March 10, 2014
By Sean Brennan
Special to BIGEAST.com
It’s that time of year again.
College basketball fanatics of all ages flock to New York City and wrap themselves in their school colors while work productivity around the city drops precipitously due to the annual March ailment known as “Hoop Flu.”
It must be time for the BIG EAST Tournament presented by NEW YORK LIFE.
So get that old team sweatshirt out of the closet and come up with a good excuse for why they won’t see you at work much this week (remember, you used the “my mom is having hip replacement surgery” excuse last season) as the BIG EAST Tournament is set to tip off Wednesday night at the World’s Most Famous Arena.
Butler and Seton Hall will get things started in the opener of Wednesday evening’s doubleheader at 7 p.m. with Georgetown and DePaul squaring off in the nightcap. The ninth-seeded Bulldogs (14-16, 4-14 BIG EAST) swept the season series from the No. 8 Pirates (15-16, 6-12) and in a quirky twist the two teams will be playing for the second time in five days on Wednesday night.
On Saturday Butler’s Kellen Dunham went 7-for-7 on three-pointers and finished with 29 points as the Bulldogs rolled to a 71-54 victory over The Hall. After struggling through a winless February, Butler has won booth its March contests and heads into the tournament with a nice head of steam.
The Pirates’ senior trio of Eugene Teague, Brian Oliver and Fuquan Edwin, the school’s all-time steals leader, will be looking to extend their careers and hope that the old adage “it’s hard to beat a team three times in a season” applies here.
In the nightcap, Georgetown, with quality wins already this season over VCU, Creighton and Michigan State, comes in as the seventh seed. The Hoyas (17-13, 8-10 BIG EAST), which are led by senior guard Markel Starks, an All-BIG EAST First Team selection, will be looking to further bolster their resume for the NCAA Tournament with a deep run at the Garden.
DePaul, the 10th seed, which comes to town toting a pair of All-Rookie Team picks in Billy Garrett Jr. and Tommy Hamilton IV, will be looking to hand teammate Brandon Young his first BIG EAST tournament victory in his last chance. Young, the Demons’ senior guard who will finish his career in the top four in DePaul history in both points and assists, told BIGEAST.com earlier this month that that elusive tournament win would be a nice capper to a fine career.
“I think I’d be lost for words,” Young said. “It’s something I’ve thought about since I was young.”
On Thursday, or “Hoop Flu Day” as we like to call it, top-seeded Villanova gets things started at noon when the Wildcats meet the winner of Butler-Seton Hall. The Cats (28-3, 16-2) have posted 19 double-digit victories this season and their 28 regular-season wins and 16 conference victories are both school records.
But James Bell, JayVaughn Pinkston, Ryan Arcidiacono and Co. have their eyes set on even bigger prizes as they’ll be making a run at not only the BIG EAST tournament title but a possible No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Following that game, fifth-seeded St. John’s (20-11, 10-8 BIG EAST) squares off with No. 4 Providence (20-11, 10-8 BIG EAST) at 2:30 p.m. in a game with huge NCAA Tournament ramifications. The Red Storm and Friars, who split the season series this year, come in as teams that will want to grab a victory or two in the BIG EAST tournament in order to assure a ticket to the Big Dance.
Red Storm coach Steve Lavin had been saying all season long that his Johnnies would be playing their best basketball in February and March and now he looks like Nostradamus, only in an expensive suit. The Red Storm, led by All-BIG EAST First Team pick D’Angelo Harrison, has won 11 of its last 14 games with two of those defeats being three-point road losses at Creighton and Villanova.
They’ll meet Ed Cooley’s Providence team that has played more conference basketball than any other team in the BIG EAST – courtesy of six overtime games, including four of the double-OT variety. The Friars are led by the freakish – and we mean that in a good way – Bryce Cotton, who holds the rather bizarre distinction of averaging more minutes played per game than there are actual minutes in a standard game. Thanks to the Friars’ penchant for working overtime, Cotton, an All-BIG EAST First Team unanimous selection, averages 40.1 minutes per game and will be sure to add to his Ironman numbers at the Garden. Want another freaky number on Cotton? The man played all 50 minutes in each of the Friars’ four double-overtime games this season. That’s 200 minutes in four games. (I’m tired just writing that).
Thursday’s night session tips off at 7 p.m. with No. 2 Creighton (24-6, 14-4 BIG EAST) meeting the winner of Georgetown-DePaul. The Bombin’ Bluejays (Creighton’s 309 3-balls lead the conference), led by Doug “McBuckets” McDermott, have a habit of putting on quite the offensive show so you might want to get to your seats by 7 p.m. - sharp.
McDermott, the newest member of the 3,000-point club, will continue his climb up the scoring charts and take aim at his only shot at a BIG EAST tournament crown in what could be the first step toward a third meeting with Villanova, which would come in the title game.
But it will be no cakewalk for Creighton if it must face Georgetown in its tournament opener, especially since the Hoyas dealt the Jays a 75-63 setback on March 4.
Thursday’s all-day Hoops-a-Palooza will conclude with No. 3 Xavier challenging No. 6 Marquette at 9:30 p.m. in another contest of teams needing to pad their resumes for an NCAA Tournament invite.
Chris Mack’s Musketeers (20-11, 10-8 BIG EAST), with All-BIG EAST First Teamer Semaj Christon and who have logged top-shelf victories over Creighton and Cincinnati this season, will be looking to put their ‘X’ on the tournament championship hardware in their first BIG EAST tournament as they face a Marquette (17-14, 9-9 BIG EAST) team that is coming in off of three straight losses, including a pair of double-overtime heartbreakers to Providence and St. John’s.
A victory for Xavier could finally nudge the Musketeers off that NCAA bubble (if it isn’t already off) and into the NCAA tournament while Marquette, the preseason top pick in the conference, likely has to run the table to see its name called on Selection Sunday.
The semifinals will tip off Friday night at 7 p.m. with the championship game set to tip off at 8:30 p.m. Saturday night with all games airing on Fox Sports 1. So kick back and relax. It’s March, it’s Madison Square Garden and it’s the BIG EAST tournament.
And all is right with your world.