Today in the Big East

Notre Dame begins its final Big East Tournament appearance with a prime time (9 p.m. ET) rematch vs. Tuesday evening winner, Rutgers, a squad that pushed the Irish to the brink in mid-January. A four-game Big East feast from noon through midnight is previewed within...

Annually the nation's most compelling, entertaining, and though its just over four decades old, tradition-rich conference tournament, the 2013 Big East Championship represents the last opportunity for Notre Dame to make its mark -- or, as head coach Mike Brey has often referenced, "To make it to the Garden on Saturday night."

That journey continues for Notre Dame and seven others today in this, the last relevant Big East Tournament before the league disbands.

Below is a preview of today's action, beginning at Noon (ET) on ESPN.

Noon -- Providence (9-9) vs. Cincinnati (9-9)

Teams going in opposite directions, with the Friars prevailing in seven of their last nine, including a 54-50 win over Cincinnati in February, and the Bearcats stumbling in six of nine after a solid 6-3 start.

The Bearcats do it with defense, limiting foes to 60 points per game with the league's third-best rebounding margin while ranking third in blocks per game (5.5). Providence surged behind all-Big East selection Bryce Cotton, perhaps the league's quickest player with the basketball.

Cotton, who scored a league-best 18.3 ppg. in 18 conference matchups, was aided by the post play of junior center Kadeem Betts, one of the conference's best over the final six weeks. It the game score gets above the high 60s, its advantage: Friars. But Mike Cronin's Cincy crew has had recent success manhandling foes in this tournament, and the point spread makes it a bit too easy to take the hot-shooting underdogs.

Favorite: Cincinnati -3.5
Prediction: Cincinnati 58 Providence 51. The original pick was the Friars, but the point spread moving from 2.5 to 3.5, and a low over/under (combined game score) of 122 seemed a tad askew...

2:00 pm -- Seton Hall (3-15) vs. Syracuse (11-7)

Syracuse is playing its worst basketball at the worst possible time, losing four of its last five and looking rudderless offensively in three of the losses; disinterested in two. Winners last night over fellow 3-15 doormat South Florida, Seton Hall pushed the Orange a bit with a 76-65 home loss in mid-February, but the Pirates have no business staying in this contest on The Garden floor.

Syracuse's talent level suggests it could make one final run in a tournament its owned over the last four decades. The execution of the players, the comments of coaching legend Jim Boeheim (announced he was "pretty much ready to go play golf somewhere," following an embarrassing blowout loss at Georgetown to end the season) and the collective lack of fire from the current crop of Orange suggest otherwise.

Favorite: Syracuse -13.5
Prediction: Syracuse 66 Seton Hall 52

7:00 pm -- St. John's (8-10) vs. Villanova (10-8)

Losers of four straight and six of seven, St. John's saw its once promising season (five straight late January wins including one over Notre Dame) unravel due to the suspension of leading scorer De'Angelo Harrison, and disciplinary issues both on (Sir Dominic Porter) and off (Harrison) the court.

The Red Storm are still capable, chock full of athletes and playing the tournament on their home floor. Villanova finished 4-2 in its last six and this season upset #5 Louisville, #3 Syracuse, #17 Marquette, and #5 Georgetown, though all on their home floor. The talent is there, but the Wildcats had just one decent win outside of Philadelphia.

Favorite: Villanova -3.5
Prediction: Villanova 70 St. John's 67 in overtime

9 pm -- Rutgers (5-13), vs. Notre Dame (11-7)

In the hunt for a double bye entering the season's final two weeks, the Irish finished 3-3, though two of their last three defeats were road losses vs. powers Marquette and Louisville.

Rutgers handled DePaul last night, winning by 19 thanks to a 44-point outburst in the second half. The momentum from playing 24 hours prior likely aides the underdog Scarlet Knights, a team that scrapped back to push Notre Dame to a 69-66 win in mid-January during a contest in which the Irish led by as much as 13 in the second half.

The teams played prior to Notre Dame's "two bigs" reinvention, with 6th-year senior forward Scott Martin securing the Irish victory taking a charge vs. Rutgers guard Eli Carter at the rim with two seconds remaining, the Scarlet Knights trailing by just one.

(Both Martin and Carter have since been lost for the season due to injury.)

Favorite: Notre Dame -7.5
Prediction: Full game preview forthcoming Top Stories