Though teams like #5 Louisville, #12 Syracuse and #21 Connecticut have moved on from the Big East Conference, it still packs a punch with #3 Villanova and #14 Creighton, who begin play for the conference championship to be crowned Saturday night at Madison Square Garden. The Atlantic 10 Conference Championship will be held at Barclays Center and features a pair of top 25 teams of their own in #18 Saint Louis University (26-5) and #23 Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) (24-7.
Doug McDermott from Creighton is arguably the best player in Big East. He is going into the tournament coming off the best game of his collegiate career, scoring a career-high 45 points on Saturday to become just the eighth player in Division I history to score over 3,000 points in his career. A 6’8” senior averaging 26.5 points and 7.2 rebounds, McDermott has the ability to light it up on any night against any opponent, something that should bode well for Creighton in both the Big East and NCAA tournaments.
Local St. John’s has played well this season, but probably needs at least one win in the Big East Conference to make it to the NCAA tournament. Led by D’Angelo Harrison, the Red Storm, with a 20-11 record overall and 10-8 in the Big East, face a team with the identical conference and overall record in the Providence Friars Thursday at 2:30pm. Although Selection Sunday is a few days away, the crew from Queens might as well not watch if they lose Thursday, as they are more than likely NIT bound with a loss.
Although upsets are always possible, the two teams that squared off in the finals a year ago, VCU and Saint Louis appear headed for a collision course in the A-10 Conference Championship Final Sunday afternoon. VCU head coach Shaka Smart talked about the tournament and his team’s appreciation for coming to New York City. “I am not going to say we are the best league in the country but we can compete with any league in the country,” he said following a recent win over Fordham. “We love coming up here.”
The fans of VCU take pride in coming to New York City as well, as they, by far, had the biggest and most active fan base at Barclays Center a year ago, with super fan Spike Lee in attendance as well. “(Our fans) take pride in travelling” Coach Smart said, although admitting that traveling to New York City, as opposed to Richmond, Virginia, where they played the conference tournament two years ago prior to joining the A-10, is a much longer trip.
Local Fordham University has experienced a tough season, but they have a chance to make a team uncomfortable if they can when Wednesday night. Fordham has one of the highest-scoring backcourts in the country with senior Branden Frazier and freshman Jon Severe. Fordham head coach Tom Pecora talked about the opportunity his team has. “(I told those guys) if you don’t believe you can go into this tournament and win games you’re crazy. If you play (the way you played Saturday against George Washington) you are going to win games in this tournament starting Wednesday night. That’s why big-time conferences have everyone in the tournament. That’s a carrot for me to dangle in front of this team. It would be a shame if we played a game like this and we weren’t in the tournament because they decided to only keep 12 teams. It’s about student athletes. And that’s the way it needs to be done.”
Over the course of less than 90 hours, 23 college teams will play 21 games to decide two conference championships and two automatic berths to the NCAA tournament. Tickets are still available for both tournaments, so don’t miss your chance to get in on the excitement of March Madness in New York City. I am excited and look forward to reporting back to you in a week after getting a little rest!