Villanova), another true Final Four contender (Butler) and upwards of seven teams – out of 10 total – who could make the Big Dance.
So what do you need to know as play gets set to tip off? Here are 5 things.
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Will Butler get the better of Villanova again?
While the obvious starting point would be “Can anyone beat Villanova?” we already know the answer to that question. The answer is yes, Butler can. The Bulldogs have had Jay Wright’s club figured out all year, handing the Wildcats two of their three losses, including their only home loss of the season (it was also their first in 48 games on campus). Can Butler go 3-for-3 in New York?
As the top two seeds, they wouldn’t meet until the championship game, but if they do, don’t be surprised if the Bulldogs pull the trifecta. Chris Holtmann’s club seems to give Villanova very specific matchup problems, including on the glass (Butler is +10 on the boards over two meetings) and in defending the 3-point shot. The Wildcats have shot a miserable 12 for 50 from behind the arc in two games this season.
Will Creighton and Xavier ever get over their injury woes?
The Bluejays and Musketeers were firmly ranked in the top 25 before season-altering injuries ravaged each team. Neither has looked the same since, with Creighton going 5-7 since Maurice Watson Jr. went down. Xavier is 4-7 without Edmond Sumner.
At a certain point though, you’ve got to move on, and it will be interesting to see if either can get any type of positive momentum in New York as they head towards the NCAA Tournament. Both desperately need a win or two just to feel good about themselves, and when it comes to Xavier, they may need a win just to get into the NCAA Tournament period. A club which appeared to be a tourney lock just a few weeks ago is now one of Stewart Mandel’s “last four byes” as they head to New York.
Will anyone play themselves off the bubble? Or back onto it?
While injuries crippled Creighton and Xavier, the sweet irony for the Big East is that it allowed schools like Providence, Marquette and Seton Hall to pick up much-needed wins to pad their resumes. At this point it appears that Marquette and Seton Hall are no longer considered “bubble” teams and firmly in the field, though a quarterfinal meeting Thursday could test that theory, with Providence playing their way into the “last four byes” courtesy of five straight wins.
Still, with seven possible NCAA Tournament teams congregating in New York, wins will be hard to come by, and a team which appears in the tournament could play themselves out with one bad loss, and one big win could punch your ticket.
Is this JTIII’s last stand at Georgetown?
With the season winding down it means the “coaching carousel” is heating up, and there are few places anywhere in the country where the heat is scorching quite like it is at Georgetown. The Hoyas are just 14-17 overall and have lost five straight as they arrive in New York, leaving many fans wondering: Could this be John Thompson III’s last stand with the Hoyas?
All indications are that Thompson will get at least one more season to turn things around at the school, but it’s also easy to understand the frustration of Georgetown. The Hoyas are set to miss the tournament for the third time in four years (and second straight season) and haven’t advanced past the first weekend in a decade.
It seems unlikely a change will come regardless of outcome. But could an ugly loss in Wednesday’s matchup with St. John’s force Georgetown’s hand?
USA TODAY SportsEvan Habeeb
Can St. John’s build momentum into next season?
A 13-18 season doesn’t appear to be anything to get too excited about if you’re a Johnnies fan. But dig deeper, and there are signs for hope. For starters, those 13 wins are an improvement from last year’s 8-24 campaign, and St. John’s was also six wins better in the Big East this season as well.
Even better, every key piece is expected to return for Chris Mullin’s club next year. St. John’s played no seniors and just two juniors this year, and should welcome back a pair of star guards (Shamorie Ponds and Marcus LoVett) as well as leading rebounder Bashir Ahmed. Depth will come courtesy of transfers Marvin Clark Jr. and Justin Simon.
Add it up and the Johnnies will have enough talent on hand to make a run at an NCAA Tournament berth. And they could springboard into next season, with a big week at this year’s Big East Tournament.