Big East Tournament Preview, Part I

This year, for the first time, every one of the Big East's sixteen teams will pack their bags for at least one day of action at Madison Square Garden. Tipping at noon Tuesday, the BET is sure to be chock full of thrills and surprises, with a half dozen teams situated in the national rankings and others scratching and clawing for those win(s) that will impress the Selection Committee.

So let's quickly assess each team's expectations before the frenzy at Madison Square Garden begins.

16. DePaul:  The Blue Demons are playing for nothing more than pride, a chance to dash an old C-USA rival's tournament aspirations and perhaps their coach's job.  DePaul didn't win a single game in conference play this year and, unless a minor miracle occurs, don't expect anything to change under the bright lights of MSG.

15. Rutgers:  Sadly enough, the Scarlet Knights might also be playing for their head coach's job when they tangle with a hungry Fighting Irish squad in the Garden.  Coach Fred Hill has done an admirable job, but his team has been unable to produce where it counts:  in the ‘W' column.  Rutgers stands a fighter's chance of making it to the second round, given Notre Dame's erratic play away from the Joyce Center.  The Scarlet Knights do have some young talent, including Mike Rosario and Gregory Echenique that could surprise, but the ceiling for this team is a date with the Mountaineers on Wednesday.

14. South Florida:  Coach Stan Heath's team has talent, as shown in a win over Marquette this season and a second half where it utterly dominated Syracuse.  However, these games aren't taking place in USF's cozy confines and thus, the Bulls might be able to eke out a win over the Pirates but don't expect much else from this young squad.

13. Saint John's:  The Johnnies draw the most talented twelve seed we've ever seen (and likely ever will see) in the first round of a conference tournament.  After losing leading scorer Anthony Mason Jr. early in the season, the Red Storm has fought valiantly and admittedly fares decently at home.  Norm Roberts' team has faded as of late though and it would take a yeoman's effort for them to right the ship and move on to Wednesday, where, if they did advance, they'd be promptly squashed like a bug.

12. Georgetown:  We've waited through the last six weeks for the Hoyas to awake from their doldrums and maybe it's time to accept that this is a young, inconsistent team bound for the NIT.  But I can't help but think the Hoyas have the talent to knock off St. John's, Marquette and Louisville and at least give the Selection Committee something to think about.  However, the most likely scenario involves the Hoyas high-tailing it out of MSG with their tails between their legs after Marquette handles them in the round of twelve.

11. Seton Hall:  The Pirates showed some spunk this season, with wins over USC and Georgetown highlighting their résumé, and will likely add one over USF.  A Syracuse Orange squad that crushed them by 24 earlier this year (and it could've been much worse) will likely end any pipe dreams for Bobby Gonzalez's team.  It'd be nice to see the Hall playing in some postseason tournament though (CBI, maybe?) because it has the young talent to surprise some.

10. Notre Dame:  A seven-game losing streak for Mike Brey's squad in the middle of conference play has likely dug too deep a hole for the Irish to overcome and MSG.  Combined with a bracket that gives them (a potential) three tough games with Rutgers, West Virginia and Pitt, the luck of the Irish seems to be running pretty thin.  But don't be surprised if they topple WVU (in the process, making Bob Huggins sweat bullets for four straight days) and give the Panthers a run for their money.  But in the end, there's only so much the inside-outside combo of Kyle McAlarney and Luke Harangody can do…and it appears getting an NCAA tourney bid this year will be too much to ask.

9. Cincinnati:  Due to a soft non-conference schedule, the Bearcats are the team with the most to gain from this tourney and the team with the most realistic shot to do it.  Disposing of DePaul will pad their win total and while a potential Wednesday date with the Friars will be no cakewalk, it'll also be the third time the two teams have met this season.  And we all know how hard it is to beat a team three times in one season.  Even if Cincy makes it to the quarterfinals, it probably still needs an upset of rival Louisville to make a serious statement to the Selection Committee.  While Mick Cronin's team has the talent to pull that off, it is also a notoriously bad team on the road.  So, the likely scenario is the ‘Cats getting bounced on Wednesday and then wreaking havoc in the NIT.

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