Tuesday marks the opening of the 2011 Big East basketball tournament, which, as history has shown, is a pretty darn exciting week of basketball. Heck, most would probably argue that it’s more exciting than the entire NIT tourney. This year’s Big East tourney shouldn’t disappoint in the excitement department, particularly because some bracketologists have as many as 11 teams making it to the big dance. While we think 11 is a stretch, there are some compelling arguments to be made, mainly that going into their conference tournament, the Big East has 8 teams ranked in the AP top 25. They have 10 teams with 20 or more wins, and Marquette is right on the doorstep with 18. Coincidentally, if the Big East did get 11 teams in the tournament it would break the NCAA record, which is held by the Big East, when it entered 10 teams in the NCAA tournament in 2010.
However as good as the Big East tournament appears on paper, there are some other things to keep in mind. First, the tournament can be a grind, with 16 teams playing over the course of 5 days. Second, winning the Big East tournament isn’t really a good thing. Heck, playing the Big East schedule isn’t even really a good thing. Want proof? Since the Big East expanded to 16 basketball schools in 2005, no Big East team has won the NCAA championship. In fact, no Big East team has even appeared in the Championship game. The night in night out schedule, coupled with a deep Big East tournament run, has left Big East teams coming up short as the calendar deepens into March.
However, there are some interesting things to watch for in the 2011 edition. First, how does Villanova, once ranked in the top 25, but reeling from 4 straight conference losses, respond? A quick exit from the festivities at Madison Square Garden could have the 21-10 Wildcats on the cusp on the dreaded bubble. Another team to watch is Marquette, who at 18-13, need to make a serious run deep into the weekend to solidify a spot on Selection Sunday. This may be easier said than done though, especially when you consider that the Big East bracket also includes the #3 Pitt Panthers and the #4 Notre Dame Fighting Irish.
Our pick? Keep an eye on the Johnnies. Yeah, the good ole St John’s
Redmen Red Storm. They are 20-10 on the year and are led by guard Dwight Hardy, who has earned Player of the Year chatter in the conference by shining in big moments. Oh, and don’t forget, the Big East tournament is played in Madison Square Garden, where St. John’s plays a majority of their home games. And in case you’re scoring at home, they are no stranger to success on that court having notched wins against Duke, Villanova, UCONN, Georgetown, Notre Dame, and Pitt at MSG.
Plus, wouldn’t you love to see what Lavin’s hair gel does to that Gatorade bath? Our projected final score of that battle: Hair Gel 1, Gatorade 0
Check out this video from the classic 1996 Big East tourney final: