Commentary

Big East tourney: End of an era

Preview: This will be the final Big East tournament for eight of these teams

Updated: March 12, 2013, 6:12 PM ET
By Kieran Darcy | ESPNNewYork.com

The 34th edition of the Big East men's basketball tournament tips off Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden.

Enjoy it, folks, because it'll be the last of its kind.

Yes, there will be a Big East next season. And it'll include the Catholic 7 -- St. John's, Seton Hall, Georgetown, Villanova, Marquette, Providence and DePaul -- plus some new additions yet to be confirmed.

But for eight other teams, this is their final Big East go-round.

So, so long Syracuse, Pittsburgh, Notre Dame, Louisville, Cincinnati, Rutgers and South Florida. We'll miss you -- well, most of you anyway.

We don't even get to say goodbye to UConn. The Huskies are ineligible for this season's tournament.

It'll be a bittersweet week. It's the end of an era.

But what an era it has been.

THE FAVORITES

LOUISVILLE (26-5, 14-4): The Cardinals were the unanimous preseason favorites, and ended up sharing the regular-season crown with Georgetown and Marquette. (Georgetown is the No. 1 seed via tiebreaker, with Louisville the No. 2 and Marquette the No. 3.) Louisville lost three straight games -- including two-point losses to Syracuse and Georgetown -- in January. But they've won seven in a row, and 10 of 11, since. Their lone blemish was a five-overtime loss at Notre Dame on Feb. 9.

Key player: Russ Smith is one of the most exciting, and at times infuriating, players in college basketball. He finished second in the conference in scoring (17.9 ppg), and is shooting 82.6 percent from the foul line, but only 40 percent from the field. When he's hot, he's practically unstoppable. When he's not, he can drive you crazy. Hence Rick Pitino's nickname for him, "Russdiculous."

Key stat: Louisville is second in the country in steals per game (10.7), behind only VCU, and 25th in defensive field-goal percentage (38.9). You have to be able to handle full-court pressure to conquer the Cardinals.

GEORGETOWN (24-5, 14-4): Georgetown didn't enter this season with nearly the expectations Louisville did, but John Thompson III has molded this team into a Final Four contender, despite losing his second-leading scorer (Greg Whittington) to suspension after 13 games. The Hoyas opened Big East play 0-2, and inexplicably lost to South Florida on Jan. 19, but rattled off 11 straight wins after that, before losing at Villanova on March 6.

Key player: Otto Porter Jr. has emerged as a national player of the year candidate late in the season. The 6-foot-8 sophomore leads the team in scoring (16.4 ppg) and rebounding (7.5 rpg), and is shooting 50.2 percent from the field. He does it all for the Hoyas.

Key stat: Georgetown is ninth in the country in defensive field-goal percentage (37.9), and 10th in scoring defense (56.7). The Hoyas try to wear you down with their patient Princeton-style offensive attack, and then get after you on the other end.

THE OTHER CONTENDERS

MARQUETTE (23-7, 14-4): The Golden Eagles lost Big East Player of the Year Jae Crowder and high-scoring guard Darius Johnson-Odom, were picked to finish seventh in the conference, yet here they are -- co-champions, and the No. 3 seed. Marquette has won four in a row heading into the tournament, and Buzz Williams deserves serious consideration for Big East Coach of the Year.

Key player: There are no stars on this team, but lots of contributors -- 11 players are averaging at least 9 minutes per game, and no one averages more than 32. The leading scorer is 6-foot-4 junior guard Vander Blue, who is averaging 14.4 points per game.

Key stat: Marquette is 35th in the country in offensive field-goal percentage (46.7), and 66th in free throw percentage (72.5). The Golden Eagles average only 4.3 3-point field goals per game, among the lowest totals in Division I. Instead, they attack the basket, with great success.

PITTSBURGH (24-7, 12-6): The Panthers had a very nice bounce-back season, after a stunning 5-13 finish in the Big East a year ago. Pitt enters the tournament on a four-game winning streak. All four wins came against relatively weak competition, but that was enough to secure the No. 4 seed and the final double-bye in this tournament.

Key player: Tray Woodall is Pittsburgh's leading scorer, but he averages just 11.7 points per game. The 6-foot senior who hails from Brooklyn is capable of a big game, though -- he lit up St. John's for 25 points at the Garden last month. He also averages 5.3 assists per game.

