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Big East, Big Ten provide appetizers
March 9, 2010 - Neil Rudel
This is the calm before the storm, the mayhem before the madness, as ESPN calls it.
The smaller-conference tournaments are trying to punch their tickets to the NCAA tournament, truly one of the great events in sports. Suddenly, the Sienas and the William & Marys become meaningful, and it's cool.
The Super Bowl's one-day anticipation is exceeded by the three weeks of March Madness, particularly the first couple of days when you flip on the tourney and some No. 3 already has a No. 14 on the ropes.
And it's only 2 p.m. Thursday.
So we're anxious for the bracket.
In the meantime, let's take a look at the Big East and Big Ten tournaments.
Ohio State would be the favorite to win the Big Ten followed by Michigan State. It's doubtful Purdue, without Robbie Hummel, can win it, and it appears there's a significant gap between the upper tier and the rest of the league.
The Big East is much, much tougher to pick. For openers, top-seeded Syracuse doesn't stand much to gain by winning the league and may not want to exhaust itself in the process. The Orange are already locked for a No. 1 seed and should they advance to the finals Saturday night, they'd risk a quick turnaround should they have to open the NCAAs next Thursday.
Several other Big East teams are in similar situations, though not protecting a No. 1 seed. West Virginia is rising and should the Mountaineers win at the Garden, they could gain an NCAA No. 1 seed, depending on what happens with Duke and Ohio State.
Villanova hasn't played its best lately. Pitt has a great Big East history but has overachieved to this point. Georgetown has injury/illness issues.
Keep an eye on Louisville and UConn. Louisville is probably already in, and UConn could make a case by winning two-three games.
So I'm picking Louisville :)
A couple other thoughts on coaches/players/leagues with regional ties:
*Hollidaysburg's John Boyer enjoyed a great senior season with Buffalo, but the Bulls will have to win their way into the NCAAs by capturing the Mid-American Conference tourney in Cleveland. Boyer averaged 7.2 points per game and led the league in assist/turnover ratio, a category he's also ranked in nationally.
*Former St. Francis coach Jim Baron needs his Rhode Island team to have a great showing in the Atlantic 10 tourney (at least two wins) or it probably is headed to the NIT. ESPN keeps reporting Rhody is "one of the first four out" after the Rams lost five of their last seven and stand at 21-8 entering the A-10 tourney today against St. Joseph's.