Thursday, March 14, 2013

Big East Championship Preview


It feels like 1:45 a.m. on a Friday night-turned Saturday morning. The noise is beginning to die down. It’s “Last Call.”
Welcome to the 2013 Big East Championship.
After years of entertaining the nation at Madison Square Garden this year’s version of the Big East Championship will be the last as we know it.
That doesn’t mean we should get all sappy and treat this as any other event than a great one to put a few bucks down on our hopeful champion pick. Technically, the tournament began yesterday but don’t kid yourself, no one was paying any attention to the South Florida-Seton Hall and Rutgers-DePaul games unless you wanted to see what a potential NCAA Jamaican basketball team might look like.
The crux of the tournament begins today, not surprisingly with a game with more bubble implications than you might think. Cincinnati, for all the big wins its accumulated this season (Iowa State, Oregon, at Pitt at vs. Marquette) it still finishes 9-9 in a mediocre Big East this season. With the unbalanced schedule you can see how there weren’t a lot of marquee Big East wins and a lot of losses. Cincinnati lost at Providence and at home against St. Johns and also registered five of its conference wins by sweeping Rutgers and beating DePaul, Seton Hall and South Florida. That folks, means Cincinnati got 55 percent of its Big East victories against the league’s four worst teams. Nothing says “bubble” to me like that resume.
Now, when comparing Cincinnati’s resume to others it would seem a lot of teams would have to have magical conference tournament runs to pass Cincinnati but beating Providence would be a good idea just to be safe.
Speaking of Providence, somehow the Friars (17-13, 9-9 Big East) are appearing in some of the “First Eight Out” sections of bracket projections. Come again? Apparently a resume that has the following: Sweep of Villanova and home wins against Cincinnati and Notre Dame is NCAA Tournament worthy. Heck, I haven’t even mentioned a pathetic NCSOS that included loss to… wait for it… UMass, Penn State, Boston College and Brown. Yet, in some people’s eyes (maybe the committees?!?) the Friars are on the bubble. At the very least it makes for interesting theater for today’s noon tip.
But we’re not here to break down every game; rather, we’re here to break down the tournament. Here are the Big East Championship odds via TeamRankings.com:
BEastTourneyOdds

LOUISVILLE (+140): Not surprisingly, Louisville is your overwhelming favorite. What is surprising is that Georgetown – one of the three-way Co-Champions – has the fourth-best odds and Marquette – another co-Champion – has the fifth best odds.
With so much stock put into conference tournaments Louisville might have to win the Big East Tourney to keep its projected No. 1 seed. (Like it or not the selection committee has a really bad habit of giving No. 1 seeds to conference tournament champions with slightly less remarkable bodies of work than to teams with stellar bodies of work who fall short in conference tournaments). That gives Louisville all the motivation it needs. Couple that with the fact Louisville has won 10 of 11 games – the only loss being the 5 OT thriller at Notre Dame – and the Cardinals are peaking at the right time. And if you believe that the conference’s best team is going to win this tournament then Louisville at +140 is well worth your time.
Here are your Big East Championship odds via Sportsbook.ag:
BEastSportsbook

Maybe it’s the statistical nerd in me but I love comparing computer algorithms projections and Vegas’ odds. Usually they’re pretty much the same but every now and then you find a “glitch” that could be a big payday. Based on the two sets of numbers we have you see how Vegas still likes Georgetown (2nd favorite) while the computers do not (fourth). You’ll also notice how Pittsburgh goes from Vegas’ No. 4 to the computers’ No. 2.
PITTSBURGH (+550): That means Pittsburgh, the team that always schedules softly in the nonconference but always muscles its way through the Big East for a decent NCAA seed is the big sleeper here. It’s no secret that Pitt has had great success in the Big East Championship. Jamie Dixon reached the title game in four of his first five seasons, finally winning the title in his fourth try (2008). Since then, however, Pitt hasn’t been back. The Panthers lost in the quarterfinals as the No. 2 seed in both 2009 and 2010 and as the No. 1 seed in 2011. Last season was a disaster as Pitt was the conference’s No. 13 seed and lost in the second round.
Now, Pitt hasn’t exactly beaten great teams. Let me clarify: Pitt whooped Georgetown early in the Big East season. The Hoyas then went on to win 14 of their final 16 games to claim a share of the conference title. On Jan. 8 when the teams met Georgetown and title weren’t said in the same sentence outside of some playful office jokes. The win against Syracuse was right at the time the Orange started their downward spiral. So, while Pitt has shown the ability to win games it did spent much of the later part of the conference season beating up on the lower-tier teams.
BEastBracket