Key stat: The Panthers are 15th in the country in offensive field-goal percentage (47.9), and 26th in defensive field-goal percentage (38.8 percent) -- quite a combination. But Pitt is 296th in 3-point field goals per game (5.0), and 258th in free throw percentage (66.7).

SYRACUSE (23-8, 11-7): The Orange opened 18-1, but have been up-and-down since, including losing three straight and four of five to end the regular season. Syracuse, the No. 5 seed, will have to win four games in four nights, but Jim Boeheim's club is capable, with experienced veterans on the roster.

Key player: Four different players average in double figures -- the X-factor is James Southerland, third on the team in scoring at 13.6 points per game. The 6-foot-8 senior swingman, a Queens native, missed six games in January and early February because of academics, but returned for the final eight games of the regular season. He is shooting 37 percent from beyond the arc, and takes 6.2 3-pointer per game. He's a matchup nightmare when he's on.

Key stat: The Orange are third in the country in defensive field-goal percentage (37.1), and fourth in blocked shots per game (6.5). Syracuse continues to employ Boeheim's trademark 2-3 zone, and it's as difficult to handle as ever -- you have to attack the gaps in the middle.

NOTRE DAME (23-8, 11-7): The Fighting Irish had another nice regular season, finishing with the same record as Syracuse. Notre Dame lost two of its last three regular-season games, but they were at Marquette and at Louisville.

Key player: Jack Cooley is Notre Dame's leading scorer, and was the leading rebounder in the entire conference. The 6-foot-9 senior forward averages 13.6 points and 10.6 rebounds per game, shooting 58.2 percent from the field.

Key stat: Notre Dame is second in the country in assists per game (17.5), and first in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.58 to 1). The Fighting Irish are also 27th in offensive field-goal percentage (47.0). Defensively, however, they're 319th in steals per game (5.1).

THE SLEEPERS

VILLANOVA (19-12, 10-8): The Wildcats are likely headed back to the NCAA tournament, after missing the Big Dance last year for the first time since 2004. Picked to finish 12th in the conference, they wrapped up the regular season with a 67-57 win over No. 5 Georgetown -- their third win of the season against a top-five team. (They also beat Louisville and Syracuse back-to-back in late January.) So, obviously, they're capable of making a run at MSG.

Key player: Villanova is another team with a balanced attack (five players average between 8.8 and 12.9 points per game). Brooklyn native JayVaughn Pinkston, a 6-foot-7, 260-pound sophomore, has emerged as the team's leading scorer (12.9 ppg) and has a knack for getting to the foul line, where he shoots a respectable 70.5 percent.

Key stat: Villanova is 61st in the country in defensive field-goal percentage (40.3), but the Wildcats are 312th in turnovers per game (15.3).

PROVIDENCE (17-13, 9-9): The Friars -- picked to finish dead-last in the Big East -- finished .500 in the league. Kudos to second-year coach Ed Cooley. Providence finished the regular season by winning seven of its last nine games. One of the original members of the Big East, and home of the conference's headquarters, perhaps Providence will have some magic this week?

Key player: Providence boasts the leading scorer in the Big East this season, Bryce Cotton. The 6-foot-1 junior guard is averaging 19.6 points per game. And 6-foot-2 senior guard Vincent Council, a Brooklyn native, averages seven assists per game, which is second-best in the league.

Key stat: The Friars are ninth in the country in 3-point field-goal percentage defense (28.9), but they are 269th in offensive field-goal percentage (41.4) -- not a very good shooting team.

CINCINNATI (21-10, 9-9): The Bearcats had a disappointing season by their standards -- picked to finish fourth in the league, they instead finished tied for ninth, having lost six of their last nine games. That said, they have a strong RPI (46), and are currently projected to be in the NCAA tournament field. A win in New York would likely seal the deal.

Key player: Sean Kilpatrick is Cincinnati's leading scorer, and the fourth-leading scorer in the Big East. The 6-foot-4 junior guard, from Yonkers, N.Y., is averaging 17.3 points per contest. Kilpatrick must have a big game for Cincinnati to beat anyone of note.

Key stat: The Bearcats are 20th in the country in defensive field-goal percentage (38.7), seventh in blocked shots per game (6.2), and seventh in rebounds per game (40.3) -- a pain in the neck to deal with. But offensively, they are 306th in field goal percentage (40.3).

