Vox’s Super Duper Big East Tournament Preview
With the end of the Big East regular-season comes the commencement of the Big East Tournament. And with the Hoyas fighting for their NCAA Tournament lives, Georgetown fans certainly will have their eyes fixated more than usual on New York’s Madison Square Garden starting this Wednesday night. Don’t worry or feel overwhelmed, though, because Vox has you covered. We take to you team-by-team with what’s at stake, who’s worth watching, and our predictions. When you’re done reading this, Vox expects you will be a Big East savant.
Rankings are in accordance with tournament seeding.
10. DePaul (11-20, 3-15 Big East)
First Game: #7 Georgetown, Wednesday at 9:30p.m.
Record In Last 12 Games: 1-11
What They’re Playing For: Having played themselves out of any postseason tournament consideration, DePaul will look to win its first Big East Tournament game since 2009.
Most Impressive Thing They Did This Year: Umm…
Blue Demon to Watch: Senior guard Brandon Young (16.2 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 3.6 APG)
For the consistently awful Blue Demons, Young has played consistently well since the abrupt dismissal of then-leading scorer Cleveland Melvin from the team on Feb. 10. A shoot-first point guard, Young has scored 23 or more points in three of his last four games, including 29 against Marquette on Feb. 22.
Chances of Winning Big East: .00000000000000000000000000000000000001%
Vox’s Prediction: In their two matchups with Georgetown this year, two losses, the Blue Demons kept it close for the first 30 minutes before faltering in the closing stretch. DePaul fans should make sure they have their return trip ticket booked, as they won’t be spending much time in the Big Apple. Georgetown will beat them for the third time this year in similar fashion.
9. Butler (14-16, 4-14 Big East)
First Game: #8 Seton Hall, Wednesday at 7:00p.m.
Record In Last 12 Games: 3-9
Most Impressive Thing They Did This Year: Although they have no significant wins on their résumé, Butler had a few close calls earlier in 2013, losing to both Oklahoma State and Villanova in one-possession games.
What They’re Playing For: The right to their own sovereignty against invading aliens. Just kidding. That’s the plot of Space Jam. A Big East Tournament neophyte, the Bulldogs will make their first ever postseason appearance at the World’s Most Famous Arena needing to win four straight games if they want to dance in March. Otherwise, if they can get past Seton Hall, they will look to play spoiler against Villanova, who’s playing for a No. 1 seed in the upcoming NCAA Tournament.
Bulldog To Watch: Sophomore guard Kellen Dunham (16.8 PPG, 4.0 RPG)
A threat to score from everywhere on the court, Dunham knows how to navigate the defense and find his shot, especially from downtown. In 30 of his last 31 games, Dunham has made at least one three-pointer. Just a few days ago, he connected on all of seven of his three-point attempts, a Butler record, in a 29-point scoring performance against Seton Hall.
Chances Of Winning Big East: 0.999999999999999999999999999999999999999%
Vox’s Prediction: Despite their struggles in their inaugural Big East season, the Bulldogs enter the tournament having won two straight. With a favorable matchup against Seton Hall, who they’ve defeated twice this year, we expect Butler will advance to face Villanova on Thursday. The Bulldogs will give the Wildcats another scare but will fall just short.
8. Seton Hall (15-16, 6-12 Big East)
First Game: #9 Butler, Wednesday at 7:00p.m.
Record In Last 12 Games: 4-8
Most Impressive Thing They Did This Year: Mercurial cellar dweller Seton Hall swept their regular season series with both Georgetown and Xavier.
What They’re Playing For: Some type of dignity. The Pirates certainly aren’t making a run at the tournament without winning four games at the Garden. If that doesn’t happen, hello CBI.
Pirate To Watch: Senior guard Fuquan Edwin (14.7 PPG, 3.6 RPG, 2.8 SPG).
Despite missing five games due to injury, the recently-named Big East Defensive Player of the Year led the conference in steals this year. A two-way player with a propensity to get hot quickly on the offensive end, the Pirates’ leading scorer scored 20 or more points on seven different occasions this season.
