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Big East Men's Basketball Tournament preview: Bubble teams, individual stars, more
College Basketball

Big East Men's Basketball Tournament preview: Bubble teams, individual stars, more

Updated Mar. 13, 2024 3:39 p.m. ET

The Big East Men's Basketball Tournament tips off at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday, with coverage on FS1 and shifting to FOX on Friday. Everything is lining up for this to be the most fascinating tournament that the league has seen since it went all-in on hoops back in 2013 and reconfigured. 

What is there to look forward to? 

Well, you've got the reigning national champions in Connecticut, setting a Big East record with 18 conference wins and a 28-3 overall mark. I would argue the Huskies are the most complete team in the country even though they're ranked No. 2 in the polls. That's because Houston has won more recently and rankings are a snapshot in time. 


Dan Hurley has built the Huskies back up with an elite point guard in Tristen Newton, a big-time transfer in Cam Spencer, a sophomore duo in Donovan Clingan and Alex Karaban, and a freshman stud in Stephon Castle, who I believe could leave his mark on MSG this week. 

That being said, it's been a while since the Huskies last won a Big East Tournament championship. In fact, you'd have to go back to Kemba Walker in 2011, who led UConn to an unprecedented five wins in as many days at the Mecca to claim the crown. While the Huskies departed the Big East for the American Athletic Conference from 2013-20, it's still telling that they haven't won the Big East Tournament since returning to the league, even with the fact they won the national championship last year. Their dramatic 70-68 loss to Marquette last year allowed Hurley's group to refocus heading into the NCAA Tournament, which is what we saw when UConn won all six games in the Big Dance by an average of 20 points. 

If you're looking for more storylines, there are not one, not two, but three AP Top 10 teams in this tournament, with No. 8 Creighton and No. 10 Marquette joining the Huskies. If that's not enough for you, Hall of Famer Rick Pitino has St. John's very much in the NCAA Tournament mix but must face a recent March Madness hero in Shaheen Holloway and his Seton Hall Pirates in Thursday's quarterfinals. But that's not all! Villanova and Providence enter Manhattan desperate this week, needing two wins in all likelihood to get into the NCAA Tournament. 

Here are three questions to answer this week: 

1. What is Tyler Kolek's status? 

Marquette will be without its star point guard for the Golden Eagles' Big East Tournament quarterfinal matchup on Thursday, sources tell FOX Sports.

The reigning Big East Tournament Most Outstanding Player has been sidelined for the last three games with an oblique injury, a stretch in which Marquette has gone 1-2 during — granted, they've played UConn and Creighton in that span. 

That being said, it would be a shame if Kolek isn't available at all this week, but this team's goal has always been about making a run toward an Elite Eight or Final Four. Kolek's injury situation appears to be "extremely fluid," as there's just a natural unknown with an oblique injury. Kolek is as good of a point guard as any in the country, averaging a nation-leading 7.6 assists per game. I totally understand if Marquette sits Kolek to err on the side of caution, but it means Marquette can't win this tournament if he doesn't play and would throw a damper on Shaka Smart's team. 

2. Will Rick Pitino and St. John's be the dark horse of the week? 

The Johnnies have won five straight and are currently a 10-seed in Mike DeCourcy's latest bracket forecast. A win over Seton Hall on Thursday (2:30 p.m. ET, FS1) would cement their bid in the Big Dance, which would get the program to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in five years. For the Johnnies to keep rolling, they need second-team All-Big East selection Daniss Jenkins (14.7 PPG, 5.5 APG, 3.6 RPG) to keep rolling in how he runs the team, and if sophomore RJ Luis can be the X-factor, it changes SJU's complexion. 

When Pitino took the job at St. John's, he named big man Joel Soriano his captain. It's been a year of ups and downs for the senior, but could a New Yorker find a way to put his best week together and shine under the bright lights? St. John's has not made the Big East semifinals since 2000. Having to deal with Seton Hall's length on the defensive end is going to be a challenge for the Red Storm, but if they can avoid turnovers and get Kadary Richmond out of rhythm, St. John's could end that semifinal drought. There's no question the Pirates, who surprised everybody and went 13-7 in the Big East, will be a tough out behind veteran guards Richmond, Al-Amir Dawes and Dylan Addae-Wusu, along with a matchup nightmare at the 4 in Dre Davis. One thing is for certain: The Garden will be on fire Thursday. 

