Yes, you still need to fear The Beast.
The Big East Tournament used to be one of the biggest, best, and most exciting conference tournaments in college basketball. Conference realignment (screw you, college football!) has robbed the Big East of some of its star power and traditional rivalries. But the league has rebuilt, rebranded, and refreshed itself, even if it has had to do so outside of the national spotlight.
But don't sleep on The Beast. Villanova was the No. 1 team in the country at one point this season. Xavier and Seton Hall have athletes for days. Butler is, well, Butler, and Providence has two players that could be first-round picks in this summer's NBA draft. There's a lot to like the Big East. And I think they will once again provide one of the most entertaining and exciting league tournaments in the nation this week.
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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 9, and the champion will be crowned on Saturday, March 14. Here is Doc's Sports 2016 Big East Conference Tournament preview and predictions (with odds courtesy of Sportsbook.ag):
The Favorite: Villanova (+120)
The Wildcats are a godless killing machine. They have gone 89-12 over the last three seasons - a better mark than Kentucky, Kansas, Duke, or any other major program in the nation - and have dominated the rejiggered Big East. But Villanova's failings in March have kept them from getting the credit they deserve. Will this year be any different? That remains to be seen. But the Wildcats are built almost exactly the same as their recent teams, for good or ill. The Wildcats don't start a player taller than 6-6, opting for a four-guard rotation that is nearly impossible to match up with. Coach Jay Wright brings his three big men off the bench, and they get a lot of time. But Villanova's approach relies on their spectacular guards and wings. Villanova has only one win against a Top 20 team, though. And their recent tournament failings should give any backers pause. But this is a good team capable of getting very hot, and they deserve their frontrunner status.
The Contender: Xavier (+250)
The Musketeers are nasty. That's the best way to describe this crew: straight nasty. The Musketeers have just four losses on the season. They are one of the most athletic and most assertive teams in the country, and this group has earned its Top 12 status. What is scariest about the X-Men is the fact that this young team - they start just one senior and have just two seniors in their nine-man rotation - has only scratched the surface of what they can accomplish. Wings Trevon Bluiett and Edmond Sumner are NBA-caliber talents. Jalen Reynolds gives them a go-to post player. Myles Davis provides veteran savvy and J.P. Macura is the X-factor. Add in some other quality players and Xavier is a team that can put your lights out early.
The Sleeper: Seton Hall (+800)
I'm willing to bet that you don't know about Isaiah Whitehead. Well, you should. The sophomore is one of the best point guards in the country and the straw that stirs the Seton Hall drink. The Pirates haven't been relevant nationally in nearly a decade but are ready for a breakthrough performance this March. Seton Hall is another very young team, and they actually start five sophomores. Despite that this is a group that's earned several nice wins while also being tough to put away; all but one of their eight losses has come by eight points or less. The Pirates are 9-2 in their last 11 games, and only one team (Butler, twice) has beaten them since Jan. 24. I don't think Seton Hall has enough juice to win this tournament. But we're going to find out this week exactly what the Pirates' upside is.
The Spoiler: Creighton (+1500)
Butler, Seton Hall and Providence all seem to be on the right side of the NCAA Tournament bubble. So Creighton is really the only team playing for its life this week at MSG. They've lost four of their last five games overall and need to make the tournament final to even have a prayer of earning some NCAA discussion. But I think they are capable. The Bluejays have beaten Seton Hall and Xavier, their first two potential opponents. And if they were to face Villanova in the finals then the Wildcats would have to earn a third win over Creighton in one season to keep the Bluejays at bay. That's tough. Creighton plays a lot of guys, they have a nice inside-out balance, and they have an offense that can break out at any time. They might get bounced in their first game. But if they don't then this is a team that can wreak some havoc.
Early Round Matchup To Watch:
No. 4 Providence (-4) vs. No. 5 Butler (2:30 p.m., Thursday, March 12)
They both need it. One of them is going to get it. Providence and Butler are both allegedly on the NCAA Tournament bubble, so this game should have some extra adrenaline in it. The truth is that these two teams are both stacked with talent and experience, and I wouldn't be surprised if either is playing in the Sweet 16 in a couple of weeks. Providence will lean on the best one-two punch in the country: Kris Dunn and Ben Bentil. Butler, which lost to Providence in both meetings this year, will lean on the unique skills of seniors Roosevelt Jones and Kellen Dunham. Butler struggles defensively and Providence has a big edge in overall athleticism. The Bulldogs counter with experience and savvy. Toss everything together and this should be one of the best, and most important, early-round games of any conference tournament this week.
2016 Big East Conference Tournament Predictions: Villanova won last year's Big East Tournament in a walk. But I have a sinking suspicion that the Wildcats are going to flop this week and leave the door open for one of the other streaky teams in the league to earn an automatic bid. If I had to choose, I would take Xavier. The Musketeers are young and still a bit raw. But they just have so much talent. And they are the only team that doesn't have a glaring weakness beyond its youth. Villanova is small. Butler doesn't always defend. Providence struggles from the outside. Seton Hall lacks experience. So when all is said and done I think Xavier is going to cut down the nets and earn itself a solid No. 2 seed in next week's NCAA Tournament.
Robert Ferringo is a member of the Basketball Writer's Association of America and a professional sports handicapper for Doc's Sports. He is considered one of the best college basketball handicappers in the country and he is on an unbelievable run right now, more than doubling his clients' bankrolls in the last six weeks while earning $11,800 in profit! Robert has banked 10 straight winning college basketball regular seasons and his $100-per-Unit bettors have taken home over $40,000 in winnings so far this decade. There is no better moneymaker in the nation and Robert is looking forward to another amazing March Madness. Click here to get two days of college basketball picks for free - no hassle and no credit card needed.
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