The Big East is one of the best conferences in all of college basketball. When you add in a history of rivalries, the fact that it is played at Madison Square Garden, the home court advantages, and the toughest, most hard fought play in the country, you got the Big East. And just in this century, the Big East has six of their eight national championships, with UConn and Villanova dominating. And that doesn’t include UConn’s 2014 national championship, when even though they were in the AAC, all of their players were originally recruited to play in the Big East.
And the Big East this season has not disappointed. There are five ‘locks’ in this conference for the NCAA Tournament, and two others who can sneak in. Not to mention some surging teams outside of the seven that can maybe make some noise in the Big East tournament. We’re going to separate every team in this conference into different categories: ‘contenders’, ‘pretenders’, ‘could make noise’, ‘hopeful but not really’ and ‘there’s always next year’. You’ll be surprised by some of my answers!
Marquette Golden Eagles – Contenders
I think it’s safe to say that the number six team in the country according to the AP Poll is a legitimate contender for a national championship! Marquette didn’t start the season as a highly looked at team for the national title, but Shaka Smart has built an incredible program. The Golden Eagles are 25-6 after a tight win over St. Johns before the Big East tournament. And they haven’t had bad losses. One of their losses was at No. 5 Purdue, at No. 14 UConn and at No. 19 Xavier. Their bad losses were when they were at home against Mississippi State and at home against Wisconsin, both losses at the beginning of the season. With Kam Jones leading the way offensively, and then three caliber double digit scorers, Tyler Kolek, Oliver Maxence-Prosper and Oso Ighoaro, right behind him, Smart’s squad is getting hot going into the Big East Tourney, and may shock the world if they haven’t already!
UConn Huskies – Contenders
If you asked me this question a few weeks ago I could have had a different answer. But a few weeks later, after consistent wins from my UConn Huskies, I say they are a legitimate national championship contender. The reason why this decision was hard for a while was because they went on a bad losing streak. After getting to 2nd in the rankings, UConn had two, VERY close wins against a struggling Georgetown team and at the time a struggling Villanova team. Then the losing streak finally happened. They lost at Xavier, at Providence, and then after a home win against Creighton, lost at Marquette, at home to St. Johns and at Seton Hall. And just like that, the Huskies were nearly out of the rankings. But since then, things have gotten better, winning eight of their last ten games, which have all been in the Big East. One of those wins was a 15 point blowout over Marquette, who currently sits at No. 6 in the country. And on KenPom rankings, which takes into account very advanced stats, the Huskies are the 5th best team in the country. The thing with the Huskies is they have, in my opinion, more potential to go far in the NCAA tournament than any other Big East team, but their floor is also way lower.
This tournament for Huskies fans will go one of two ways: they get a top seed like they would have now, and disappoint and lose before the 2nd weekend, or carry on what they’re doing now to gain more momentum in the Big East tournament, before maybe making a run at the 3rd weekend in March Madness. They’ve proven to have wins against contenders like a blowout win against No. 2 Alabama, a blowout win over Iowa State who are just outside the rankings, and a blowout win over Oregon to add to their recent blowout victory against Marquette. They’ve proven they can be as good as any team in the country. They have two lottery pick type talents in Adama Sanogo and Jordan Hawkins, and the deepest team they’ve ever had under Dan Hurley, and all of that talent is warming up, just at the right time!
Xavier Musketeers – Contenders
Yes Xavier hasn’t been the greatest as of late, but the Musketeers are definitely contenders for the national championship. First 0ff, they’re a top 20 team in the AP Poll and KenPom, and have impressive wins against Marquette (when they were 25th in the rankings), UConn twice (when they were 2nd and 19th in the country), Creighton and Providence twice. And most of their losses are against high quality opponents, like 12th ranked Indiana, 8th ranked Duke, 6th ranked Gonzaga and 11th ranked Marquette. Now, for the record, they do have bad losses against Butler and DePaul, even though they were both Big East road games, and a loss against a surging Villanova team. However, something Xavier has that very little teams actually have is stellar 3pt shooting. The Musketeers have the 3rd best 3pt percentage in basketball, with 39.9% shooting from outside the arc. The next best ranked team in this category is Gonzaga, who rank 18th in 3pt percentage. The next best Big East team in this category is Providence, who ranks 63rd in 3pt percentage in all of college basketball. With Souley Boum, Zach Freemantle, Colby Jones and Jack Nunge, the Musketeers have a chance to make a decent run in this NCAA tournament!
Providence Friars – Pretenders
I DO NOT care if Providence was just ranked 20th in the AP Poll. This team is not as good as people say. For starters, they are 3-4 against ranked teams, and started off the season really slow, with three loses to non-ranked teams. I get that they have done well in Big East play, splitting with UConn, Marquette and Creighton, but they did also lose both games to Xavier, and have a lot of holes on their team. Their team is very Bryce Hopkins reliant, as it seems he’s doing everything out there for the Friars, like Michael Jordan in 1988. They have really deep guard depth, but their best forward/center outside of Hopkins and Ed Croswell, they’re two best players, is averaging 4.9 points per game. They’re lack of height and depth after the guard spot is not good to have once they go against teams like the Huskies and the Musketeers, who have significant depth in those areas. Not to mention they’re 43rd in KenPom, and this for good reason. After a 24 point loss at home against an above average Big East team, they have made me question what this team is really made of, especially now with a square off against a very hot Connecticut team in the Big East Quarterfinal!
