The Big East Conference is very well represented in this tournament, sending eleven teams to the big dance. The Big East is America’s best conference and we should continue to expect to see hard-nosed, East Coast basketball from all of the teams. Today, we are going to look at the Big East teams playing in the East and West Regional tournaments.
#9 Villanova Wildcats (21-11): This isn’t your typical strong three-point shooting Villanova attack. Villanova ranks 150th in three-point shooting and 127th in field goal efficiency. Villanova ranked 18th in Strength of Schedule, but the Wildcats will have their hands full with #8 George Mason. The Patriots (26-6) finished in the Top 20 in terms of three-point shooting and team scoring. The Patriots are a little small upfront, so look for Villanova to use Antonio Pena and Mouphtaou Yarou early and often.
Predicted Winner: Villanova
Experience is on the Wildcats side in this match-up. Villanova had a big-time first round scare last year against Robert Morris, so look for Corey Fisher to set the tone early.
#5 West Virginia Mountaineers (20-11): The Mountaineers hit a bit of road bump in the Big East Tournament, losing their opening game against Marquette. However, the Mountaineers are excellent on the offensive boards, ranking sixth in the nation. West Virginia ranked third overall in Strength of Schedule and 30th in opponent field goal percentage. The Mountaineers will face off against the winner of the UAB/Clemson play-in game. Overall, UAB is a better team, so let’s assume they win. UAB is a strong defensive team, holding their opponents to 45.6% from the field (32nd overall). However, UAB did not rank in the Top 75 in any offensive metric.
Predicted Winner: West Virginia
The 5-12 match-up always produces an upset, but I don’t think it’ll happen hear. West Virginia has been play in big games all season long. Add in a solid coach in Bob Huggins and a strong set of upperclassmen and WVU will advance to the second round.
#11 Marquette Golden Eagles (20-14): The Golden Eagles enter the tournament after a decent showing in the Big East Tournament. Marquette had a solid win over West Virginia, 67-61 before getting thrashed around by Louisville. The Golden Eagles have good ball handlers in Darrius Johnson-Odom and Jimmy Butler. Marquette doesn’t have a ton of size, but neither does their opponent, #6 Xavier Musketeers (24-7). Xavier is a decent rebounding team and relies on scoring from the 10-12 foot range. They aren’t a good three-point shooting team and fell to Dayton in the A-10 tournament, but they ranked 28th overall in total season performance.
Predicted Winner: Xavier
Xavier’s Tu Holloway (20.2 PPG) is the best player on the court. The Musketeers displayed a lot of confidence last season, knocking out Pittsburgh in Second Round before losing a hard fought contest to Kansas State in the Sweet 16.
#3 Syracuse Orange (26-7): The Orange enter the NCAA Tournament as one of the Big East’s strongest entrants. The Orange started the 2010-2011 season very strong, posting an 18-0 record. They also reached the Big East Semi-Finals where Big East Champion, UCONN sent them packing. Syracuse ranks 14th in Strength of Schedule and 27th in opponent’s field goal percentage. The Orange will square off against the #14 Sycamores from Indiana State. The Sycamore (20-13) ranked 44th in opponent field goal percentage, but they really struggle offensively, ranking 207th in points per posession.
Predicted Winner: Syracuse
Experience. Coaching. Defensive Toughness. All traits that will lead to an Orange victory.
#6 Cincinnati Bearcats (25-8): The Bearcats excel at offensive rebounding and defense, ranking in the top 20 in both categories. Their Strength of Schedule checks in at 22 and their opponent’s points per possession was 15th. They’ll face off against the #11 Missouri Tigers (23-10). The Tigers finished fourth in the Big 12 and excelled in scoring (33rd), turnover % (33rd), and opponent turnover percentage (8th).
Predicted Winner: Cincinnati
Solid team all season long. Battled tested Big East squad. Missouri has super streak all season long and I think the Bearcat defensive will give the Tigers fits.
#3 UConn Huskies (26-9): The Huskies won five games in five days en route to a Big East Championship. Kemba Walker has certainty put himself in Player of the Year discussion with his performances. The Huskies rank in the Top 20 in both offensive rebounding and ball handling. UConn ranked first in Strength of Schedule and second in non-conference games. This squad is ready to go and shouldn’t feel the effects of playing five days in a row. The Huskies will need to tame the #14 Bucknell Bison first though. Bucknell (25-8) ranked in the Top 20 in three-point field goal percentage, but really struggle on the glass, finishing 321st in offensive rebounding.
Predicted Winner: UConn
It should be a very easy opening game for the Huskies. Their size will give Bucknell problems and Walker is good enough to give the entire Bucknell campus a headache on gameday.
Check back tomorrow as I look at the Big East teams in the Southeast and Southwest regions.