Afternoon Delight

Notre Dame's first tournament game is set for Thursday night, some time after 9 PM (ET). The foe? Either Rutgers, Villanova, or South Florida, teams the Irish finished an aggregate 3-1 against this winter. previews the quartet of today's opening round games and offers predictions for each contest.

Bookstore Basketball, Notre Dame's 40-plus year intramural basketball tournament played annual each spring, is the world's largest outdoor 5-on-5 tournament, topping out last spring at a record 739 teams.

The 30th installment of the annual Big East Tournament isn't quite that big, but the massive league and its bye/double bye format can be daunting to the casual fan and viewer.

While I still suggest you tune in (maybe skip lunch, take a liquid lunch, I'm not here to judge…) the handy guide below is all you need to preview Day One of the 16-team extravaganza beginning today at Noon (ET).

We'll be back tomorrow (and Thursday, and Friday) to update the action.

First Round Games – Tuesday

Four games and eight teams will do battle today with four winners advancing to take on the "single bye" teams – those that finished #5 through #8 in the conference standings.

#16 DePaul vs. #9 Connecticut – Noon: The Huskies began a magical 10-game winning streak from the #9 slot last season, clawing their way through the Big East and NCAA Tournament and claiming both championships in the process.

Though I'm tempted to pick an upset based purely on DePaul's ability to shoot and score in bunches (I'd have picked the Blue Demons had the opponent been #8 West Virginia or #10 Seton Hall), I'm confident the recent return of Connecticut head coach Jim Calhoun will provide enough bench guidance to get the Huskies over the hump and likely into the 2012 NCAA Tournament. (Crucial for the program, as the Huskies are ineligible next spring for forgetting to employ the "student" aspect of the term, "student-athlete.")

Point Spread/Score Prediction: Connecticut -10…UConn 86 DePaul 77

#13 Pittsburgh vs. #12 St. John's – 2 PM: The Panthers were terrible early; then not-that-bad at the midpoint of conference play. With the exception of a blowout of #10 seed Seton Hall in February, they've scuffled again of late, losing six of their last seven though mostly by manageable deficits. St. John's was the only team to lose to Jamie Dixon's crew over the last 30 days, dropping a 20-point decision one week ago. This one will be much closer and though the youth-filled Red Storm is incapable of making an extended run, they could definitely win a game.

Point Spread/Score Prediction: Pittsburgh -5…St. John's 60 Pittsburgh 58

#15 Providence vs. #10 Seton Hall – 7 PM: Losers of three of their last four, the Pirates need at least two wins, if not a semi-finals run, feel remotely comfortable on Selection Sunday. At 15-16, Providence needs two wins to qualify for the NIT. Picking for or against The Hall is an exercise in futility: its only win over the last four games – an 18-point blowout of Georgetown; its worse loss – an inexplicable 28-point evisceration at the hands of #16 DePaul. In other words, I have no idea…

Point Spread/Score Prediction: Seton Hall -5.5…Seton Hall 75 Providence 66

#14 Villanova vs. #11 Rutgers – 9 PM: Typing "#14" and "Villanova" seems a tad askew. Nevertheless, the once-mighty Wildcats have shown some bite of late, taking Notre Dame and Connecticut to overtime and playing to within four of Cincinnati over the weekend. Rutgers finished with a win at Seton Hall and at home vs. St. John's to conclude the regular season, but intermixed was a six-point home loss to Villanova. (The winner of this matchup feeds into a Wednesday night game vs. South Florida, with the winner of that contest taking on Notre Dame Thursday evening in the Quarterfinals.)

Point Spread/Score Prediction: Villanova -2…Rutgers 68 Villanova 65

Projected Second Round Matchups

#9 Connecticut vs. #8 West Virginia (Noon)
#12 St. John's vs. #5 Georgetown (2 PM)
#10 Seton Hall vs. #7 Louisville (7 PM)
#11 Rutgers vs. #6 South Florida (9 PM)

Each matchup above will be updated as needed, with previews and predictions Wednesday morning.

Three Thoughts

  1. Are any of the eight opening round teams capable of an extended run to the title? Five games in five days? Yes: Connecticut, again. Though I'll guess the Huskies come to a (predictable) halt in the conference quarterfinals when they encounter top-seed Syracuse in a game played way-too-close for the Orange fans' liking...

  2. The Huskies and Mountaineers are headed for an epic second-round contest tomorrow afternoon...easily the best matchup of the first two rounds.

  3. Looking for a second-day upset? Rutgers and South Florida might play a contest in the high 40s, which means its anyone's game. Top Stories