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Jeff Eisenberg

Big East tournament: Pitt, Notre Dame aim to lock up No. 1 seeds

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The Dagger will be previewing eight of this week's conference tournaments. Here's our look at the Big East tournament:

Big East Tournament

Dates: March 8-12

Site: Madison Square Garden (New York, N.Y.)

Draw: Click here

Favorite: While Pittsburgh enters the Big East tournament as the favorite after holding off Notre Dame to win the regular-season title, the top-seeded Panthers were not rewarded with the cushiest of draws. Up first in the quarterfinals will probably be either UConn or Georgetown, followed by a potential semifinal against Madison Square Garden favorites Syracuse or St. John's. Pittsburgh has plenty of incentive to navigate through that draw: Even one win should secure a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.

Three others who can win it: If Pittsburgh falters as previous top seeds often have in the Big East tournament, Notre Dame would be the obvious choice to take advantage. The second-seeded Irish won 11 of 12 games to end the regular season and have an opportunity to play their way into a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament with a couple wins at Madison Square Garden this week. The other obvious candidate to win the Big East tournament will be the winner of a potential St. John's-Syracuse quarterfinal. That team will have the crowd on its side the rest of the week.

Three players to watch:

• Ben Hansbrough, G, Notre Dame – Only unanimous first-team All-Big East selection.

Kemba Walker, G, UConn – As Walker goes, so do the Huskies.

• Dwight Hardy, G, St. John's – Eclipsed the 30-point mark four times this season.

Bubble implications: The Big East appeared all but certain to land a record 11 NCAA tournament bids this season before Marquette (18-13, 9-9) lost back-to-back games to Cincinnati and Seton Hall last week. The Golden Eagles' previous wins over UConn, Syracuse, Notre Dame and West Virginia will probably be enough to get them into the tournament anyway, but they'd be wise not to tempt fate by losing their opening-round game to Providence.

Projected champ: History suggests the chances of this tournament going to form are slim to none, but the pick here is Notre Dame. The second-seeded Irish have a more favorable draw than Pittsburgh and the incentive of playing their way into a No. 1 seed should provide ample motivation.

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