The Big East Tournament began with a bang last night at Madison Square Garden and it continues with what is expected to be the most entertaining day of the season. Thursday's schedule features three ranked teams, a team chasing the number one seed in the NCAA Tournament and two unlikely NCAA tournament teams looking to improve their odds of landing the coveted automatic bid.
One thing we know for sure: Thursday's quarterfinals will not lack any excitement.
#9 Marquette vs #1 Villanova 12:00 pm ET
The Golden Eagles shocked the Pirates by running them out of the building in the opening round on Wednesday night but they face a much stiffer task on Thursday afternoon. Marquette is going to have to play a near perfect game in order to defeat Jay Wright's squad and that all starts with defense. They have to defend the three point line well and their 1-3-1 zone that bothered the Pirates may not be too much for the Wildcats to handle.
Villanova is playing for a number one seed in the NCAA Tournament and they likely have to win this conference tournament in order to secure that status. Last season in the quarterfinals as the one seed, they were upset by Sterling Gibbs and the Pirates at the buzzer so this a game the Wildcats will be more than motivated to win.
Villanova is as balanced and as unselfish of a team as their is in the entire country. Their guard play of Darrun Hilliard, Ryan Arcidiacono and Dylan Ennis is going to pose a major problem for the Golden Eagles.
#5 St. John's vs #4 Providence 2:30 pm ET
Last season, the Johnnies and Friars met on Thursday in the quarterfinals and the game did not disappoint. The Red Storm erased a 17 point lead to pull within one with 1:15 left before falling down the stretch by five.
The Friars are looking to defend their tournament title but this season they lost Bryce Cotton and added co-Big East Player of the Year Kris Dunn. Dunn and LaDontae Henton are both very difficult to stop but Providence lacks a consistent true third scoring option. If Tyler Harris or Ben Bentil can step up (like they have as of late), the Friars have a solid chance to advance to the semifinals on Friday.
The Johnnies won four out of their last five games to close out the regular season and they are hungry to win their first Big East Tournament game since Steve Lavin's first season back in 2011. St. John's swept Providence during the regular season (winning at the Dunkin Donuts Center for their first conference win) but both match-ups were a lot closer than the final scores indicate.
Providence has had difficulty handling St. John's length and they lack the athleticism in the paint to match-up successful, but it is never easy to defeat a team three times in one season.
#10 Creighton vs #2 Georgetown 7:00 pm ET
While some were waiting for the Georgetown versus DePaul match-up (from last year's opening round), Creighton had other ideas. The Blue Jays manhandled the Blue Demons in the paint on Wednesday night and received a spark from James Milliken, who put up 22 points on the way to a victory. If Creighton plays with that sense of energy, can control the paint and is hitting their outside shots, this could be a very competitive match-up. It all starts with Austin Chatman though. If he isn't on target, the Jays could be in for a rough outing.
The Hoyas are looking for some spark before the tournament. This is the time of year where they struggle to compete for a full 40 minutes and a loss would hurt their confidence heading into the Big Dance.
The Hoyas are strong defensively and their offense comes from 1st team All-Big East member, D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera, as well as freshman, Isaac Copeland. A big question for this match-up is: Will Josh Smith stay out of foul trouble?
#6 Xavier vs #3 Butler 9:30 pm ET
These teams spilt there regular season meetings with the Musketeers the most recent winner by 17 at the Cintas Center.
Butler is looking for their first Big East Tournament win. They joined the conference last season and failed to beat Seton Hall in the opening round. They do not have the most athletic team but they are unselfish, smart and are led by a dynamite first year head coach in Chris Holtmann. Roosevelt Jones and Kellen Dunham are dangerous but the key to this Bulldogs squad is the return of Portsmouth, RI native Andrew Chrabascz, who sat out a few weeks with a broken hand.
Xavier seems locked into making the NCAA Tournament but they only finished .500 in conference play so a win here wouldn't hurt. The Musketeers lead the conference in assists and they are second in the league in rebounding thanks to the likes of Jalen Reynolds and Matt Stainbrook in the paint.
Butler is a very good offensive rebounding team so whoever wins the battle of the boards might have the edge in this late night showdown.