At the onset of the 2012-13 college basketball season, Syracuse and Louisville were being touted as the class of the Big East, and oh how things have changed. Despite a mid-season drought Louisville is finishing the season in the top 10, but Syracuse had a tough run in their conference schedule and are dragging eight losses into the Big East tournament.
But we all know that this tournament gives any team the chance to turn it all around. And since this is the last Big East tournament that we have grown to love, everyone will be hungry to cement their names in the final chapter of its history.
Behind the play of Otto Porter and an otherwise balanced attack, the Georgetown Hoyas made their way into the nation’s top 5 last week, and finished at the top of the Big East. Upon grabbing the tournament’s #1 seed they are the team to beat. But everyone is equally dangerous when they step onto the floor at Madison Square Garden, just ask Kemba Walker.
First Round Game to Watch
With the way the Big East tournament is formatted, the first round only has two games. Those games will be played by South Florida (13, conference tournament seeding) and Seton Hall (12), and Depaul (14) and Rutgers (12). I’m going to skip over these games and pick a second round matchup that is already set as my game to watch; St. John’s (10) vs. Villanova (7).
Villanova has been an exciting team to watch all season. After losing to Columbia by 18 in the beginning of the season many thought that the Wildcats would get swallowed up by their Big East schedule. But the team responded to their non-conference blunders by becoming a giant killer. The Wildcats would take down then #5 Louisville and then #3 Syracuse in back-to-back games, and more recently #17 Marquette and #5 Georgetown.
Even with all of these quality wins the Wildcats still have an overall record of 19-12, which will have them on the bubble on Selection Sunday. That is why this match up is so intriguing, because a win by Villanova could cement them into the tournament, while St. John’s looks to play spoiler. Led by scoring guard D’Angelo Harrison (17.8 ppg) the Red Storm have started to gel, most recently losing to #15 Marquette, 69-67. Villanova lacks a defensive stopper in their back court and if they let Harrison get hot they could exit this tournament early. If they can contain him St. John’s will falter offensively and Villanova will do enough scrappy scoring to gut out the win.
I would say that anyone aside from Georgetown (1) or Louisville (2) is a sleeper in this tournament. With that said, Notre Dame (6) is a team that I could see making a very respectable run. You’ll see with my predictions at the bottom of this article that I have the Irish falling to Louisville in the semifinals, but before that they take down Rutgers (11) and Marquette (3). A win against Marquette would push the Irish to a 5-seed, and an upset of Louisville could put them in the 4-seed conversation. While Louisville should come out on top, don’t rule out the Irish’s back court talent, and front court grit.
The other team that I like to make a surprise run is the Cincinnati Bearcats (9). For the last few seasons Cincinnati has come out of the gates hot and faltered in conference play, and this season was no different. But despite a rough season, we can’t discount the scoring prowess of Sean Kilpatrick, and his ability to will this team to victory. I have them beating Providence (8) in the second round, but then they will meet Georgetown in the quarterfinals. At 21-10 and 9-9 in the Big East, Cincinnati should be dancing as just about all of their losses are against quality teams. With that in mind, the Bearcats should take the Hoyas down to the wire, and Kilpatrick’s scoring ability makes anything possible in the stretch run.
Players to Watch
Eric Atkins (Notre Dame)- Atkins’ shooting numbers have been incredible this season, and his leadership has been immeasurable for the Irish. While Jack Cooley and Jerian Grant have inserted themselves into the spotlight, Atkins has averaged a quiet 11.7 points and 5.9 assists, and has managed many a close game in the team’s Big East schedule. Grant and Cooley will draw a bulk of the defensive attention, and Atkins will get his fair share of shot opportunities. If he can consistently connect, the Irish’s half court offense gets exponentially better.
Tray Woodall (Pittsburgh) and Brandon Triche (Syracuse)- I put these two together because if Syracuse (5) beats the winner of South Florida (13) and Seton Hall (12), which they should, these two will face off. In a Pittsburgh (4) and Syracuse matchup, these two will be looked at to provide the scoring punch for their respective teams. I have the Orange edging the Panthers behind a strong effort by Triche, who needs to erase a disappointing season with a strong showing in the tournament. Triche beats Woodall in one of the tournament’s most intriguing one-on-one match ups.
Jabril Trawick (Georgetown)- He’s my former high school teammate, but that’s not the only reason I’m watching him. On a team that features Otto Porter and Markel Starks, Trawick glues it all together with his impeccable on ball defense and half court facilitation.
Has to make a statement
The Syracuse Orange (5) have been extremely disappointing in Big East play, capping it off with a 61-39 loss to Georgetown on Saturday. Their need to make a statement goes beyond seeding and momentum going into March Madness, they simply need to prove that they can compete with the best of this conference. They will most likely meet Louisville in the semifinals if they can get by Pitt, and a win against the Cardinals would prove that they are ready for a deep March run. Right now, no one can be sure that they are even awake.
I have Georgetown and Louisville facing off in the final and whoever grabs the win should also grab a one-seed in the tournament. The loser should be a two-seed.
Notre Dame and Syracuse will each need to make the semifinals if they want any shot at being four-seeds, and I have them both getting there. Of course, other conference tournaments will impact the seeding as well, but both the Orange and Irish need to get to Friday if they want to insert themselves in that conversation. If Marquette could edge Notre Dame and surprise Louisville en route to the final, there is a chance that they become a three-seed.
Favorite to Win
Georgetown showed that they were human with their loss to Villanova last week, and even with their win against Cuse on Saturday I feel that some momentum has been lost. With that, Louisville is sliding in as my favorite to win the whole thing. As aforementioned, a tournament win would most likely make Louisville a one-seed. Peyton Siva and Russ Smith will use the prospect of being a top seed as fuel to win it all.
Russ Smith is going to lead the Cardinals with his scoring touch and standout in each game that they play. He has had a roller coaster year, but will buckle down with the MSG lights shining on him.
Predictions (with conference tournament seeding)
South Florida (13) defeats Seton Hall (12)
Rutgers (11) defeats Depaul (14)
Cincinnati (9) defeats Providence (8)
Syracuse (5) defeats South Florida (14)
Villanova (7) defeats St. John’s (10)
Notre Dame (6) defeats Rutgers (11)
Georgetown (1) defeats Cincinnati (9)
Syracuse (5) defeats Pittsburgh (4)
Louisville (2) defeats Villanova (7)
Notre Dame (6) defeats Marquette (3)
Georgetown (1) defeats Syracuse (5)
Louisville (2) defeats Notre Dame (6)
Louisville (2) defeats Georgetown (1)