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Big East Men's Tournament Preview: Who will conquer MSG?

Eleven teams will travel to the iconic Madison Square Garden for the Big East Tournament starting Wednesday, March 8. Will a favorite or an underdog conquer MSG and earn an automatic bid to the dance?

Marquette was crowned the Big East regular season champion on Tuesday, adding to what has been quite the unpredictable season in the conference. 

Believe it or not, Marquette was projected to finish ninth in the conference before the season. There was virtually no hype surrounding second-year head coach Shaka Smart and his team ahead of the 2022/23 campaign. 

Since the re-founding of the Big East in 2013, Villanova and legendary head coach Jay Wright dominated the conference, claiming five Big East tournament titles (2015, 2017-2019, 2022) and winning two national championships (2016, 2018). Jay Wright announced his retirement following last season, which led many to believe the conference would be, for the first time in years, truly up for grabs. 

Aside from Villanova, other member schools such as Xavier, Creighton, Providence, and UConn have stayed consistent towards the top of the league since 2013. With Wright no longer on the sidelines, and a down year for Villanova, the conference has proved more wide open than years past.

Below are the confirmed seeds and matchups for the Big East Tournament, starting Wednesday, March 8:

First round (Wednesday, March 8):

#8 St. John's vs. #9 Butler - 3 PM ET

#7 Seton Hall vs. #10 DePaul - 5:30 PM ET

#6 Villanova vs. #11 Georgetown - 8 PM ET

Quarterfinals (Thursday, March 9):

#1 Marquette vs. winner of St. John's/Butler - 12 PM ET

#4 Connecticut vs. #5 Providence - 2:30 PM ET

#2 Xavier vs. winner of Seton Hall/DePaul - 7 PM ET

#3 Creighton vs. winner of Villanova/Georgetown - 9:30 PM ET

What2023 Big East Men's Basketball Tournament
WhereMadison Square Garden, New York, New York
WhenWednesday, March 8 to Saturday, March 11, 2023
How to watchFOX, Fox Sports 1, fuboTV
Odds (To Win Outright)Connecticut +220, Marquette +300, Creighton +300, Xavier +650

Marquette and Xavier finished first and second in the conference this regular season. Both programs are looking for their first Big East tourney title in program history. Can either school get to the promise land?

Marquette: +300 to Win Big East Tournament

Shaka Smart’s team has thrived all season long. With zero preseason expectations and a roster highlighted strictly by freshmen and sophomores, not many expected Marquette (24-6 Overall, 16-3 Big East) to finish with the league’s best record, or be ranked nationally in the top-10 at all. 

They were challenged early on, losing key non-conference games to Purdue, Mississippi State, and in-state rival Wisconsin. However, they did surprise Baylor, who was ranked No. 6 nationally at the time, blowing them out 96-70 in Milwaukee on November 29th.

Marquette has been in a class of their own since the start of the new year, going 13-2 in conference and clinching the program’s first ever Big East regular season title. Conference player of the year candidate Tyler Kolek has led the charge, averaging a career best 12.6 PPG and 7.9 APG. He was recently added to the Oscar Robertson Player of the Year late season watch list.

Kolek hasn’t done it alone, and constantly credits his teammates when it comes to their success. 

Sophomore guard Kam Jones has also stepped up, most recently with a career-high six three pointers in the first half of Marquette’s 90-84 win over DePaul on February 25th, clinching a share (at the time) of the Big East crown.

“He's one of the best shooters I've ever seen and one of my favorite guys to play with,” Kolek told the Charlotte Observer.

With an experienced head coach, a floor general point guard, and three-point shooting, it’s clear to see why Marquette is not only the second-favorite to win this week’s Big East Tournament at +300, but also a serious contender to reach the last four in the dance at +650.

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Xavier: +650 to Win Big East Tournament

One of the more interesting teams heading into this season was Xavier (22-8 Overall, 14-5 Big East). Returning players in Zach Freemantle, Jack Nunge, and Adam Kunkel are nice pieces, but how would they fit with new head coach Sean Miller and top transfer Souley Boum?

The start of the season wasn’t pretty, with losses to national powers Indiana, Duke and Gonzaga. But Miller’s crew caught fire once Big East play began, starting a perfect 7-0. 

A few questionable losses on the road at DePaul and Butler shortly thereafter were surprising, but their eventual wins over the conference’s best (Marquette, UConn, Creighton, and Providence) are enough to see why this team can win at MSG this week. 

The team’s 2PT (54.6%) and 3PT percentages (39.9%), along with their 56.6% effective FG percentage, all rank in the top-31 nationally according to KenPom.com and should keep them in any contest they play this March.

Villanova has been the most decorated program in the Big East over the last decade. What are their chances in the conference tourney after a supbar regular season?

Villanova: +900 to Win Big East Tournament

For the first time since 2013, Villanova (16-14 Overall, 10-9 Big East) find themselves without a one- or two-seed entering the Big East Tournament. 

No matter how you look at it, this season has been a down year for first-year head coach Kyle Neptune. Villanova does not give you much reason for hope when looking at their resume. They possess a 2-8 quad 1 record, meaning they’ll have to win four games in four days in New York in order to even get to the dance.

This year’s ‘Nova team draws comparison to UNC of last season. A team that saw their legendary head coach retire the offseason before, underwhelm through the regular season, but still had key pieces with March experience. 

January 29 may be the key date to look back at for this Villanova season. One of those pieces, senior standout Justin Moore, had just returned from the achilles injury sustained during last season’s national semifinal to eventual champion Kansas. ‘Nova is 6-4 since Moore’s return, with wins over top teams Creighton and Xavier.

As the old saying goes, defense wins championships. But if teams that play great defense don’t make free throws, they have little to no chance. 

Who leads the entire nation in free throw percentage this season? That would be Villanova at 82.9%. 

With that stat in mind and a rich history of winning, a +900 price to win the Big East Tournament could be of value.

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