by Robert Ferringo - 03/07/2006
For months now I have been terrified and fascinated at the Big East Conference. With awe-inspiring force, the league has cast a pall over the college basketball landscape, and for me its utter domination will be one of the lasting themes of this season.
With its offseason absorption of Marquette, Cincinnati, Depaul, Louisville and South Florida, the Big East has become a hyper-conglomeration of hoops prowess. According to the Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) they have eight of the top 32 teams in the land and are on the verge of sending an unprecedented amount of teams (eight or nine) to the NCAA Tournament. They have demolished opponents in the nonconference schedule, and appear ready to unleash their fearsome wrath on the rest of the College Basketball World in less than two weeks.
But first, there is the annual ritual known as the Big East Tournament. Four days and nights of cannibalism and carnage begin Wednesday at Madison Square Garden. A champion will be crowned on Saturday.
The Big East Tournament is always one of the most grand and exciting of all conference championships. With the New York City backdrop to the exceptional level of play, the event never fails to disappoint any die-hard fan of postseason attrition.
But this year, the tournament brings with it harrowing overtones. After its gross and dominating expansion, it now has the look of a medieval gathering of warring tribes. They will congregate in the Greatest City in the World to stage a sort of hoops Armageddon, and for one week the war drums will roll, blood will be shed, and the bonfires of the dead will be seen for miles.
Perhaps my fear is born out of being a Syracuse fan. I know that my Orange enter their opening game against Cincinnati - the first game of the competition, Wednesday at noon - with their NCAA Tournament dreams fixed squarely under the heavy blade of the guillotine. But that's too trivial. I feel as if it's something more.
Telecommunications giant AT&T has put forth a bid to purchase rival Bell South in what would be the fifth-largest corporate merger in United States history. It is just these sorts of dizzying maneuvers that send shivers down the spine of anyone with any sense in this country. The overwhelming forces of Money, Communications, and Ownership that are work here give the powerful impression that a vice around our culture was just given a light squeeze.
Maybe it's the opium. Maybe I'm looking for something that isn't there. Or maybe it's just the American Way hacking its way through the clutter. But there is something of vital importance afoot at Madison Square Garden. It is the future. And it is both fascinating and terrifying.
Here is a breakdown of the tribes that will take part in this weekend's 2006 Big East Tournament:
No. 1 Connecticut (14-2, 27-2)
The main thing that the Huskies have going for them is depth. At this stage of the game that's the difference between a ticket to the title game and a train ride home. Guys like Ed Nelson and Denham Brown would likely start for half the teams in the country. Because of their bench and their frontcourt power, the Huskies have the inside track.
No. 2 Villanova (14-2, 24-3)
The Wildcats are one of the teams that I'm worried about wearing themselves out. They run with four guards, and it's going to be difficult for them to expend the required effort for three consecutive nights. And if they do, they run the risk of tiring for the NCAA Tournament. The best thing for them may be a loss in the semis.
No. 3 West Virginia (11-5, 20-9)
It was at this time, and at this place, last season that the Mountaineers started to assert themselves as a force on the college basketball landscape. They are 32-11 since the start of the 2005 BET. The Mountaineers are a dodgy bet because they rely so heavily on the three-pointer. Their quarterfinal game against Marquette, a rematch of a 104-85 win on Jan. 14, is a must-see.
No. 4 Pittsburgh (10-6, 21-6)
The Panthers always play well in the Garden. They have come down to earth a little bit over the last two weeks, losing three of their last four games by a total of 11 points. That skid has led to them sliding down to the No. 4 seed, and the result is a quarterfinal meeting with either powerful Georgetown or dangerous Notre Dame.
No. 5 Georgetown (10-6, 19-8)
One of the biggest surprises in the league, the Hoyas blew a chance for a first-round bye with their bizarre loss at South Florida. The result is a match-up with The Team That No One Wants To Play: Notre Dame. Georgetown beat the Irish and Pittsburgh (their potential semifinal opponent), but by having to play that fourth game they have ruined any chance of winning this tourney.
No. 6 Marquette (10-6, 20-9)
After UConn and Villanova, the Golden Eagles are the team that I believe is best equipped for a deep run in the NCAA Tournament. I like the size in their frontcourt, Steven Novak is a stud, and point guard Dominic James has been the best freshman in the conference. The Eagles have flown under the radar all season, posting a 16-7-1 record against the spread during this campaign.
No. 7 Seton Hall (9-7, 18-10)
The beneficiaries of the unbalanced league schedule, the Pirates have clawed their way into a favorable postseason position. Their cupcake schedule even has carried over into the tournament - they face Rutgers in the opening round. This senior-heavy roster has been disciplined and focused all year, but don't expect more than a one-and-done out of the Pirates this week.
No. 8 Cincinnati (8-8, 19-11)
The Bearcats should have already earned a bid to the Big Dance, but they don't want to leave anything to chance. They split with SU in two regular season meetings, with each winning on the opponent's home floor. Now, on a neutral court, they'll take on the floundering Orange in the rubber match with UConn waiting in the wings.
No. 9 Syracuse (7-9, 19-11)
No contending team in this conference has looked worse over the last month than the Orange. And no contending team in this league is more desperate for a victory than SU. The smart money says that they need a win in the first round to have a shot at a bid in the NCAA Tournament. The good news is that they have had a lot of success at MSG and in the BET.
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The views expressed in this article are not necessarily those of Doc's college basketball picks service.