THANKS FOR PLAYING

ST. JOHN'S (16-14, 8-10): Two weeks ago, the Red Storm were on the NCAA tournament bubble, but then their season fell apart. Steve Lavin suspended D'Angelo Harrison -- the third-leading scorer in the conference -- for the rest of the season for unspecified transgressions. And the team lost its final four regular-season games. Harrison is suspended for the postseason, too, meaning St. John's is cooked.

Key player: With Harrison out, the only player averaging in double figures for St. John's is freshman forward Jakarr Sampson, at 14.9 points per game. He'll have to put up a huge game for the Red Storm to beat anybody this week.

Key stat: St. John's leads the nation in blocked shots per game (7.5), thanks primarily to freshman center Chris Obekpa, who is second in the country individually at 4.1 per game. But the Red Storm are 338th in Division I (out of 347) in 3-point field goals per game (3.8), which includes Harrison's 58 treys on the season. Also, St. John's is 315th in free-throw percentage (64.0).

RUTGERS (14-15, 5-13): It has been another rough season in Piscataway. Mike Rice was suspended by the university for three games in December, for inappropriate language and behavior. And things haven't gone well on the court, either: The team lost 11 of 13 to end the regular season. And, leading scorer Eli Carter is out with a fractured fibula.

Key player: With Carter and his 14.9 points per game out of the lineup, Rutgers leans even more heavily on fellow sophomore guard Myles Mack. He is the only other player on the team averaging in double figures, scoring 13.3 points per game. No one else averages more than 6.9 points per contest.

Key stat: Rutgers is 309th in 3-point field goals per game (4.8), and 266th in turnover margin (-1.4).

SETON HALL (14-17, 3-15): The Pirates were already facing a daunting task this season, picked to finish 14th in the preseason. And Kevin Willard's club has been decimated by injuries. Starting forward Patrik Auda was lost after just five games, and now forward Brandon Mobley is gone as well. Seton Hall has lost 11 of its past 12 games.

Key player: Junior swingman Fuquan Edwin is the team's top scorer (16.6 ppg), second-leading rebounder (5.8 rpg), and is 11th in the country in steals per game (2.5). Edwin is at his best in transition, and is shooting 42.1 percent from beyond the arc.

Key stat: The Hall is one of the sloppiest teams in the country, ranking 327th in turnovers per game (15.8). On the bright side, the Pirates average eight 3-pointer per game, which ranks them 27th in the nation.

SOUTH FLORIDA (12-18, 3-15): The Bulls, picked to finish eighth in the Big East, opened conference play by losing 14 of their first 15 games, before knocking off DePaul and a shorthanded UConn squad in early March. They also beat Georgetown 61-58 back on Jan. 19, one of the most stunning results of the season. But don't expect much from South Florida at the Garden.

Key player: Victor Rudd is South Florida's leading scorer and rebounder. The 6-foot-9 junior forward is averaging 12.3 points and 7.1 rebounds per game. Also, point guard Anthony Collins is third in the conference at 6.4 assists per game.

Key stat: South Florida is one of the worst offensive teams in the country, ranking 325th in field goal percentage (39.5) and 330th in scoring offense (59.3). One bright spot: the Bulls only commit 10.9 turnovers per game, ranking them 16th in the nation. Which means they are really poor shooters.

DEPAUL (11-20, 2-16): The Blue Demons are in a familiar spot, in the cellear of the conference. Their only two Big East wins: 83-73 at Providence on Jan. 5, and 75-69 at home versus Rutgers on Feb. 16. They've lost six games in a row heading into this tournament.

Key player: DePaul is led by a pair of juniors -- 6-foot-4 junior guard Brandon Young (16.8 ppg) and 6-foot-8 forward Cleveland Melvin (16.3 ppg). Melvin is also the team's leading rebounder (6.9 rpg), while Young is their leading assist man (4.6 apg).

Key stat: The Blue Demons can score, ranking 71st in the country in scoring offense and averaging 71.8 points per game. But they are terrible defensively, at 307th in defensive field-goal percentage (45.8) and 326th in scoring defense (75.1).

Kieran Darcy is an ESPNNewYork.com staff writer. He joined ESPN in August 2000 after graduating from the University of Pennsylvania, where he played four years of JV basketball.
Follow Kieran on Twitter »

EDITORS' PICKS