The Big East Tournament is this week at Madison Square Garden in New York City. It's the most storied conference tournament in the country, played in the world's most famous arena — the "Mecca of Basketball."
The Marquette Golden Eagles enter this season's tournament as the No. 1 seed. Led by sophomore guard and Big East Player of the Year Tyler Kolek, coach Shaka Smart's squad finished the regular season with an impressive 25-6 record, and is considered a threat for playing deep in March.
Xavier and Creighton check in as the No. 2 and 3 seeds, respectively. Both are deep and experienced teams. For the Xavier Musketeers, Souley Boum is a quintessential college guard; he's tough, he makes big shots, and he does not miss any free throws in the last two minutes. Paired with big man Zach Freemantle, Xavier will be a tough out for anyone it faces.
Creighton has as much talent and depth as anyone in the conference. Steady, head-banded playmaker Baylor Scheierman and Ryan Nembhard helm the backcourt, while big man Ryan Kalkbrenner protects the rim.
Perhaps the juiciest matchup of the first few days is between the No. 4 seed Connecticut Huskies and the No. 5 seed Providence College Friars. Head coach Ed Cooley's Friars had an excellent start to their Big East campaign but have been sliding as of late, and they could really use a victory to improve their seeding come Selection Sunday for the NCAA Tournament. Forward Bryce Hopkins has an NBA body and the ability to take over any game for the Friars, while senior leadership from Jared Bynum and big man Ed Croswell should have them ready to go on the big stage.
UConn may be the most interesting team in the conference. They are long, talented and full of athleticism. This season has been a roller coaster: They were good, then they were bad, and now they are good again.
Regardless, they are definitely the most annoying.
UConn's Season: Started Slowly, Picking Up Speed
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This is where I reveal that I am a massive Providence College basketball fan. I grew up in Rhode Island and attended several home games each season as a kid. I've followed the Friars ever since, through thick and thin; and whenever possible, love to make a trip to Madison Square Garden to check them out at the Big East Tournament in March.
Thursday at MSG is a wonderful experience for the die-hard Big East hoops fan. The first game tips at noon, and the last one often goes until midnight. And since it's only the second round of the tournament, you can usually score relatively cheap tickets.
This season, though, UConn's bandwagon fans seem to have driven up demand and prices for tickets.
At the time of writing, a ticket to Wednesday's slate of three games at MSG will cost you a mere $20 on the second market. Granted, you're seeing the bottom half of the conference, but there are still some marquee programs and players involved: Villanova! Seton Hall! DePaul! (OK, no one has referred to DePaul as a marquee program in about 40 years).
See you at @TheGarden. pic.twitter.com/rdCMlLK81q
— BIG EAST MBB (@BIGEASTMBB) March 5, 2023
Right now, tickets for the second session on Thursday — which features Xavier and Creighton against two teams TBD — are going for around $60 on resale. That's about what I've come to expect over the years. And usually, if you wait a little longer, you might be able to get them even a little cheaper closer to tip.
And for Thursday's morning session, featuring the aforementioned Huskies-Friars game and Marquette vs. TBD? Close to $120! That's almost double the cost of the night session.
Why, you ask? Well, the only reasonable explanation is that UConn's bandwagon fans are driving up prices by coming out of the woodwork to support their resurgent team.
It's Connecticut — the whole state is just I-95 and rich suburbs.
UConn started this season with pretty big expectations. And a 14-0 start to the season had head coach Dan Hurley's squad all the way up to No. 2 in the AP Top 25 to start 2023. UConn fans were on Twitter. And loud.
But between Dec. 31 and Jan. 25, the Huskies dropped six of eight Big East contests, knocking them all the way down to No. 25 in the nation. Fortunately for UConn fans, they've won five games in a row heading into the conference tournament and seem to be clicking at the right time.
Big man Adama Sanogo is a 6-foot-9 wrecking machine down low, punishing teams with his strength and athleticism. He's a menace on the offensive glass and has soft enough hands to convert on putbacks. Jordan Hawkins is UConn's primary scoring threat out of the backcourt, averaging over 16 points per game on the season.
For what it's worth, UConn is ranked No. 4 in KenPom — a highly convoluted and deeply flawed ranking system that cares more about blowing out bad teams than it does about actually winning games.
Providence and UConn — No Love Lost
Last season, when Providence won the Big East regular season title, Friar fans heard over and over again how lucky they were. UConn fans would scoff at the Friars, touting the Huskies' higher rating in some obscure advanced metric of whatever the hell you want to call it. And then UConn lost in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, while PC went on a run to the Sweet Sixteen and even held a brief second-half lead against eventual champion Kansas.
Trying to solve the Bubble on @amtrak to NYC but PC and UConn fans already going at it.
Coolers are cracked! #BuckleUp #BigEastTournament2023
— Kevin McNamara (@KevinMcNamara33) March 8, 2023
The difference between UConn fans and Friar fans is that one group are die-hards who stick with their team through thick and thin — luxuriating in the good times, suffering through the bad, but prideful nonetheless. The other group are UConn fans. They'll puff out their chest and tell you how good they are when they're winning. And then they'll turtle and disappear when the team goes through a rough patch.