Vox’s 2nd Annual Super Duper Big East Tournament Preview: Part 1
NEW YORK — It’s that time of year again. All 10 Big East schools will take the floor at New York’s famed Madison Square Garden to decide who gets the conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament next week. And Vox will be there to take in the action. Don’t worry or feel overwhelmed, though, because we have you covered. We take you team-by-team with hard-hitting analysis of what’s at stake, which players to watch, and our predictions. When you’re done reading this, Vox expects you to be a Big East maestro.
Rankings are in accordance with tournament seeding:
10. Creighton (13-18, 4-14 Big East)
First Game: DePaul, Wednesday at 7:00p.m.
Record in Last 12 Games: 4-8
Vox’s Odds of Winning Big East Tournament: 0.000000000009%
Most Impressive Thing They Did This Year: In late November, the Bluejays were ranked as high as No. 23 in the national polls before everyone in the college basketball world realized that former standout Doug McDermott graduated and is now playing for the Chicago Bulls.
What They’re Playing For: Pride. It’s been a rough year for the Bluejays after earning an NCAA Tournament bid last season. They need to win four straight at MSG to earn the right to dance in the NCAA Tournament next week.
Bluejay to Watch: Senior guard Austin Chatman (11.6 PPG, 3.7 APG)
After a midseason slump, the Colony, Tx. native has rediscovered his shooting touch, having scored 17 or more points in the Bluejay’s last three games. One of the best shooters from downtown in the entire league, Chatman quarterbacks a Creighton attack that relies heavily on the three-point shot for success.
Vox’s Prediction: Don’t let their record fool you. The Bluejays can play ball and they have started to put it together at the right time. Although they have won only two of their last six games, with those wins coming against DePaul and Marquette, Head Coach Greg McDermott’s squad has held their own in recent contests against league stalwarts Villanova, Butler, and Xavier, losing by a combined total of seven points. That being said, we expect them to continue their somewhat strong form at MSG by knocking off DePaul before losing to Villanova in a close contest.
9. Marquette (12-18, 4-14 Big East)
First Game: Seton Hall, Wednesday at 9:30p.m.
Record in Last 12 Games: 2-10
Vox’s Odds of Winning Big East Tournament: 1%
Most Impressive Thing They Did This Year: They beat Providence yet somehow lost to Nebraska-Omaha. No other team in the Big East possesses as much potency as well as delinquency on their résumé. Cheers to first-year Head Coach Steve Wojciechowski’s crew for that.
What They’re Playing For: An extra night’s stay in New York. Needing to win the Big East Tournament to prolong their postseason, the Golden Eagles will attempt to be the first team in the new Big East to win four games in four days at MSG.
Golden Eagle to Watch: Senior guard Matt Carlino (14.9 PPG, 3.3 APG)
A threat to score even from 5th Avenue (MSG is located between 7th Ave and 8th Ave for you non-New Yorkers), the BYU transfer has been one of the few bright spots for an otherwise mediocre Marquette team. A concussion suffered on Feb. 4 against Villanova put him out of action for three weeks but did not take away his scoring ability. He has notched double-figures scoring efforts the last four contests he’s played since returning from injury.
Vox’s Prediction: Look for Carlino and crew to win ugly in the first round against the downward spiraling Seton Hall and then subsequently fall in a close contest to Villanova, a team they’ve given scares both times they played this season. But they will achieve their goal of another night in New York.
8. Seton Hall (16-14, 6-12 Big East)
First Game: Marquette, Wednesday at 7:00p.m.
Record in Last 12 Games: 3-9
Vox’s Odds of Winning Big East Tournament: 1%
Most Impressive Thing They Did This Year: Become a basketball reality TV show. This year’s setting for the Real World should have been South Orange, N.J. After a promising open to Big East play, with wins against then-No. 6 Villanova and No. 15 St. John’s, that propelled to them to No. 19 in the national Top 25 polls, their highest since 2001, Murphy’s Law has applied to the Pirates. Freshman phenom forward Isaiah Whitehead missed time due to a fractured foot. Senior forward Brandon Mobley then called out his fellow teammates in a press conference for worrying more about getting their shots than winning following their Feb. 7 loss to Marquette. Then sophomore guard Jaren Sina quit the team due to internal strife, opting not even to return to the locker room after the team’s Feb. 10 loss to Georgetown. Oh and by the way, they’ve lost eight of their last nine. Oh and senior guard Sterling Gibbs was suspended for viciously elbowing Villanova junior guard Ryan Arcidiacono on Feb. 16. All that could go wrong, has gone wrong for Seton Hall.
