The 32nd consecutive Big East tournament at Madison Square Garden kicks off tonight. It's a doubleheader of Big East action from The World's Most Famous Arena tonight to help set up tomorrow's day long quarterfinals round. You'll have to brace yourself for an onslaught of discussions of "IT AIN'T LIKE IT USED TO BE," but just remember: if any of that commentary is emanating from Bristol, Connecticut, it's coming from a massive hypocrite who doesn't understand where his/her paychecks are coming from.
But no matter. Onwards to what's important, and that's basketball.
We'll preview the two games today, and this can be your Open Thread depository for whatever happens during tonight's action.
Game 1: #8 Seton Hall vs #9 Butler
When: 6pm Central
Audio/Visual: Fox Sports 1
Season Series: Butler won, 2-0 (64-57 & 71-54)
KenPom Predicts: Seton Hall. 66-65
In a slightly odd twist of events, but not one that's surprising to anyone that followed the women's basketball tournament, this game is a rematch of the final game of the regular season back on Saturday. From the comforts of home at Hinkle Fieldhouse, the Bulldogs hit eight of 13 three point attempts in the first half, including a 5-5 effort from Kellen Dunham, to take a 40-30 advantage at the break. A three pointer from Andrew Chrabascz and another from Dunham were the first two baskets of the second half and from there, things were essentially over.
The game in New Jersey was much closer and featured eight ties and 13 lead changes. The final lead change came with just 2:28 remaining, and the final tie was on a Sterling Gibbs layup with 1:28 remaining. Khyle Marshall had a layup of his own 22 seconds later and a Gibbs miss forced the Pirates to start fouling to extend the game. Butler canned five of their six freebies to ice the game.
If you managed to get the truth out of them, I think it's safe to say that neither team has had the season that they expected. Even after head coach Brad Stevens departed for the Boston Celtics and star Roosevelt Jones was lost for the season due to injury, Butler responded with a strong non-conference schedule performance. But the Bulldogs lost seven of their first nine Big East games, and ended up with a seven game losing streak in the back half of the league schedule. It's been a rough transition to the Big East for them, but a win in their first Big East tournament game would help put a shine on a dark season.
Over in South Orange, the Pirates have been all over the place. Players have been popped all over the place for one game "conduct detrimental to the team" suspensions, and even when the whole team was available, head coach Kevin Willard never seemed to have a set lineup or rotation in mind. Eight different players started at least 11 games, and seven players averaged more than 24 minutes per game with Gibbs leading the way at 30.4 mpg. Only Brandon Mobley and Jared Sina played in all 31 contests, and I don't know if either of them would even sneak into the top four players on the team.
Fun Fact: The winner of this game will have to turn around in less than 15 hours and play #1 seed Villanova at 11 am Central, while the winner of game 2 will have 19 hours off before facing Creighton tomorrow night. That seems fair, right?
MY PICK: I'll take the Pirates to win here. Not because of the "hard to beat a team three times" trope, but because it's Butler's first time in the Garden for the tournament. The Pirates have been through the system before and I'll take their experience in this setting.
Game 2: #7 Georgetown vs #10 DePaul
When: 8:30pm Central
Audio/Visual: Fox Sports 1
Season Series: Georgetown won, 2-0 (61-54 & 71-59)
KenPom Predicts: Georgetown, 76-66
Oh, how did you end up down here, Hoyas? (reads schedule) Oh, right, you started out 3-6 and closed 2-4. Bad times, man. How did Markel Starks end up as an all-conference First Team guy?
This is a rematch of the worst game of the New Year's Eve marathon, where it took 17 minutes and 40 seconds to get both teams to the 20 point plateau. I don't care to discuss that game further.
In their second go-round of the season, it took only 15 minutes and 43 seconds to get both teams to 20 points. This is also terrible. Thank goodness that Georgetown went "haywire" in the second half, using runs of 8-2 and 9-2 to push away from the Blue Demons.
Look, it's been a horrible season for DePaul, and that's saying something. They started out 2-3 in Big East play, and then lost their next 10 games, kicking Cleveland Melvin off the team somewhere along the way. Now we sit and look at it and we see Oliver Purnell (who will be back next season) saying things to the media that are easily mistaken for quotes from three years ago about Melvin and Brandon Young. On the upside, DePaul was 7-24 that year and just 1-17 in Big East games, so I guess maybe he's right about turning things around.
MY PICK: I just want there to be scoring in this game. Please, both of you, score 20 points in less than 15 minutes this time around. Also, I'll take Georgetown, because I refuse to believe that DePaul can do anything fun.