Villanova captured the regular season title for the second consecutive year. Now, there’s another trophy up for grabs. Wednesday marks the beginning of the Big East Tournament, where it’ll be win or go home. Six teams are currently projected to go dancing later in March, but it wouldn’t hurt for a few teams to add a win or two to their resume. Here’s an in-depth look at the Big East tourney:
The Favorite: Villanova. The Wildcats have some unfinished business. Villanova has gotten back to where they were last year and have learned from its mistakes. They have enjoyed a wonderful season and will try to avoid being knocked out early. While Darrun Hilliard is the leading scorer with 14.2 points per game, anyone is capable of having a big performance. The team-first mentality that embodies Villanova basketball is what makes them so dangerous. They play unselfishly, anyone can step up and be the hero on any given night. Six different players average at least 9.0 points per game. This season featured the emergence of Daniel Ochefu. His post play in the paint makes Villanova less dependent on three pointers and adds another option on offense. When shots aren’t dropping from long range, the Wildcats have shown that they can take it inside with efficiency. Defensively, their hustle makes the press dangerous. Five guys are constantly flying all over the court, hoping to disorient and pressure their opponents. As a result, they lead the conference in steals. The Wildcats are riding a 12-game winning streak and I do not see that ending anytime soon.
The Challenger: Georgetown. The Hoyas are the only team in the Big East who have beaten the Wildcats convincingly. Georgetown gave Villanova a 20-point beat down at home, but later took a one-sided loss to the Wildcats on the road. Who knows what a third meeting will bring? One thing is for sure, Georgetown is a talented team. It all starts with D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera, an athletic guard who is amongst the top five scorers in the conference. He’s capable of making his shots from anywhere, averaging 16.0 points per game. He has a nice mixture of youth and experience around him. Freshmen Isaac Copeland and L.J. Peak were both named to the All-Big East Rookie Team. Then there are seniors Jabril Trawick and Joshua Smith. Trawick has been an important player for Georgetown for the last three years. He may not light up the scoreboard, but he’s been starting for a long time. He knows John Thompson III‘s game very well and can do a little bit of everything. Smith, the 6’10” and 350-pound center, is hard to miss. He’s no slouch though, he can move up and down the court. He holds down the paint on both ends of the floor.
The Contenders: Butler and Providence. What a difference a season makes. Butler goes from being under .500 last season, to one of the top teams in the conference. One of the reasons for its success is the hard-nosed defense that the Bulldogs play. Butler has the top defense in the Big East, getting a slight edge over Villanova by only giving up an average of 60.0 points per game. On offense, Kellen Dunham leads the way. The junior guard can make the difficult shots look easy. He’s averaging 16.6 points per game and shoots 44.1% on the floor. Dunham is also pretty efficient from long range, making a team-high 42.4% of his three point attempts. However, it’s far from a one-man show. Roosevelt Jones and Alex Barlow are nice complementary pieces. Jones can drive his way to the basket and finish in traffic, while Barlow is another perimeter scoring threat. Butler looks to continue their successful year into the postseason.
As for Providence, the graduation of Bryce Cotton left some uncertainty in regards to how this team would perform. The tandem of Kris Dunn and LaDontae Henton have quelled all sense of doubt. Both Dunn and Henton were unanimous First Team All-Big East selections and are also contenders for the Big East Player of the Year Award. So far, Dunn and Henton were named Co-Defensive Players of the Year. They are also a dangerous combination on offense. Henton is the top scorer in the Big East, while Dunn does a little of everything. Dunn may have a problem with turnovers at times, but it doesn’t hinder his effectiveness. These two are some of the best around and will look to take the Friars back to the championship game to defend their title.
The Dark Horse: Xavier. Xavier heads into postseason play winning five out of their last ten games. For them, it all starts with the man in the middle. Bullish center Matt Stainbrook will try to make every last minute count. He is coming off an excellent game, racking up 26 points in a win against Creighton. He’s an efficient scorer and his size makes him problematic when teams go inside. Stainbrook has a team-high 6.8 rebounds per game. Then there’s freshman Trevon Bluiett, Xavier’s top scorer. Bluiett can get the job done from anywhere on the court, he’s going to get better and better with time. For now, he’s averaging 12.2 points per game. The Musketeers primarily look to drive it inside, but they have a couple of gunslingers who can knock it down from long range. They’re tough defensively and feature Stainbrook as the anchor in the middle. Xavier also has some pretty good depth. Watch out for sixth man Jalen Reynolds, he’s a physical forward who is excellent off the bench when it comes to scoring and rebounding. Reynolds as a tough player and a great finisher around the basket.
The X-Factor: The Second Half. It’s not about how you start, but how you finish. There have been a number of close games that ultimately affected the outcome when it came down to seeding. When the going gets tough, how will teams respond? More importantly, how will teams respond when they face Villanova? The Wildcats have shown time and time again how lethal they can be once the second half is underway. They become a completely new team. All teams are going to have to play hard in the second half, where games are won and lost. Teams that play the Wildcats will have to rival Villanova’s second half intensity or they will find themselves on the back burner.
Master Strategist: Jay Wright (Villanova). Villanova has answered almost every question leading up to this point. One question that Jay Wright and his team have dodged is how they feel about being a 1-seed. Well, depending on how they play, the answer to that question will be revealed later this week. The Wildcats have avenged all their losses and reclaimed the Big East regular season title. Jay Wright must be doing something right. Now, the basketball world wants to know, can he win his first ever Big East Conference tournament with his heavily favored Wildcats?
