Men’s Basketball Big East Tournament Preview



Men’s Basketball Big East Tournament Preview

Greg Welsh

With the Big East Tournament set to kick off at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday, here is a breakdown of every team in the field.


Xavier (27-4, 15-3)

Why they can win:

Fresh off their first Big East regular season title, the Musketeers head to Madison Square Garden with their spirits high. The team has ascended to a program best AP ranking of No. 3, and could be in line for their first ever number one seed in the NCAA Tournament.

With all of these accolades, Xavier must be doing something right and it starts with their star guard, Trevon Bluiett. The senior, who earned All-Big East First Team honors, is sixth in the conference in PPG at 19.4 and fourth in three-point percentage, shooting 43.4%. His quick release makes him a dangerous scorer and a tough matchup for any defense.

Another strength for the Musketeers is their deep front court. With Tyrique Jones, Kerem Kanter and Sean O’Mara each averaging over 15 minutes per game, Xavier has created a big-man rotation that allows them to have fresh legs on the court at all times. This kind of depth should be valuable in the Big East Tournament, with games potentially on three straight days.

Why They Won’t

For the Musketeers, the biggest obstacle to a Big East Tournament title is simple. Villanova. Since joining the conference, Xavier is just 1-10 against the Wildcats with an average margin of defeat of over 18 points. If they are forced to match up against Villanova in the final, it could be a long day.

Villanova (27-4, 14-4)

Why They Can Win:

Villanova is in unfamiliar territory. The team failed to capture the Big East regular season title for the first time since conference realignment, losing out to the Xavier Musketeers. Even so, the Wildcats are still in a prime position to win the conference tournament.

The ‘Cats lead the conference in both scoring offense (87.2 PPG) and scoring defense (71.2 PPG) and feature two Wooden Award finalists in Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges. Brunson, widely considered a favorite to win the Wooden Award, has averaged 19.1 PPG while shooting an incredibly efficient 52.6% from the field. The junior has also paced the ‘Cats with an average of 4.8 assists and a conference best assist to turnover ratio of 2.9.  

Not to be outdone, Bridges has put together a season that many believe will lead to him being a lottery pick in this year’s NBA draft. The junior is in the conference’s top 10 in a variety of categories including points per game (17.4), free throw percentage (83.7%), steals per game (1.7), three-point field goal percentage (41.7) and blocked shots per game (1.1).

If Villanova is at their best, there is not a team in the field that can stop them.  

Why They Won’t

In their four losses this year, it has been defense and poor three-point shooting that has plagued the Wildcats. While Villanova has given up an average of just 68.8 points in their wins this season, their defense has not been nearly as stout in losses, giving up nearly 20 points more at 86.3. Their three-point shooting has also been inconsistent, coming in at an average of 41.7% in wins and just 26.1% in losses.

Villanova has not always lived up to their potential this year and if the Wildcats are to fall in New York, it is likely that these inconsistences will be the cause.


Seton Hall (21-10, 10-8)

Why They Can Win

Seton Hall possesses one of the most balanced and experienced team’s in the conference. With reliable big man Angel Delgado, elite wing Desi Rodriguez and the solid guard combination of Khadeen Carrington and Myles Powell, the Pirates are certainly a force to be reckoned with.

Although Rodriguez leads the team in scoring with 18.1 PPG, many would argue that the 6’10” senior out of the Dominican Republic, Delgado, is the team’s best player. Delgado has enjoyed yet another stellar season with the Pirates, averaging 13.4 PPG to go along with a league best 11.6 RPG. The Pirates also have a reliable point guard in Carrington, a senior who can both score the basketball and create for teammates.

Seton Hall can win in a variety of ways, a valuable trait for tournament play and one that makes them a definite contender in this year’s event.

Why They Won’t

If the game comes down to free throw shooting, as it so often does, Seton Hall is at a disadvantage. The Pirates shot just 69% as a team this year, worst in the Big East. Additionally, Seton Hall turns the ball over nearly 13 times per game, coming in as the third worst team in the conference.

In close games, turnovers and missed free throws are the kind of mistakes that a team simply cannot afford.

