The Big East Tournament decided that sending teams to the NCAA, NIT and CBE Tournaments wouldn't be enough this year. So they decided to team up for a little Sweet 16 of their own from March 10 through March 14 at Madison Square Garden in New York City.
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For the first time in recent Big East Tournament history all of the teams in this mega-conference will converge on the Big Apple with hopes of punching an automatic ticket to The Big Dance. The No. 9 through No. 16 seeds will play in first round games on Tuesday and then face seeds No. 5 through eight in second round games on Wednesday. The top four seeds - Louisville, Pittsburgh, Connecticut and Villanova - actually get double byes into the quarterfinals yet still have to win three games in order to cut down the nets.
Here is Doc's Sports 2009 Big East Tournament preview:
No. 1 Louisville - There is some debate over whether or not the Cardinals deserved the top seed in this tournament because they benefited from an unbalanced schedule. But regardless, the Cardinals are in a great position to make it to the Finals. Also, if they win this tournament they may be able to move all they way up to a No. 1 seed. They will get either Providence or Cincinnati in the quarterfinals. They won and covered against both squads, but I would say that both were closer than the final score indicated. After that they would get either Villanova or Marquette, a pair of teams that the Cardinals beat by a combined five points earlier this year. The Cards have won seven straight and are 17-2 straight up and 13-6 against the spread since Jan. 4.
No. 2 Pittsburgh - The Panthers are the defending Big East champions and have actually played in the finals in three consecutive years. They are arguably the best team in the country right now, but after their emotionally draining title last year I wonder if this team really wants to win this tournament. They will play either Notre Dame or West Virginia in the quarters and will need to focus against either opponent and avoid the look ahead to a potential rematch with the Huskies. But with Sam Young and DeJuan Blair the Panthers have the best one-two punch in the Big East.
No. 3 Connecticut - The Huskies have to be smarting a little bit. They went from being the No. 1 team in the country to the No. 3 team in the conference tournament. The Huskies really have not played well down the stretch since losing Jerome Dyson, going just 1-5 ATS in games without him. They also have lost their first game in this tournament in three consecutive seasons. Further, three of the last four years they have been knocked out by Syracuse, whom they could meet in the quarters.
No. 4 Villanova - I actually like the Wildcats to cut down the nets in New York City this weekend. I think this team is still a bit undervalued right now, as evidenced by their 11-4 ATS run into NYC. I love Scottie Reynolds and I think that if they can get past Marquette - no small task and a really tough matchup - that they can beat Louisville in the rematch. However, this team could also flame out. They really benefited from a favorable conference schedule this year and I don't know if they are proven against the top tier.
No. 5 Marquette - The Golden Eagles have really hit the skids since losing senior point guard Dominic James for the season. Perhaps as important as James' presence and experience on the court is the emotional toll that his loss has taken on Marquette. They limp into The Big Apple losing four straight games and they are just 1-5 SU and 2-4 ATS against the top six seeds in the Big East.
No. 6 Syracuse - The Orange look like a team that is peaking at the right time and is a solid dark horse in this tournament. The Orange won back-to-back championships in 2005 and 2006 as underdogs each time. This is a team that always plays well in the Garden and has Final Four talent. However, they still are shaky with the basketball, don't rebound well, don't shoot free throws well, and they got crushed in every game that they played against the top tier teams in the conference. Be wary.
No. 7 West Virginia - The Mountaineers have shown the ability to lose to the top teams in the Big East but they haven't scored anything more than a 21-point home win over Villanova. They are just 2-6 ATS and 1-7 SU against the top six seeds in the tournament. However, if they can hold off Notre Dame they would get a third crack at their rivals, Pitt, as a sizeable underdog.
No. 8 Providence - The Friars are one of the bubble teams playing in New York this weekend and they likely have to win three games to punch their ticket. They will likely face Cincinnati, another bubble foe, in the second round and have beaten the Bearcats twice this season. However, it's tough to beat a team three times in one year.
No. 10 Notre Dame - The only reason I even mention the Irish here is to state how bad they are. This team is soft and is a pathetic 8-16 ATS this year. This team does have one of the best players in the conference (Luke Harangody) and does have some talent and experience. But they are just 5-10 SU in their last 15 games and are too soft to win five straight.
No. 12 Georgetown - Georgetown is another team whose only shot at the NCAA Tournament is winning the Big East tourney. But don't be fooled: this team is not good. They just lost to St. John's and are an inexperienced, uninspired group.
No. 16 DePaul vs. No. 9 Cincinnati
DePaul is the worst team from a BCS conference that I have seen play this year, by far, and their only win since CHRISTMAS was over Alcorn State. They were 0-18 SU and 6-12 ATS in conference play this year, including a four-point home loss to the Bearcats. Cincinnati has lost five of six outright and they have not been a good road team all year. They will likely be favored - I think the line is 7.5 - but are just 3-4 ATS in their last seven as a chalk.
No. 13. St. John's vs. No. 12 Georgetown
The Hoyas actually lost to St. John's on this very court just a scant week ago. The Red Storm came back from a 14-point second half deficit to force overtime and then popped the Hoyas' bubble, 59-56. The Red Storm is a pretty young team and hasn't performed well on its de facto home court in the tourney lately. But don't think for one second that "revenge" is going to be a factor.
No. 15 Rutgers vs. No. 10 Notre Dame
Notre Dame is certainly a team on a mission and is much more talented than Rutgers. But Notre Dame actually lost to St. John's on their court earlier in the year. Notre Dame beat Rutgers by just five points - in South Bend - just a couple weeks ago. Also, the Irish are just 3-8 ATS as a favorite recently. Rutgers is just 2-17 SU since Christmas but they are a solid 8-4 ATS as an underdog of 7.5 or more in those games.
No. 14. South Florida vs. No. 11 Seton Hall
Seton Hall is potentially a team to watch for in this tournament and this should be a decent game. The Pirates are a respectable 7-5 SU in their last 12 games and a sensational 9-3 ATS in their last 12. This team has good guard play and they are a veteran bunch. In fact, this club just beat South Florida by 15 points in Jersey two weeks ago. The line on that game was 7.0 so I definitely wouldn't be laying any more than that.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR:
In the early rounds of this tournament you can't write off the teams from the lower tier. They are scrappy as hell and should be catching a load of points in their second round game. Cincinnati, Georgetown, Notre Dame, Seton Hall and South Florida have either sprung upsets or come damn close against the top tier. I think the double-bye is clearly going to be a huge advantage and I'll be stunned if three of the top four seeds aren't still around in the semifinals. I think a team to really keep an eye on is Villanova. I think that they will beat Louisville - if they manage to get by Marquette - and then I really think that either Pittsburgh or Connecticut will be winded by the time the finals come around. Pitt could have to play rival West Virginia (who always plays well in The Garden) and Connecticut has to face its rival, Syracuse (who owns The Garden). Then it's Pitt-UConn III.
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Finally, the team that has won the Big East tournament has been a solid fade in the NCAA Tournament in recent years. This week in New York is such an emotional grind and it just takes so much out of teams that they don't have anything left in the tank for The Big Dance. Keep an eye on who wins and how they get there to see if that trend continues.
For more information on Ferringo's college basketball picks, check out his Insider Page here.