Big East tournament preview: Can anyone upend Syracuse?

Jeff Eisenberg
March 5, 2012

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 6-10

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

Draw: Click here

Favorite: Being the favorite entering the Big East tournament hasn't been an enviable position since the league went to the double-bye format, but Syracuse has the chance to reverse that trend. The top-seeded Orange certainly dominated the Big East regular season, winning 17 of 18 games with the lone loss coming against Notre Dame with starting center Fab Melo sidelined. Syracuse has already all but secured a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, so the question may be whether the Orange are as motivated to win as some of the other teams desperate to make the NCAA tournament or improve their seeding. At the very least, Syracuse would love to see previously slumping Brandon Triche build off his 18-point game against Louisville on Saturday and Dion Waiters recapture the form he had throughout most of January.

Two others who can win it: If Syracuse falters as previous top seeds often have in the Big East tournament, Marquette would be the obvious choice to take advantage. The second-seeded Golden Eagles won 13 of 15 games at the end of the season and potentially could rise as high as a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament were they to hoist the trophy Saturday night at Madison Square Garden. Another team of note is Georgetown, which already gave Syracuse one of its toughest games of the season at the Carrier Dome. The Hoyas could meet the Orange in a semifinal if they defeat either Pittsburgh or St. John's and then Cincinnati.

Three players to watch:

• Kevin Jones, F, West Virginia — Averaged 20.0 points and 11.2 rebounds this season

• Jae Crowder, F, Marquette — Scored 23 or more  in five of Marquette's last six games.

• Kris Joseph, F, Syracuse — First Canadian to make all-Big East team

Bubble implications: Assuming Seton Hall and UConn can avoid crushing opening-day losses against Providence and DePaul, the second round will be rife with bubble drama. The potential West Virginia-UConn matchup isn't a true elimination game, but the winner will likely be in good shape while the loser will have a nervous wait until Selection Sunday. Seton Hall's potential matchup with Louisville may be a play-in game for the Pirates after their disastrous back-to-back losses to DePaul and Rutgers last week. And South Florida's tenuous profile may withstand a quarterfinal loss to Notre Dame but the Bulls probably cannot afford a loss to Villanova or Rutgers in the previous round.

Projected champ: One factor that will help determine the winner is whether Syracuse is motivated Syracuse to win the tournament despite not having much to gain. The Orange have proven to be the league's best team over the course of the regular season, but the guess here is they suffer a relatively meaningless slip-up, enabling Marquette to take advantage and cut down the nets.