March 12-16 Madison Square Garden (New York, N.Y.) | Bracket
Let's run the old lady one more time before the league as we know it splinters. The Big East tournament will continue in this venue next year and beyond, but it won't have Syracuse, Connecticut, Louisville and others that have helped give it the feel and drama of the top conference tournament in the land. UConn doesn't even get a final chance at it, as the Huskies are ineligible for postseason play this year. That's a shame. UConn's fans were one of the two traveling fan bases (along with Syracuse) that could carry a Garden game. Of the eight teams that look like they will get NCAA bids this season, only one (Cincinnati) is a long-term member of the renamed half of the league. Four teams (with Louisville after a transitional year) will be in the ACC and three in the new Big East.
Key Matchup: No. 4 Pittsburgh vs. No. 5 Syracuse (possible quarterfinal)
The Orange have been spiraling in the wrong direction, totally incapable of scoring against almost any quality opponent or beating anyone good. If they can't handle this one (or somehow lose their first game to the 12/13 winner), what is the committee going to do with them seed-wise? They have beaten one decent team (Notre Dame at home) since Jan. 24. Pittsburgh is a sneaky candidate to win the conference tournament and make a strong push up the seed curve. The winner of this one probably gets Georgetown in a semifinal.
Team to Watch: Cincinnati
Not because the Bearcats necessarily can win the tournament, but more because they could play their way out of it if they're not careful. Losers of six of their final nine league games, with two very close escapes in there as wins, too, Cincinnati's profile is not as strong as its fans on Twitter want to believe. They have a bunch of Ws over OK teams that may or may not make the NCAAs, and Marquette and Pitt as the best of the Big East wins. It should be enough, but what if they lose to Providence in the 8/9 game?
Hottest Storyline: What will the buzz in the Garden be like?
St. John's is shorthanded and very well may be out in its first game (against Villanova). UConn's not there. Syracuse could also be extinguished early on current form. Will the last Big East Tournament As We Know It be kind of a bust from an atmosphere standpoint? Or will the later-round matchups be good enough to carry it? The secondary storyline is whether Villanova and Cincinnati can ice places in the field of 68 and give the league eight bids.
The Pick: LouisvilleThe Cardinals somehow continue to be understated as a national title threat. This will be their announcement. Better side of the bracket and playing like the best team in the league now.