Could the Big East get two No. 1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament? Maybe, if Xavier, fifth in the AP poll and Villanova, ranked third, face off in the conference tournament title game.
It's A Garden Party
As usual, the Big East Tournament is held at Madison Square Garden in New York City. It starts Wednesday with No. 9 DePaul facing No. 8 Georgetown and No. 10 St. John's playing No. 7 Marquette. None of those schools have a shot at an at-large NCAA Tournament bid. The Johnnies aren't even given NCAA basketball odds to win this tournament at BetOnline as they finished the regular season 1-17 in conference play. That victory was on Feb. 17 against DePaul.
The winner of the DePaul-Georgetown game plays regular-season champion Villanova (27-4) in Thursday afternoon's quarterfinals. Villanova is a sure thing to be the top seed in the NCAA Tournament's East Region if the Wildcats repeat as Big East Tournament champions. The Cats beat Xavier in last year's final 69-52. That also earned them a top seed in the Big Dance, but Villanova was bounced in the Round of 32 by NC State.
This year Villanova is led by Josh Hart, who was named a first-team All-Big East. He leads the Wildcats with a 15.3 scoring average and ranks sixth in the Big East in rebounding with a 7.2 per game average. The junior has been a big part of the school's three straight regular-season titles. Villanova ended this season with three consecutive wins.
The last team to beat Villanova was No. 2 seed Xavier, which is a +250 second-favorite on NCAA basketball picks to win the Big East Tournament. The Musketeers (26-4) will play the Marquette-St. John's winner on Thursday night. I would presume that would be Marquette, led by star freshman center Henry Ellenson, as it beat St. John's twice during the regular season, albeit by an average margin of victory of just 5.5 points.
Xavier knocked off Villanova 90-83 in Cincinnati on Feb. 24 when the Wildcats were ranked No. 1 in the nation. That was the first matchup of Top-5 teams since the Big East was reconfigured. Villanova was the first No. 1 team to ever play in the Cintas Center. Xavier had been 0-6 against Villanova since joining the Big East. I could see a scenario where if Xavier beats Villanova in this tournament's championship game that the Musketeers could potentially get a No. 1 seed for the NCAA Tournament. It would obviously also depend on what happens in the other major conference tournaments. Right now Xavier is projected as a No. 2 seed in the Midwest Region.
Seton Hall (22-8) is the No. 3 seed and will open on Thursday against No. 6 Creighton. The Pirates, who are +800 to win this tournament, have won nine of their past 11 games. That includes a 90-81 victory over Xavier on Feb. 28. Seton Hall has a Big East Player of the Year candidate in Isaiah Whitehead (17.9 points, 4.9 assists per game). The school is a lock to make its first NCAA Tournament since 2006.
Providence (+1400) is the No. 4 seed and opens against No. 5 Butler (+500). The Friars have perhaps the best 1-2 punch in the conference in junior guard Kris Dunn and sophomore forward Ben Bentil. Dunn is fourth in the conference in scoring at 16.3 ppg, second in assists (6.4 apg) and first in steals (2.7 spg). He will be a very high NBA Draft pick this summer. Bentil leads the Big East in scoring (21.2 ppg) and is fifth in rebounding (7.8 rpg). Providence is 2-0 vs. Butler this season. The Bulldogs probably could use the victory more as they are on the NCAA Tournament bubble, currently projected as among the "last four byes" on ESPN. The winner of PC-Butler game almost surely will face Villanova in Friday's semifinals. The championship game is Saturday night.
Here is the complete schedule, with all times Eastern:
Wednesday’s first round – No. 9 DePaul vs. No. 8 Georgetown, 7 p.m.; No. 10 St. John’s vs. No. 7 Marquette, 9:30 p.m. Thursday’s quarterfinals – DePaul/Georgetown vs. No. 1 Villanova, Noon; No. 5 Butler vs. No. 4 Providence, 2:30 p.m.; Marquette/St. John’s vs. No. 2 Xavier, 7 p.m.; No. 6 Creighton vs. No. 3 Seton Hall, 9:30 p.m. Friday’s semifinals – Thursday afternoon winners, 6:30 p.m.; Thursday evening winners, 9 p.m. Saturday's championship – Semifinal winners, 5:30 p.m.
NCAAB Free Pick: Villanova beats Seton Hall for the title.