Upset Alert: Xavier over Georgetown. Should the Musketeers take down the Butler Bulldogs in the quarter finals, the odds will be in their favor if 2-seed Georgetown advances. Georgetown has been unable to figure out Xavier, losing both games by double figures. The Musketeers may have been inconsistent as of late, but they know how to beat the Hoyas. Maybe the third time is the charm for Georgetown, but the possibility of another meeting with Xavier must make them feel anxious. Seeing Xavier in the championship game isn’t completely ridiculous, but it would need to worry about Butler first.
Names to Know:
You already know Villanova’s players…
Georgetown- D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera, Joshua Smith, L.J. Peak
Butler- Kellen Dunham, Alex Barlow, Roosevelt Jones
Providence- LaDontae Henton, Kris Dunn, Tyler Harris
St. John’s- D’Angelo Harrison, Rysheed Jordan, Sir’Dominic Pointer
Xavier- Matt Stainbrook, Trevon Bluiett, Jalen Reynolds
DePaul- Billy Garrett Jr., Myke Henry, Jamee Crockett
Seton Hall- Sterling Gibbs, Angel Delgado, Isaiah Whitehead
Marquette- Matt Carlino, Luke Fischer, Duane Wilson
Creighton- Austin Chatman, James Milliken, Rick Kreklow
Outlook: This tournament has old Big East foes on a crash course for the championship game. Villanova is the favorite to win the tournament. Will the Wildcats be holding up the trophy on Saturday night or will they be going home early again?
The Road to the Finals:
The opening round game between Seton Hall and Marquette is interesting in that it can potentially lead to a rematch of last year’s quarter final matchup between the Pirates and the Wildcats. Should Seton Hall advance, I don’t see Villanova losing to them again. The Wildcats surely have not forgotten what happened last year and will not let the same mistakes happen again. Villanova should advance to the semi finals, where it will face the winner of Providence-St. John’s; another rematch of last year’s quarter final game. The Friars may have the better record and seeding, but the Red Storm have beaten them in both meetings this season. I think Providence has what it takes to finally get over the hump and beat St. John’s. The Red Storm will probably be fully healthy again, but regardless I do not think they could beat Providence and Villanova. Regardless of who comes out of the quarter final game, Villanova should win and advance to the finals. However, I expect Providence to provide the tougher challenge between the two teams.
As for the other side of the bracket, what first looked like a promising start for DePaul, ended up being far from spectacular. The Blue Devils have sputtered out of control, losing their last nine games to finish the season. There’s hope for 10-seeded Creighton to pull off an upset. The Bluejays have had a lot of close losses that could have gone either way. Their hearts won’t be broken this time, at least not until they take on Georgetown. From here on, it should be all chalk. The Hoyas should beat DePaul or Creighton with ease. Butler and Xavier split the season series with each other, but Xavier isn’t all that great in conference games that are played outside of the Cintas Center. The Musketeers are 3-6 in road conference games, but don’t completely discount them. Another monstrous game by Stainbrook might inspire the rest to follow suit. Both teams are coming off of road wins in tough environments. Georgetown will hope to face Butler, as they’ve beaten the Bulldogs two games to one this season. Butler beat Georgetown early on in the Battle 4 Atlantis Tournament, but the Hoyas beat them at home and away during conference play. They haven’t been won by the biggest of margins, but they do have the advantage. The Hoyas figured out how to shut down Dunham and Jones, and will do that again for this third game. It will set up for an exciting…
The Championship Game:
Villanova-Georgetown matchup. It will be the final installment of the trilogy and serve as the tiebreaker between two historic rivals. Both teams traded exciting wins over the other. A third meeting will only enhance the atmosphere of the game, especially in a Big East Tournament setting. It will simply come down to who wants it more. Georgetown is going to want to take home the trophy and spoil Villanova’s chances for a 1-seed. Meanwhile, Villanova is going to want to capture the elusive trophy, solidify the 1-seed, and accomplish its mission. The Wildcats do not want a letdown of a postseason like last year. Surely, the loss and early exit to Seton Hall left a bitter taste in their mouths. This will be the storybook ending to their journey for redemption. The Wildcats are rolling, the 105-point game was what they needed coming into the postseason.
In the first game, it was clear that Villanova had a bad game. Georgetown came with a greater intensity on both ends of the court, while the Wildcats were flustered and rattled. The Wildcats did not stray away from their usual game plan for the rematch at the Wells Fargo Center, and won in convincing fashion. They contained the heart and soul of the Hoyas, D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera, to a meager two points. Villanova is in control of its own destiny and its post-Big East Tournament future. The Wildcats will have to beat themselves in order to lose because with a 12-game winning streak, they are on fire at the right time.
The Tournament Forecast:
Big East Final Four/Semi Finals:
Villanova, Providence, Georgetown, Butler
Villanova over Providence
Georgetown over Butler
Championship Game: Villanova over Georgetown
Darrun Hilliard, Villanova
Ryan Arcidiacono, Villanova
D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera, Georgetown
Kris Dunn, Providence
Kellen Dunham, Butler
Tournament MVP: Darrun Hilliard, Villanova
There will still be game previews for each Villanova game throughout the tournament. You will still receive scouting reports and outlooks for each round, stay tuned for those. Also, in case you missed the final standings and tournament bracket, click here.