Based on the general mood of Nova Nation, it is probably unnecessary, but I will go ahead and open this post with a Reality Check™: No team has ever won five games in a row at Madison Square Garden to take home the Big East Tournament trophy, and it is unlikely that anyone ever will. That, however, is exactly what Villanova would need to do to in order to end the Big East season with some sort of hardware.
The Wildcats go into this week as the 10th seed and making a rare appearance on the first day of the tournament since it's expansion to 16. The good news for Villanova is that they have already defeated their first-round match-up, USF, as well as the team awaiting the winner of that game, Cincinnati. The bad news is that Villanova scored both of those victories much earlier in the season, before they turned from world-beaters into beaten.
Should they muster up enough fight to get through those first two rounds, a quarterfinal re-match with the Notre Dame team that humiliated them a week ago awaits. It would be interesting to see how this team responds if put in that situation; would the 'Cats take advantage of the neutral court and play with a chip on their shoulder, or would they fold over and give the Irish a free pass to the Semifinal? The level of fight that the Wildcats show in this tournament will likely be a strong indicator of the type of damage (or lack thereof) that they do in the NCAA tournament.
Notre Dame is the highest seed on Villanova's side of the bracket, so if they were to advance beyond that point, the next opponent would be one of Louisville, West Virginia, Marquette or Providence. Of that group, only the Friars have secured a win at Villanova's expense this season.
Of course, looking at past results might be a fools game. Villanova could change it's game plans, or face opponents who had done the same. Further, through the course of the season young players improve and other players become injured. The DePaul team that will take the court tomorrow against Connecticut will be without top Freshman and leading scorer, Cleveland Melvin, while Villanova may be playing without Corey Stokes yet again.
The thing to remember, is that in a year where the Big East may finally break into double-digit NCAA tournament bids, there are more than a few good teams in this tournament, and each will approach the experience differently. It is a new "season" that starts tomorrow, and even Carnac the Magnificent will not be able to predict what will happen.
Strap yourselves and make some popcorn, because we are in for five full days of high-level college basketball. You will never know which game will produce an instant-classic like the legendary UConn/Syracuse six-overtime game.
Favorite: Pittsburgh finished tops overall in the conference, but Notre Dame also finished the season strong and will be able to do some serious damage as the 2-seed.
Sleepers: Syracuse always seems to show up ready to play in this tournament, and this year should be no exception. If the Orange go on a tear in their home-away-from-home, it will be like deja vu for many. St. John's, however, has developed one hell of a home-court advantage in the World's Most Famous Arena™ this season, and will also be looking to defend their 7-game streak there. That streak included wins over Notre Dame, Pittsburgh and ACC runner-up, Duke.
Player to Watch: Keep your eyes on Marshon Brooks, and don't blink or you might miss him. Providence is unlikely to make a deep run in this tournament, but Brooks has been one of the conference and the nation's best scorers this season. The future pro got little press in comparison to players like Kemba Walker, Jared Sullinger or Jimmer Fredette, but at least when it comes to scoring the ball, he is in that elite club -- especially after he broke the half-century mark against Notre Dame.
NCAA Implications: While nothing is ever set in stone, the Big East seems pretty locked in for 11 bids to the NCAA Tournament. Marquette may have the weakest case for an at-large selection of the Big East contenders, however, with an RPI of 68 (the top-10 Big East teams all have an RPI of 32 or less). The Golden Eagles can make their case much stronger with at least one more win this week.
Seeding may also be on the line, and for Villanova, a poor showing could mean a poor seeding on Selection Sunday. Pitt and Notre Dame, however, are both playing for a chance at a coveted #1 seed, and if either wins this tournament, it will almost certainly be a lock.
Best Dressed Coach: Jay Wright will once again have little trouble taking home the gold here.
Worst Dressed Coach: We know that Bob Huggins does own a suit, but it serves more as a home to his moth collection than as a piece of apparel. Rece Davis called him the "most comfortable" coach in the Big East, but I just think he's a mustard-stain away from "sloppy."
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