Big East Tournament preview and predictions: Is Villanova still king?

The 2018 Big East tournament tips off Wednesday, March 7 at Madison Square Garden in New York. Here is an in-depth look at the tournament including a complete bracket, TV information, analysis and predictions.

The 2018 Big East tournament bracket. (Screenshot: Big East Conference on Twitter)
The 2018 Big East tournament bracket. (Screenshot: Big East Conference on Twitter)

WHO IS THE FAVORITE?

The Big East standings, and therefore the tournament bracket, would tell you Xavier is. Most other metrics, though, would say Villanova. So would the eye test. And so would history.

Xavier ended ‘Nova’s streak of four consecutive outright Big East titles by stringing together win after win against teams below it. The defending champs, on the other hand, faltered against St. John’s, Providence and Creighton in February. But they’re still the most talented and accomplished group in the conference. They’ve won two of the past three tournament titles at MSG. And they swept Xavier during the regular season.

WHO ELSE CAN WIN?

Xavier certainly can. And given that the Musketeers haven’t lost to a non-Nova opponent since Jan. 6, you’d expect to see them on Saturday. But they haven’t beaten Villanova this year. Creighton and Butler, on the other hand, have, and are the other main contenders. We can probably add Seton Hall, and maybe even Marquette, to that group as well. But Creighton is most equipped to outscore the league’s top two on back-to-back nights.

BUBBLE IMPLICATIONS

Seton Hall, Creighton and Butler would appear to be safe on the right side of the cut. Butler might be left to sweat out Selection Sunday with another loss to Seton Hall in the quarterfinals, but wins over Villanova and Ohio State should see it over the line. That leaves …

Providence (19-12, 10-8, KenPom 72, RPI 42): The good: Wins over arguably the four best teams in the conference, including Villanova and Xavier. The bad: There’s not much else for the Friars to dangle before the selection committee. That leaves them squarely on the bubble, and in need of a quarterfinal victory over Creighton in New York.

Marquette (18-12, 9-9, KenPom 49, RPI 64): The Golden Eagles are on the outside looking in. That said, step one of the late charge has been taken. Marquette knocked off Creighton on Saturday. Step two will be averting disaster in the 7-10 matchup with DePaul. That would set up a quarterfinal showdown with Villanova – one that might just be a do-or-die date for Steve Wojciechowski’s crew.

Villanova’s <a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/ncaab/players/126421/" data-ylk="slk:Mikal Bridges">Mikal Bridges</a> drives against Xavier’s J.P. Macura and <a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/ncaab/players/126244/" data-ylk="slk:Trevon Bluiett">Trevon Bluiett</a>. (Getty)
Villanova’s Mikal Bridges drives against Xavier’s J.P. Macura and Trevon Bluiett. (Getty)

PLAYERS TO WATCH

1. Jalen Brunson, G, Villanova: Brunson was overshadowed by Josh Hart a year ago. Now he’s getting the recognition he deserves, and his junior-year improvement has him in the national player of the year conversation.

2. Trevon Bluiett, F, Xavier: Bluiett’s senior season has been his best yet. On top of his already-deadly all-around offensive game, he’s become a 3-point assassin.

3. Mikal Bridges, F, Villanova: Bridges was Villanova’s fourth option last year. He’s stepped into a bigger offensive role as a junior and been just as efficient, but still isn’t talked about enough. His versatility on both ends is invaluable.

ONE BIG STORYLINE

Villanova has been knocked off its perch. How will it respond? There’ll be a bit of intrigue on the bubble, and entertainment from the quarterfinals onward, but all eyes are on the Wildcats. Was a three-loss February – which was very nearly a four-loss February – a prolonged fluke? Or an omen of vulnerability?

We might not get definitive answers at Madison Square Garden. But we’ll get part of the answers.

SCHEDULE

All times Eastern

Wednesday, March 7 | First round
No. 8 Georgetown vs. No. 9 St. John’s — 7 p.m., FS1
No. 7 Marquette vs. No. 10 DePaul — 9:30 p.m., FS1

Thursday, March 8 | Quarterfinal
No. 1 Xavier vs. No. 8 Georgetown/No. 9 St. John’s — Noon, FS1
No. 4 Creighton vs. No. 5 Providence — 2:30 p.m., FS1
No. 2 Villanova vs. No. 7 Marquette/No. 10 DePaul — 7 p.m., FS1
No. 3 Seton Hall vs. No. 6 Butler — 9:30 p.m., FS1

Saturday March 9 | Semifinals
Winners of quarterfinals 1 and 2 — 6:30 p.m., FS1
Winners of quarterfinals 3 and 4 — 9 p.m., FS1

Saturday, March 10 | Final
Semifinal winners — 6:30 p.m., Fox

PREDICTIONS

First round
No. 9 St. John’s
over No. 8 Georgetown
No. 7 Marquette over No. 10 DePaul

Quarterfinals
No. 1 Xavier
over No. 9 St. John’s
No. 4 Creighton over No. 5 Providence
No. 2 Villanova over No. 7 Marquette
No. 6 Butler over No. 3 Seton Hall

Semifinals
No. 4 Creighton
over No. 1 Xavier
No. 2 Villanova over No. 6 Butler

Final
No. 2 Villanova
over No. 4 Creighton

Other conference tournaments: ACC | Big 12 | Big East | Big Ten | Pac-12 | SEC

– – – – – – –

Henry Bushnell covers soccer and college basketball for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Question? Comment? Email him at henrydbushnell@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter @HenryBushnell.

What to Read Next