Chances Of Winning Big East: 1%
Vox’s Prediction: The Pirates, despite earning the eighth seed in the tournament, have stumbled into the postseason, losing seven of their last nine games. Additionally, in two games against Butler, Seton Hall has lost by a combined 24 points. It’s likely that the Pirates bow out in the first round.
7. Georgetown (17-13, 8-10 Big East)
First Game: #10 DePaul, Wednesday at 9:30p.m.
Record In Last 12 Games: 6-6
Most Impressive Thing They Did This Year: Reeling from the losses of junior guard Jabril Trawick and junior center Joshua Smith, the Hoyas went on a five game losing streak, but found their way out of the doldrums by defeating then-No. 7 Michigan State at Madison Square Garden over Super Bowl weekend.
What They’re Playing For: Their NCAA Tournament lives. The big wins (VCU, Kansas State, Michigan State, Creighton) are there for the Hoyas, but so are the bad losses (Northeastern, Seton Hall twice). If they can get past DePaul and obtain a quality win over Creighton in the second round, Georgetown could find themselves on the right side of the bubble. Otherwise, the Blue and Gray could miss out on the Big Dance for the first time since 2009.
Hoyas to Watch: Senior guard Markel Starks (17.1 PPG, 4.1 APG) and sophomore guard D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera (16.8 PPG, 4.7 RPG)
The dynamic Georgetown backcourt has provided the bulk of the scoring load for Georgetown all season. Recently named to the All-Big East First and Second teams, respectively, Starks and Smith-Rivera are the first pair of Hoyas to each score 500 points in a season since Austin Freeman and Greg Monroe in the 2009-2010 season. The Hoyas will live and die with the performances of this duo.
Chances Of Winning Big East: 13%
Vox’s Prediction: Which Hoyas will show up? This year, like many others, has given us a tale of two teams. One seems like they could beat any team in the country while the other looks like they struggle to put their shorts on the right way. A win against DePaul is as likely as DPS shutting down Brownhouse on a weekend night. A neutral court win against Creighton is not. Look for this year’s team to go out in a close quarterfinal game against McBuckets and company.
6. Marquette (17-14, 9-9 Big East)
First Game: #3 Xavier, Thursday at 9:30p.m.
Record In Last 12 Games: 6-6
Most Impressive Thing They Did This Year:
What They’re Playing For: NIT Seeding. The erratic Golden Eagles will have to win the whole thing if they want to earn a spot in the Big Dance. But with an overall winning record from a power conference, the Golden Eagles will most likely get an invite to March Madness’ red-headed step-child: the NIT. With an extraordinary home-court advantage at the Bradley Center, the Golden Eagles will try to ensure that they don’t have to leave Milwaukee for the first round of the NIT.
Golden Eagle To Watch: Senior forward Davante Gardner (15.1 PPG, 5.7 RPG)
One of only nine players in the nation to to lead his team in scoring while starting in less than 50 percent of his squad’s games, Gardner was named the Big East Sixth Man of the Year for the second straight this season. As one of the largest
competitive eaters players in college basketball at 6’8” and 290 lbs, Gardner creates matchup nightmares for the opposing frontcourt. With a strong low-post game and an excellent mid-range jump shot, Gardner can take his opponents to school everywhere on the floor.
Chances Of Winning Big East: 5%
Vox’s Prediction: The bracket couldn’t set up any better for the Golden Eagles, who have the easiest road to the finals out of all the underdogs. With Xavier reeling due to the indefinite loss of senior center Matt Stainbrook, expect the Golden Eagles to get past the Musketeers and match up against Creighton in the semifinals on Friday night. If Georgetown finds a way to upset Creighton, however, Marquette could be playing on Saturday night as well, as they have the Hoyas’ number this year after sweeping their regular season series. Yet with all that being said, if gambling were legal in New York Vox would bet on Marquette to win Thursday and bow out on Friday.
5. St. John’s (20-11, 10-8 Big East)
First Game: #4 Providence, Thursday at 2:30p.m.
