NEW YORK -- So whoever had this Big East Tournament semifinal matchup, play the lottery, hit the track and go to the casino. Quickly.
The best conference in the country was one banked 3-pointer away from a chalk-less shot at the title game. Only Da'Sean Butler’s buzzer-beating heroics preserved a chance for at least one favorite in West Virginia.
But just because the presumed cream of the conference crop isn’t here don’t think the teams left are chopped liver. Marquette and Notre Dame are among the hottest teams in the country right now while Georgetown has the sort of talent to be considered among the elite. And West Virginia, considered Final Four caliber before the season, could slip into a No. 1 seed should it raise the hardware on Saturday night.
Marquette vs. Georgetown
The Hoyas have won seven Big East Tournament titles and are trying to earn their third championship game berth in the last four years. Since joining the league four years ago, Marquette has never advanced to the title game.
For the Golden Eagles: Despite giving up a few inches, Marquette did a good job containing Greg Monroe earlier this season. The Georgetown big man had only nine points and equally critical, just three assists. It will be a key again tonight. As he proved against Syracuse, Monroe can kill you when he’s not scoring. His seven assists did in the Orange more than his 15 points.
Don’t expect the Golden Eagles to be overwhelmed by the big stage. Fifteen of their games have been decided by four points or less.
For the Hoyas: Chris Wright was sensational against Syracuse and needs to be the same again. His play is directly correlated to the Hoyas’ success. In Georgetown’s losses this year, he averaged just nine points -- in the Hoyas’ wins, 18.
Defensively, Monroe has to be prepared to be pulled away from the basket by Lazar Hayward and be ready to defend the arc. The savvy Hoya is more than capable of doing both.
The Hoyas barely celebrated their upset of Syracuse on Thursday morning. If they beat the Golden Eagles, they probably won’t party either. Georgetown is here for a trophy, not just a chance at one.
Notre Dame vs. West Virginia
The last time these two teams met, Da'Sean Butler’s 3-pointer failed to drop on the buzzer and the Irish, who once led by 20, held on for the victory.
Things have changed since then. Namely for Notre Dame. The Irish have won six in a row with a new grind-it-out offense.
For the Irish: Luke Harangody looks like Luke Harangody, which is good news for Notre Dame. In his last five games against WVU, the senior has averaged 26.5 points and 10.5 rebounds.
Notre Dame will need him to do the same again if they’re going to play for their first Big East crown. The key isn’t the offense. It’s the rebounding. Long, strong and athletic, the Mountaineers make a living off the backboard and if they get second-chance shots to extend their possessions, that will hurt Notre Dame’s new-fangled plan.
For the Mountaineers: It’s been 26 years since West Virginia lofted any sort of conference tournament hardware and that came from the Atlantic 10. The Mountaineers want this trophy for the case but they also want it because they know it could potentially put them on the No. 1 seed line come NCAA tournament time.
To get a chance to play for it, West Virginia will have to find a way to solve the riddle of the Irish. With the brakes on their offense, Notre Dame is torturing teams into losses. West Virginia is content playing ugly offense but will need to play better defense than anyone else has on the Irish recently. Notre Dame shot 53 percent in its win against Pitt and in a game when offensive possessions are at a premium, that’s a dagger.