Big East Men’s Basketball Tournament Preview

Story posted March 10, 2021 in Sports, CommRadio by Matthew McLaughlin

Once upon a time, the Big East was the premier conference in college basketball with three of the four Final Four teams from the 1985 NCAA Tournament consisting of programs from the East Coast-based conference.

However, since the late 1980s, the Big East has taken a dramatic shift. DePaul, Butler, Xavier, Creighton and Marquette have all joined the conference while Boston College, Syracuse and Pitt have all left the conference.

Nonetheless, one team will be crowned Big East champion and etched into conference history forever as the 2021 Big East champions, so here’s a preview and breakdown of this year’s conference tournament.

Throughout this season, experts and analysts pinned Jay Wright and the No. 14 Villanova Wildcats as the Big East champions, but while the Wildcats remain the top seed and sit within the top fifteen in the nation, the loss of senior guard Collin Gillespie for the rest of the season due to a torn ACL could cost the Wildcats a Big East championship and a deep run in the Big Dance.

To its credit, Villanova has won its last two games but not in dominant fashion. Against the then-No.18 Arizona State Sun Devils, the Wildcats shot a poor 33% clip from downtown and blew a 17-point lead, so it is very likely the Wildcats could be bounced out of the conference bracket earlier than expected. Too bad they can’t bring back Ed Pickney (Check the film, kids).

Switching to the No. 17 Creighton Bluejays, the other heavy-hitter in the Big East, will be a compelling squad to watch as head coach Greg McDermott gets reinstated this week. Outside of the internal turmoil, Creighton is seeking its first conference championship since 2013. The leading scorer on that team? Doug McDermott (yes, Dougie McBuckets, film don’t lie).

Entering the tournament, Creighton has four players averaging double-digits, but as a team, the Bluejays are shooting a horrid 65% from the charity stripe. In high pressure moments, the Bluejays need someone they can send to the line and right now, their opponents’ best defensive strategy would be to play physical defense and send the Bluejays to the line.

If there were two dark horses to pick in this year’s bracket, those would be UConn and Georgetown. Yes, both teams are ranked, but they’re seated at third and eighth, respectively and have shown great signs of improvement. For UConn, in games against Creighton, St. John’s, Villanova and Georgetown, it has lost by 12 points or fewer in each matchup.

Furthermore, James Bouknight is putting together a stellar sophomore campaign, averaging 20 points, six rebounds and two assists per game. Expect the Huskies to keep each game close and take each opponent to the brink.

Going to the Hoyas, Patrick Ewing has finally rebuilt this program into a competitive team. Again, cannot stress competitive enough.

Are they the No. 1 seed in the conference? No, but despite losing Mac McClung to the transfer portal, Ewing has built this Georgetown team into a tough, scrappy squad that built up an 18-point lead against aforementioned Villanova and only lost by nine points to then-No. 11 West Virginia.

Against the Mountaineers, the Hoyas rejected seven shots but only picked two steals, so actively defending the passing lanes and stifling opponents on the perimeter will be the biggest key for the Hoyas. With all that being said, make no mistake about it: Georgetown is a sleeper and can go on a Cinderella run.

Now, time to enjoy some classic Big East highlights.

 

Matthew McLaughlin is a freshman majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email mem6936@psu.edu.