With the bracket in front of you now, you can see why Louisville and Pittsburgh seem like the good bargains. It’s all about matchups. The only two “challengers” to Pitt are Georgetown (Pitt won at Georgetown 73-45) and Syracuse (Pitt won at home 65-55).
Louisville, assuming it can get past the Villanova/St. John’s winner (the Cardinals beat S. Johns at home 72-58 but lost at Villanova 73-64), it would play either Marquette ( a team it beat at home 70-51) or Notre Dame (a team it should have beaten twice but lost the aforementioned 5 OT game in South Bend 104-101 to go with a season-ending 73-57 home victory).
Here’s a quick breakdown of other title contenders:
Georgetown (+400): I’m trying to understand why more people aren’t on the G’Town bandwagon. The Hoyas have been very consistent all season outside of that home clunker vs. Pitt. My guess is people feel this is the Otto Porter show and the guy can’t keep it up for three straight days. But keep this in mind: Georgetown has a real shot at a No. 1 seed if it wins the Big East Championship (assuming it includes the Pitt/Syracuse winner and either Louisville or Marquette). Getting a “cheap” title by beating some streaky high seed (Villanova) might get the Hoyas the title but not the marquee win it needs. At 4/1 the Hoyas are actually a decent buy here.
Syracuse (+500): If you pre-January 26 Syracuse this is the bargain of the year. That was when the ‘Cuse was 18-1 and looking like a legitimate title contender. The Orange are 5-7 since with its best win being a home win against Notre Dame. All the losses are respectable and to NCAA teams (outside of UConn which would have been in the tourney as a 9/10/11 seed). But Syracuse not only has been losing games but it has looked bad in doing so. The last game at Georgetown highlights this: The final regular season Syracuse-Georgetown clash and you go out and score 39 points? Yes, that would have beaten both South Florida and Seton Hall in regulation Tuesday night but it’s a pathetic number for a team with third best odds to win this tournament. This is one of those “if-we-make-it-look-like-people-are-high-on-Syracuse-maybe-others-will-follow” lines. Don’t believe the faux hype.
Marquette (+900): If you like hardworking teams then Marquette is the squad for you. Unfortunately hard work only gets you so far (see a Sweet 16 ceiling). That hard work also seems to pay off more at home than on the road. Marquette went 16-0 at home while going just 5-6 on the road. Marquette has never reached the Big East finals, only getting to the semifinals in 2008 and 2010. This is a decent longshot to take but the deck seems stacked against the Golden Eagles.
Notre Dame (+1500): Like Marquette the Irish are a much different team at home than on the road. The Irish have never reached the finals but have reached the semis, most recently last season before falling to eventual champion Louisville. I do believe Mike Brey has it in him to get this team to win four games in four days, but this is the likely road the Irish would face: Rutgers, Marquette, Louisville, Georgetown/Pittsburgh. That is a really tough climb but stranger things have happened at MSG, right?
Villanova (+2200): The Wildcats have the wins that seemingly have cemented them into the Big Dance. Keep in mind every one of them came at home. Even when St. John’s is a bad team it is still tough playing them in this event since it is on their home floor. That won’t be an opening-game cakewalk for the Wildcats. Still, I could see ‘Nova making some kind of shocking run but I think a spot in the finals is the ceiling here. Gamble on the Wildcats at your own peril.
Cincinnati (+2200): Somehow I have more faith in these Bearcats. The No. 1 seed in this tournament has lost its first game in two out of the past three years. (It did reach title game the three years before, winning it twice). Still, somehow teams getting to play the day before seem a little more fresh compared to the rusted No. 1 seeds. Now, I think Georgetown will be reach for Cincinnati (or Providence if the Friars pull the upset) but as we mentioned above the Bearscats have a lot on the line and winning as many games as possible wouldn’t be a bad idea.
Field (+2500): If you’re playing the field you’re honestly saying you think either Seton Hall or Rutgers is going to win this thing. (Providence is listed at +3500 and St. John’s is at +7000). If that’s the case I suggest you find another hobby. Play St. John’s at +7000 for the simple fact the Red Storm are seeded higher than both No. 11 Rutgers and No. 12 Seton Hall and are playing home games. If you play the field you’re an idiot.
SivaNets
THE PICK: I’ve toggled back and forth with this. It’s between Louisville, Georgetown and Pittsburgh. Pitt is the big sleeper but Louisville and Georgetown are the best teams. In my heart of hearts I believe this Cardinals team is similar to the 2008-09 version that won this tournament en route to the overall No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. I see the Cardinals potentially benefitting from some other upsets and cutting down the Madison Square Garden nets for the final time. Louisville at +140 is the call. 

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