What They’re Playing For: Head Coach Kevin Willard’s job. Despite an impressive start to the season, the pressure has begun to mount on the fifth-year head coach due to the Pirates’ recent slide. With a stellar recruiting class of freshmen in forwards Isaiah Whitehead and Angel Delgado and guard Khadeen Carrington, this was supposed to be the year that Willard finally returned the Pirates to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2006. As a result, Willard finds himself on the hot seat.
Pirate to Watch: Senior guard Sterling Gibbs (16.7 PPG, 3.8 APG)
When not busy flagrantly fouling other players, Gibbs remains one of the most talented guards in the conference. Along with his ability to create his own shot and effectively penetrate the opposing defense, Gibbs is also one of the best on-ball defenders in the Big East. He is one of the league’s rare two-way players.
Vox’s Prediction: The nosedive will continue. The Pirates have the talent on their roster to win the Big East Tournament. But with no indication that the they will right the ship (no pun intended) anytime soon, expect them to bow out to the Golden Eagles on Wednesday night. Although last year’s team surprised many by winning two games, including a buzzer-beating win against top seed Villanova, Vox doubts that this team will find buried treasure two years in a row at MSG.
7. DePaul (12-19, 6-12 Big East)
First Game: Creighton, Wednesday at 9:30p.m.
Record in Last 12 Games: 2-10
Vox’s Odds of Winning Big East Tournament: 0.0000000000001%
Most Impressive Thing They Did This Year: Not finish in last place. For the first time since 2008, the consistently cellar-dwelling Blue Demons finished better than last place in the conference. Thank their 5-2 start to Big East play for helping them avoid that undesirable feat.
What They’re Playing For: The right to lose to Villanova. Having accomplished their goal of winning their first ever Big East Tournament game last year against Georgetown, the Blue Demons will look to reach the quarterfinals for the first time ever.
Blue Demon to Watch: Sophomore guard Billy Garrett, Jr. (12.4 PPG, 3.8 APG)
Last season’s Big East Rookie of the Year, Garrett has continued his strong form in his sophomore campaign. Standing at 6-4, the point guard creates matchup problems for any team he faces due to his size. Match him up with a smaller guard to negate his speed and he’ll have a field day in the post. Put a bigger guard or even small forward on him and he’ll blow right by them on his way to the basket.
Vox’s Prediction: Other than Seton Hall, no team has struggled more, as of late, than DePaul, who has lost seven in a row entering their Wednesday night matchup with Creighton. Aside from two of those games, the Blue Demons lost all of those games by double-digit margins. Vox thinks they should maybe book a tour of the Statue of Liberty for Thursday because their season will end after a Wednesday night to loss to Creighton.
6. Xavier (19-12, 9-9 Big East)
First Game: Butler, Thursday at 9:30p.m.
Record in Last 12 Games: 7-5
Vox’s Odds of Winning Big East Tournament: 5%
Most Impressive Thing They Did This Year: Against nationally-ranked teams not named Villanova, the Musketeers were undefeated this season, 4-0, and defeated Georgetown in two meetings by an average margin of 15 points. Also, their most overlooked accomplishment this year came on November 21, when Xavier defeated the university with the greatest mascot in college sports, the Lumberjacks of Stephen F. Austin, by a final of 81-63.
What They’re Playing For: Avoidance of Dayton. On the right side of the NCAA Tournament bubble, a win against Butler at MSG will ensure that the Musketeers get to spend a little less time in Ohio by eluding participation in the “First Four” play-in games for the last four at-large selections.
Musketeer to Watch: Senior center Matt Stainbrook (12.0 PPG, 6.8 RPG)
Vox will declare that Matt Stainbrook is the most talented Uber driver in college basketball. For those unfamiliar with his story, Stainbrook is a journeyman redshirt senior who transferred to Xavier following two impressive years at Central Michigan. Before Xavier’s 2014-15 campaign, Matt decided to drive for Uber and pay full tuition so that his brother Tim, a sophomore walk-on, could take his scholarship instead. With all of that being said, the 6-10, 263 pound center has proven that can he play with the best big men in the conference, and the Musketeers need a solid contribution from their iron man if they hope to sneak past Butler in the first round and possibly play in the finals on Saturday night.
Vox’s Prediction: Though the Musketeers have shown flashes of brilliance this season including a 17-point smashing over Butler just three weeks ago, they’ve lacked the consistency throughout their conference campaign to be seen as legitimate threats to make a tourney run. They’ll find that the Bulldogs aren’t all bark and no bite, and they’ll fall in their first game at the Garden.
Photo: Georgetown University