Creighton (21-10, 10-8)

Why They Can Win

The Blue Jays feature an up-tempo squad that can score in a hurry. Led by senior guard Marcus Foster, who averages 20.3 PPG and shoots 43.4% from three, Creighton was the second ranked team in the conference, behind Villanova, in field goal percentage (49.9%). They also share the basketball well, averaging a conference best 18.1 assists per game collectively.

Defensively, Creighton has one of the league’s best defenders in Khyri Thomas. Thomas can reliably slow down the opposing team’s top scorer and is also a strong three-point shooter at 42.5%.

The Blue Jay’s rotation is a deep one, with nine players averaging over 13 minutes per game, and an astounding 12 seeing at least seven minutes on the floor on average.

With their win over Villanova on Feb. 24th, Creighton showed they are capable of competing with the Big East’s best and hoisting the trophy at MSG.

Why They Won’t

A major problem for Creighton is their lack of a strong inside presence. Although Martin Krampelj, Ronnie Harrell Jr. and Jacob Epperson have certainly proven to be solid players, Creighton’s bigs lack the interior strength that is so important down low. This shortage of bulk was certainly evident as Creighton was last in the conference in both offensive rebounds per game (7.3) and blocks per game (2.5). 

Additionally, the Blue Jays will struggle to maintain their fast-paced style of play for three consecutive days. If they are too worn down to push the pace, Creighton will be unable to come away with the title.

Providence (19-12, 10-8)

Why They Can Win

Experienced and well coached, Ed Cooley’s team enjoys the impressive distinction of being the only team in the conference to beat both Xavier and Villanova this season.

The Friars are led by their three seniors, Rodney Bullock, Kyron Cartwright and Jalen Lindsey. While Bullock is the team’s leading scorer, Cartwright leads the conference in assists per game at 5.8, and Lindsey ranks seventh in three-point percentage at 41.9%.

With excellent perimeter defense, Providence held opponents to a league best 32.1% shooting from beyond the arc this year.

Why They Won’t

Although they don’t give up many threes, the Friars do not make a whole lot themselves. Averaging just 6.5 threes per game, Providence has made the second fewest threes in the conference this year.  

The Friars have allowed opponents to shoot 44.7% from the field, the third worst mark in the conference. Additionally, outside of Cartwright, Providence does not have many skilled passers. The team ranks 9th in the conference in assists per game averaging 13.9.  

The Friars have certainly played some good games this year, but they’ve also played some pretty poor ones, including their losses to UMass and DePaul.

Butler (19-12, 9-9)

Why They Can Win

Butler is led by the second leading scorer in the Big East, Kelan Martin. The senior has scored a remarkable 21.2 points per game earning him a spot on the All-Big East First Team.

Sophomore Kamar Baldwin also had an impressive year, tallying 15 PPG to go along with 4.9 RPG and 3.2 APG.

The Bulldogs are solid defensively, placing third in the conference in points allowed per game (72.3) and second in steals per game (6.9). As Butler showed in their win over Villanova in December, if they are at their best, the Bulldogs will be a tough out.

Why They Won’t

Butler does not have a lot of size. Their tallest starter is Tyler Wideman who stands at just 6’8”, meaning the Bulldogs can be beat inside. Averaging just three blocks per game, Butler is tied with Xavier for second fewest in the conference.

Furthermore, since the Big East Tournament first began in 1980, no first year head coach has ever gotten the victory. Although LaVall Jordan has done a solid job in his first year at the helm, history is not on his side.

Marquette (18-12, 9-9)

Why They Can Win

Marquette can flat out shoot the basketball. The Golden Eagles shoot the three-pointer at a league best 41.6% as a team, over two percentage points higher than the next best team. Marquette also leads the conference in free throw percentage at 79.4% collectively. 

Much of the team’s offensive success can be attributed to their two undersized, but highly effective, guards, Andrew Rowsey and Markus Howard. Both players are extremely quick and can score in a variety of ways, evident by the fact they are both in the top five in scoring in the conference (19.9 PPG and 20.9 PPG respectively). The backcourt duo also come in as the top two free throw shooters in the conference, with Howard shooting 93.9% from the stripe and Rowsey 90.1%. Howard and Rowsey are not the only Golden Eagles who can stroke it however. Sophomore Sam Hauser enters the post season shooting a conference best 51.7% from three, good for fifth best in all of Division I.

