2021 Big East Tournament Preview
When fans are present, the Big East Tournament is a fantastic event. Many of the great championship week memories have come at Madison Square Garden, including Kemba Walker’s famous step-back jumper and a six-overtime game between UConn and Syracuse.
This year’s installment will not have the atmosphere those games had, but there will be no shortage of great basketball in New York. Villanova is looking to stay on top of the conference they have dominated since the Big East realignment. However, UConn and Creighton have had impressive seasons and are looking to topple the Wildcats. The Big East also has its share of bubble drama, adding to the intrigue of the tournament.
Undoubtedly, the Collin Gillespie injury is a killer to Villanova. Gillespie fits Jay Wright’s system perfectly, and his absence leaves a hole in the Wildcat attack. Villanova still has their leading scorer in Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, who averages 15.2 points-per-game. Though the Wildcats have lost their leader, Nova knows how to win in March, and Wright will have his guys ready for postseason play.
Though Villanova holds the one seed, Creighton is probably the favorite to claim the Big East crown after Gillespie’s injury. Greg McDermott will be back on the sidelines after serving his suspension for racially insensitive remarks to his team. Creighton has a potent offense with so many options to look to. Marcus Zegarowski is the point guard and leading scorer for the Blue Jays. Denzel Mahoney and Damien Jefferson give Creighton some muscle and defend at a high level. Beyond the Big East, the Jays are a dark horse to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament.
Gone for a few years, the Huskies are finally back where they belong. Dan Hurley has reinvigorated the UConn program, and they will be back in the tournament for the first time in his tenure. Leading scorer James Bouknight missed time with an injury, and UConn floated around the bubble in his absence. Since he returned, the Huskies have won five of six. Riding their momentum, UConn has a chance to take home their first Big East Tournament Championship since 2011.
The Hall completely fell off toward the end of the season. The Pirates lost their last four games and are gasping for air on the bubble. As a result of their situation, Thursday’s matchup against St. John’s is a de facto elimination game for them. They will need their conference-best scoring defense to limit teams on one end, and Sandro Mamukelashvili, Jared Rhoden and Myles Cale will have to step up to help the Pirates advance.
Xavier is another Big East team floating on the bubble. Besides a crucial win at home against Creighton, Xavier had a poor conclusion to the season, losing three of their last four to teams not even close to the tournament. The Musketeers have the seven seed, and will have to win an extra game if they are to win the tournament.
Only recently have the Red Storm emerged into the bubble conversation. Mike Anderson’s squad would likely need to win the auto-bid to get into the dance, but their path to Saturday is favorable. They have a quarter final draw against a Seton Hall team they just beat, potentially a depleted Villanova team in the semifinal, and in a championship game anything can happen. Watch out for the Red Storm as a potential bid stealer.
Without the Collin Gillespie injury, Villanova would win this tournament. His loss takes away a lot more than some people realize. I like the momentum UConn has, and their potential matchup with Creighton in the semifinal is an exciting one. Creighton is the most complete team at the moment, and I think they will edge out UConn in the semifinal and go on to beat Villanova in the championship game.