What to watch at Big East tourney
At the end of every Big East tournament championship game, they pump Frank Sinatra's "Theme from New York, New York" into Madison Square Garden. It's always been a fitting, perfect coda to the weeklong tournament.
Perhaps this year they ought to switch it up, pull out the Donna Summer CD and go with "Last Dance."
The Big East will continue in name and spirit, with the rightful owners -- the better part of the group Dave Gavitt originally put together in 1979 -- reforming next season. But this is really the last go-round.
At some point Syracuse will either lose or win it all, and Jim Boeheim and his Orange army will exit the Garden and prepare to head to Greensboro, a concept that's almost impossible to grasp. Ditto Pittsburgh and Notre Dame.
The good news in its last iteration: The tournament isn't likely to disappoint. The Big Ten might have deservedly dominated the national picture this season, but the Big East wasn't too far behind. Although the three teams that shared the regular-season crown (Georgetown, Louisville and Marquette) have separated themselves to an extent, the league has proved to be its typically taut and unpredictable self.
New York rarely disappoints, and it's hard to imagine that it will now in its final dance.
Top three storylines
What does the Big East have for an encore?
New York will be equal parts wake and celebration as the league makes its last run before separating and reforming next year with the Catholic schools plus institutions to be named later. For schools -- and their fan bases -- such as Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame, this will be the final postseason stop in the Big Apple, so you know they will make the most of it. The Big East tournament's swan song should be special.
Who has the strongest case for a No. 1 seed?
The jockeying for the top spots in the NCAA tournament field likely will continue through Champ Week, and certainly the Big East could have some dogs in the fight. Right now it's Jack the (bull)dog. Most agree that Georgetown is sitting pretty in the No. 1-seed race, but should Louisville win the Big East title, it would have a pretty good case, too.
Which teams are living on the bubble?
The Big East is a little less chaotic than some leagues (we're talking to you, SEC), but there are still a few uncomfortable teams here. Villanova should be in by virtue of its wins against Syracuse, Louisville, Marquette and Georgetown, but the Wildcats' perch is precarious enough that they can't lay an egg early in New York. Meanwhile, Cincinnati could probably use a win just to be safe, and Providence absolutely needs a deep run here to make its case to get into the tourney.
Five players to watch
Otto Porter, Georgetown: I spent one possession during the Georgetown-Syracuse game just watching Porter. He didn't score on the play, but he was still fascinating. He never stopped moving, cutting and looking for the ball. Porter is the most complete player in the league -- smart, an able scorer, a deft passer and thoroughly unselfish. He's not just fun to watch; he's a joy.
Peyton Siva, Louisville: Siva has been up-and-down this season, but he owned New York a year ago, winning the tournament's most outstanding player trophy. If the Cards are on their A-game, he just might do it again. Siva is made for New York, a savvy point guard who can be electric and enigmatic on the same possession. His even more mercurial backcourt mate, Russ Smith, has overshadowed him this season, but Siva remains the Cards' engine.
Vander Blue, Marquette: For whatever reason, the Golden Eagles always sort of sneak up on people in March. No one's talking about them, and poof -- there they are sharing the Big East regular-season crown. The same can be said for Blue. No one has talked much about him, but he's been pretty good for Marquette all season, practically doubling his scoring in a season when Buzz Williams needed someone to fill a void.
Bryce Cotton, Providence: Cotton is the best player you might have never heard of. He leads the conference and is 15th in the nation in scoring with 19.6 points per game. In the 28 games he's played this season, he's failed to reach double figures just twice. If Providence is to pull off any upsets here, Cotton will be the reason.
Brandon Triche, Syracuse: If Syracuse is to make a run, it needs Triche to stop thinking and start playing. The senior has been thoroughly lost in his past three games, shooting just 7-for-29 from the field. More worrisome, he hasn't hit a 3-pointer since the first time the Orange played Georgetown (and even then he was just 1-for-7), and is 0 for his past 10. Syracuse needs Triche to perform in order to advance.
Around the tournament
Hottest team: Louisville. It's not just that the Cardinals have won their past seven (and 10 of their past 11), it's how they've won. Louisville again has ratcheted up its defense. Toss out the five-overtime loss to Notre Dame, and UL is allowing 53.9 points per game since the end of January.
Coldest team: DePaul. The Blue Demons have lost six in a row and again pull into New York City as the lowest seeded team. If you're looking for the coldest team that actually matters, go with Syracuse. The Orange have lost four of their past five and looked bad doing it, with an offense that has gone AWOL.
Sleeper pick: Providence. The Friars have made one of the best turnarounds in the country, losing just two games since the start of February -- and one in overtime. Bryce Cotton, Kadeem Batts and Vincent Council are a formidable trio for any team to face.
Best first-round matchup: We won't count Tuesday here because even though it is technically the first round of the Big East tournament, it's like picking the best worm out of a bunch of dirt. So on Wednesday, Providence against Cincinnati is the call. Both finished 9-9 in the Big East regular season, and while UC is likely on the right side of the bubble at the moment, PC could play its way into the bracket with a good run in New York. The Bearcats have looked shaky at the end of the season; the Friars have looked much better. Mix in some seriously good guard play and you've got the recipe for a good one.
Best potential quarterfinal -- Pittsburgh vs. Syracuse: Is it a Big East quarterfinal or an ACC quarterfinal? The two departing schools could tango for the last time in the Garden on Thursday afternoon. Considering how well the Panthers are playing defense and how poorly the Orange is playing offensively, it could be a scrum.
Predicting a champion: Louisville. It's a tough pick between Louisville and Georgetown because both are playing at such a high level, but I'm leaning Cardinals. No team has won back-to-back Big East tournaments since Syracuse in 2005-06 (and the '06 run was the bonkers Gerry McNamara miraculous dash), but the Cards could just etch their name into the last edition of this Big East record book.
MORE MEN'S COLLEGE BASKETBALL HEADLINES
- NCAA president: Pay-for-play isn't coming
- NCAA may work with power 5 conferences
- Wells sparks Maryland past Boston College
- Former Hoya Whittington intends to transfer