2013 Big East Tournament Preview
After all of the in-season talk about conference re-alignment and the Catholic 7 staying in the New Big East, we finally get the chance to talk Big East hoops on the court. The Big East Tournament begins Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden. It will perceivably be the end of an era for one of the best conferences in college basketball over the past decade. This year, there is many storylines as some teams fight for seeding (Georgetown, Louisville, Marquette) while others fight for their slim NCAA Tournament hopes (Providence, St. John’s). Nevertheless, this tournament always provides its own share of fantastic finishes and creates legacies. Just ask former Connecticut guard Kemba Walker (“Cardiac Kemba”) and former Syracuse guard Gerry McNamarra.
With that being said, here is how I see the Big East tournament playing out:
Tuesday Night – 1st Round
USF over Seton Hall – The head of the network, George Brew, will not like this pick. However, I like the momentum the Bulls have going into this game. They are coming off of wins against DePaul and Connecticut along with a close overtime loss at Cincinnati to end the season. The Pirates seem to be losing players by the day, which hurts the depth of Kevin Willard’s squad. Seton Hall will need junior guard Fuquan Edwin to light it up from beyond the arc (42.6% from 3-point land). South Florida is not a good team offensively, but they make up for it on the defensive end. Keep an eye on forward Victor Rudd, as he has scored in double figures in 5 of his last 6 games. It will be a close, low scoring game, but Stan Heath’s club finds a way to advance.
Rutgers over DePaul – For the second straight matchup, I am going against the trend because DePaul beat Rutgers in February at the RAC. However, the Scarlet Knights have played like the better team down the stretch, including a tough win at the Prudential Center last Friday. Back in February, they lost guard Eli Carter for the rest of the season. The Scarlet Knights miss his scoring, but their frontcourt with Kansas State transfer Wally Judge and senior Dane Miller at the forward position can attack the glass with a DePaul frontline that gives up 26 rebounds per game. The Scarlet Knights will have to watch out for the Blue Demons’ leading scorers in juniors Brandon Young and Cleveland Melvin. DePaul has talent on the offensive end, but it is Rutgers’ defense that will get them the check mark in this matchup.
Wednesday – 2nd Round
Providence over Cincinnati – Yes, the Friars are back. They have won 7 of their last 9 games and beat the Bearcats back on February 6th at the Dunkin Donuts Center. Ed Cooley has done a great job of maximizing the talent on the roster, which is why he would be my Big East Coach of the Year. They have the co-most improved player of the year in the conference (Kadeem Batts) and one of the top scorers in the league (Bryce Cotton). Plus, the Friars are the best rebounding team in the conference. As for Cincinnati, they are coming in on a slide, despite an OT win over USF on Saturday. They were one of the surprises in the conferences to start the year, but now the lack of scoring has become a surprise. Sean Kilpatrick was one of the early frontrunners for Big East POY, but he has only scored 20+ points in three of his last 12 games! Providence is a team that can score, so I expect this game to be high scoring as the Friars advance to the quarterfinals.
Syracuse over USF – Syracuse only scored 39 points on Saturday in their 28-point blowout loss at the hands of Georgetown. This is a ‘Cuse team that has struggled to score the basketball due to the inconsistent guard play from sophomore Michael Carter-Williams and senior Brandon Triche. Jim Boeheim would love his team win this tournament before heading to the ACC, but the offense has to perform because Syracuse already plays some of the toughest defenses in the conference. To do that, keep an eye on forward C.J Fair, who has averaged near 15 points per game, double his average from last year. The X-Factor for them is senior James Southerland, who was on his game until he served an academic suspension in January. Now, he is trying to find his rhythm again. ‘Cuse will win this game, but they will need Southerland to advance not only in this tourney, but in the NCAA’s.
Villanova over St. John’s – To preface this prediction, I am a St. John’s student. The Johnnies have dealt with numerous adversity issues this year. Just over the past few weeks, they have suspended their best scorer, D’Angelo Harrison, for the rest of the season and forward Sir Dominic Pointer was suspended one game for getting into a fight late in the Notre Dame game. That being said, Steve Lavin is coaching a talented group of young players that have a bright future. Plus, this matchup is winnable for the Red Storm.
St. John’s and Villanova played into overtime early this season, a game won by ‘Nova in which St. John’s got 36 points from the aforementioned Harrison. Also, these two squads played an overtime game last year at MSG. That being said, Villanova has had some great wins this year at home vs. Louisville, Syracuse, and Georgetown. Ryan Arcidiacono and Darraun Hillard combined for 50 points in the first matchup this season (a 98-86 win). The key though will be that even though St. John’s has Chris Obekpa in the middle, I like the combination of Jayvaughn Pinkson and Mouphtaou Yarou to outphysical the Red Storm inside.
