The Big East Tourney Longshot Worth a Future Bet
Jan 10, 2018; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Xavier Musketeers guard Quentin Goodin (3) loses control of the ball against Villanova Wildcats guard Jalen Brunson (1) during the first half at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
The Big East tournament hasn’t seen two top seeds meet in the championship game since 2004. With seeding rarely making a difference over the last decade-plus, let’s take a look at some of the crazy runs in the Big East tourney since UConn and Pitt played in a No. 1 vs No. 2 final back in ’04:
- 2005: No. 8 seed West Virginia won three games in three days to get to the championship game.
- 2006: Behind a herculean effort from Gerry McNamara, No. 9 seed Syracuse (7-9 in the Big East) won four games in four days by a total of eight points to punch its ticket to the dance.
- 2008: No. 7 seed Pittsburgh won four games in four days to win the tourney.
- 2009: No. 6 seed Syracuse won three games in three days (including this 6OT classic) to get to the championship game.
- 2010: No. 8 seed Georgetown won three games in three days to get to the final (lost 60-58 to West Virginia).
- 2011: Behind a heroic tourney performance from Kemba Walker, No. 9 seed UConn won FIVE games in FIVE days to cut down the nets at MSG.
- 2012: Riding the hot hand of Peyton Siva, No. 7 seed Louisville won four games in four days to win the championship. (While that no longer technically counts in the record books due to recent sanctions, it still counts to those who bet Louisville futures).
- 2013: No. 5 seed Syracuse won three games in three days to get to the final.
Is this the year where the 13 year No. 1 vs No. 2 drought ends or can we continue to expect the unexpected at the Garden? On paper, the top two seeds Xavier and Villanova are on a collision course, but there are some other interesting options from a futures perspective. Let’s dive into this year’s bracket to see if there are any worth investing in.
2018 BIG EAST TOURNAMENT OUTLOOK
Dates: Mar. 7-Mar. 11
Location: Madison Square Garden – New York City
Defending Champion: Creighton
Notable Injuries: Georgetown guard Marcus Derrickson (?), SJU guard Shamorie Ponds (?), Creighton center Jacob Epperson (?), Creighton guard Ronnie Harrell Jr. (?), Seton Hall forward Desi Rodriguez (?), Seton Hall forward Ismael Sanogo (?)
All ten teams in the league participate in the Big East postseason tournament, with the top four seeds (Xavier, Villanova, Seton Hall, Creighton) receiving a bye into Thursday’s quarterfinals. Butler’s recent double overtime loss at St. John’s (which played without star guard Shamorie Ponds) ultimately cost it a bye, as the Bulldogs lost out on a tiebreaker at 10-8 to Creighton and Seton Hall.
St. John’s 33-1
Speaking of Shamorie Ponds, can he pull a McNamara or Kemba to at least get No. 9 seed SJU to the final by winning three games in three days? If he’s healthy*, I think it is worth a shot. Chew on this: since the ACC tournament started in 1954, no team seeded lower than a No. 6 seed has ever won a championship, but that has happened four times since 2006 in the Big East.
*An abdominal strain has kept Ponds out of the past two games. Contrary to his statements, head coach Chris Mullin may have held him out as a precautionary measure, since SJU’s season essentially comes down to this tourney.
Not only will the Johnnies have home-court advantage at MSG, they have proven that they can compete with the nation’s elite. In February, SJU beat Duke at MSG and backed it up with a win at Villanova. That is arguable the most impressive back-to-back stretch of any team in the nation this year. Additionally, Ponds’ teammates should benefit immensely from a win over Butler and a close loss at Providence without their star guard.
In regards to their draw, the Johnnies will have revenge on their minds for their first two matchups against Georgetown (and then Xavier if they beat the Hoyas). SJU was swept by both, but played all four meetings during a winless month of January before it really turned its level up in February. Even so, the Red Storm only lost to Xavier by margins of five and six. The Johnnies would have to play Xavier on a quick turnaround at noon on Thursday, but that could also be a sleepy spot for the Musketeers. Against Georgetown, they only lost by a total of seven points in the two meetings (one in double OT).
If Ponds is healthy and the Johnnies can somehow get by both Georgetown and Xavier, they would get the winner of Providence-Creighton, neither of which has played that impressively away from home. At 33-1, you could even potentially hedge for a profit at that point.
The Other Half
On the other half of the bracket, I don’t necessarily see Villanova as a definitive lock to get back to its fourth straight final. The Wildcats should get by their first opponent (Marquette or Depaul), although an off-shooting night in the Garden against the potent Golden Eagles’ offense could get interesting.
Assuming the Cats advance, they’d face either Butler or Seton Hall. Both have significant offensive matchup advantages against a more vulnerable than normal Jay Wright defense. Butler has won three of four against Nova over the last two years, including a split this season. Seton Hall meanwhile will have revenge on its minds after a season sweep, which included a one-point heartbreaking loss just last week.
Even if you don’t like SJU, I think this is a good conference tourney to invest in a long shot future. I don’t see any value in Nova at -113 and Xavier doesn’t interest me at +385. (The Muskies late game luck simply can’t persist in perpetuity.) Creighton (+915) has injury issues and just isn’t the same team away from home. Marquette (+3200) just doesn’t play enough defense and is too reliant on the three (not ideal at MSG).
I could see arguments for Butler at +1025 (especially given the injuries Hall is dealing with and the recent revenge factor) or Providence at +3200, but I’m personally putting my faith in Ponds for a few pennies at +3300. If he is healthy, we could potentially add 2018 to the laundry list of unexpected Big East tournament runs. The Red Storm could flame out tomorrow, but I think it’s worth a shot.
Pick: St. Johns 33-1
Top photo: Villanova guard Jalen Brunson and Xavier guard Quentin Goodin; credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports