2021 Big East Tournament Betting Odds, Preview & Bracket: Path Open With Villanova Injuries, McDermott Suspension
Rich Schultz/Getty Images. Pictured: James Bouknight
The Big East kicks off one of college basketball’s final conference tournaments on Wednesday, with the first of four days of action at Madison Square Garden.
The 11-team field begins with three games, followed by a four-game quarterfinal battle on Thursday.
The backdrop of New York City for a Power 6 conference tournament annually produces magical games.
Villanova finished atop the standings, but played substantially fewer games than most conference teams due to COVID-19 pauses. Creighton finished with the most wins at 14-6, and was one of only two teams (Butler) to play the full 20-game regular season schedule.
Here’s a betting preview of the Big East battle to earn the automatic bid for the 2021 NCAA Tournament.
2021 Big East Tournament Bracket
Big East Tournament Odds
Odds via BetMGM.
Creighton +225 (BetMGM)
The Bluejays are a very talented team, but their betting value has evaporated. Creighton is the favorite to win the Big East Tournament at +225 at BetMGM. There is also uncertainty for the Bluejays, as they suspended head coach Greg McDermott for one game due to insensitive comments.
Creighton does have the ability to get incredibly hot from the field on offense. In their home win over Villanova, the Bluejays shot 71.4% (20-of-28) from 2P range, and 46.2% (12-of-26) from beyond the arc.
Creighton has great guard play, led by preseason Big East Player of the Year Marcus Zegarowski (15.4 PPG, 4.4 APG, 39.5% 3P) and senior guard Denzel Mahoney (13.5 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 34% 3P). They are one of the few teams with the offensive efficiency to match anyone in the country, ranking first in conference play in effective field goal percentage (55.6%) and 2-point efficiency (55.8%).
The Bluejays rarely turn the ball over and are much improved on defense. Creighton is second in the Big East in adjusted defensive efficiency and effective field goal percentage allowed.
At 18-6 overall and 14-6 in conference play, the Bluejays are a worthy favorite, but provide no betting value. They can struggle on the road, are the worst offensive rebounding team in the conference, and still have potential complications from the McDermott suspension.
Creighton has all the tools to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament. However, with the current uncertainty, I would not support a Big East Tournament bet on Creighton as the +200 favorite.
The No. 1 Seed
Villanova +400 (BetMGM)
As the preseason favorite in the Big East, I expected it would be difficult to find conference tournament value on Villanova. With the recent news that starting point guard Collin Gillespie is lost for the season with a torn MCL, and fellow guard Justin Moore could be as well, the value is even worse for the Wildcats.
BetMGM has the Wildcats at +300 to win the conference tournament, even with Gillespie’s injury. Despite an inexplicable 73-61 loss at Butler on Feb. 28, and a season-ending loss to Providence, the Wildcats still earned their third consecutive regular season Big East championship with an 11-4 conference record.
Villanova endured a three-week COVID pause in early January, and has never really regained its early-season form. Head coach Jay Wright’s squad was prolific on offense throughout the season, finishing first in conference play in adjusted-offensive efficiency, first in offensive turnover percentage, and first in free-throw efficiency (78.4%).
Even without Gillespie and Moore, Villanova features three players shooting 38% or better from 3P, highlighted by Caleb Daniels (39.4% on 94 attempts) and Cole Swider (38.2% on 76 attempts).
The most concerning issue is the Wildcats’ surprisingly poor defense, ranking last in effective field goal percentage allowed and ninth in both 3P% and 2P% allowed in their 15 Big East games.
The loss of Gillespie and Moore is too much for the Wildcats to overcome, and I don’t trust them in the conference tournament setting. There is no value in backing a shorthanded Villanova team that has yet to play elite defense all season.
With three wins needed to earn the title, Villanova at only +300 is a bet to avoid.
The Home Underdog
St. Johns +2000 (DraftKings)
The team with the seventh-longest odds on the board is worth a serious look.
Mike Anderson’s Red Storm are 16-10 overall, including 10-9 in conference play. St. John’s has a unique style with a group of talented players who relentlessly attack the basket off the dribble.
Sophomore Julian Champagnie (19.9 PPG, 38.7% 3-point) is a brilliant scorer, with 11 games of 20 or more points.
Point guard Posh Alexander (11.1 PPG, 4.4 APG, 2.6 SPG) is a versatile two-way player who continually disrupts the opposing offense. He suffered an injured thumb that caused him to miss the Red Storm’s last few games, but is expected to return for the tournament.
Juniors Greg Williams Jr. (9.4 PPG, 45.5% 3-point) and Vince Cole (9.1 PPG, 36.5% 3-point) are dangerous wing players who open the floor with deep efficiency.
The Red Storm’s defensive pressure is relentless, as illustrated by their 40th-best ranking in defensive turnover percentage, per KenPom.
The Red Storm make their free throws at a 74.9% rate and are shooting a solid 35.2% from beyond the arc against Big East competition.
With consecutive late-season conference losses to DePaul and Villanova, the Red Storm’s conference tournament odds fell to as low as +4000, before settling at the current value of 20-1.
With the question marks surrounding Villanova and Creighton, the Big East Tournament is more wide open than ever.
That supports my case for a +2000 bet here. St. John’s needs three wins as the No. 4 seed, starting with Seton Hall, then would likely play Villanova in the semis. The Red Storm range from 12-1 to 20-1 across the market, but are 20-1 at DraftKings.
Bet: St. John’s +2000
Connecticut +250 (William Hill)
The Huskies have battled through the absence of star guard James Bouknight and three separate COVID-19 pauses and are now peaking at the perfect time. The Huskies are 14-6 overall, including 11-6 in conference play. They enter the conference tournament having won four games in a row and six of seven.
Bouknight returned on Feb. 16 to give UConn the elite scorer it needs to win deep into March. Bouknight (20.2 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 80.3% FT) has scored 20 or more points in three of the past four games.
Head coach Danny Hurley has the best defensive team in the Big East, leading the conference in adjusted defensive efficiency, effective field goal percentage, and 2-point percentage allowed (KenPom). The Huskies have a deep roster filled with multiple big men that comprise the best defensive block percentage in the Big East.
The Huskies feature athletic and long defenders such as 6-foot-9 freshman Adama Sanogo, who tallied 16 points, 9 rebounds, 2 blocks, and a steal in the team’s 69-58 win at Seton Hall. Hurley’s emphasis on on-ball pressure is reflected by three players averaging more than 1.2 steals per game.
Almost every other contender in this conference has major flaws that will be exposed over a four-day tournament. Connecticut ranks 25th overall in adjusted offensive efficiency and 29th in defense, per KenPom. It’s fully healthy, balanced, and has great team chemistry with Hurley (unlike tournament favorite Creighton).
Even at relatively low odds of +250, the Huskies are my best value in a top-heavy Big East Tournament.
The Bet: UConn +250