Big East Tourney Gambling Preview: Nova? UConn? PC? Someone else? (Presented by Bracket Fanatics)


Credit: UConn Athletics

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It's Champ Week, arguably the best week of college hoops all season long - and as part of it, we've got wall-to-wall coverage of all the major conference tournaments.


Yesterday, we got you a full gambling preview on the ACC, and today it's time to turn our attention to the Big East. I'll actually be in New York covering for AT Media (you can follow me on Twitter @ZacKrull_), and it should be an awesome event, with fans returning to Madison Square Garden for the first time since 2019.


First, let's get you a look at the odds, presented by DraftKings Sportsbook (which has a great offer for first time users below):


Big East Tournament title odds:


Villanova (+150)

UConn (+330)

Providence College (+425)

Marquette (+700)

Creighton (+1000)

Xavier (+1700)

St. John's (+2200)

Butler (+4000)

DePaul (+8000)

Georgetown (+33000)


The Favorite: Villanova (+150)

Since the Big East realigned in 2013-2014, Jay Wright’s team has dominated the league like clockwork and that success has translated into the Big East Tournament. Villanova was won four out of the last seven Big East Tournaments and will rightfully enter New York City as the favorite, even if they are the No. 2 seed. The Wildcats have realistic Final Four aspirations, with a National Championship winning coach, high level guard play, and plenty of NCAA Tournament experience. Fifth-year senior guard, Collin Gillespie has played in eight career NCAA Tournament games and will be hungry to get on the floor in the Big East Tournament setting, after his season ended early in 2021 with a torn ACL.


In terms of why they are favored to win it all, there are a lot of reasons - one that gets under-discussed is the emergence of big man Eric Dixon. Early on in the season Villanova struggled against teams with size in the paint, losing to the likes of Baylor, Purdue and UCLA, but Dixon has quietly emerged, going from three points in eight minutes per game last year, to 9.6 points in 26.1 minutes per game this season. The improvement of Dixon has made Villanova a different team, as they won eight of their final 10 Big East Conference regular season games.


In addition, Brandon Slater has emerged as one of the premier defenders in the country despite dealing with a nagging ankle injury. Thankfully Slater has been at his best when Villanova has needed him, as the 6'8 wing has scored in double digits in high level road games at Providence, and at UConn while defending the other team's best player. He will definitely be used as a weapon for Jay Wright.


Villanova will be the No. 2 seed, waiting for the winner of the first-round game between No. 10 seed DePaul and No. 7 seed St Johns.


With a win, the Wildcats would get the winner of the Seton Hall-UConn quarterfinal.


The lower part of the bracket, containing Villanova and UConn, is the significantly tougher side, especially considering St Johns and DePaul have been playing some of their best basketball of the season of late. So while Villanova is rightfully favored, their path won't be easy.


Does The Second Favorite Have a Chance - UConn +330


UConn is the second favorite on the board at +330, which are appealing odds given Connecticut's history playing at Madison Square Garden. Having the Huskies back in the Big East, has really added some spice back to the Big East Tournament and this will be the first Big East Tournament UConn will be participating in with fans since 2012.


Danny Hurley’s team, will also enter the Big East Tournament playing very well of late, winning six out of their last seven games including wins over Villanova, Seton Hall and Xavier during that stretch. Point Guard RJ Cole, has done a phenomenal job being someone that can be relied upon with the ball in his hands, especially during the big moments. UConn was able to show they are a mentally tough team, by finding a way to beat Villanova after trailing by four with under 30 seconds to play just a few weeks ago, in a game where (as you probably remember) Dan Hurley got a bogus ejection. Connecticut has also proven they can play with anyone in the country, as they own a win over an Auburn team that won the outright SEC Championship.


Unfortunately, UConn finds themselves in the more difficult lower part of the bracket and a likely quarterfinals matchup with Villanova stands in the way of getting to the championship game. However, with a home court-like advantage and All-Big East first team players RJ Cole and Adama Sanogo who have tournament experience, this Huskies team has as good a shot as anyone to take this tournament.


This is a team that has dealt with injuries all season and could be waiting to peak at just the right time.


