Vox’s 2nd Annual Super Duper Big East Tournament Preview: Part 2

5. St. John’s (21-10, 10-8 Big East)

First Game: Providence, Thursday at 2:30p.m.

RPI: 31

Record in Last 12 Games: 8-4

Vox’s Odds of Winning Big East Tournament: 11%

Most Impressive Thing They Did This Year: Before concluding their season with a 105-68 thrashing by Villanova, the Red Storm were one of the hottest teams in college basketball, winning seven of eight games and making up for their mediocre 3-6 start in Big East play.

What They’re Playing For: REDemption. A year after St. John’s was bounced by Providence in the 2014 Big East quarters, the D’Angelo Harrison and the Red Storm have gotten exactly what they want: another shot to silence the Friars on the Big East’s biggest stage. Also, by exacting revenge on Providence, St. John’s will be given an opportunity to lose in less embarrassing fashion to Villanova in a Big East semifinal.

Red Stormie (Vox think that’s how you personify it) to Watch: Senior guard D’Angelo Harrison (17.8 PPG, 5.5 RPG)

Harrison has truly been making it rain all season for the Red Storm. He has provided offensive spark for the Red Storm in each of the last four seasons and in 33 games this year, Harrison scored in single digits just three times. He’s an emotional character who two years ago was suspended for actions related to anger management, but there’s reason to believe the Red Storm’s leading scorer still has some fight left in him after his team’s embarrassing defeat against Villanova in St. John’s final conference game.

Vox’s Prediction: St. John’s has had Providence’s number this season, beating the Friars in two contests by an average margin of 11 points. Vox’s guess is that the team will defeat the Friars once again and will have a date with the Wildcats in the Big East semis. After watching Villanova dismantle the St. John’s defense with a 55-point second half in the season finale, Vox doubts that the team will be able to contend for a spot in the Big East Championship game. Although there’s a chance that St. John’s could storm past Villanova, Vox highly doubts it happens.

4. Providence (21-10, 11-7 Big East)

First Game: St. John’s, Thursday at 2:30p.m.

RPI: 23

Record in Last 12 Games: 7-5

Vox’s Odds of Winning Big East Tournament: 11%

Most Impressive Thing They Did This Year: The Friars won nine of their 11 games decided by eight or fewer points. Throughout the year, the team has found a knack of pulling out tight contests in the closing minutes of games. Though the team has seven freshmen on the roster, they’ve had no problem closing games because of a great mix of veteran leadership and coaching savvy.

What They’re Playing For: The chance to repeat as Big East Tournament Champions for the first time in history. Very few people expected Providence to challenge for a Big East title last year when they entered the tournament as a 4-seed, but the Friars got hot at the right time and shocked Creighton in the tourney final.

Friars to Watch: Senior forward LaDontae Henton (20.1 PPG, 6.3 RPG) and sophomore guard Kris Dunn (15.5 PPG, 7.4 APG, 5.6 RPG)

What do you get when you pair the leading scorer in the Big East with the leading assist man in the Big East? Providence’s offense, essentially. The two players form the most potent one-two punch in not only the conference but also the country. Henton’s ability to post up, due to his size, as well as his ability to shoot the three-ball makes him the toughest player to guard in the Big East, in Vox’s esteemed opinion. His point guard, Dunn, not only executes on the offensive end but defense as well, as he earned Big East Co-Defensive Player of the Year with St. John’s senior forward Sir’Dominic Pointer.

Vox’s Prediction: Though they’ve got plenty of offensive punch, the Friars’ chances of winning the tournament are bleak because their matchups leading up to a potential championship game appearance have set up worst-case scenario for the team. Considering they would have to beat both St. John’s and Villanova, teams they’re 0-4 against this year, just to get to the finals on Saturday, the Friars will fill the annual role of NCAA Tournament-bound team that exits early at MSG.

3. Butler (22-9, 12-6 Big East)

First Game: Xavier, Thursday at 9:30p.m.

RPI: 25

Record in Last 12 Games: 9-3

Vox’s Odds of Winning Big East Tournament: 10%

Most Impressive Thing They Did This Year: Knock off North Carolina and Georgetown in the same week. After an atrocious 2013-2014 season in which they finished near the cellar of the Big East, nobody was expecting much from the Bulldogs, but Butler has been impressive all season. But everything started in the Bahamas, where then-interim Head Coach Chris Holtmann seemed to finally step out of the shadow of Brad Stevens. In the Battle 4 Atlantis, Butler was projected as the weakest team in the field aside from UAB, but made waves quickly after knocking off No. 4 North Carolina. After a loss to a strong Oklahoma team, the Bulldogs beat the Hoyas in a sloppy consolation game. Ever since then, Butler has found themselves hanging in the AP Rankings as well as the top 25 of the RPI.This team is not what they were just one year ago.

What They’re Playing For: A spot on the 3 line. If the Bulldogs grab a win over the Hoyas, and lose to Villanova, they’ve picked up a solid win and should hang around a 4 seed in the tournament, but if they take home the trophy at MSG, presumably with a win over Villanova, they would have a legitimate case to jump a few spots, though to reach a 2, they would need a lot of help.

