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Previewing the Big East Tournament; who's rising, who's falling, and what's at stake?

An exciting four days of basketball return to Madison Square Garden tonight when the Big East Tournament kicks off.

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

As the Big East Tournament kicks off tonight at The World's Most Famous Arena, no teams in the conference should be playing for their NCAA Tournament lives over the next four days.

It seems as though six teams in the conference can be either partially or extremely confident that they will hear their names called on selection Sunday, while four teams have little to no chance at a tournament berth, given they do not win four straight games in four days.

With the Villanova Wildcats on top and a cluster of teams all capable of making a run below them, it goes without saying that this should be a fun four days for the rising Big East. Let's take a look at who's rising and who's falling going into the tournament, which kicks off tonight.

Trending Upward

Villanova- As the fourth-ranked team in the nation, Villanova obviously comes in as the clear favorites to win the tournament, but it's hard to put into words just how hot the Wildcats have been over the past two months. Winners of 12 straight games and 16 of their last 17, Villanova rolled to a 16-2 conference record and easily claimed the Big East regular season title. They've scored 70-plus points in six straight games, including a 105-point thrashing of St. John's last weekend, and are clearly head and shoulders above any other team in the conference.

Georgetown- As the second place finishers in the Big East regular season, the Hoyas will have a bye into the quarterfinals of the tournament and will take on either DePaul or Creighton. They've won five of their last six conference games including wins over St. John's and at Butler, and have moved themselves up to the 23rd-ranked team in the nation. If any Big East team should have any confidence to take down Villanova this weekend, it would have to be the Hoyas, who beat up on the Wildcats on January 19.

St. John's- Although they're coming off an embarrassing loss at Villanova over the weekend, the Red Storm have still been playing exceptionally well over the past month. Prior to the Villanova loss, St. John's had won seven out of their last eight games, with a pair of wins over Xavier and a February 28th domination of Georgetown sandwiched into that span. It seems as though their offense is clicking at the right time, and if they'll be at full strength this weekend, there's no reason to believe that they can't make a deep run.

Trending Downward

Xavier- The Musketeers are just 3-3 in their last six games, and they barely snuck by a lowly Creighton team in their final game of the regular season over the weekend. Although they still should have some confidence going into the weekend, they certainly are not playing their best basketball of the season. A matchup with Butler awaits them in the tournament's quarterfinals.

DePaul- Once 3-0 in the Big East and on top of the conference, the Blue Demons have done almost a complete 180 since that point. They've lost seven straight games and eight of their last 10 heading into the conference tournament, as this has been another lost season for DePaul under Oliver Purnell. As they take on Creighton tonight at 9:30, it's clear that unless they can make a magical run to a Big East Tournament championship, this weekend will be the end of the road for the Blue Demons.

Seton Hall- Another team that once had reason to be proud but since has seen their season fall into shambles, Seton Hall has lost eight of their last nine games and has gone just 3-11 in their past 14 games overall. They've fallen from a top 25 team and a contender in the conference to the seven seed in the Big East Tournament, where they'll face off with Marquette in the opening game tonight.

What's at Stake

For the top six teams in the Big East, the tournament will all be about seeding for the most part. Villanova can lock up a one-seed in the NCAA Tournament if they can continue their Big East domination and win their first tournament championship since their first and only title in 1995.

Georgetown, Providence, and Butler each sit as six-seeds in Joe Lunardi's latest Bracketology, and with a deep run over the next few days it wouldn't be crazy to think that they each can move up to a five or even a four seed on selection Sunday.

With St. John's as a projected eight-seed at the moment, the Red Storm might have the most to gain of any team in the Big East over the next few days. A run deep into the tournament could propel them up a few spots and allow them to avoid matching up with a one or a two-seed in the third round of the NCAA Tournament.

Xavier is essentially in the same boat as the Red Storm, as a projected nine-seed at the moment and apparently safely off the bubble, a few wins over the next few days would only help out their standing going into next week.