Big East Tournament: Creighton, UConn headline wide-open area

It is a practice synonymous with school basketball. For the forty first consecutive 12 months, the Big East Tournament hits Madison Square Garden this week. Coverage of the primary spherical, quarterfinals and semifinals will air on FS1 earlier than Saturday’s championship recreation hits FOX at 6:30 p.m. ET.

In the tenth 12 months because the convention reconfigured to a basketball-centric league, this season carries a vibe that the event is as huge open as it has been on this present iteration.

Why? For starters, the Big East Tournament has been the Villanova Invitational for the higher a part of the final decade. The Wildcats have gained 5 of the final seven convention tournaments, and of these seven, they have been in each event championship recreation besides one. While Kyle Neptune’s crew has gained six of its final eight and has discovered a rhythm behind the return of senior guard Justin Moore, it’ll be moderately onerous for the Cats to repeat and steal a bid to the NCAA Tournament.

You might make an argument for upwards of six, possibly even seven groups to win the crown in Manhattan this week. Here’s a whip-around of storylines to observe for this week. 

The front-runner: UConn

Over the final month, the Huskies have performed like a darkish horse to succeed in Houston in April. They’ve performed far more just like the crew that began the 12 months 14-0, having gained 5 in a row and eight of their final 9 coming into the Big East Tournament. What’s gone proper? Connecticut has Jordan Hawkins and different groups do not, and Dan Hurley is taking part in by means of his famous person sophomore guard. Also, Adama Sanogo continues to be robust and Andre Jackson Jr. labored by means of a midseason droop to get again on observe. A silent murderer from deep, Alex Karaban is such a key to what the Huskies do, and when this crew is connecting on perimeter photographs, pack your baggage. 

The matchup to observe: Thursday, 2:30 p.m. ET on FS1 — No. 4 Providence vs. No. 5 Connecticut

There’s zero love misplaced between these two faculties. None. Madison Square Garden shall be an absolute zoo on Thursday afternoon when the Friars and Huskies meet on the Big East Tournament for the primary time since 1998. These two groups enter New York getting in very totally different instructions. The Friars misplaced back-to-back dwelling video games final week to Xavier and Seton Hall, getting humiliated 82-58 by the Pirates on Saturday. Ed Cooley’s crew continues to be more likely to hear its identify on Selection Sunday, however Providence must regain its defensive id or else this season goes to finish faster than initially anticipated.

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Meanwhile, Connecticut has not gained the Big East Tournament since Kemba Walker and the Huskies pulled off the feat in 2011. This week is one by which Dan Hurley can lead UConn to the heights that he stated had been going to occur when he took the place in Storrs. Expect an all-out battle on Thursday, and the way this recreation will get officiated is an important key as a result of physicality shall be a theme.

Star Power: Marquette’s Tyler Kolek and Xavier’s Souley Boum 

The prime two seeds are in that place due to program-changing guard play this season.

The common season champion Golden Eagles have some extent guard who needs to be thought-about for first-team All-American honors. In his second season underneath Shaka Smart, Kolek has engineered the nation’s fourth-most environment friendly offense with 246 assists (second in NCAA) to simply 73 turnovers on the season. He is deadly off screens, with an elite capability to time all the things up and make the proper play for a Golden Eagles crew that’s 25-6 on the season. 

With the bucket-getting abilities of Kam Jones alongside him, Kolek has teamed up with the sophomore to kind a backcourt that’s troublesome to attend. The convention participant of the 12 months (in my ebook) has an opportunity so as to add to a historic marketing campaign and energy the Golden Eagles to this system’s first Big East Tournament championship. And, a phrase on Marquette in short: it appears like this crew has been overshadowed this week. That’s onerous to imagine for a 25-6 crew, however Smart would not need it some other manner. If the Golden Eagles can get rolling of their Thursday quarterfinal (Noon ET, FS1) in opposition to St. John’s or Butler, they’ll get the winner of Providence/UConn, and that crew may very well be worn right down to a level from the battle the day earlier than.