Creighton BlueJays – Pretenders
I’ve never seen a team fluctuate in-and-out of the rankings every week like the BlueJays. However, that hasn’t stopped Creighton from being an overall dominant team throughout the season. Greg McDermott has built an incredible program over there in Omaha, Nebraska, as the BlueJays are about to make their 5th NCAA tournament in six seasons; they were going to make it in 2020 but the tournament was canceled due to COVID-19. For the most part, they don’t have terrible losses, as their six game losing streak right in to Big East play in the beginning portion of the season had losses to Arizona, Texas, Marquette and Arizona State, all teams that will probably be in the final 64 teams in a few weeks (especially Marquette, Texas and Arizona). However, losses to BYU and Nebraska aren’t great. But they have improved since, going on an eight game winning streak in the Big East, which included wins against the Friars, the Musketeers, and the Huskies. However, even though I think they can beat most teams in the country, I don’t think they’re consistent enough, or have enough top tier star power, where I can have confidence in them winning six straight games, let alone against very high caliber squads. This one was hard, but I don’t think the BlueJays are a contender for the national title!
St. Johns Red Storm – Could make some noise
Now, the Red Storm simply haven’t played well enough to consider them pretenders, because they really haven’t pretended to be much. But I think they could make some noise in the Big East tourney. They have played really competitive ball with top tier teams like Connecticut, Marquette, Providence and Xavier, sometimes actually coming up with a win. Now, the reason why I question they’re ability to go very far in the Big East tournament is the fact that they’ve been in the loss column on a lot of their close meetings, and I don’t see why that would change. And they have lost to some very sub-par Big East opponents. However, if they do get to play some top opponents, I could see Mike Anderson’s squad, that happens to have a 15 point, 11 rebound dominant big in Joel Soriano, to take advantage of teams like Providence who lack big men.
Seton Hall Pirates – Could make some noise
I am very confident this Seton Hall team could make some noise in the Big East tournament. They beat UConn, they lost by an average of 2.5 points against Xavier and blew Providence out of the water on the Friars home court. What makes me confident in them is that they have proven to go on a few winning streaks, and maybe that can translate over the Big East tournament. There are reasons though why I would pick against the Pirates. For starters, very much like the Red Storm, they have had so many close games that have not gone their way, and that is not the greatest recipe to success. But the big problem I have with Seton Hall is that they don’t have that player that can take over a game like every other team in the Big East we’ve mentioned so far. So, they could make some noise, but I wouldn’t bet on them!
Villanova Wildcats – Could make some noise
Even though they just took a tough loss to the UConn Huskies, the Villanova Wildcats have improved significantly after a tough start without Jay Wright. Kyle Neptune’s squad started off 10-13, but after a three game losing streak to three of the top seeds in the Big East, Providence, Marquette and Creighton, the Cats have won six of eight games, beating the likes of Seton Hall, Xavier and Creighton. They got lucky by finishing as the 6th seed for the Big East tournament, as a win over a struggling Georgetown team is expected in round one. If they win that they’ll then play a Creighton team who lacks top tier star power. Well, with Eric Dixon dominating in the paint next to Caleb Daniels and Justin Moore, not to mention an athletic freak of nature in Cam Whitmore, there is no reason why Nova can’t win the Big East and have a spot in the dance for the tenth straight season, and for the 16th time in 17 March Madness tournaments.
Butler Bulldogs – Hopeful but not really
Now, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Butler upset St. Johns and move on to most likely play Marquette in the quarterfinal. But that would be about it. They swept DePaul–even though that’s anything abnormal–have wins against St. Johns and Xavier, but did lose a game to Georgetown, who let’s just say in short form, hasn’t been the greatest team this season. Even though I can trust Thad Matta to build this program back to the way it was back when they lost to UConn in the NCAA championship, but as of this year, Jayden Taylor and Manny Bates just aren’t going to cut it. Again, I wouldn’t be shocked if they upset the Red Storm, but nor would I expect it or anything else after that.
DePaul Blue Demons – Hopeful but not really
There is very little hope for the Blue Demons for this season, or the future of their program. But there is some slight hope I can see in DePaul. The first piece of hope is that they beat Xavier when the Musketeers were ranked as the 8th best team in the country, and have an amazing guard in Umoja Gibson who can maybe carry them to an upset victory over Seton Hall in round 1. But besides that, there is really nothing positive to look at. The Demons have lost 12 games in a row. You can end the sentence there. Look, I can see them beating Seton Hall because they lost both games to them by an average of 4.5 points, and the fact that Gibson could possibly help them stay competitive, and if they do beat the Pirates, then they would play the Musketeers. And I’m not saying they’re going to beat the Pirates or especially a top 25 team in the country like Xavier–especially since they’re win against them came at home and the Big East tournament is at a neutral site–but all I’m saying is if they do beat Seton Hall, they can all of a sudden find themselves a final four Big East team!
Georgetown Hoyas – There’s always next year
There’s always next year for all fans of Georgetown, but not so much for Patrick Ewing. The 11x All Star and 7x All NBA recipient can find himself job-less at the end of the season (even though I think he’s okay with that because of the amount of money he made with the Knicks during his NBA career). But that will be for good reason. The Hoyas’ only two wins this season in the Big East were against Butler and DePaul, and even though they had close losses against St. Johns, UConn, Marquette and Seton Hall, none of those games resulted into wins. And it really doesn’t make sense, because they have talent, like they’re three guard combo of Primo Spears, Brandon Murray and Jay Heath with Qudus Wahab at center and a defensive monster with former Connecticut forward Akok Akok (who’s averaging two blocks per game, 2.6 in his only season with a key role at UConn). Maybe it really is coaching. The ‘there’s always next year’ category was only made for the Hoyas. Sorry Georgetown, but this season was awful!
The Big East tournament is just about to happen and it’s going to get interesting to say the least. As the great Ian Eagle says “It’s March…expect the unexpected”, and that’s exactly what we should expect for the Big East tournament and March Madness this year!
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