Damien Jefferson and Creighton are poised for a Big East run (AP Photo/ Stew Milne
By KEVIN McNAMARA
A year ago disaster struck the world, the sports world, and broke the hearts of college basketball players everywhere.
This time around many of those same hearts are ready to be broken again but this time the affliction will be a little March Sadness.
The Big East Tournament tips off Wednesday and a slew of teams in the conference are desperate for some victories. Without a little love, Xavier, Seton Hall and St. John’s will be sidelined for next week’s Big Dance. Without an eye-opening run, teams like the Providence Friars could be packing the balls away for the season.
Here is the bracket for this week’s tournament, which will largely be without fans. Only families and friends of the participants are being allowed into Madison Square Garden but, as they say on Broadway, the show must go on. In this case, Fox-TV and the Big East own a great setting for the best college basketball reality show of them all.
“It’s the Garden and it’s still the Big East Tournament,” said PC coach Ed Cooley. “We are so excited to get down there and play.”
Here is a breakdown of what to look for this week:
VILLANOVA (16-5, 11 NET, 3-3 vs. Quad 1, 8-5 vs. Q1&2): The Wildcats were looking at a solid three seed until a season-ending injury to star guard Collin Gillespie threw everything up in the air. A subsequent ankle injury to Justin Moore (likely out of BET) and loss at Providence has the Wildcats sinking on the Seed List. Guess here is a 4. Will face Marquette-Georgetown winner Thursday at Noon.
CREIGHTON (18-7, 25 NET, 4-3, 11-4): The Bluejays survived an emotional final week of the regular season when coach Greg McDermott was suspended for a game after using the word `plantation’ in a locker room meeting with his players. Coach Mac is back for the Big East as a 2 seed. The Jays, who will play the Xavier-Butler winner at 7 p.m. Thursday, are looking like a 6/7 seed but can firm that up with run to the finals.
CONNECTICUT (14-6, 31 NET, 3-3, 6-3): One of the fastest rising teams in the country, the Huskies are poised to take over the Garden without their rabid fans cheering them on. Maybe next year. For now watch for James Bouknight & Co. to keep things rolling but the path is a tough one. Dan Hurley’s team will work in Prime Time (9 p.m. tips) and face the Providence-DePaul winner Thursday. A potential Providence-Creighton-Villanova run is a tough one but could elevate the Huskies to a 5/6/7 seed in the NCAA committee’s eyes.
St. JOHN’S (16-10, 67 NET, 2-6, 6-8): This is a dangerous team, if only because of its fast tempo (tops in league, 11th in country) and efficient offense (34th). Julian Champagnie and Posh Alexander (will play/wrist) are explosive talents and while the Garden crowd would normally be howling for the Storm, the chances of a run exist. First step? Beating a tough Seton Hall team that just blew an 18-0 start against SJU.
XAVIER (13-7, 58 NET, 1-2, 6-7): Most of the Bubble Boys have Xavier right on the cut line. If I was a Musketeer fan I would not agree with them. This group needs to win more games, starting with a Must Win over a young, aggressive Butler team tonight at 6 p.m. A win over Creighton in the quarters would seal the deal but anything less and this team will be nervous Sunday. It’s couple COVID pauses could come back to haunt the Muskies.
SETON HALL (13-12, 59 NET, 3-7, 6-11): The Pirates have faded in the last few weeks and are now a win or two from getting back into the discussion. While co-Player of the Year Sandro Mamukelashvili is a dangerous player, the mojo is not in the Pirates’ corner right now.
PROVIDENCE (13-12, 77 NET, 3-6, 7-12): The Friars are included here if only because everyone keeps telling me “they have the talent to make a run.’’
Well where has this supposed talent been? This team has won two games in a row only once (UConn/DePaul) since the calendar flipped to 2021. Now they have to win four in a row, in four days.
The Friars have two motivated (second team) All-Conference talents in David Duke and Nate Watson but the lack of consistency down the roster has led to a team that is not stout enough defensively. That’s a major issue in conference tournament formats where every possession in crunch time can be stomach-turning.
THE PICK: Connecticut