At long last, the country's greatest conference tournament is upon us, as the Big East tournament starts this afternoon at Madison Square Garden. In just about two hours, the most unpredictable five days before March Madness gets unleashed with a bang as UConn and DePaul face off for the opportunity to meet Georgetown in tomorrow's second round. Without any further ado, here is a look at today's four first-round matchups.
#9 Seed UConn vs. #16 Seed DePaul - The Blue Demons come into this off a 48-point defeat at the hands of Syracuse, and are without the services of likely Big East rookie of the year Cleveland Melvin, who was injured last week. DePaul has dropped 52 of 54 Big East games in the regular season over the last three years; but the year in which they went 0-18 (2008-09) was the year in which the Blue Demons shocked the world and defeated Cincinnati in the opening round of the tournament. Big East Player of the Year candidate Kemba Walker leads the Huskies into battle fresh off his 34-point effort in a near-miss Saturday afternoon against Notre Dame; and with Melvin out, it gives Alex Oriakhi an advantage on the boards.
#12 Seed Seton Hall vs. #13 Rutgers - The war of the four first-round games comes between the two New Jersey programs that split their home-and-home series in the regular season. Seton Hall comes in on fire after winning their last two against St. John's and Marquette in a torrid shooting display, while Mike Rice's Scarlet Knights will display their usual gritty style that will attempt to wear the Pirates down. Seton Hall's three guards will create a mismatch in favor of Rutgers, especially in the key matchup between senior sharpshooters Jeremy Hazell and Jonathan Mitchell.
#10 Seed Villanova vs. #15 South Florida - Only in the Big East can a team like the Wildcats be a No. 10 seed; and although Jay Wright's team hasn't been itself lately, they should be the better team against a USF squad still trying to find their way without superstar Dominique Jones, now of the Dallas Mavericks. The key to victory here is the battle of the big men, as the Bulls' Augustus Gilchrist and Jarrid Famous square off against Antonio Pena and Mouphtaou Yarou of Villanova.
#11 Seed Marquette vs. #14 Providence - The team with everything to lose and everything to gain this week is the Golden Eagles. No matter which of their four jerseys they wear at the Garden this week, Marquette is playing for their postseason lives after an uncharacteristic slide to end the regular season. With one (maybe two) wins, they are safely in the NCAA Tournament; but if Friars guard Marshon Brooks gets a few open looks, it could be over faster than Marquette can say "NIT."
The Way I See It: Predictions
UConn defeats DePaul
Rutgers defeats Seton Hall
Villanova defeats South Florida
Marquette defeats Providence