Unlike the other major-conference tournament in New York City – the ACC, where Duke is a massive favorite – the Big East is reasonably wide open from a bettor’s standpoint.
The Big East tourney tips off Wednesday at Madison Square Garden, with the Nos. 6-11 seeds playing to get to Thursday’s quarterfinals, where the top five seeds await them. Despite winning the regular-season conference title for the first time in its history, Providence is the No. 3 betting choice behind Villanova and Connecticut.
Before we get to previewing the action, let’s remind everyone of the sportsbook rules in New York state. While you can bet on who will win the tournament and on most individual games, bettors cannot wager on teams based in New York state. So St. John’s is off the books. Also, be sure to shop around for the best lines, though we’ll provide them here as they come up.
Is Villanova a worthwhile favorite?
While the Wildcats are viewed in some quarters as a likely No. 2 seed for the NCAA Tournament nine days from now, they’re also the No. 2 seed in their own conference tournament. That doesn’t necessarily mean they’re the second-best team, however.
Providence fattened their conference win total with close calls – going 11-2 in games decided by seven points or fewer – while Villanova lost by three points or fewer to both Marquette and Connecticut. ‘Nova also beat Providence twice in a two-week span last month.
Villanova has a lot going for it as it tries to win its third national championship in the last six seasons under coach Jay Wright. It’s 16-2 in its last 18 games, it has won four of the last six Big East tournaments, and it has one of the best guards in the country in Collin Gillespie and an inside presence with Eric Dixon.
If you’re leaning toward Villanova, your best bet is FanDuel, where the Wildcats are listed at +165.
Clash with UConn looming
Here’s a note of caution, however: Providence nabbing the top seed means Villanova and Connecticut quite likely will meet up in the semifinals. Your best play here is to pick one or the other and, if you’re a Connecticut backer, your best bet is Caesars, where the Huskies are +375.
UConn brings a nice resumé to MSG, having won six of its last eight games. But the Huskies also went just 1-6-1 against the spread (ATS) in those games. They have strong guard play with R.J. Cole, and Adam Sanogo gives them an interior presence as well. UConn led the Big East in rebounding and also has a fan base that travels well and won’t have to go far.
The books appear to have gotten the top two teams right, but with them meeting before the finals, it presents an either-or kind of situation.
Friars hoping to hold serve
The only team that might intimidate Providence is the aforementioned Wildcats, the only conference team to beat it twice this season. Hence, UConn could do the Friars a big favor by knocking ‘Nova off in the semis.
Providence has some nice senior leadership, with center Nate Watson averaging 13.7 points per game. Some analysts, such as KenPom, who have taken a deeper dive view Providence’s season as somewhat misleading given its mediocre rankings in adjusted offense and defense, but at +500 (at FanDuel and Caesars) you get a team that has defied expectations and found ways to win all season.
Nabbing the No. 1 seed was crucial, giving Providence a relatively smooth path to the final, where it is hoping Villanova doesn’t end up.
Looking at longshots
The best remaining team just might be Seton Hall, but bear in mind the Pirates will have to win an extra game in order for you to cash your ticket. The Pirates had a somewhat disappointing season, but they’re widely viewed as far better than their No. 6 seed and they’ve played their best basketball in the past two weeks.
Seton Hall offers tantalizing odds at +1600 (FanDuel). The Pirates, like Providence, will be rooting against Villanova, who beat them twice.
The other two teams with first-round byes, Marquette and Creighton, are both fighting to stay off the bubble for March Madness and shouldn’t be ignored.
Creighton is intriguing at +1400 (FanDuel and Caesars), but its NCAA hopes suffered a massive blow when starting point guard Ryan Nembhard broke his wrist a couple of weeks ago. The Bluejays are now starting a freshman, Trey Alexander, at point guard, and that could be a problem in big games. Still, you get some value here considering Creighton has made the Big East title game in three of the last seven tournaments, possibly offering an opportunity to hedge.
Marquette (+800 at DraftKings) might not have the depth of some of the other contenders, but 6-foot-7 forward Justin Lewis might be good enough to take over a game or two and carry the Golden Eagles for a while. The conference’s most improved player, the sophomore upped his shooting efficiency dramatically and did his best work in conference games, where he led the league in scoring at 18.2 points per game.
Photo: Bill Streicher/USA Today