Record in Last 12 Games: 9-3
Most Impressive Thing They Did This Year: Despite starting Big East play 0-5, the Red Storm won nine of 10 contests between Jan. 18 and Feb. 18 to play themselves back into NCAA consideration.
What They’re Playing For: Their NCAA Tournament lives. In the tournament game filled with the most NCAA ramifications, St. John’s will face off against fellow NCAA-hopeful Providence. The winner of this crucial matchup most likely earns an invite to the Big Dance.
Red Stormie (Vox thinks that’s how you personify it) To Watch: Junior guard D’Angelo Harrison (17.6 PPG, 4.7 RPG)
After a few kerfuffles with St. John’s Head Coach Steve Lavin earlier in his career, Harrison has emerged as one of the conference’s most consistent scorers. An All-Big East First Team selection, Harrison scored 20 points or more 14 different times this year. If his shot isn’t falling, Harrison knows how to get to the free-throw line, as he has attempted 10 or more free throws in six contests this year.
Chances Of Winning Big East: 5%
Vox’s Prediction: The Johnnies may have peaked a little too early. A hot run in the middle of conference play gave the Johnnies’ long-suffering fanbase excitement for the first time since their 2010-2011 season, which earned a bid to the Big Dance. Yet, despite having the homecourt advantage in their climactic matchup against Providence, we predict the Johnnies to fall just short against the Friars in what should be the best early-round game of the tournament.
4. Providence (20-11, 10-8 Big East)
First Game: #5 St. John’s, Thursday at 2:30p.m.
Record In Last 12 Games: 6-6
Most Impressive Thing Bryce Cotton Did This Year: There are 40 minutes in a regulation college basketball game. Senior guard Bryce Cotton averages 40.1 minutes per game. How is that possible? Thank Providence’s six overtime games, four of which went to double overtime, and Friars’ Head Coach Ed Cooley’s heavy reliance on Cotton, who played 200 out of a possible 200 minutes in those four double overtime contests. If Cotton continues at this rate, he will be the first player to average at least 40 minutes per game since Notre Dame’s Chris Quinn did it in the 2005-2006. season.
What They’re Playing For: Their NCAA Tournament lives. As we mentioned before, the winner of the quarterfinal matchup between Providence and St. John’s will likely find themselves on the right side of the bubble come Selection Sunday.
Friar To Watch: Senior guard Bryce Cotton (21.7 PPG, 5.9 APG)
The lifeblood of the Friars, Cotton is the sole reason for the Friars’ surprising success this year. Without him this year, the Friars would be at the bottom of the conference standings. On pace to become just the fifth player from a power conference to average 20 or more points and and five or most assists in a season since 2002, Cotton finds the perfect balance between knowing when to take over the scoring load and when to get his teammates involved. If not for the supernatural, at times, play of Creighton’s Doug McDermott, Cotton would be the Big East Player of the Year.
Chances Of Winning Big East: 5%
Vox’s Prediction: If Vox learned one thing from watching Providence play this year, we learned to never count them out. Although the Red Storm may have more depth and the home-court advantage, the Friars have a date with destiny. After their Cinderella-like regular season, we think the slipper will still fit Providence as they defeat St. John’s and earn a bid to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since the 2003-2004 campaign.
3. Xavier (20-11, 10-8 Big East)
First Game: #6 Marquette, Thursday at 9:30p.m.
Record In Last 12 Games: 5-7
Most Impressive Thing They Did This Year: The Musketeers have two quality wins over top 20 teams on their NCAA résumé, as they defeated crosstown rival Cincinnati and Creighton earlier this season.
What They’re Playing For: Avoidance of Dayton. On the right side of the NCAA Tournament bubble, a singular win in the Big East could ensure the Musketeers get to spend a little less time in Ohio, avoiding participation in the “First Four.”
