Big East Tournament Preview

After a frantic last weekend of play in the Big East regular season, the league tournament pairings are set. Rutgers and St. John's shared the conference crown while Connecticut barely squeezed into the eighth and final spot with a ninth-inning comeback victory over Notre Dame. The tournament is being held in Brooklyn, NY at KeySpan Park, home to the New York Mets-affiliate Brooklyn Cyclones.

The double elimination event will start on Tuesday and conclude on Saturday with the championship game. The winner gets an automatic invite to the NCAA Tournament. Here is a glimpse at the first-round pairings and a brief look at each of the eight teams.

***Game 1 on Tuesday at 10 AM: No. 3 Louisville vs. No. 6 Villanova: The Cardinals finished off a great regular season at 38-18 and 19-8 in the conference, just a game back of league-winners Rutgers and St. John's. Louisville is a well-balanced team, ranking first in the Big East in pitching, third in fielding and fourth in batting. Zack Pitts was 8-3 on the year with a 1.90 ERA, second in the conference. Isaiah Howes, Logan Johnson and Boomer Whiting are all in the top-10 in hitting while Whiting stole a league-best 64 bases.

Villanova was 28-23 on the season and 12-15 in the conference. A strength of the Wildcats is offense, where they rank fifth in the Big East in hitting. A weakness: Villanova is dead last in pitching. Derek Skunk leads the team with a .372 average. Jordan Ellis is the only pitcher in the regular rotation with a sub-4 ERA. The Wildcats split a pair of games with the Cardinals this season.

***Game 2 on Tuesday at 1 PM: No. 2 Rutgers vs. No. 7 Notre Dame: The Scarlet Knights beat Villanova 12-6 on Saturday to earn a share of the Big East title. Rutgers is first in fielding and third in batting, led by Todd Frazier. The junior has blasted a league-leading 19 home runs to go along with a .362 average. Frazer has also stolen 23 bases. Dave Williams is tops in the Big East with a .405 average.

Notre Dame clinched a spot in the tournament with a ninth-inning victory over Connecticut on Friday. The Huskies returned the favor on Saturday but might have done the Irish a favor in the process. If Notre Dame had held the ninth-inning lead, they would have squared off against Louisville in the first-round. The Cardinals swept the Irish two weekends ago. Instead, the Irish get to face Rutgers, a team they beat two of three on the road. Freshman A.J. Pollock leads Notre Dame with a .382 average. Leadoff batter Brett Lilley isn't far behind at .361. The Irish always have a chance with David Phelps on the mound. The sophomore right-hander is 8-4 on the year with a Big East-best 1.87 ERA.

***Game 3 on Tuesday at 5 PM: No. 4 Pittsburgh vs. No. 5 South Florida: The Panthers finished the year 27-25 and 15-11 in the conference. Despite ranking third to last in hitting, Pittsburgh was fifth in pitching. Phil Nardozzi is 5-5 on the season with a 3.93 ERA and 84 strikeouts in 84 innings pitched. Gary Bucuren is one of only two regulars hitting over .300. Seth Button is the other player. Button adds some power to the lineup with eight round trippers. Pittsburgh lost two of three earlier in the year to the Bulls.

South Florida ended up 32-24 overall and 13-14 in the Big East. The Bulls, just like their seed, rank in the middle of the pack in both pitching and hitting. Walter Diaz leads the team with a .348 and 55 runs scored. Brandin Daniel is the power threat with seven home runs and 45 RBI's. Danny Otero is the workhorse of the pitching staff, logging 112 innings with a 8-7 record and 3.55 ERA. Shawn Sanford has notched 10 saves on the year and has struck 58 batters in 68 innings pitched.

***Game 4 on Tuesday at 8 PM: No. 1 St. John's vs. No. 8 Connecticut: The Red Storm tied with Rutgers for the regular-season title but earned the one-seed because they beat the Scarlet Knights two of three this year. St. John's has the best hitting group in the league with a .334 team average. Gino Matias is tops with a .376 average while Gil Zayas notches a .371 mark. Ryan Mahoney leads the team in home runs with 13 and RBI's with 55. Starting pitchers George Brown, Jared Yecker and Scott Barnes have combined to go 19-7. Barnes has struck out 86 batters in 80 innings of work.

The Huskies had to scrap and claw to the final game to earn a spot in the Big East Tournament. UCONN overcame a 5-0 sixth inning deficit to beat Notre Dame 7-6 in the regular season finale on Saturday. The Huskies scored two runs with two outs in the ninth inning to win and losses by West Virginia and Cincinnati clinched a trip to Brooklyn. Starting pitcher Mike Tarsi (5-4, 3.92 ERA) has been coming on lately. Tarsi is 2-0 in his last two starts and hasn't allowed an earned run in the victories over the Mountaineers and Irish. Dennis Donovan leads UCONN with a .344 average, seven home runs and RBI's with 43. The Huskies beat St. John‘s two of three games this season. Top Stories