Big East men’s basketball tournament preview: 5 things to watch in a field loaded with bubble teams

It’s been just over 13 years since Kemba Walker’s stepback and the unbelievable stretch of five wins in as many days that won ninth-seeded UConn its seventh Big East Tournament title. The program has won three national championships since it last cut down the nets at Madison Square Garden, where it returns as the No. 1 seed looking to end its streak of semifinal exits since coming back to the league four seasons ago.

Dan Hurley and the UConn men have been carrying a poster that shows the Big East Tournament trophy since clinching the outright regular season title on March 3. It is the only trophy missing from their two-year run atop the sport, and the Huskies will need to get through a field loaded with bubble teams to have a shot at winning it.

Here are five storylines to watch as the tournament begins Wednesday:

Handful of teams battling on the bubble

After UConn won its record 18th conference game at Providence, Hurley said the Big East should be a seven-bid league. There are three teams – UConn, Marquette and Creighton – that have legitimate Final Four potential, and four that are dancing around the bubble, trying to add whatever they can to their March Madness resumé in the win-or-go-home setting.

At the start of the week, bracketologists forecasted Seton Hall, St. John’s, Villanova and Providence on the bubble. Both ESPN and the Washington Post have Seton Hall, No. 62 in the NET, in as a 10-seed, and CBS has the Pirates among its last four in. Rick Pitino and St. John’s, No. 39 in the NET, are among the last four in on ESPN and CBS’ projections, the first four out in the Washington Post’s. Villanova and Providence, No. 32 and No. 63 in the NET, respectively, each find themselves on the outside looking in. Luckily for both programs, they’re each in a favorable spot to advance past DePaul and Georgetown (2-38 in league play combined) and, in all likelihood, draw meaningful quarterfinal matchups with Marquette and Creighton.

Could Rick Pitino inspire the Johnnies to their first BE title since 2000?

It was a blown 19-point lead and a 68-62 loss to Seton Hall that got Rick Pitino ranting about his players’ deficiencies, calling his first year at St. John’s “the most unenjoyable experience” of his coaching life. Pitino drew criticism for his post-game tirade but has since claimed it was measured, intended to light a fire under his players. From there, it was clear that the Red Storm needed to win each of their last five regular season games to have a shot at an NCAA Tournament bid, and they’ve done just that.

St. John’s, the 5-seed, will have a third shot against fourth-seeded Seton Hall in the quarterfinal with the winner to play UConn, should the Huskies beat the winner of Butler and Xavier on Thursday. Pitino has experience in the Big East tournament, having won it three times while at Louisville, back-to-back in 2012 and 2013, but St. John’s is looking for its first crown since taking down UConn in 2000. Daniss Jenkins, who came with Pitino from Iona, is a player to keep an eye out for after he averaged 16.8 points and 5.8 assists over the final five games before being named Second Team All-Big East.

Shaheen Holloway looking to capture the magic again

Holloway took the head coaching job at his alma mater just days after his magical 2022 NCAA Tournament run with St. Peter’s came to an end in the Elite Eight. The 47-year-old led the Pirates to 17-16, 10-10 in the Big East in his first season and was picked to finish ninth in the league’s preseason poll. Seton Hall started the Big East season with a 15-point win over UConn and finished with 13 conference wins, tied for the second-most in its program history, led by All-Big East first teamer Kadary Richmond. The Pirates are looking for their first Big East Tournament title since 2016.

UConn looks to go 7-0 in Madison Square Garden

It was a heartbreaking final possession in last year’s semifinal against Marquette, when the Huskies couldn’t find a clean shot in the final seconds and were ousted, 70-68, in that round for the third year in a row. UConn is 4-0 in Madison Square Garden already this year, having beaten both Indiana and Texas in the Empire Classic, then North Carolina in the Jimmy V and St. John’s in the conference season.

The Huskies are favored to win the Big East Tournament, according to, by a wide margin at -150, followed by second-seeded Creighton (+390) and 3-seed Marquette (+600).

Creighton, Marquette look to get back to final

Creighton has made the championship game four times since joining the Big East in 2013, including twice in the last three seasons, but lost all four times. This will be the last run with the three-headed monster of Baylor Scheierman, Trey Alexander and Ryan Kalkbrenner in tact, so it may be the Bluejays’ best shot to get over the hump. Creighton’s run starts Thursday with the winner of 7-seed Providence and 10-seed Georgetown. Should they win, the path would likely lead to a semifinal matchup with reigning champion Marquette.

To get there, Marquette would need to beat the winner of Wednesday night’s game between 6-seed Villanova and 11-seed DePaul, both teams it has beaten twice this year. The Golden Eagles are hoping to have star point guard Tyler Kolek back from the oblique injury that kept him out for the final three regular season games which included two losses, one at Creighton (in which they were also without Oso Ighodaro) and the other at home against UConn. Marquette lost three of its first five conference games but caught its stride and won 11 of the next 12 before Kolek went out.

How to watch

The Big East Tournament begins Wednesday with Xavier and Butler facing off at noon on FS1 for a chance at UConn. All of Wednesday’s first round games and all of Thursday’s quarterfinals will be aired on FS1. Friday’s 5:30 p.m. semifinal (on UConn’s side of the bracket) will air on FOX with the 8 p.m. semifinal airing on FS1. The championship game will be Saturday, on FOX at 6:30 p.m.

Tickets can be purchased through Ticketmaster, starting at $23.80 for Wednesday’s first round tripleheader. The noon Thursday session, which includes UConn’s quarterfinal matchup and St. John’s vs. Seton Hall, starts at $146.25. Thursday’s 7 p.m. session, which includes the remaining quarterfinal games that feature Creighton and Marquette, has tickets starting at $46.35. Tickets for Friday’s semifinal round start at $184 and admission for Saturday’s championship game starts at $161.