BY SHANE DAVIES
The 35th annual Big East Tournament tips off Thursday night at Madison Square Garden in New York City and will continue through Saturday’s championship game. The winner of the tournament will receive the conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, and the field offers one of the deepest you’ll see in any conference tournament this week.
DePaul is the No. 10 seed, and it’s their seventh time in the last nine years as the worst seed in the tournament, dating back to when the conference had 16 teams. The Blue Demons begin their action Wednesday night, against 7th-seeded Xavier at 8:30 PM CT.
It’s no secret to DePaul basketball fans that this program is in the midst of yet another disappointing season, with its only chance at a postseason bid coming by winning four games in four days at the Garden. Since joining the Big East Conference prior to the 2005-2006 season, DePaul has yet to advance past the second round, totaling only two total wins in this tournament.
So with that being said, odds are against DePaul to win a single game, let alone make any noise. The Blue Demons only two wins since Christmas Day. They will face off against a Xavier team that they played just three days ago at home, and lost to by 14 points.
Xavier is firmly entrenched on the NCAA Tournament bubble after going 2-6 in their last eight games, but their two wins came against this DePaul team. The Blue Demons will likely be double-digit underdogs heading into tomorrow night.
The Big East, as a whole, is arguably the most underrated conference on a national scale this season. According to The Catch and Shoot’s Jesse Kramer, the conference is likely to send seven teams to the NCAA Tournament, which would be an improvement over the five teams they sent last season. 70% of a single conference making the tournament would be the highest percentage of all-time, meaning there is a lot on the line in terms of bragging rights this week in New York.
Villanova, obviously. Despite winning the National Championship in 2016, Villanova did not win the conference tournament, falling to Seton Hall in dramatic fashion. The aspect of revenge will be a popular public narrative as the tournament progresses into the later rounds. Villanova finished three games ahead of the next closest team in the regular season conference standings.
I’m not sure if Butler should be considered a ‘sleeper’ team, but despite beating Villanova twice, as well as Arizona, Cincinnati and Indiana in the non-conference, the Bulldogs still fly very much under-the-radar nationally. They have struggled with consistency against lower-level opponents, but can obviously compete with some of the country’s best when given the chance. Their tendency to play up or down to the level of their opponent makes them one of the conference’s most polarizing, yet intriguing, teams.
I think Butler is going to win this tournament over Villanova. A thinner Villanova team will struggle with the fatigue attached with playing three games in three consecutive days, while Butler has nine players that average over 10 minutes per game. The Bulldogs will also hold a higher level of confidence against Villanova than most, having beaten them twice already in the regular season.