Tournament preview: Big East

In the coming weeks, the Associated Press will make Doug McDermott a member of its All-America first team. The senior star, who topped 3,000 points with a 45-point effort in a win over Providence on Saturday, will become the first player to earn that honor in three consecutive seasons since Wayman Tisdale and Patrick Ewing did it in the 1980s.

When McDermott announced that he was returning for his senior season, most expected him to put up big numbers and make Creighton a contender for the championship in the new Big East. And that’s exactly what happened.

The rest of the season? Mostly unexpected.

Marquette was the preseason pick to win the conference but Buzz Williams’ crew (79th in the RPI) finished in the middle of the pack and will need a conference tournament championship to earn a bid a year after reaching the Elite Eight.

Villanova might warrant a No. 1 seed after surprising the country with its rise to the top of the conference. And a bunch of teams are on the bubble.

It’s all a great setup to a tournament for a league that’s already had its share of drama.

What’s at stake?

During the Big East’s media day in New York in October, commissioner Val Ackerman announced plans to turn the conference into a power league. But she wasn’t speaking of the future. Ackerman expected early results.

“We’re going to make this basketball conference a force,” she said.

The Big East won’t be judged by the postseason alone, but conference tournaments are significant platforms, especially for leagues seeking more national relevance. Plus, the Big East tournament will be played at Madison Square Garden. That helps. Or hurts. It depends on what happens.

While it’s still too early to fully assess the Big East, sending two or three teams to the NCAA tournament wouldn’t exactly make the immediate splash that Ackerman anticipated and desired.

A Creighton-Villanova title game is probably the most appealing matchup to TV folks. It’s not, however, the most significant game in the field.

The Bluejays and Wildcats are playing for higher seeds, not berths.

But Xavier could remove all doubts about its postseason destination with a win over Marquette in Thursday’s quarterfinals. There wouldn’t be any concerns about Chris Mack’s Musketeers if they topped Creighton for the second time this season in the semifinals Friday.

Xavier isn't the only nervous team in this mix, though.

St. John’s, Providence and Georgetown are on the bubble, too. All three are ranked in the 50s of the RPI.

St. John’s is 1-7 against the RPI’s top 50 teams. Georgetown is 5-6 and Providence is 2-6.

Thursday’s quarterfinal matchup between St. John’s and Providence could be a win-or-go-to-the-NIT game.

The Big East tournament has always been entertaining. The reconfigured Big East doesn’t possess the same potency as the former version. That doesn’t mean, however, that this group won’t put on a show.

“There’s no doubt the eyes of the basketball world and the eyes of others in college sports are definitely on the Big East,” Ackerman said in New York during the league’s media day. “I think everybody in our league uses that as a source of motivation.”

Team with the most to gain

Georgetown owns the No. 9 strength of schedule. Plus, the Hoyas have wins over Kansas State, VCU and Michigan State. That helps.

But an 8-10 record in conference play and a nonconference loss to Northeastern (11-21) does not. Same goes for two losses to Seton Hall (6-12 in the Big East). Markel Starks & Co. have the most to gain and lose in the Big East tournament.

If the Hoyas lose to DePaul in the first round, they’ll probably warrant an invitation … to the NIT. But a win over DePaul would set up a matchup with Creighton in Thursday’s quarterfinals.

This is a tournament of extremes for John Thompson III’s program. So much is on the line.