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Big East Conference Tournament Semifinal Picks, Predictions: Providence vs. Creighton, UConn vs. Villanova

Big East Conference Tournament Semifinal Picks, Predictions: Providence vs. Creighton, UConn vs. Villanova article feature image
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Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images. Pictured: Jay Wright (left) and Jermaine Samuels.

The higher seeds all won outright in Thursday’s Big East quarterfinals, even though the underdog covered in three of the four games in Madison Square Garden. There will be no bid steal from the Big East after St. John’s and Butler both lost in the final minute, despite taking Villanova and Providence to the wire.

The Friars will take on Creighton in the first game of the night after Providence dismantled the Jays by 21 on Feb. 26 to clinch the Big East regular-season title. Creighton was playing its first game without star point guard Ryan Nembhard, but the Blue Jays have shown that they’re learning to adjust without him in the win against Marquette on Thursday.

The second game of the night is a classic Big East battle between Connecticut and Villanova, who will meet for the third time this season. The Wildcats handled the Huskies at home on Feb. 5 by 11 points, but the Huskies pulled off a late 6-0 run in the final 30 seconds at home on Feb. 22 to beat Villanova 71-69. The advanced metrics see them as the two best teams in the league, and the rubber match is highly anticipated.

Here are looks at the matchups and my thoughts on both games.

Creighton vs. Providence Odds

Creighton Odds +3.5
Providence Odds -3.5
Moneyline +135 / -165
Over/Under 131.5
Time Friday, 6:30 p.m. ET
TV Fox Sports 1
Odds as of Friday and via BetMGM

Providence had a rare blowout victory to clinch the Big East against the same Blue Jays just 13 days ago. The Friars survived another late scare from Butler on Thursday with a small comeback from as many as six down in the second half to get here, while Creighton had a wire-to-wire victory against Marquette.

ShotQuality suggests that Creighton’s numbers have dropped off considerably since the injury to Nembhard. They lost the ShotQuality postgame report in the win against St. John’s when he was injured midgame. Creighton lost it to Providence, lost to UConn even in the home victory and then lost to Seton Hall as well.

Thursday’s report from the Marquette game said the Blue Jays should have won by just three points.

The quality of shots for the Creighton offense just aren’t as good without their primary creator and passer. It puts more pressure on Ryan Hawkins and Arthur Kaluma to hit difficult, contested shots.

I don’t expect Providence guard AJ Reeves to hit 7-of-10 from beyond the arc and Providence to run away with this game again, but I also was surprised that Watson had as much success against Ryan Kalkbrenner in the middle last meeting. Watson was quite efficient against an elite interior defense and the Defensive Player of the Year in the conference.

Without Nembhard, there are still looming turnover issues for this Creighton offense that could allow the Friars to run out in transition and have a ton of success. Providence can struggle in the half-court offensively and Kalkbrenner can take away Watson’s effectiveness, but I don’t trust Creighton enough without their star guard to take them at the current number.

I’d lean toward the under at the current total, and first-half unders in the Big East Tournament are 5-2 thus far. Creighton should be able to deny the middle and make Providence shoot. While the Friars defense is generally overrated, they can turn over Creighton and limit their number of possessions ending in shots.

Verdict: Pass

UConn vs. Villanova Odds

UConn Odds +2.5
Villanova Odds -2.5
Moneyline +115 / -140
Over/Under 131.5
Time Friday, 9 p.m. ET
TV Fox Sports 1
Odds as of Friday and via BetMGM

The Wildcats opened as four-point favorites overnight on FanDuel and were almost immediately bet down to 3.5. The line is touching 2.5 and 2 in some places as of Friday morning.

The main concern for Villanova is the health of forward Jermaine Samuels, a physical wing defender and scorer who’s excellent off the dribble and getting to the rim. Samuels has been dealing with back spasms and the Wildcats are probably better off making sure he’s 100% healthy for next week rather than playing him his normal minutes, if the back is still an issue on Friday night.

Villanova has very little depth and only regularly plays a six man rotation that occasionally becomes seven if necessary. The Wildcats depth is also a concern for someone like Eric Dixon, whose foul trouble in matching up with the UConn bigs could also be a concern.

Dixon managed to get Adama Sanogo in foul trouble in the first meeting and dominated the game, but the second meeting was more of what you’d expect in this matchup. The Huskies’ elite man-to-man defense and denial of good shots at the rim frustrated the Villanova offense, while RJ Cole’s playmaking won the game late for the Huskies.

ShotQuality suggested that while UConn won the game by two, the quality of shot suggested it should have been a nine point victory. UConn is elite on the glass, grabbing 36.5% of its misses on offenses, which is among the best in the entire country. The Huskies also deny second chance looks and ShotQuality projects them as only a very slightly worse team than Villanova this season.

If Samuels isn’t healthy and the Wildcats can’t go small, it could be an issue for them trying to match up with Sanogo in the middle. Villanova found success in the second half of the second meeting by making Sanogo guard on the perimeter, but may not be able to exploit that again if he isn’t healthy.

From a regression standpoint, the Huskies rank 10th in the conference in 3-point field goal defense, but it’s a bit misleading. Opponents were expected to shoot just 32% against them based on the quality of looks and the Huskies cover catch and shoot 3s as well as any defense in the country.

UConn may not win this game, but they closed as favorites at home and if anything, will have the majority of the crowd in the Garden on Friday night. Anything of three points or more is too many in a tossup match.

Be sure to monitor this line on our college basketball odds page to get the best number on the Huskies

The Pick: UConn +3 or better

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