By Josh Adams
New York- Today is the greatest college basketball day of the year. It’s my opinion of course but it’s really tough to beat the top eight teams in the Big East playing four games in a day/night format in front of a sellout crowd at Madison Square Garden. That’s quarterfinal Thursday in a nutshell and it’s catnip to anyone that loves college basketball. Here’s a primer for who’s going to survive and advance into the semifinals on Friday.
(8) Providence vs (1) Villanova
What should be the easiest game of the day to predict well…isn’t.
Providence looked great against Butler on Wednesday and has been hitting three pointers at a higher rate than earlier in the season. David Duke and Alpha Diallo are matchup nightmares for the opposition and Ed Cooley knows how to motivate his team to play at Madison Square Garden.
Villanova has stumbled lately, losing 4 of their last 6 games. There’s plenty of pressure on the Wildcats as the #1 seed to win the whole thing and I’m concerned that a fast Friars start could derail a Villanova repeat. Jermaine Samuels and Collin Gillespie can supplement the offense that Eric Paschall and Phil Booth usually provide but neither Samuels or Gillespie have been consistent.
I’m really tempted to go with the upset pick here but that turnaround from late Wednesday to early Thursday is just brutal to the lower seed. I think Villanova wears Providence down late but this game could easily be in the 3-5 point territory.
(5) Creighton vs (4) Xavier
Welp, this one isn’t any easier to project than the first game but it pits the two hottest teams in the Big East against each other. Both Creighton and Xavier have won 5 of their last 6 conference games. The teams are similar in record, similar in style of play and both left for dead in the mid-season only to finish strong and keep their slim NCAA hopes alive. For Creighton, Ty-Shon Alexander and Martin Krampelj make a great inside-out combination for the Blue Jays. Mitch Ballock set a Creighton & Big East record with 11 three pointers made in their last regular season game against DePaul. Gregg McDermott has pushed the right buttons down the stretch and it wouldn’t be surprising to see Creighton back in the Championship game again.
Xavier looked to rebuild after losing so much talent to graduation as well as their coach, Chris Mack, to Louisville. Travis Steele stepped in as the new head Musketeer and after a six game losing streak in January/February his team caught fire after getting a win against…Creighton. Naji Marshall has become a force for Xavier and the length of the team and the pace of the play that they dictate has turned a rebuild into a success story almost overnight. I’ve witnessed Xavier slow down both Seton Hall and St. John’s offenses in person and I left both games thinking that Xavier can win the Big East Tournament if they play their brand of basketball. All their wins on this streak are against teams that are playing today (St. John’s, Seton Hall, Villanova, Providence).
I’m going with Xavier in this one with a mild upset. Creighton is favored but not by much and I just see something in this Musketeers team. Maybe it’s the uniform, maybe I just see a team that has what it really takes to win a tournament. Momentum.
PHOTO: Phil Booth/vuhoops.com