Here is a look inside the Big East Tournament, which begins Tuesday. Villanova, the 14th seed, opens play at 9:30 p.m. Tuesday against Rutgers.
We’re most looking forward to: Seeing if Syracuse can be as dominant in this tournament as it was in the regular season. Especially since what it does in the next tourney is what everyone is obviously going to remember most. The Orange are only the second team to go 17-1 in the conference (joining Connecticut, in 1995-96). Interestingly, those Huskies also won the Big East Tournament but were upset in the third round of the NCAAs by Mississippi State. Syracuse, though, after going 12-6 and losing to UConn in the Big East semifinals, then made it to the national title game before losing to Kentucky. The Orange hasn’t won this title since 2006. None of the other three teams with double byes — Notre Dame, Marquette and Cincinnati — has even been to the final.
Teams on the rise: Well, other than Syracuse’s 10-game winning streak, nobody currently has won more than two in a row. But Cincinnati has won 5 of 6, and 7 of 9. Marquette has won 6 of 7, with the loss coming at Cincy. And South Florida has won 6 of 8, although the Bulls did finish with just their second home loss of the season (to West Virginia).
Teams on the decline: Don’t know if it’s fair anymore to even include Pittsburgh or Villanova. Connecticut has obviously been the toughest to decipher. But the Huskies have talent, and now they have their coach back. Louisville has lost 3 of 4, and Notre Dame 2 of 3, both on the road.
Worth noting: Six different teams have won this thing the last 6 years. Syracuse was the last to repeat, in 2005-06. In fact, the last winner to even make it to back to the title game was Georgetown, in 2008. In the last decade, only six teams have made it to the finale.
Dark horse to win it all: As I said last year, it was hard to even see a team that has to play four games, let alone five, lifting a trophy, but UConn did it. But if I had to go with someone, I’d take Georgetown, even though the Hoyas are young. But they are good, and they play some serious defense, never a bad thing. So does South Florida, but I just can’t go there. I guess you could always make a case for Rick Pitino (Louisville), but this year it’s tough.
Team that needs help to make the NCAAs: Right now it looks as if 10 are getting in, only one fewer than last year’s record. But USF is seemingly the one in the most precarious position in an equation that always contains a bunch of moving parts.
Best player: Marquette’s Jae Crowder, who averaged 18 points and 8.3 rebounds in league play, was the lone unanimous pick in the coach’s all-conference vote. But West Virginia’s Kevin Jones, another senior forward, led the Big East in both scoring (19.0) and rebounding (10.9).
Best shooter: Georgetown’s 6-7 junior forward, Hollis Thompson, led everyone from the arc. He converted 45.8 percent overall, 44.4 in conference games. But Marquette’s other first-teamer, senior guard Darius Johnson-Odom, also was over 40<TH>percent for both, with a bunch more attempts.
Don’t foul this guy: Villanova junior Maalik Wayns, is the only one converting at over 90 percent in league play. And he has way more attempts than the next six on the list, despite missing some time with an injury. Providence sophomore Bryce Cotton is just above Wayns as the overall leader, at just under 90 in fewer tries.
Ultimate title game: Notre Dame is the only team to beat Syracuse, so that would be attractive. But the Irish only have been to the semis twice, once since 2002. Marquette, which lost by seven at the Carrier Dome in early January, might actually be the more interesting matchup. Assuming, of course, Syracuse gets there.
The dreaded pick: Trust me, I never get this right. It’s hard to go against Syracuse, just because. But Georgetown only lost to the Orange in overtime on the road in early February. So to try and be different, why not? Don’t risk your 401(k), though, even if the Hoyas did get to the final in 2008 and 2010.