Marquette has a lot to play for in New York as they somehow look to work their way into the NCAA Tournament. This added motivation could be enough to push them to the top.

Why They Won’t

Defense. The Golden Eagles don’t play a whole lot of it. They rank last in the conference in scoring defense (78.3), field goal percentage defense (47.5%) and defensive rebounds (23.4). Simply put, this team is not good enough on the defensive side of the ball to win the Big East Tournament.


Georgetown (15-14, 5-13)

Why They Can Win

In a year where the conference has been dominated by guard play, it is the front-court that has proven strong for the Hoyas. Juniors Jessie Govan and Marcus Derrickson have had terrific years for Georgetown, ranking second and third respectively in the Big East in rebounds per game (10.0 and 8.1). The duo has helped make Georgetown the leader in RPG as a team with an average of 38.3 boards.

The Hoyas’ stars can also score the basketball, as Govan averages 17.5 PPG and Derrickson 15.7 PPG.

Why They Won’t

Other than Govan and Derrickson, there are not a lot of other places the Hoyas can turn for scoring. The two bigs are the only players on the team to average double figures in points per game on the year.

Turnovers have also been a problem as the team averages 15.3 giveaways per game, worst in the Big East. The Hoyas also force only 12.7 turnovers per game from the opposition, giving them an average turnover margin of -2.6, a number that is also the poorest in the conference. Wasted possessions are hard to overcome, especially against more skilled opponents.

St. John’s (15-16, 4-14)

Why They Can Win

After starting conference play 0-11, St. John’s did the seemingly impossible, beating Duke and Villanova in consecutive games. These two top five victories propelled the Red Storm to a 5-3 finish to their season and showed that they can compete with anyone.

Sophomore Shamorie Ponds has enjoyed a break out year, leading the Big East with 21.6 PPG and earning All-Big East First Team honors. Fellow sophomore Justin Simon has also played well, ranking in the conference’s top five in both RPG and APG (7.1 and 5.2).

The Johnnies will get after you on defense, holding opponents to a conference best, 41.9% from the field.  Junior Tariq Owens was far and away the best shot blocker in the conference, averaging three blocks per game, and Ponds and Simon were tied for the league lead in steals per game with 2.5. The team as a whole ranks top in the conference in both steals per game, at 8.7, and turnover margin, at +4.58.

Why They Won’t

After standout guard Marcus Lovett went down for the year with an MCL injury, St. John’s has become extremely dependent on Ponds for scoring. While Ponds has done a pretty good job carrying the offense, it is difficult to win games with just one reliable scorer. This one-man offense is part of the reason the Red Storm rank last in the conference in assists per game at just 13.

Additionally, the wear and tear of playing four consecutive games, as would be required for St. John’s to win the Big East Tournament, will be difficult on the two conference leaders in minutes played per game, Ponds and Simon (37 and 36.4 respectively).

The Johnnies have also had their share of problems on the glass as they own the league’s worst rebounding margin at -5.7.

DePaul (11-19, 4-14)

Why They Can Win

There are not a whole lot of positives for this DePaul team who spent yet another year getting beat up in the Big East.

The Blue Demons did, however, have pretty good seasons from two of their transfers, Max Strus and Marin Maric. In their first years with the team, Strus and Maric were the two leading scorers for the Blue Demons, averaging 16.6 and 13.3 PPG respectively. Junior Eli Cain is also a solid player. The 6’6” guard finished in the conference’s top 10 in assists per game with an average of 4.5.

DePaul also generated lots of second chances for their offense with a league best average of 12.3 offensive rebounds per game.

Why They Won’t

Where to begin? The Blue Demons score the fewest points per game in the conference with just 72, and are also the only team in the Big East with an average scoring margin in the negative (-1.9). DePaul has both the lowest overall field goal percentage in the conference (42.8%), and the lowest three-point field goal percentage (31%). The team also allows opponents to shoot 37.1% from deep, the, you guessed it, worst mark in the conference.

Is that enough for you? DePaul isn’t winning this thing.