The Big East Tournament starts tomorrow, March 7, at noon EST with four games, including Marquette's tournament opener versus St. John's to close the first round at 9:00 EST on ESPN.
Marquette, seeded #6, has not faced the #11-seeded Red Storm this season due to the Big East's unbalanced schedule, but that should not be a problem for the Golden Eagles.
St. John's ended the season 16-14, and 7-9 in the Big East, and they didn't play as hard a schedule as the Golden Eagles. But the Red Storm did beat Providence at home to end the regular season on a high note.
Forward Lamont Hamilton led the team in scoring with 13 points a game and will be the focal point of the Marquette defense. At 6-10, Hamilton can give the Marquette big men some trouble, but he is not athletic enough to really threaten with a huge game. Center Tomas Jasiulionis is 6-11 but needs more experience to really be a factor. He does average 10 points a game, though, and is a shot-blocking presence in the lane. Anthony Mason Jr. and Avery Patterson both average over 10 points per game, but Marquette has too much quickness and athletic ability for them to handle.
On the Marquette side, the two questions are: (1) will Jerel McNeal play, and (2) can Marquette shoot the ball from the outside?
As of the posting of this article, there has been no word on whether McNeal will play in the St. John's game. My guess is that he will try in the pregame and see how he feels, but if he doesn't go, David Cubillan and Dan Fitzgerald will have to step in and pick up the slack. Cubillan was able to do just that in the Pitt game, while Fitzgerald was a non-factor. Expect both to play well Wednesday night with a little more time to prepare for the loss of McNeal.
As most Marquette fans know, the Golden Eagles are as streaky as they come when it relates to outside shooting. And as sure as the sun rises in the morning, they will see a lot of zone defense from St. John's. Dominic James needs to find his stroke, and reliable Wes Matthews Jr. will need to take a few more shots than usual from the perimeter if McNeal does not play. But it comes down to Cubillan (the best outside shooter on the team) and Fitzgerald to make shots and help open up the middle.
Prediction: Marquette 85, St. John's 72.
The rest of the first round:
#8 DePaul vs. #9 Villanova. DePaul is too athletic for Villanova, and they have been playing better basketball late in the season. Pick: DePaul.
#5 Syracuse vs. #12 Connecticut. This is an upset in the works here. Jim Calhoun has had Jim Boeheim's number, and this is the perfect setting for a UConn upset. Pick: UConn.
#7 West Virginia v. #10 Providence. West Virginia has too much for Providence; this one will be easy. Pick: West Virginia.
James and McNeal were named to All-Big East teams.
James was picked for the All-Big East first team, and McNeal for the All-Big East second team.