Welcome to Conference Championship week, when automatic bids get stolen, bubble teams make their final push and top contenders look to affirm their status. As you prepare to fill out your NCAA Tournament bracket, catching up on these teams might give you a better idea of who could make a run.
CBS Local Sports is previewing the six major conference tournaments: ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC. We’ll break them down by the favorites, contenders and dark horses that will have a chance of locking up the automatic bid to the Big Dance, which starts next week.
The Big East is ostensibly Villanova’s for the taking. They’re in line for another No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament and have played great basketball from the outset of the season, which puts them ahead of the pack. But there are more than a few teams in the Big East that can be this year’s Seton Hall and snatch the Big East Tournament from Villanova’s grasp.
Here’s a look at the full schedule (courtesy of CBS Sports) for the upcoming Big East Tournament and a closer look at the teams looking to stun the Wildcats before the NCAA Tournament kicks off next week.
Wednesday, March 8 (First round)
Game 1: No. 8 Saint John’s vs. No. 9 Georgetown | 7 p.m. | FS1
Game 2: No. 7 Xavier vs. No. 10 DePaul | 9:30 p.m. | FS1
Thursday, March 9 (Quarterfinals)
Game 3: No. 1 Villanova vs. Game 1 winner | 12 p.m. | FS1
Game 4: No. 4 Marquette vs. No. 5 Seton Hall | 2:30 p.m. | FS1
Game 5: No. 2 Butler vs. Game 2 winner | 7 p.m. | FS1
Game 6: No. 3 Providence vs. No. 6 Creighton | 9:30 p.m. | FS1
Friday, March 10 (Semifinals)
TBD vs. TBD | 6:30 p.m. | FS1
TBD vs. TBD | 9 p.m. | FS1
Saturday, March 11 (Championship)
TBD vs. TBD | 5:30 p.m. | Fox
Heading into the 2016-17 season, it was obvious that the Big East would be top-heavy and led by Villanova, the reigning NCAA Tournament champions.
What many didn’t realize was just how good Jay Wright’s squad would be coming off of a wildly successful campaign and after losing key seniors like Ryan Arcidiacono.
They Wildcats aren’t as deep as they were in 2016, but with Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins headlining a starting five that can knock down the three-ball, play defense and hit the boards as well as any team in the nation, there’s no reason why Villanova shouldn’t be favored to win the Big East tourney.
That is, assuming they can finally beat Butler.
When Butler first bested Villanova on their home floor back in January, it wasn’t exactly a huge shock, but it was surprising nonetheless.
When they beat Villanova two weekends ago on the road — breaking Villanova’s 48-game home winning streak in the process — well, that was another story.
That was Butler putting Villanova on notice that the Big East Tournament wouldn’t just be a tune-up for the NCAA Tournament.
Butler thrives playing a physical game defensively and is one of the few teams that can keep Villanova’s stars off balance. Villanova preaches doing the “little things” right to win, like not turning over the ball, rebounding and ball movement, but Butler has managed to force them to make these mistakes.
Most importantly, they have the depth to play a bruising style of defense without getting worn down, an attribute that will certainly serve them well in March.
Butler has found ways to make the Wildcats to play uncharacteristic basketball, forcing them to turn the ball over multiple times (15 in their most recent matchup) while also having the talent to make them pay for it.
The Big East Tournament will be interesting, largely thanks to the seemingly inevitable third meeting between these two teams.
Creighton had a real chance to strengthen its resume heading into the Big East Tournament with a strong showing against Villanova, but they came up short.
That compounded with a home loss to Providence has effectively knocked Creighton out of the Top 25 in the polls for good. But the Blue Jays are likely still looking at a No. 5 seed or better in the NCAA Tournament and a bye in the Big East tourney.
Led by standout big man Justin Patton, who has remarkable range for and a 7-footer, the Blue Jays lead the Big East in scoring (83.5 points per game) and field goal percentage (51 percent). They’re also solid from three-point land and on the glass.
Patton has been a revelation (13.3 points per game, 6.2 rebounds per game) and could be a one-and-done player for Creighton, so he’ll be looking to put on a show on a national stage in the Big East and NCAA Tournament. If he plays the way he did the first time he faced Villanova and the last time he face Butler, Creighton could emerge victorious from the Big East Tournament and head into the NCAA Tournament riding high.
Marquette Golden Eagles, Seton Hall Pirates, Xavier Musketeers, Providence Friars
At first it looked like Xavier was the standout among the Big East’s second-tier teams, but the Musketeers hit the skids at the wrong time, to say the very least. A loss to Villanova combined with three more losses while visiting each of the other dark horse teams, followed by losses to Butler and Marquette at home has put Xavier on the outside looking in when it comes to the Big East’s elite teams.
Now, Xavier occupies the No. 7 seed and will have to play an extra game against DePaul, while Providence, Marquette and Seton Hall wait until round two to start their tournament.
Still, each of these four teams has redeeming qualities that will make them a tough out as the Big East Tournament progresses.
Providence is arguably playing the best ball of late (six straight wins over Creighton, Marquette, Butler, Xavier, DePaul and St. John’s to close the year). But it’s Marquette that secured the No. 4 seed and a tournament bye thanks to their overall record and winning four of their last five games against quality opponents.
For that reason Marquette gets top billing among this group. But I don’t doubt any one of these teams’ ability to put together a strong showing in the Big East Tournament when things kick off on Wednesday, March 8.