March Madness is all about playing under the brightest of lights and on the biggest of stages. There’s no better example of this than the annual BIG EAST Tournament, played in the “Mecca of Basketball” Madison Square Garden in New York City. One long year after the BIG EAST Tournament halted play midway through a first-round matchup, college basketball’s best conference tournament is back. Notably, this will be the Connecticut Huskies’ first BIG EAST Tournament appearance since 2012, after UConn spent a seven-year hiatus in the American Athletic Conference.
The BIG EAST has three NCAA Tournament locks with three others sitting uncomfortably on the bubble. However, all it takes is a miraculous conference tournament run to get a ticket to the Big Dance.
2020-21 BIG EAST Tournament Predictions
First Round – Wednesday, March 10
No. 8 Georgetown Hoyas vs. No. 9 Marquette Golden Eagles
No. 7 Xavier Musketeers vs. No. 10 Butler Bulldogs
No. 6 Providence Friars vs. No. 11 DePaul Blue Demons
Quarterfinals – Thursday, March 11
No. 1 Villanova Wildcats vs. No. 8 Georgetown
No. 2 Creighton Bluejays vs. No. 7 Xavier
No. 3 Connecticut Huskies vs. No. 6 Providence
No. 4 St. John’s Red Storm vs. No. 5 Seton Hall Pirates
Winner: St. John’s
Semifinals – Friday, March 12
No. 1 Villanova vs. No. 4 St. John’s
Winner: St. John’s
No. 2 Creighton vs. No. 3 Connecticut
Championship – Saturday, March 13
No. 2 Creighton vs. No. 4 St. John’s
Tournament Winner: Creighton Bluejays
It hasn’t been a pretty month for Creighton. The Bluejays finished their conference schedule with two straight losses to Xavier and Villanova before a rebound victory against Butler. The team was rolling ahead of this final stretch and still finished 18-7 overall, 14-6 in conference play, earning the second seed in the conference tournament. Of course, there was also the scandalous news from Head Coach Greg McDermott. McDermott was handed a one-game suspension following incredibly insensitive and racist comments to his team after the recent loss to Xavier.
McDermott is back at the helm, which may be cause for concern, but the players will rally around this scandal and one another to showcase this team is more capable than their head coach. While Creighton doesn’t blow you away with any of their team or individual stats, this is a solid team built with depth. All five of the Bluejays’ starters average at least 10 points per game, led by All-Conference First Team member Marcus Zegarowski. Veteran leadership is another factor, with four seniors and one junior in the lineup. It also should be mentioned that Villanova is hurting with the loss of Collin Gillespie to a season-ending knee injury.
Tournament Sleeper: St. John’s Red Storm
St. John’s is set up for a favorable run after earning the tournament’s four seed. The Red Storm will have to get past cross-town rival and bubble-foe Seton Hall in the quarterfinals, but then take on the struggling Villanova Wildcats. Villanova is without star Gillespie while fellow guard Justin Moore is nursing an ankle sprain. This is a perfect setup for the Red Storm, who possess the lethal combo of BIG EAST Defensive Player of the Year Posh Alexander and Most Improved Player Julian Champagnie. Head Coach Mike Anderson employs a relentless press defensive that will be too much for the Wildcats to handle without their best player and other lead guard nursing injury. Ultimately, Creighton halts the Johnnies’ run with their balanced attack, senior leadership, and size, but this should be a fun few days of basketball at The Garden.
BIG EAST Tournament Teams on the Bubble
The BIG EAST is undoubtedly sending three teams to the Big Dance in Villanova, Creighton, and Connecticut. The remaining three bubble teams of St. John’s, Seton Hall, and Xavier will have to scrape together a memorable conference tournament performance to get their shot.
St. John’s Red Storm
St. John’s has an interesting path to the NCAA Tournament. Their quarterfinals matchup against Seton Hall is an intense one thanks to the rivalry implications and the needs of both teams to rack up wins to get off the bubble. After that, it’s time to take on the three-time defending conference tournament champions in Villanova. But, the Wildcats are hurting too much and are more focused on getting healthy for the Big Dance than anything else. The finals matchup against Creighton should be a fight, but two wins over Seton Hall and Villanova are enough for the Johnnies’ resume.
Seton Hall Pirates
Seton Hall faces the downside of this intriguing quarterfinals matchup with St. John’s. Either way, one of those teams is going home from the conference tournament and will see their NCAA Tournament hopes shattered with one loss.
Xavier, much like Seton Hall, held better positioning before the final stretch of the regular season. The Musketeers have lost five of their last seven games to end conference play, placing them firmly on the NCAA Tournament bubble. Their recent win over Creighton was helpful, but Xavier will earn only one win in the conference tourney against a below-average Butler squad. Creighton enacts their revenge on Xavier in the BIG EAST quarterfinals, bursting any chance of an NCAA Tournament spot for the Musketeers.
BIG EAST NCAA Tournament Prediction
St. John’s: 12-Seed
Seton Hall: Out
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