Musketeer To Watch: Sophomore guard Semaj Christon (17.0 PPG, 4.1 APG)
With his superior athleticism and court vision, Christon, an All-Big East first-team selection poses as a difficult matchup for any opponent. As one of the best penetrators in the conference, Christon can get to the basket with ease as well as finish in traffic. An unselfish player surrounded with players with limited abilities, Christon is one of the best in the nation at getting the most out of his fellow teammates.
Chances Of Winning Big East: 5%
Vox’s Prediction: With senior center Matt Stainbrook out indefinitely due to a strained MCL injury, the Musketeers lose their leading rebounder and second-leading scorer. In order to fill his absence, Christon will have to erupt for a career performance under Broadway’s bright lights. Like many Georgetown students who still haven’t learned to live without Tuscany, the Musketeers still haven’t learned to play without Stainbrook. We don’t doubt Christon’s fortitude, but it will be difficult for the Musketeers to match up against Marquette’s Davante Gardner sans Stainbrook. Vox predicts the Musketeers to fall in their quarterfinal matchup with Marquettte.
2. Creighton (24-6, 14-4 Big East)
First Game: Winner of #7 Georgetown/ #10 DePaul, Thursday at 7:00p.m.
Record In Last 12 Games: 9-3
Most Impressive Thing They Did This Year: Creighton throttled, to put it gently, Villanova in the most impressive shooting performance of the college basketball season, as they sank 21 three-pointers, a Big East record. The Blue Jays led by as many as 41 points before easing off the gas en route to a 96-68 blowout win. More impressively, the Wildcats entered the contest undefeated in conference play.
What They’re Playing For: NCAA Tournament seeding. The Blue Jays are currently ranked No. 14 in the AP Poll and sit as a three seed in the bracket of ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi. However, a few wins in the tournament, especially another against No. 3 Villanova, could move Creighton into a two seed.
Doug McDermott To Watch: Senior forward Doug McDermott (26.5 PPG, 7.2 RPG). If you don’t know the story here, you haven’t been watching college basketball at all this year. McDermott, Creighton Head Coach Greg McDermott’s son, is leading the nation in scoring and is a threat on all parts of the floor. Having only scored below double figures once this season, nobody can stop the National Player of the Year frontrunner. The persisting question with McDermott is how much teams will be able to slow him down.
Chances Of Winning Big East: 40%
Vox’s Prediction: Villanova has been near unbeatable this year, except against the Bluejays. If Creighton can find their way to the finals, as they are predicted to, you have to like their odds against the Wildcats, who they’ve beaten by an average of 24.5 points this year. Look at the McDermott Family Band as the favorite to win this year’s tournament.
1. Villanova (28-3, 16-2 Big East)
First Game: Winner of #8 Seton Hall/ #9 Butler, Thursday at Noon.
Record In Last 12 Games: 11-1
Most Impressive Thing They Did This Year: Beat then-No. 2 Kansas at the Battle 4 Atlantis. At the time, Villanova was flying under the radar while the Jayhawks looked like one of the nation’s most dangerous teams. The Wildcats held future NBA prodigies Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid to a combined 20 points and won on a late three from sophomore guard Ryan Arcidiacono. That game marked the beginning of their rise to their current status as one of the best teams in the country.
What They’re Playing For: NCAA Tournament seeding. With one of the best team résumés in all of college basketball, the Wildcats can solidify their status as a No. 1 seed in the forthcoming NCAA Tournament if they win their first Big East Tournament since 1995.
Wildcat To Watch: Senior guard James Bell (14.9 PPG, 6.0 RPG). The All-Big East First Teamer has seldom come up short after a rough start to conference play. Bell’s presence is not only dangerous as a scoring threat, but opens up the floor for the large group of shooters on the Wildcats who rarely miss their open threes. Like Edwin, he’s also one of the best on-ball defenders in the league.
Chances Of Winning Big East: 25%
Vox’s Prediction: Nobody would be surprised if the Wildcats won the tournament, but nobody would be surprised if they lost to Creighton again. These two teams are head and shoulders above the rest of the Big East field. Look for the Wildcats to breeze through to the final and fall again against the Bluejays.
Photo: Freddy Rosas/Georgetown Voice