Big East 2017-18 Tournament Preview

- Matt Cox

Season Recap:

Biggest Storylines:

  • 'The End of Supernova': The new Big East has been in the palm of Jay Wright's hand since its inception back in 2014, but Villanova's reign atop the league standings has finally expired. Despite losing twice to Nova in the regular season, Xavier seized the conference title belt with an impressive 15-3 league record. In hindsight, all the Wildcats had to do was take care of business against the Johnnies at home and they'd be toasting their 5th straight Big East championship - unfortunately, Shamorie Ponds had other plans as his 26 points helped the Red Storm played spoiler to the incumbent champs.
  • 'Bottom-Feeders Rise Up': Before conference play began, the Big East appeared to have 7 teams with a rock solid chance of securing at-large berths if all the dominoes fell into place - the top-7 needed to consistently beat up on the the three cellar dwellers (Georgetown, St. John's and DePaul) to keep themselves elevated above the at-large cut line. And while still projects the Big East to send 6 teams dancing if the season ended today, the surprising competence of St. John's, Georgetown and DePaul added some flaws to the resumes of Marquette, Providence and Butler. Butler appears to be safe at the moment, but Marquette will need to do some work at MSG to avoid missing the dance for the 3rd time in 4 years (uh oh Wojo).

Tourney Preview

There's nothing odd or nuanced about the Big East championship - the MSG-based tournament remains the G.O.A.T of all conference championships, routinely producing epic contests which are often voiced over by some of the best play-by-play and color commentators in the game (cc: Gus and Bill).

What to Watch:

  • As alluded to above, the 'bubblicious boys' - looking at primarily at you Marquette and Providence - need to come out sharp this weekend at the Garden. The Golden Eagles are really facing an uphill climb, given they'll likely need to bounce Nova in the quarterfinals to hop the fence to the ride side of the bubble. A little less is at stake for Friars, who could still sneak in with an opening round loss to Creighton, but something tells me after sweating out the Selection Show last year Ed Cooley would like to avoid another tumultuous Sunday afternoon this season. A win on a neutral against a stout Jays team would likely boost Providence out of the danger zone, and ensure they avoid another less than desirable trip to Dayton for the play-in game (and if you recall, this did not go so well last year).

Who will win:

  • Villanova: My confidence in Nova is a byproduct of two factors: 1) Phil Booth's improving health and 2) Xavier's deteriorating defense. The Wildcats do not go deep into their bench and Booth's absence has forced Jay Wright to play his freshman reserves more than he'd probably like. That's in no way a knock on Collin Gillespie, Jermaine Samuels and Dhamir Cosby Roundtree, all of whom I fully expect to emerge into the next great wave of Nova upperclassmen, but Booth's value cannot be understated - I'll let the data (see below) do the talking for me, but take note of 3FG% uptick with him on the floor, compared to when he sits - 7% higher is significant, especially for a team that often lives and dies by the 3:

If not them, then...

  • Xavier: The best hope for Xavier to outlast Nova in this tournament is to simply avoid them - fortunately for the X, Nova is set-up to potentially face-off with Butler in the semis, who has historically given Jay Wright headaches. This year was no exception as the Bulldogs handed Nova their first loss of the season at Hinkle Fieldhouse and held a 3-point lead at halftime in the rematch in Philly.