- Jim Root
3MW’s All Conference Team:
Player of the Year: Markus Howard, Jr., Marquette
Coach of the Year: Kevin Willard, Seton Hall
Newcomer of the Year: LJ Figueroa, So., St. John’s
Freshman of the Year: James Akinjo, Georgetown
1. Title "Race" Ends in Reverse
The Big East seemed like a two-horse race from the jump, as Marquette and Villanova separated themselves from the mud pit of mediocrity that was the rest of the Big East. Both squads were gobbling up wins while the other bubble teams consumed each other, putting the conference in a precarious place for potential NCAA bids. As the season wound down, though, that changed; either Wojo and Jay Wright decided to be benevolent for the sake of the league, or the gap between the tiers closed quickly. Marquette lost its final four games, and although Nova dropped 5 of its last 8 themselves, the Wildcats backed into a conference title.
2. Bubble Bath
The 3-10 mixer is a complete mess. All eight teams finished within two games of each other: four at 9-9, St. John's at 8-10, and three more at 7-11. All eight teams have at least had daydreams about the NCAA Tournament (yes, even DePaul), although the bottom three are probably auto-bid or bust at this point. The rest have varying levels of concern entering the tournament, and the combo of desperation and parity creates a tournament ripe for chaos.
3. Ewing's Youth Revolution
A name like Patrick Ewing was bound to do some damage on the recruiting trail, but this year's class wasn't supposed to packed with stars: ranked 31st nationally by 247 Sports, consisting of two 4-stars and two 3-stars. That didn't stop the youngsters from performing at a high level as freshmen. James Akinjo led the league in assist rate and terrorized defense with his quick strike ability, Josh LeBlanc thrived as a role playing energy big, and Mac McClung showed his tremendous athleticism and potential despite some inefficient perimeter shooting. The Hoyas have an excellent foundation on which to build, even with the departure of Jessie Govan.
The tournament will be held at a small Manhattan venue known as “Madison Square Garden,” I’m not familiar with it but seems like a cool neutral site. Seeds 1-6 get byes to the quarters, 7-10 have to win 4 games in 4 days.
Best Team and Projected NCAA Tournament Seed
Despite the late-season swoons, Villanova and Marquette are still a cut above the rest of the league. And since one of them is coached by Jay Wright and the other by Steve Wojciechowski, Villanova is the favorite here. The senior duo of Phil Booth and Eric Paschall has combined for one Big East Tournament loss in their careers: to Isaiah Whitehead and Seton Hall back in 2016, before Paschall was eligible after transferring from Fordham.
Marquette actually has a slightly better NCAA Tournament resume, and barring a Nova BE tourney title, the Golden Eagles should have a lower number next to their name than the Wildcats. I'd expect both teams' ranges to be 4-6 (though Nova could slip to a 7).
Dark Horse Team(s)
Let's just say "the other 8 teams" and move on, deal?
Unfortunately, I'm not that lazy, so I'll give a pick or two. Xavier has plenty of talent and is playing well at the right time (won 6 of 7), although Naji Marshall missed the season finale - they'll need him fully healthy to make a deep run. Travis Steele really seemed to figure out rotations and defenses as the year wore on (not shocking for a first-year head coach with a roster full of new pieces).
The talent of St. John's and the collective shooting of Creighton give them each a chance, and the potential for Myles Powell to go ultra-supernova on the Madison Square Garden stage has my eye on Seton Hall as well. Crap, I'm gonna end up saying "the other 8 teams" but with more words, aren't I? Okay, moving on!
(8) Providence over (9) Butler
(7) St. John’s over (10) DePaul
(8) Providence over (1) Villanova
(4) Xavier over (5) Creighton
(7) St. John’s over (2) Marquette
(3) Seton Hall over (6) Georgetown
(4) Xavier over (8) Providence
(7) St. John’s over (3) Seton Hall
(4) Xavier over (7) St. John’s
This conference has been completely out of its mind over the past few weeks, so why not expect that to continue? Or Villanova and Marquette could rain in threes and make this super chalky…who knows.