Who claims the Big East crown?
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WhatIfSports.com utilized its NCAA basketball simulation engine to present conference tournament previews and predictions for the Big East, Big Ten and Pac-12. We simulated each matchup 501 times to learn each team's win percentage and average score. Simulations are based on updated rosters and the statistical makeup of each team during the 2011-12 season.
Declaring the following could be viewed as grounds for insanity, but by their heightened prestige and expectations, the Big East is experiencing a down season. Save for a miraculous run in Madison Square Garden, March Madness stalwarts Pittsburgh and Villanova won't be extended an invite to the Big Dance for the first time in recent memory (the Panthers' last exclusion coming in 2001, with the Wildcats slightly behind at 2004). The Connecticut Huskies, last season's conference tournament and NCAA champions, are mired in a free fall, one that could doom their shot at the field of 68. Jim Calhoun's crew is joined by their conference cohorts Seton Hall, Cincinnati, West Virginia and South Florida on the dreaded bubble. Throw in the hovering rain cloud caused by the looming departures of the Orange, Panthers and Mountaineers to greener pastures, and these are dark days, indeed, for the hoops alliance once known as the "Beast."
Yet despite this distress, the Big East endures as the premier playground in college basketball, and its' five-day foray in the Big Apple is one of sport's preeminent spectacles. Just in the past few years, the event has given us Gerry McNamara's crusade in dispelling his critics with multiple late-game heroics in 2006, UConn's five-game conquest to propel their championship run in 2011 and the epic six-overtime battle between the Orange and Huskies in 2009. Unlike any other conference, the Big East continually provides a platform for must-watch theater.
Syracuse enters the competition with aspirations of a No. 1 overall seed for the NCAA Tournament, holding a 29-1 record, with the lone loss coming with starting center Fab Melo on the sidelines. Employing Jim Boeheim's infamous match-up zone defense, 'Cuse is suffocating opponents to a measly 38.6 percent shooting from the field, ranking 12th in the nation. Flaunting a well-rounded and unselfish starting five, Syracuse is unquestionably the favorite to cut down the nets on Saturday night.
Not that they will be without opposition. The only team to knock off the Orange this season, Notre Dame compiled one of the more surprising campaigns in amateur hoops. Already expected to be somewhat of a down year after losing Big East Player of the Year Ben Hansbrough, the Fighting Irish were written off for dead after leading scorer Tim Abromaitis tore his ACL in the beginning of the season. But after a rough transition, Mike Brey's squad rallied the wagons by winning nine conference games in a row, including upsets over Syracuse, Connecticut and Marquette. A few recent losses have dropped the Irish in the polls, yet they are not to be trifled with heading into the tourney.
The Golden Eagles of Marquette (24-5), brandishing the scoring duo of Darius Johnson-Odom and Jae Crowder, can possibly secure a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament with an impressive showing in New York, while Georgetown (22-6) can lock down a No. 3 seed or better by running the table.
While the four schools above maintain the best odds of claiming the conference crown, as the past has proven, any of the 16 universities have the aptitude to pull off the unexpected. Thanks to the WhatIfSports college basketball engine, we were able to project who would emerge victorious from the Garden's gauntlet. We simulated each tournament game 501 times and generated each team's chances of winning (W%) and average score. Here are the results:
Big East Opening Round
|DePaul Blue Demons||21.0||62|
|vs Connecticut Huskies||79.0||71|
|vs St. John's Red Storm||35.7||68|
|vs Seton Hall Pirates||65.1||71|
|vs Rutgers Scarlet Knights||48.5||69|
Despite residing in the Big East basement and losing in the first round of the tournament, DePaul, Rutgers, St. John's and Providence all brandish solid freshman classes that give their programs hope that help is on the horizon. The optimism is especially bright with the Red Storm, who flaunted an all-freshman lineup in the later stages of the season. With Steve Lavin expected to return to the sidelines after overcoming prostate cancer and another touted recruiting class coming in 2012, don't envision St. John's as a first-day participant in next season's conference competition.
Big East Second Round
|vs West Virginia Mountaineers||40.9||66|
|vs Georgetown Hoyas||60.7||71|
|Seton Hall Pirates||37.5||63|
|vs Louisville Cardinals||62.5||66|
|vs South Florida Bulls||55.1||65|
During the absence of Coach Calhoun the Huskies hit a late-season skid, losing nine of 12 games. UConn was able to win in Calhoun's return against Pittsburgh on March 3 and kept the good times rolling in New York, knocking off DePaul in the opening round and upsetting the Mountaineers on the second day of the tournament. While their journey is far from over, Connecticut's early wins have the rest of the conference on notice for another five-day run. In other action, the Pitt Panthers' disappointing season comes to an end with a loss to Georgetown, while South Florida and Louisville strengthened their dance resumes with victories over Villanova and Seton Hall, respectively.
Big East Quarterfinals
|vs Syracuse Orange||72.5||67|
|vs Cincinnati Bearcats||41.3||62|
|vs Marquette Golden Eagles||31.9||64|
|South Florida Bulls||41.5||59|
|vs Notre Dame Fighting Irish||58.5||61|
Any outlandish aspirations of a No. 1 seed were dashed for Marquette, as Rick Pitino's Cardinals upended the Golden Eagles 68-64 to advance to the Big East Semifinals. The Cincinnati Bearcats, who arrived as one of the league's hottest teams with seven wins in their last nine contests, also were sent packing, as the Hoyas exacted revenge for an early January loss to the Cats. Syracuse and Notre Dame took care of business to round out Friday night's final four.
Big East Semifinals
|vs Syracuse Orange||74.3||68|
|vs Notre Dame Fighting Irish||31.1||61|
Few would have guessed the Cardinals to make much noise in Madison Square Garden, as Louisville lost four of their last six games of the season. But as the past has illustrated, anything can go down in this rodeo. The Cardinals defeated the Fighting Irish to earn a spot in the conference championship, winning by a score of 65-61. The Orange of Syracuse kept on chugging, beating rival Georgetown 68-62, with just Louisville standing in their way of cutting down the nets.
Big East Championship Game
|vs Syracuse Orange||66.9||66|
Syracuse solidified their dispute for the No. 1 overall NCAA tournament seed by coming out on top of the Cardinals, 66-61. Holding the regular season and conference tournament crowns, there's little doubt that the Orange look to be a hurricane of pain no one wants to face in March.
Joel Beall is the Assistant Content Manager for WhatIfSports.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.