Monday, March 11, 2013

Previewing the Last Big East Tournament as We Know It

The Big East Tournament will kick off tomorrow and you can probably find hundreds of articles written in the past few days exclaiming that this will be the final Big East Tournament as we know it. And they will all be right. The conference is set to undergo a drastic makeover next year and there won’t be a Big East Tournament that goes by in the future without at least one reference to the power house this conference once was – even if the newly constructed conference becomes just as great one day.

While Connecticut, Georgetown, Providence, St. John’s, Seton Hall and Syracuse were the founding members in 1979 that have stuck it out this long, it took multiple instances of additions and subtractions to build it up to where it is today. The most recent influx of teams took place in 2005 when Cincinnati, DePaul, Louisville, Marquette and South Florida joined to make it the beast that it became. The Big East was always regarded as one of the better basketball conferences in the nation throughout the 80s, 90s and early 2000s, but it really became regarded as an all-time great in 2011 when the Big East sent a record 11 teams to the NCAA Tournament – with UConn capping the year off with a national championship. 

Conference realignment has always been a part of collegiate athletics and it will never go away. Who knows, these 15 teams could end up together in a super conference someday down the road.

But instead of crying over the past or worrying about the future, let’s just enjoy the 2013 Big East Tournament over the next five days like we’ve done each and every time over the years.

Here is a preview on what is to come and my predicted bracket…

The Favorites:

Louisville – The Cardinals haven’t lost in over a month as they are in the midst of a 7-game winning streak and don’t have a bad loss on their resume all season. They were the unanimous pick to win the conference and ended up in a three-way share of it, but given the pieces on this team and the run these same guys made last year, I’m going to label them as the favorite.

Georgetown – The Hoyas made a statement on Saturday by destroying Syracuse in the two schools final regular season meeting as conference rivals, to signal to the rest of the Big East that they are for real. A winner of their last 12 of 13 games, and with a player as hot as Otto Porter, this team clearly knows how to emerge victorious.

Under the Radar Team:

Pittsburgh – I know the Panthers earned a double-bye, but this team has gotten very little publicity all season. The advanced metrics are big believers in Pitt, but they have a tendency to go through prolonged scoring droughts. But given that they will likely see Syracuse followed by Georgetown (two teams also known for troubles on the offensive end) before reaching the finals, you have to like their chances. At least I do, anyway.

Dark Horse Teams:

None - I know the Big East has become known for teams making a run to the championship without the luxury of a double-bye, but I don’t think that will be the case this year. I know the obvious candidate here would be Syracuse, but the Orange’s offense has been so consistently awful over the past month that it seems impossible to fix in such short notice. Notre Dame hasn’t impressed me at all on the road, and unfortunately the winner of the St. John’s vs. Villanova game on Wednesday has to see a well rest Louisville the next day.  Marquette, who shared the Big East regular season crown with Louisville and Georgetown and who also earned a double-bye, is another team that I find difficult to get excited about away from their home court.  And the four teams that play on Tuesday night – Rutgers, Seton Hall, South Florida and DePaul – are all atrocious and have absolutely no shot.

Players to Watch:

Otto Porter – He is going to be the unanimous selection for Big East Player of the Year, and rightfully so -  he can take over a game and put the entire team on his back en route to a victory.  He may be the best stretch four in the country and look for him to impose his will on opponents as needed.

Peyton Siva – While his season was rather disappointing given that he was selected as the pre-season player of the year, he is still the floor general of the Cardinals. Look for the senior point guard to pick up his play as it matters most and reemerge as one of the better distributing point guards in the country.  He just needs to be sure to not get into foul trouble – an area he struggled with throughout the season.

Steven Adams – The freshman big might be the only player in the Big East that can match up with Gorgui Dieng and not be outmatched from a physical standpoint. However, Adams isn’t as skilled or experienced, but if he can stay on the floor his presence alone could be effective enough for the Panthers to make a run at it.

Jack Cooley – If you could somehow quantify hardest working player in the conference, Cooley is probably it. There is no question that he is one of if not the best rebounder in the Big East, but he will need to step it up defensively if the Irish are to have a chance.  Offense isn’t the problem for the Irish, it’s their defense.  Look for Cooley to turn it up a notch and own the paint. 

My Bracket Prediction:

Let me know who you guys think will win and why.


Twitter:  @ShaneInBigEast

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