We're finally here. We've truly seen it all this year. Buzzer beaters, bad blood, incredible performances, and -- truly fantastic basketball.
But we're finally here. The postseason.
We tip off the Big East Tournament Wednesday afternoon with three matchups. It is a near-certainty that none of the six teams playing on Wednesday have any shot at an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. For all intents and purposes, this is it.
So let's get into it, shall we?
#8 St. John's vs. #9 Butler
3:00 ET, FS1
We tip off Wednesday afternoon with potentially the most intriguing game of the slate. Eighth-seeded St. John's is coming off of a 96-94 loss to Big East champion Marquette. Since the last time the Red Storm played Butler, they've played better basketball. Over their last six games, SJU is 3-3 with a win over Providence, and the three losses came at the hands of Creighton, UConn, and Marquette -- respectively.
One reason for this is the play of David Jones and AJ Storr. Whichever one of those two who have played the off-guard in this set of games has played their best basketball of the season. Also, it is notable that in this stretch we have seen a noticeable lack of playing time for Andre Curbelo (9.6 ppg). There's some off the court reasons there, but there are tangible reasons this has been a more successful lineup as well. Posh Alexander and Andre Curbelo are shooting a combined 25% from beyond the arc. Having Storr or Jones getting more minutes allows for more perimeter success.
Butler, on the other hand, has seen some negative regression. Since their upset win over Xavier on Feb. 10, the Bulldogs have lost 4 of 5, with their lone will a one-point win over DePaul. These are two teams that have certainly underperformed preseason expectations. Year one for Thad Matta has been rocky -- but the Bulldogs have been competitive at times with the top half of the league.
These two teams split the season series. In the game that Butler lost, they turned the ball over 22 times. In the game they won? 11 times. The story might be as simple as that. If Butler holds onto the basketball, they'll be right in this one. Chuck Harris put up his highest point total in a conference game, 17, in the lone game he played against the Red Storm. I expect a more-than-usual amount of penetration from Harris and Simas Lukosius.
Prediction: 76-72, SJU
#7 Seton Hall vs. #10 DePaul
5:30 ET, FS1
Ah, Seton Hall... What am I to make of you?
The Pirates finished the regular season absolutely routing Providence, 82-58. And they did it without arguable their best player, Kadary Richmond (10.1 ppg, 4.1 apg). Metrics are to tell me that Seton Hall boasts an elite defense -- 21st nationally per KenPom. But I've seen the Pirates get thrashed by the best offensive teams they've played: They gave up 91 to Kansas, 83 to Creighton, 83 to Marquette, and 82 to Xavier. None of those were incredibly high possession games, they just got beat defensively.
But numbers don't lie. And neither do past results. The Pirates took down DePaul twice in the regular season, while both were close contests. The X factor for Seton Hall could be KC Ndefo. Ndefo averages 7.9 ppg and five rebounds this season. Against DePaul, Ndefo averages 15 points and 9 rebounds.
DePaul (9-22) enters the game on a 12-game slide, only five of which ended within single-digits. This has been a tumultuous year (and not in a good way) for Tony Stubblefield + Co., but not all reasons have been controllable. Core pieces (Ongenda, Murphy, Anei, Gebrewhit, Terry) have all missed multiple games for DePaul, with Ongenda missing the vast majority of the season.
Michael DeRosa (@MDTheDream) was talking on the Road to the Garden podcast on Tuesday about how difficult it is to constantly be filtering different pieces in and out of the lineup. Lineup continuity and allowing guys the ability to develop flow and chemistry together matters a lot. DePaul has unfortunately not had the ability to do that.
The game script of this one largely depends on whether Kadary Richmond is able to go for the Pirates. He is a massive difference maker with his ability to score from all areas, and is one of the best on-ball defenders in the Big East. In fact, per Evan Miya, Richmond is the best defender in the conference, with fellow Pirate Ndefo in second.
Prediction: 69-61, Seton Hall
#6 Villanova vs. #11 Georgetown
8:00 ET, FS1
The nightcap features a whole host of storylines. First and foremost, Villanova's resurgence. The (now healthy) Wildcats are a trendy pick to win the Big East Tournament, and for good reason. Since Justin Moore's return from injury, the Wildcats have returned to form, with impressive wins over Xavier, Creighton, and Seton Hall.
Having a full cast of characters is very important for Villanova, who, as a program is not known for its wildly deep rosters. But we saw it against Creighton specifically -- Moore's playmaking ability and having him post up on smaller guards effectively, with Dixon ready to stroke it from the perimeter - it's Villanova basketball at its finest. Greg McDermott was quoted saying "Villanova is an easy team to prepare for, but a hell of a hard team to play against."
It isn't just the player Justin Moore that the Wildcats missed, but the person as well. Moore is the leader and lifeblood of this team - and having him back goes a long way. Kyle Neptune has his team playing at a very high level. It's unfortunate that it didn't all come together a bit earlier. Now that an at-large berth is essentially out of the picture, Villanova will need to take home the Big East crown to continue their season.
On the other side of things, Georgetown is the other team in this game. This will likely mark the end of the Patrick Ewing era in DC. The time and place to talk about that isn't today (although it very well could be tomorrow). But focusing on the court, Primo Spears has been nothing short of outstanding at times for the Hoyas. He averages nearly 16.0 per game, and has the ability to get red-hot at the drop of a hat.
Villanova won both games against Georgetown during the season, and neither time did Villanova have its full roster. There's very little reason to believe that Georgetown pulls the unlikely upset here. If that holds true, it'll set up a very exciting second round game for Villanova taking on Creighton.
Prediction: 83-68, Villanova
There we have it, folks. Strap in and enjoy a great Wednesday of Big East hoops. Catch Matt St. Jean (@MattStDream) and Tommy Godin's (@TommyGodinJr) coverage live from the tournament this week.
Also check out Matt, Michael, and Joe Jarzynka breaking down the Wednesday action in podcast form below.