Some would argue that it's not the Big East Tournament that the late athletic director/commissioner/visionary Dave Gavitt brought into being back in 1980. And it's true that heavyweights Syracuse and Connecticut and the crowds they brought to Madison Square Garden are gone along with the likes of schools like Pitt, West Virginia, Louisville and Cincinnati, who added to the aura in later years. But founding members St. John's, Georgetown, Providence and Seton Hall remain along with Villanova, which joined the second year, and most importantly, the basketball-only roots are firmly in place.
Villanova (28-3) -- The Wildcats are ranked No. 3 in the country but have managed to fly under the radar all season, a neat trick. Some might point to their three blowout losses -- one at Syracuse and two to league rival Creighton -- as a sign of weakness, but they have quality wins over Big 12 champ Kansas, CAA champ Delaware, Iowa of the Big Ten and A-10 contender Saint Joseph's. They also have a dynamic perimeter trio of wing men James Bell and Darrun Hilliard and point guard Ryan Arcidiacono. Nova can score (79.0), defend (66.7) and is the best rebounding team (37.1) in the league.
Creighton (24-6) -- Big East newcomer Creighton has the favorite for national player of the year in 3,000-point career scorer Doug McDermott and the No. 14 Bluejays lead the conference in scoring (79.9), field-goal percentage (49.6) and three-point percentage (42.0) and are second in free-throw percentage (74.8). Defenses that focus on McDermott risk the hot outside shooting of forward Ethan Wragge (10.7 points), and the guard combination of Grant Gibbs and Austin Chatman knows how to swing the ball and find open shooters for easy baskets. McDermott bypassed the NBA for a special senior year and is inspired to greatness.
St. John's (20-11) -- Often described as the "most talented" team in the Big East, the Red Storm disappointed with its 0-5 start in league play, and even after rebounding to finish 10-8 in league play had to deal with late-season turbulence off the court. But if freshman point guard Rysheed Jordan gets into the scoring mix with proven vets D'Angelo Harrison and JaKarr Sampson and shot-blocker Chris Obekpa anchors an athletic defense, then watch out for a surprise champ.
Xavier (20-11) -- Musketeers were inconsistent, going 5-7 at end. Post man Matt Stainbrook has been ruled out until the tourney final with knee injury, hurting chances.
Providence (20-11) -- Long Island's Tyler Harris adds to core vets Bryce Cotton, LaDontae Henton and Kadeem Batts. Quarterfinal vs. St. John's is big for NCAA hopes.
Georgetown (17-13) -- Guard combo of Markel Starks and D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera is terrific, and Hoyas can beat anyone when they're on as Michigan State win at MSG shows.
New Big East at MSG. Attendance might suffer without traveling throngs from Syracuse, UConn and Louisville. A St. John's run would do wonders for the gate.
How many NCAA bids for Big East? Old league dominated NCAA bracket routinely, including record 11 bids. Only Villanova and Creighton are sure bets.
Doug McDermott showcase. The son has dreamed of giving father, Creighton coach Greg McDermott, a place in the Garden spotlight and, ultimately, a Final Four trip.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Doug McDermott, Creighton, F -- Nation's leading scorer at 26.5 points adds 7.2 rebounds per game. Watching him move without the ball is a clinic.
Bryce Cotton, Providence, G -- Versatile point guard is second in Big East scoring (21.7), first in assists (5.9), first in minutes played (40.1). Indispensable.
D'Angelo Harrison, St. John's, G -- Junior rebounded from season-ending suspension as a sophomore to regain leadership role, average 17.6 points, play tough in crunch.
Semaj Christon, Xavier, G -- Outstanding scorer (17.0) and floor leader (4.1 assists, 1.4 steals), he embodies Musketeers' tough-minded approach.
Ryan Arcidiacono, Villanova, G -- Wildcats wings James Bell (14.9 points) and Darrun Hilliard (14.4) are superb, but Arcidiacono (10.0, 3.5 assists) is the glue.