2015 Big East Tournament Expert Picks and Betting Odds
by Robert Ferringo - 3/9/2015
Hey, remember the Big East Tournament?
The Big East has been the most underrated conference in the country this year, and it is obvious why. ESPN no longer owns the right to this league (that honor belongs to Fox), so the Worldwide Skeever has all but ignored this conference all season long. The Big East is the No. 2 RPI conference in the country and is No. 2 in Ken Pomeroy's rankings. They also dominated the nonconference portion of the schedule and house the second-best team in the nation. But you won't hear a single word about this league on ESPN, the manipulator of all national sports discussion.
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The Big East Tournament will take place at Madison Square Garden in New York this week. Play begins on Wednesday, March 11, and the champion will be crowned on Saturday, March 14. Here is Doc's Sports Big East Conference Tournament preview:
The Favorite: Villanova (-175)
Villanova is a godless killing machine. Period. I have been saying for weeks - and I am the ONLY college basketball analyst that has been saying it - that Villanova is the second-best team in the country. The Wildcats have gone 22-8 against the spread this year and they are an absolutely astounding 44-18 ATS over the past two seasons. They have gone 58-7 straight up during that time and have just wrecked people. Villanova has an ironclad starting five that has no weakness. Seniors Darrun Hilliard and JayVaughn Pinkston are unflappable. Point guard Ryan Arcidiacono and center Dan Ochefu are both outstanding players. And these guys play with the edge of a team that can win a national championship. The Wildcats lost in their Big East opener last year as the No. 2 seed, and I think they are going to want to make up for their weak march showing this time around.
The Contender: Georgetown (+300)
The Hoyas - the No. 2 team in the No. 2 league in the country - finally cracked the Top 25 this week. That's how underrated this team is. The Hoyas are hot, winning five of their last six games, and they are one just two teams to beat Villanova this year. This team beats you the way you would expect a Georgetown team to beat you: wearing you down with defense, rebounding, and ruthless efficiency on offense. The key for this team is massive center Josh Smith. This is the final go-round for the perennial underachiever, who has stayed healthy and had his best year yet. Do-everything guard D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera controls the perimeter and gives the Hoyas one of the best go-to guys in the league. Georgetown's main weakness is at the free throw line. They send opponents there too much, and they make too few of their own. Tournament games are won and lost on the line. Georgetown needs to execute there if they want a rubber match with Villanova.
The Sleeper: Butler (+500)
The Bulldogs have made the transition from plucky mid-major program to major conference Top 25 stalwart. This is one of the best teams that no one talks about, and they definitely have the goods to cut down the nets in The Garden. The Bulldogs have one of the shortest benches in the nation (they are No. 338 in bench minutes), but their starting five can play with anyone. Multifaceted guard Roosevelt Jones is a bowling ball going to the basket, and running mate Kellen Dunham is one of the better shooters in the country. They are gritty defensively, and the Bulldogs are experienced with five seniors and juniors in the rotation. Butler would love another shot at Georgetown in the semifinals after losing to the Hoyas twice - by a combined eight points - during the regular season.
The Spoiler: Xavier (+800)
The Musketeers have been all over the map this season. They have bad losses to Auburn, DePaul and Creighton. But they also have gone 3-1 against Butler and Georgetown, the two teams they would have to go through in order to get to the finals. The Musketeers were terrible on the road early in the season. But now they've won three of four on foreign turf, including a road win over a Top 35 Cincinnati team. This is just a sketchy team. But they are desperate for wins and solidify an NCAA Tournament berth, and they have enough athletes to cause people problems. Xavier will lean on senior big man Matt Stainbrook. And the key to this team will be how well it defends against Butler in the quarters.
Bubble Team To Watch: St. John's (+650)
St. John's and Xavier are the two teams heading to MSG with the most to prove and most to lose. The Red Storm have made just one NCAA Tournament since Steve Lavin came to town. That was back in 2011 when Lavin took a loaded senior class and coaxed them to a one-and-done showing. It's been a tough four years since. But Lavin once again has a veteran bunch of seniors - four of their top six players - and they are on the verge of dancing again. St. John's could use a win over sagging Providence in the opener to seal the deal. They swept the Friars this year, winning by 13 on the road and nine points at home. The Red Storm have been dealing with some injury issues concerning center Chris Obekpa and guard Jamal Branch. But both should be healthy and ready to go. The Red Storm are essentially playing on their home court, and the player to watch is super-scorer D'Angelo Harrison.
Early Round Matchup To Watch:
No. 4 Providence (-4) vs. No. 5 St. John's (2:30 p.m., Thursday, March 12)
Providence couldn't solve the Red Storm in either regular-season meeting. But they are a dangerous team in this tournament because the Friars head to New York with two of the best players in the country. Kris Dunn and LaDontae Henton are both All-American players that overwhelm opponents on both ends of the floor. Providence has massive size, as a team, and that is something that St. John's struggles with as well. I've already noted how desperate St. John's is, and the home crowd will bolster them. But Providence is a Top 25-caliber team capable of playing at a very high level. If you want to get an idea about how good the Big East is and what this tournament is all about, be sure to turn in to this game. I can't imagine anything other than a back-and-forth tilt that comes down the final two minutes.
Big East Conference Tournament Predictions: You are nuts to bet on anyone but Villanova. I'm not saying they are unbeatable. The Wildcats will have their hands full with either St. John's or Providence in the semifinals. But most of the danger is at the bottom of the bracket, and the Wildcats should be comparatively fresh if they advance to the title game. I think the Wildcats are on a mission. They have been too good these past two years to have nothing beyond a regular-season crown to show for it. I think underdogs are going to be the way to bet this tournament, and I think we'll see an upset or two along the way. But I think Villanova stays above the fold and cuts down the nets.
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