The Big East decided to open the conference championship to all 16 teams in 2009, with the top four seeds earning double-byes into the quarterfinals. In the three tournaments since, the top four teams have not fared as well as people may think.
Teams with a double-bye are a combined 11-10 in the Big East Tournament. Some may think those records are a little skewed because they knock out each other. However, that is not the case. In three tournaments, there have only been two matchups between teams with a double-bye. That means that a team seeded fifth or worse has knocked off a higher rated opponent eight times.
However, a top four seed has captured the tournament two of the last three seasons, with the lone exception being Connecticut’s incredible run last season. The Huskies had to knock off three of the top four seeds to win the crown.
There has been a top four seed in the title game in each of the three seasons, but that is the only round top four seeds have a record above .500. The top four finishers in the league are 6-6 in the quarterfinals and 3-3 in the semi-finals. The Big East is one of the deepest conferences in the country, but bubble teams sense a final chance to get a marquee win against the powerhouses at the top of the best league in America.
Ultimately the past is behind us and numbers do not mean much in March, but the underdog has made the Big East Tournament a great prelude to the big dance.
Can Anyone Beat Syracuse?
Kentucky is the trendy pick to win the national championship, but Syracuse may be the best team in the country. The Orange’s lone loss came on the road to Notre Dame when the key to Jim Boeheim’s zone defense, Fab Melo, was out. Melo anchors a defense that is top 10 in the country in field goal percentage defense.
Syracuse is the favorite to win the Big East Tournament this week. However, the regular season champion has not won a game in New York since 2009. That year is also the last time the No. 1 seed won the conference tournament.
The last two teams to defeat the regular season champion advanced to the championship game, including the Kemba Walker-led Connecticut team last season. Syracuse was the top seed in 2010, when they lost to a talented Georgetown team.
The Orange will most likely face Connecticut or West Virginia in the quarterfinals this year. Those teams are battling for a chance to play in the NCAA Tournament and a win over Syracuse would punch their ticket.
The Huskies and the Mountaineers have showed that they can compete against the Orange. Each team lost by two points against Syracuse in their matchups this season.
If Syracuse is able to survive their quarterfinal matchup, they will likely play the winner of the Georgetown and Cincinnati game. Each team is long and athletic with a capability of hitting timely shots against the Orange’s zone.
Syracuse has been neck-and-neck with Kentucky for the best team in country. The Orange will face top teams just to get to the championship game, where a quick and talented Marquette team, a gritty Louisville club or Notre Dame — the lone team to beat them this year — will be ready to prevent them from winning the Big East Conference title as well.
Game of the Week
Connecticut vs. West Virginia Wed. March 7
Assuming the Huskies can beat 16th-seeded DePaul, this game has huge NCAA Tournament implications. The winner will be able to breathe easy on Selection Sunday, while the loser will be hoping there are no upsets in the other major conference tournaments. Connecticut won the first matchup between these two teams in Hartford back in January. However, the Huskies have struggled to find their identity. With Jim Calhoun back on the bench, this game could be one of the more entertaining of the first two days in Manhattan.
Player of the Week
Kevin Jones, Senior, Forward, West Virginia, #5
20 points, 13.5 rebounds, 5.5 offensive rebounds
The Mountaineers were desperate for a pair of wins this week. Jones helped supply them with dominating performances in wins over DePaul and South Florida. The first team All-Big East selection poured in 22 points and had 16 rebounds in his final home game in Morgantown in a victory over DePaul. In a defensive battle against South Florida, Jones had 18 points and 11 rebounds, including seven offensive rebounds, to help West Virginia solidify the No. 8 seed in the conference tournament.