Notre Dame over Rutgers – On January 19th, Notre Dame actually had to struggle to beat Rutgers at the Joyce Center 69-66. Rutgers has the talent to hang around in this one, but remember, they had Eli Carter for that game. The Irish struggled against Louisville on Saturday, but I don’t think Rutgers has enough experience at the guard position to win this one. Eric Atkins and company lead the Big East in assists and are 2nd as a team in field goal percentage. Plus, Jack Cooley is one of the more underrated centers in the league. Notre Dame is a sleeper in most experts’ eyes as they should have no problem advancing to the quarters.
Quarterfinals – Thursday
Georgetown over Providence – This matchup features a different Providence team that Georgetown saw back on January 16th when the Hoyas beat the Friars 74-65 at the Verizon Center. The Hoyas are too strong on the defensive end and their play revolves around who I think is the Big East player of the year in Otto Porter. Porter has had some historic moments this season, including scoring 33 at the Carrier Dome against Syracuse. Now, the Friars will make this interesting because they will be hungry to keep their slim bubble hopes alive, but Georgetown led by Porter and guard Markel Starks (42% from 3-point) win this one in a close battle.
Pittsburgh over Syracuse – When the bracket came out, everyone wanted to see a Syracuse-Georgetown semifinal for the last time. Unfortunately, Jamie Dixon is going to spoil the party since he seems to own Jim Boeheim head-to-head. Pitt is not a flashy team, but they are very efficient. My player to watch on this team is senior Tray Woodall. Woodall is the leader of this team that has matured throughout the season and become a darkhorse in this conference tournament. Pitt knows how to navigate the 2-3 zone and frustrate Cuse’s guards which will get them the victory.
Louisville over Villanova – Louisville head coach Rick Pitino does not take kindly to losing twice to one team during the season. Villanova can pull the upset here, but Louisville is red hot right now. They have won seven straight games and have started to find a groove offensively. Peyton Siva is their floor general at point guard and as long as he doesn’t turn the ball over, Louisville can win this tourney and the big one in March. Plus, Nova’s guards will have a time with Big East defensive player of the year Gorgui Dieng blocking their shots inside. Cardinals advance to the semifinals.
Notre Dame over Marquette – This one might give you a head scratcher considering Marquette beat the Irish ten days ago, but Marquette did not impress me in its last two games against Rutgers and St. John’s. Now, they had a lot of pressure on them as they tried to clinch a share of the Big East regular season title, which they did. However, I like Mike Brey in March at Madison Square Garden. Cooley is going to outplay Da’Vante Gardner inside. Plus, I like Jerian Grant and his ability to take over down the stretch, like he did in the 5OT game vs. Louisville. Irish in the upset!
Semifinals – Friday
Georgetown over Pittsburgh – On January 8th, Pittsburgh went into the Verizon Center and dominated the Hoyas by a whopping score of 73-45. Pittsburgh shot 55% from the floor in that game and held Otto Porter to just nine points. Pitt has a great history of winning these kinds of games at MSG. They have good forward play with Dante Taylor and Lamar Patterson to at least challenge the Hoyas in the frontcourt. However, Georgetown will have revenge on their minds in this one. The problem for the Hoyas could be that they don’t tend to peak until the 2nd half in a lot of games. That might hurt them in the NCAA Tournament, but I don’t think Pittsburgh will be able to pull away, which means Porter hits a buzzer beater to send the Hoyas to the final!
Louisville over Notre Dame – This is a matchup that usually sees overtimes galore. Louisville and Notre Dame are two teams that won’t be in the Big East next year, so they would go all out in this matchup. Both of these teams can play ugly and they can also score the basketball, as we saw in their 103-101 5 overtime thriller in South Bend. However, Louisville dominated their matchup on Saturday at the YUM Center winning by 16 points. The Irish only made 5 of 19 3 pointers in the loss and against Louisville, they will need to hit a better percentage of shots from the perimeter. Again, this will be a close game, but this is a redemption game for Russ Smith after his overtime shot issues in South Bend. Louisville advances to its 2nd straight final, but will they repeat?
Saturday – CHAMPIONSHIP
Georgetown over Louisville – Georgetown is the #1 seed in this tournament, but it seems the favorite is the defending champion Louisville Cardinal. You have to like the coaching matchup in this one between John Thompson III and Rick Pitino. These teams will keep the final close with good defense, but the Hoyas play great half-court defense, which will force Peyton Siva into making turnovers in bunches. Two years ago, it was Kardiac Kemba. This year, it is the Ottoman Empire taking over New York City as Georgetown cuts down the nets and keeps the title with the original Big East!