Sunday, March 8, 2009

Conference Tournament Countdown: Big East

[Editor's Note: SportsJudge continues it's breakdown of all 30 conference tournaments leading up to March Madness with today's preview of the Big East Conference.]

Big East Conference (previewed by Kevin Fenstermacher)

The Big East is the Best Conference in College Basketball. That's Right. The BEST! It could almost be a bracket in itself in the NCAA tournament. Take the 16 teams from one region and seed them, then fill the remaining three regions and seed them with all the other conference. It would, work, trust me.

It would be a monumental feat for any team that finished 9 through 16 to win 5 games against some of the best teams in the college game to advance in the tournament so you would think ruling out any of those teams would be a smart idea. Incorrect. The top four teams of the first round all have the ability to surprise a couple of the big names and somehow get past these giants to get into the tournament. Notre Dame and Georgetown were at one point this season (at the start of conference play) ranked high inside the top 25 and would have been considered locks for the NCAA Tournament. They could provide a few upsets and make things really interesting in the tournament.

Now, I don’t expect any Gerry McNamara miracles coming from Cincy, G-Town, ND, or Seton Hall, but the next group of four has a solid chance of making an upset. If you were to be on ESPN’s SportsCenter playing Contender/Pretender alongside Jay Bilas and Dickie V, I think every team in the top eight has enough talent to be considered Contender. I also feel like all eight of these teams will be in the NCAA Tournament field.

Providence got the signature win they needed for their resume with their win over then #1 ranked Pitt. They have a ton of seniors and with that comes experience and leadership. With an RPI of 68 heading into Saturday night, the Friars have three wins against the RPI top 50. A win or two in the Big East tournament and the Big East should be a lock for 8 teams.

West Virginia just missed playing spoiler to Louisville’s Big East regular season title hopes, but couldn’t pull it out in the end. WVU has a respectable resume that should get them in the NCAA’s without any worries. A win in the conference tournament should lock that up. WVU isn’t the most talented team this season, but it is tough to count out a well-coached Bob Huggins team.

Syracuse is one of six Big East teams in the Top 25. The Orange always cause a splash and stir up drama in the Big East Tournament. This talented team could do that again this year led by their guard play and usually strong defense. After struggling midway through the conference season they have rebounded with four straight wins, capped off by an over-time victory at Marquette.

The early surprise of the Big East season was Marquette, who started off conference play with 9 wins (a surprise loss to lowly South Florida ended their streak). The Golden Eagles, however, aren’t flying high anymore after their point guard Dominic James was sidelined with an injury. They have lost four straight games coming into Madison Square Garden. They have the talent (McNeal, Hayward, Matthews) to push on without James, but I feel an early exit from the conference tournament is at hand. Marquette has played the hardest part of their schedule without James running the show, so it is tough to judge if they can win without him. I feel like without James their Big East and NCAA Championship hopes are lost with him.

Another surprise this year has been Jay Wright and his Villanova Wildcats. As usual, this guard oriented offense has been able to play with the best teams in the country and should be feared come NCAA tourney time. This year’s Big East Tournament is going to be Dante Cunningham’s coming out party. He is ready for the big time! Scottie Reynolds and Cunningham have ‘Nova as a good sleeper pick.

UConn is the number one team in the land heading into the upcoming week. They just lost to Pitt for the second time this season, but outside of Pitt and a surprise loss at the start of conference play to G-Town, the Huskies have shown why they are a perennial powerhouse under coach, Jim Calhoun. UConn is not only a favorite for the Big East tournament, but the NCAA Tourney as well.

Pitt, just like UConn, is a favorite for the Big East and NCAA Tournaments. DeJuan Blair has been a force on both ends of the ball this season. Levance Fields does a tremendous job of running the offense (does anybody else think he looks like a chubby Jermain Dupri?) and has the leadership qualities that every team needs. They should be a lock for a 1 seed in big dance.

Louisville was a surprise in a different way this season. Everyone knew this team had talent, coaching, athleticism, experience, leadership, teamwork, and overall ability. They have everything a championship team needs. Then they started off the season with surprising losses the Western Kentucky, Minnesota, and UNLV. People began to question what this team was really made of. A few short months later they showed it by being crowned regular season champions of the toughest conference in basketball. Another team that can score in a variety of ways, the Cardinals finished 16-2 in Big East play (losses to Notre Dame and UConn). It is possible for the Big East to get three 1 seeds in the NCAA tournament with the Cardinals, UConn, and Pitt. What an outstanding year for the “super-conference.”

With all that being said I feel that this is by far the hardest tournament to pick who the champion will be. I feel that the regular season champs, Louisville, has a great shot at taking both the regular season and conference tourney. I also can see Jim Boeheim and his Syracuse Orange making another improbable tourney run. I am going to go in a different direction however. I am going to go with my heart and not my head (a mistake you shouldn’t make when filling out your office bracket) and pick my alma-mater, Seton Hall University. This is the only hope I have left at seeing the Pirates in March Madness this year, and I am going to hold onto the last thread of that hope with this pick! Fight! Fight! Fight! For the Blue and White! For the Glory of Seton Hall!

Brian Doyle: Pitt
Kevin Fenstermacher: Seton Hall
Mike Colligan: Louisville

*Be sure to stop back tonight when the SportsJudge team breaks down the MAC, MEAC, and WAC Brackets.

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Emily said...

I am going to go with my heart and not my head and pick my alma-mater, Seton Hall University.