Bulldog to Watch: Junior forward Roosevelt Jones (12.9 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 3.7 APG)

Vox challenges you to find a more interesting player in the Big East than Jones. The 6-4 forward has not attempted a single three-pointer this season, an impressive figure for someone his size. But for what Jones lacks in long-distance distance shooting prowess, he certainly makes up for it with his tenacity and ability to get to the basket. Despite opposing defenders laying off him a few feet when he’s away from the basket due to his propensity not to shoot jumpers, Jones still finds a pathway to maneuver to the basket.

Vox’s Prediction: Look for Butler to knock out Xavier but fall again to the Hoyas, who have seemed to have the Bulldogs’ number since conference season began. But they and their fans have nothing to worry about. They will be dancing next week.

2. Georgetown (20-9, 12-6 Big East)

First Game: Winner of DePaul/Creighton, Thursday at 7:00p.m.

RPI: 21

Record in Last 12 Games: 8-4

Vox’s Odds of Winning Big East Tournament: 11%

Most Impressive Thing They Did This Year: Blow out Villanova. The Hoyas were one of only two teams, Seton Hall being the other, to beat league powerhouse Villanova this season, and the only team to beat them convincingly, as a result of their 78-58 win Jan. 19 at Verizon Center. It was the only time this season that the potent Wildcats offense scored less than 60 points.

What They’re Playing For: NCAA Tournament seeding. Securely in the NCAA Tournament, the Hoyas will look to jump a few lines. With a win in their quarterfinal game, the Hoyas should be solidly in the top half of their NCAA Tournament section, but quality wins against Butler and Villanova could put them, like Butler, on the 3 line.

Hoya to Watch: Junior guard D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera (16.0 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 3.3 APG)

While senior guard Jabril Trawick, senior center Joshua Smith, and freshman Isaac Copeland have all emerged this season to form a threatening Georgetown lineup, Smith-Rivera is the glue that holds the team together. Thrust into the point guard position this year after the graduation of Markel Starks, Smith-Rivera has more than held his own, as he’s evolved into an effective facilitator in addition to his already proven ability as a scorer. Vox also thinks he’s one of the more underrated rebounders in the conference.

Vox’s Prediction: What a difference a year makes. Last year at this time the Hoyas sat on the wrong side of the NCAA Tournament bubble needing a few wins to earn an at-large selection. This year, they’re all but a sure thing for the Big Dance. With the lesser pressure to perform, expect the Hoyas to march past Creighton and Butler en route to a thrilling Saturday night final against Villanova. Their efforts, however, to win their first Big East Tournament since 2007 will come up short.

1. Villanova (29-2, 16-2 Big East)
First Game: Winner of Seton Hall/Marquette, Thursday at 12:00p.m.

RPI: 4

Record in Last 12 Games: 12-0

Vox’s Odds of Winning Big East Tournament: 50%

Most Impressive Thing They Did This Year: Dominate the Big East. Other than undefeated No. 1 Kentucky, no team has been more dominant this season in college basketball than Villanova, who have blown their opposition out of the water. The Wildcats have won 12 in a row since their 58-78 loss to the Hoyas on Jan. 19. Aside from two nail-biters against Butler and Creighton, Villanova has won all those games by double-digits.

What They’re Playing For: No. 1 Seed in NCAA Tournament. Winning the Big East Tournament for the first time since 1995 will all but seal a coveted No. 1 seed in the Big Dance for Head Coach Jay Wright’s squad.

Wildcat to Watch: Senior guard Darrun Hilliard II (14.2 PPG, 3.2 RPG).

A 6-6 guard, Hilliard should not be that hard to locate for opposing defenses. But somehow teams have found a way to keep leaving him open from three-point range, where he is most deadly. On three separate occasions this year, against Creighton, Butler, and Providence, he has connected on six or more three-point attempts in a game. Against Butler especially, a game in which he scored 31 points off 8-of-13 shooting from deep, Hilliard hit the game-winning three with 1.5 seconds left to break a tie game. All Big East teams be warned. Hilliard can shoot.

Vox’s Prediction: Who can beat Villanova the way that they’re playing right now? That’s the burning question on Vox’s mind as it types up its final prediction of this lengthy preview. But after much thought and consideration, the answer to that question is nobody. No one in the Big East can stand toe-to-toe with the Wildcats if Wright’s team plays up to their potential. The only way Villanova does not win the Big East Tournament is if three-point shooting woes and turnovers suddenly manifest. So pencil in Villanova for the Saturday night final against Georgetown in a vintage Big East battle. The Wildcats will end up hoisting the trophy, however, in a close contest (Vox will even guess the final score) 69-64.

Stay tuned to Vox all this week for its coverage of Georgetown in its quest to win the Big East Tournament. Follow us on Twitter @GUVoiceSports for live tweeting during the Hoyas’ quarterfinal matchup on Thursday night.

Photo: Georgetown University

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