Best Value: Providence +450


Despite being the No. 1 seed in the bracket after winning their first Big East regular season title in program history, Providence is the third favorite on the board. There is great value in Ed Cooley’s team to win the Big East Tournament, just like there has been good value betting on this Providence team throughout the course of the regular season.


All college basketball fans are aware of what the narrative has been with the Friars since the start of the season. The Friars finished the regular season with an 11-2 record in all games decided by five points or less or that went to overtime. The only two losses came against Villanova, who Providence will avoid until a possible matchup in the championship game. The Friars will face off against the winner of Xavier0Butler, and while Xavier is a talented likely NCAA Tournament team and Butler has been playing better of late, these are games Providence should win.

Beyond that, the real advantage sets in, with either Marquette or Creighton waiting in the semi's. While Marquette is a great story, their best basketball of the season might be behind them, as they have lost 5 out of their last 10 games after a red hot Big East start. In addition, Creighton recently lost starting Point Guard Ryan Nembhard for the season, and doesn’t have much depth behind him.


With a favorable draw that avoids both UConn and Villanova, the Friars have the best value out of anyone in this tournament. The team with stellar guard play, good coaching and knows how to win close games is always appealing, especially with juicy odds.


Stay Away: Creighton +1000


The Blue Jays unfortunately lost starting point guard Ryan Nembhard for the season, with a wrist injury and that is just not ideal this late into the season. Creighton has gone 1-2 in the three games without their lead ball handler, which included an impressive win over UConn. With that being said, they’ve also had two tough losses, including a blowout loss against Providence and to a shorthanded Seton Hall team at home.


Greg McDermott does deserve credit getting this team in position to make the NCAA Tournament, directly after losing all five starters from last year's Sweet 16 team. But Ryan Kalkbrunner, is the only member of this Creighton team, playing legitimate minutes, that has ever played in the Big East Tournament, a major concern, again, for a team playing without their starting point guard.


In terms of the draw, Creighton opens Thursday against Marquette, which could be favorable, considering that the Jays were able to win both of the earlier meetings this season. On the other side, Marquette easily could have won either of those games and have been waiting to see Creighton again. Marquette is a good enough team, that losing to them won’t kick Creighton anywhere close to out of the field.


With a young team, recently hit by injury there should not be too much faith in Creighton making a deep run in New York City.


Long Shot: Xavier +1800


It has been another disappointing season for Travis Steele’s team, which faced tremendous pressure on Saturday against Georgetown. The Musketeers Tournament hopes we’re on the line against a winless Hoyas team. A loss in that situation would have been so bad, that Xavier and Travis Steele wouldn’t be able to recover. Xavier was able to end any early doubt, getting off to an early 54-30 halftime lead and never looking back. Hopefully, that no nonsense like attitude can continue into New York City for a Xavier team, needing any kind of momentum. This season has been disappointing for the Musketeers, because they returned their eight leading scorers from last year - eight! - added two marquee transfers and still find themselves, at best heading into this tournament.


Xavier should be playing in desperation mode in New York City, considering a bad loss in the opening round to Butler could end all tournament hopes. That would set up a game against Providence in the quarters, setting up the ultimate revenge spot after Providence has beaten Xavier both times they’ve played this season, including a triple overtime thriller in their most recent game. With the winner of Marquette and Creighton next in line, Xavier should have the talent advantage there and is worth a longshot pick at these odds. Travis Steele has yet to have that long consistent stretch of his team playing great basketball, and there would not be a more perfect time for it than right now. With the leaders of this team Jack Nunge and Paul Scruggs being upperclassmen and having NCAA Tournament experience, 18/1 is the move.


Prediction: UConn +330


Having the Huskies back at Madison Square Garden, playing in front of the fans will be absolutely electric and it feels like a run could be coming for Dan Hurley’s team. UConn is a big, athletic squad that will be difficult to prepare for on a short notice, with a good lead guard. RJ Cole is a guy that can be trusted with the ball in his hands, especially in the biggest moments. UConn will ride that and the raucous MSG energy to another Big East Tournament Title.


You can follow Zac on Twitter at ZacKrull_, as Zac will be at this year's Big East Tournament for Aaron Torres Online.

 

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