As for second-seeded Xavier, 24-year-old Boum has been the person for Sean Miller in his return season in Cincinnati, averaging 16.8 factors, 4.5 assists and 4.2 rebounds per recreation whereas taking pictures over 46% from the sphere. Boum owns 13 20-plus-point video games on the season, driving the Musketeers to a 23-8 file and three straight wins heading into The Garden. Last week, Boum delivered his most interesting efficiency at Xavier, exploding for 33 factors and ending Providence’s 17-game dwelling profitable streak within the course of. When the Musketeers want a giant shot, the ball has been in Boum’s palms all season, and he has delivered again and again. Late in a recreation, in case you’re trailing, good luck. Boum has hit numerous clutch free throws with an 84% mark on the stripe. This child might take over MSG this week.

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Marquette cooks up a fairly dunk

Marquette cooks up a pretty dunk

Marquette’s Tyler Kolek and Oso Ighodaro discovered one another for a beautiful pick-and-roll dunk in opposition to St. John’s throughout a current recreation.

The swing crew within the event: Creighton

Which model of the Bluejays are we going to see? Creighton suffered current losses to Marquette and Villanova earlier than taking good care of enterprise over Georgetown and DePaul within the closing week of the common season. Will we see the crew that gained 9 of 10 video games from the halfway level of January to the second half of February, or the crew that might not shut at dwelling in opposition to the Golden Eagles and obtained overwhelmed by Villanova in Philadelphia lower than two weeks in the past?

A intestine feeling: The Jays’ showdown with Villanova on Thursday at 9:30 p.m. ET on FS1 might find yourself being the one we glance again on this week. Wildcats massive man Eric Dixon scored a career-high 31 factors in the latest assembly between Villanova and Creighton, because the junior gave Ryan Kalkbrenner a boatload of points. Will we see Greg McDermott make the required changes to get revenge? One would assume so, as Creighton has confirmed to achieve success in New York with 4 journeys to the Big East championship recreation out of eight tries.

Five extra ideas:

  • This week alerts the top of the Patrick Ewing teaching period at Georgetown. The Hoyas went from a winless convention file final 12 months to a 2-18 displaying this season. It’s time for a change in DC as a as soon as proud program is at present in as darkish a spot because it’s ever been.
  • Don’t sleep on Seton Hall this week. When a crew comes off a win just like the Pirates had on Saturday at Providence, blowing the Friars out by 24, that confidence can carry into MSG. Femi Odukale is taking part in his finest basketball of the season recently, totaling 33 factors, 18 rebounds and 11 assists mixed within the final two video games. With Dre Davis wholesome, The Hall has a veteran wing again who does numerous various things. Could Shaheen Holloway recapture March magic this week? It’s on the desk.
  • St. John’s has been the frustration of the Big East this season, going 6-13 following an 11-1 begin to the 12 months. The Red Storm have Butler on Wednesday at 3 p.m. ET on FS1, and assuming they win that recreation, they meet top-seeded Marquette. Mike Anderson is preventing to maintain his job this week, however his crew, albeit frenetic, has proven it is able to competing.
  • Creighton level guard Ryan Nembhard, who’s third within the Big East with 4.9 assists per recreation in addition to in assist-to-turnover ratio, didn’t obtain a single recognition from the convention’s coaches within the league awards. Look for the Jays’ orchestrator to feed off that this week.
  • Xavier junior wing Colby Jones needs to be getting some appears to be like from scouts for his versatility on the wing. He enters MSG driving a red-hot streak, totaling at the very least 19 factors within the final three video games and upping his averages to fifteen.3 factors, 5.3 rebounds and 4.6 assists per recreation on 53% from the ground. Jones is a superb rebounder for his dimension and his size mixed with the improved shot makes him one powerful cowl.
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Trey Alexander fuels Creighton

Trey Alexander fuels Creighton

Trey Alexander’s 21-point efficiency led the Creighton Bluejays to a 84-70 win over the DePaul Blue Demons in a current contest.

Semifinals prediction: 

  • UConn over Marquette
  • Creighton over Seton Hall

Championship recreation prediction: 

The Bluejays seize their first Big East Tournament crown behind the shot-making of Baylor Scheierman and Trey Alexander. After being the runner-up 4 occasions within the final eight league tournaments at MSG, Greg McDermott and Creighton make historical past.

John Fanta is a nationwide school basketball broadcaster and author for FOX Sports. He covers the game in a wide range of capacities, from calling video games on FS1 to serving as lead host on the BIG EAST Digital Network to offering commentary on The Field of 68 Media Network. Follow him on Twitter @John_Fanta.

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