2011 Big East Conference Tournament Preview and Picks

By Mike Ivcic

Favorite:
1. Pittsburgh (15-3)
The Panthers are a likely number one seed and, barring a loss in the quarterfinals, will also likely draw a bracket paired with Kansas and not Ohio State. When the thinking is that big, it could be tough to remain focused for three games in three days against teams from the best conference in the country, who will all have more to play for that Pitt. Don’t be surprised to see an upset, even with Jamie Dixon’s solid history in the BigEast tournament.

Challengers:
2. Notre Dame (14-4)
3. Louisville (12-6)
4. Syracuse (12-6)
The hardest part is determining where to draw the line between this group and the next, but we’ll do it after these three. Why? They all play at least one game less than the rest of the field, a huge advantage considering the talent in this conference. In fact, it’s because of that very edge that I’m taking two of the above three (Notre Dame and Syracuse) to meet in the finals, and all of the above (including Pitt) to reach the semis. It won’t make for great drama, but it’ll make for spectacular basketball.

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Dark Horses:
5. St. John’s (12-6)
6. West Virginia (11-7)
7. Cincinnati (11-7)
9. Connecticut (9-9)
10. Villanova (9-9)
12. Seton Hall (7-11)
You’ll probably notice two glaring omissions from this list – but we’ll get to those. Of this group, the scariest has to be Connecticut, who will draw Georgetown with a win over hapless DePaul and then Pitt with a win over the Hoyas. How’s that for the Panthers’ prize of finishing first – Jim Calhoun, Kemba Walker, and the Huskies? Ouch. I would also like West Virginia more if not for just beating Louisville last weekend. Even if they get past Marquette, I think the Cardinals will be too interested in revenge to suffer an upset. Same for Villanova, who has the talent to beat both Cincinnati and Notre Dame but will likely only get one of the two. And then there are the Pirates, who find a wonderfully nice draw staring them in the face. With Jeremy Hazell at full strength, they get a third game with in-state rival Rutgers, and St. John’s and Syracuse if they continue to advance – and Hall’s already beaten both teams. It’s too much for them to win the whole thing, but if they earn a Thursday matchup with Syracuse – and maybe even a Friday meeting with Pitt or UConn – remember where you read it first.

Longshots:
8. Georgetown (10-8)
11. Marquette (9-9)
13. Rutgers (5-13)
14. Providence (4-14)
15. South Florida (3-15)
16. DePaul (1-17)
Why, you ask, are Marquette and Georgetown here? For one, they both have unfavorable matchups on Wednesday – the Golden Eagles get West Virginia with a win over Providence, and the Hoyas draw UConn after they pound DePaul. Second, both have struggled as of late, especially Georgetown. And finally, the draw sets up too poorly beyond Wednesday to expect either to actually make any real noise on the final two days. The Hoyas have likely done enough to earn a bid, but with the Big East on the verge of setting a record for most teams from once conference to make the NCAA tournament, it will likely take a Marquette upset of the Mountaineers for the number to be 11 instead of 10. Oh, and the other four teams… if they make it to Thursday, I’ll never write another conference tournament preview again.

Pick: Syracuse
NCAA Teams: 10 (Pittsburgh, Notre Dame, Louisville, Syracuse, St. John’s, West Virginia, Cincinnati, Georgetown, Connecticut, Villanova)

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