The tournament itself is always a time, and it was arguably at its peak last season, when UConn did the genuinely unpredictable. This year's five-day party will be noteworthy for the fact that it's the last iteration of the Big East tournament as we've come to know the league for the past seven seasons. West Virginia's bolting to the Big 12 after this season. We should get one more year of Syracuse and Pittsburgh playing in MSG in March, but then they'll be off to the ACC. Will UConn one day also leave this league? Who knows. But we're clearing phasing out of an identity the Big East has been proud to market for so long.
Let's hope this year's tournament can come close to touching some of the great ones from the past 30. We'll be giving you look-aheads to every round through the week. For now, let's examine the set-in-stone matchups.
|South Florida is in the unusual position of not having to play on the tournament's first day. (US Presswire)|
Connecticut (9) vs. DePaul (16). Doesn't this look familiar? UConn has to love it. Last year, when the Huskies became the first team to win a conference tournament by sweeping five games in five days, they started their run against DePaul. UConn got a close home win on Senior Day over Pittsburgh, giving the Huskies their first of what needs to be three straight winsto ensure an at-large berth. Jim Calhoun is back with the team. We'll see what happens; New York is always an adventure for this team. As for the Blue Demons, they're feeling good after mollywhopping the Pirates 86-58 Saturday night. Will DePaul take that and threaten UConn, or have we seen the last big effort out of Oliver Purnell's team this year?
St. John's (12) vs. Pittsburgh (13). It's October. You and me, we're in nice, comfortable fleece jackets. We're talking at lunch about the upcoming season of college basketball. I muse to you that St. John's will be seeded higher than Pittsburgh in the 2012 Big East tournament bracket. You laugh at me and walk away. I try to tell you I can see the future, but you're already out of sight. Meanwhile, Pittsburgh goes on to have an unthinkably sub-par season.
Seton Hall (10) vs. Providence (15). The Pirates have been the preeminent enigma in a conference filled the them. What I think is certain -- SHU can't lose this game and get into the NCAAs. Seton Hall, 19-11 overall and 8-10 in the Big East, has wins over West Virginia, UConn, Georgetown, VCU and Dayton. That's a five-card hand that a lot of other teams can't hold. The problem is the back-to-back losses heading into the BET -- Rutgers and DePaul -- are as bad as any bubble team right now, too. Dodge Providence and you're probably in, Hall.
Rutgers (11) vs. Villanova (14). I'll be at Madison Square Garden all day on Tuesday, covering for the site. This one's going to be a toughie. I wonder if the arena will be one-fifth filled by 10 p.m. It's pretty unbelievable that any Jay Wright team could be seeded so low, by the way. The Wildcats have had a year to forget, but with Maalik Wayns, a junior guard who's one of the 10 most talented Big East players, winning two games wouldn't shock me one bit. 'Nova can do it. Will they be the surprise team in this year's bracket? Rutgers just fell at home to Villanova on Thursday, 77-71.-- Matt Norlander