By Marc Faisant | Contributing Writer
The Big East Conference might not have the big names that it once had, however, the revamped conference was able to send four teams to this year’s Big Dance, including two of the conference’s three newcomers, with Villanova and Creighton receiving top 3 seeds in their regions.
Not surprisingly, the Big East regular season champion Villanova Wildcats received a No. 2 seed in the East region, and they will face UW-Milwaukee in Buffalo, NY. If Villanova survives their opening game, they will be facing a familiar foe the following round. They will draw either former Big East rival Connecticut or add another chapter to the Holy War rivalry against fellow Big 5 member school St. Joe’s. Villanova would remain in New York to play, should they advance to the Sweet 16.
Advancing to the Sweet 16 is something that the Creighton Blue Jays have never done and they have to feel good about their chances this time around. “Sure, one of our goals is to definitely advance beyond where we were last year and that means getting to the Sweet 16,” commented Creighton All American forward Doug McDermott shortly after the tough loss to Providence in the Big East Tournament Championship game. Creighton received the No. 3 seed in the West region, and will face Louisiana Lafayette in San Antonio.
The Blue Jays were in question to receive such a high seed after losing the Big East Tournament – especially with National Championship favorites Michigan State and Louisville receiving #4 seeds. If Creighton advances past Louisiana Lafayette, they will face the winner of Baylor and in-state rival Nebraska.
The Providence Friars, led by senior guard Bryce Cotton’s 23 points, a stingy defense, and timely free throw shooting down the stretch, jumped off the proverbial bubble and into the NCAA field. Providence held off a late Creighton rally at Madison Square Garden Saturday night to upset the Blue Jays and claim the Big East Tournament Championship for the second time in school history.
Winning the Big East tournament meant the Friars earned the automatic berth into the Big Dance and avoided a possible play-in game this Tuesday night. The Friars played four of their starters for the entire game, and played only six players as they dispatched the favored Blue Jays.
“It means a lot,” said Providence head coach Ed Cooley as he celebrated the school’s first Big East Tournament Championship since the 1993-94 season. “We have faced a lot of adversity this year … I’ve got to pinch myself as I sit here right now because I can’t believe (it), this is the first time as a head coach I’m going to the NCAA Tournament. It is been eight long years … I feel gratitude to the school that gave me the opportunity to come home and coach their organization. I’m kind of speechless, but I’m very, very appreciative.”
Providence captured the #11 seed in the East and has earned a first round match-up with perennial powerhouse North Carolina. If the Friars can match their defensive effort from the Big East Final, they have a chance to pull the upset. North Carolina has shown inconsistency all year, and depending on which team shows up, the Tar Heels are no lock to advance.
While Providence was able to avoid a play in game, Xavier was not. The Musketeers earned an opportunity to play for the #12 seed in the Midwest and must play Tuesday night against an improved North Carolina State team to advance to the field of 64. St. Louis, a #5 seed that has stumbled into March, will await the winner Xavier vs. NC State.
(Editor’s Note: Keep in mind that technically, the four play-in games on Tuesday officially constitute the first round of the NCAA Tournament, with the 32 games this Thursday and Friday being the second round.)