Pitino Chronicles: Rick Pitino speaks on the Big East Tournament

3. Will Villanova or Providence get two wins in this tournament, and therefore, punch an NCAA Tournament ticket? 

First thing's first: The Friars meet Georgetown at 4 .p.m. ET Wednesday on FS1 before Villanova takes on DePaul at 6:30 p.m. ET on FS1, and both Nova and Providence must win their first round games or else their NCAA at-large hopes are absolutely dead. 

It's been a very disappointing, 17-14 season for the Wildcats, who are 4-10 against Quad 1 teams and have an ugly trio of Quad 3 losses. That's why Mike DeCourcy has Kyle Neptune's team currently out of the field, even with a NET of 32. It's hard to think that the Cats would get in at 18-15, as 15-loss teams rarely receive an at-large invitation. Getting to 19 wins keeps their argument valid in the selection room. 

As for the Friars, the loss of Bryce Hopkins meant Devin Carter needed to step up into a massive role, but he hasn't gotten enough help around him and that's why Providence is the 7-seed in this tournament. That being said, Carter can be one of the faces in this event, and if the Friars do beat Georgetown and Creighton, he would be the lead storyline. Carter is averaging 19.4 points, 8.6 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game for Providence, and looks the part of a pro prospect. The issue with Providence: a KenPom non-conference strength of schedule of 258. The Friars have no bad losses, but 10 of their 19 wins coming in Quad 4 isn't great, and they're 2-4 against Quad 2. With an 8-9 record since Hopkins went down, they've got to be a hot debate team in the committee room. That being said, I think they'd absolutely be in with wins over the Hoyas and Creighton.

Big East Tournament Predictions:

Dark horse team: I'm actually going with Seton Hall. Why? The Pirates are top-10 in the country in experience, enter MSG having won five of their last seven and no longer have the pressure of being on the bubble. And at the end of the day, they're one of three teams that beat Connecticut, while also taking down Marquette in their stunning 6-1 start to Big East play. If Jaden Bediako avoids foul trouble inside and Dre Davis stays as hot as he has been, I just think there's an underdog mentality that Shaheen Holloway embraces, and his teams play a style that can lend itself to mucking it up, but still giving themselves a shot late in games. That's when Richmond can make things happen, as the Brooklyn native has averaged 16.2 points, 6.6 rebounds and 4.8 assists on the season. 

Most outstanding player: I'll go out on a limb and say UConn's Alex Karaban. The fact that the Huskies' stretch forward was not honored by the Big East coaches is a crime against America. I cannot believe he wasn't one of the top 14 players in this conference! I'm sorry coaches of the Big East, but that's disrespectful. He averaged over 14 points per game, was seventh in the league with 2.3 made triples per contest and shot over 40% from downtown while playing 32 minutes per game for the No. 2 team in the country. It feels as though Connecticut gets pinned for almost being too good at times, if not for just being so deep. I think Karaban makes a statement in Manhattan this week. 

Predictions for every game: 


Butler over Xavier
Providence over Georgetown
Villanova over DePaul 


UConn over Butler 
Seton Hall over St. John's 
Creighton over Providence 
Marquette over Villanova 


UConn over Seton Hall 
Creighton over Marquette


UConn over Creighton

My pick to win it: This tournament belongs to the Huskies, and they remember what happened the last time they met the Bluejays when Creighton shot the lights out, going 14-for-28 from 3-point land in an 85-66 blowout win. I think that revenge factor would be real in a championship game, and this 28-3 UConn team breaks through to capture its first Big East Tournament crown in 13 years. 

John Fanta is a national college basketball broadcaster and writer for FOX Sports. He covers the sport in a variety of capacities, from calling games on FS1 to serving as lead host on the BIG EAST Digital Network to providing commentary on The Field of 68 Media Network. Follow him at @John_Fanta.

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