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2023 Big East Tournament semifinal preview, analysis, odds

For the second straight year, all top four seeds advance to the semis.

NCAA Basketball: Marquette at Connecticut David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

And then there were four!

After an action-packed quarterfinal, it looks like we’re in for a thrilling semifinals.

For only the third time since realignment, Villanova was eliminated before the semifinals — twice since the COVID-19 pandemic.

Friday night at the Garden usually delivers. Can’t make it live? Both games will be on Fox Sports 1.

Here’s a look at some useful info for both semifinal matchups, odds, and analysis.

No. 1 Marquette (26-6) vs. No. 4 UConn (25-7)

When: 6:30 p.m. ET
Key players for Marquette: #1 Kam Jones (6-4, 195) So., G; #11 Tyler Kolek (6-3, 190) So., G; #12 Olivier-Maxence Prosper (6-8, 230) So., F; #13 Oso Ighodaro (6-9, 215) So., F; #23 David Joplin (6-7, 220) So., F
Key players for UConn: #2 Tristen Newton (6-5, 190) Sr., G; #21 Adama Sanogo (6-9, 245) Jr., F; #24 Jordan Hawkins (6-5, 195) So., G; #32 Donovan Clingan (7-2, 265) Fr., C; #44 Andre Jackson Jr. (6-6, 210) Jr., G/F
2022-23 season series: 1-1 series split

  • Marquette beat UConn at home, 82-76, on Jan. 11
  • UConn beat Marquette at home, 87-72, on Feb. 7

Survive and advance is the name of the game, and now that they’ve navigated their way through their first contests of the Big East Tournament, the Golden Eagles and Huskies have settled in at the Garden and will be gearing up for a heavyweight battle.

Marquette outlasted St. John’s in overtime, hanging on for a win to reach only its second Big East Tournament semifinal since realignment. Meanwhile UConn nearly squandered a massive double-digit lead against Providence, before stopping the Friars’ comeback attempt.

While they split the regular season series, it’s worth noting that Marquette bested UConn when the Huskies were in the middle of their January slump after such a strong start to the season. UConn has turned it around since then, returning to form with a solid final third of the season. The Huskies are ranked in the top 15 for offensive and defensive efficiency, according to KenPom.

For Marquette, the key will be generating turnovers and cashing in on the extra possessions. Shaka Smart’s “Havoc” defense has one of the highest forced turnover rates in the country, the 15th highest clip, creating them on 23.1% of opponents possessions. In the two regular season meetings with UConn, Marquette amassed a total of 35 takeaways.

It’s also one of the few weaknesses regarding the Huskies. While they pass the eye test, plus have the stats and metrics to back them up, they are turnover-prone and are ranked 236th in the country in turnover rate, coughing it up on 19.0% of their possessions.

There will be plenty of fireworks to lead up to the Big East Tournament semifinal, and the atmosphere should be rocking. Both teams were well-represented by their fans on Thursday.

Both teams should come out stronger, and it should make for a much closer battle than their previous 15-point margin from the last time out.

KenPom predicts: UConn wins, 77-74, and is a 62% favorite
Vegas says: UConn is a 4-point favorite, per DraftKings Sportsbook
My prediction: UConn over Marquette

No. 2 Xavier (24-8) vs. No. 3 Creighton (21-11)

When: 9 p.m. ET
Key players for Xavier: #0 Souley Boum (6-3, 175) Sr., G; #3 Colby Jones (6-6, 205) Jr., G; #5 Adam Kunkel (6-4, 185) Sr., G; #24 Jack Nunge (7-0, 245) Sr., F
Key players for Creighton: #2 Ryan Nembhard (6-0, 170) So., G; #11 Ryan Kalkbrenner (7-1, 260) Jr., C; #23 Trey Alexander (6-4, 190) So., G; #24 Arthur Kaluma (6-7, 225) So., F; #55 Baylor Scheierman (6-7, 205) Sr., F
2022-23 season series: 1-1 series split

  • Xavier beat Creighton at home, 90-87, on Jan. 11
  • Creighton beat Xavier at home, 84-67, on Jan. 28

Credit to Xavier for coming back to beat a full-strength DePaul team in a game it trailed for a majority of the way. It’ll help prepare the Musketeers for a tougher challenge ahead.

They’ll need experiences like that, as the Bluejays, who have plenty of returners from last season’s finals run, have already gotten a taste for those grind-it-out wins at Madison Square Garden.

It’s somewhat unfamiliar territory for the Musketeers. There are no leftovers from that 2019 Xavier team, which was the last Musketeer squad to record a Big East Tournament win before Thursday night.

With Zach Freemantle out, that gives Creighton one less player to worry about, but also one less frontcourt body to matchup with the likes of Ryan Kalkbrenner or Arthur Kaluma.

However, the key to Xavier’s win over the Bluejays from earlier in the season wasn’t because of Freemantle, but rather its guard tandem of Souley Boum and Colby Jones, who just so happened to be driving forces in the comeback against DePaul.

In their first meeting, Boum and Jones combined for 46 points on 14-of-24 shooting. Jack Nunge also had a double-double, while Freemantle was limited to only five points. In the rematch, which Creighton won comfortably, Boum had his lowest-scoring game in three years, finishing with just two points, while Jones had 13.

Kalkbrenner was also Creighton’s x-factor then, and with the way he’s been playing as of late, he’s shown he’s way more than just a defensive player of the year, but a two-way interior anchor.

The Bluejays can focus on clamping down on Boum and Jones once again, which was the recipe to victory the last time out. That leaves Nunge, who’ll have to take Kalkbrenner head on with Freemantle gone, all the attention will be on him. If you’re Creighton, you’ll take those chances.

The Bluejays showed how dangerous they can be against Villanova. When Kalkbrenner gets going, the inside-out game is established, and they move the ball or get out in transition, they’re a hard team to keep up with.

KenPom predicts: Creighton wins, 79-77, and is a 57% favorite
Vegas says: Creighton is a 3.5-point favorite, per DraftKings Sportsbook
My prediction: Creighton over Xavier