By Marc Lawrence
PROJECTED FINAL FOUR:
Syracuse, Villanova, West Virginia and Pittsburgh
THE WAY WE SEE IT:
The Mecca of basketball should once again witness another competitive, exciting Big East tourney. SYRACUSE lost to Louisville in last year's title game and the top-ranked Orange are primed to make another title run. The No. 1 seed in this event has appeared in the championship game in each of the last three years and 12 of the previous 17. Boeheim's boys are always a tough out, posting a solid 11-3 SU and ATS record over their last 14 tourney games. Their 11-1 SU and 10-2 ATS mark away from the Carrier Dome this season along with their 11-1 SU and ATS log vs .700 or greater opposition has us believing they just might squeeze out their first conference crown since the 2005-2006 campaign. VILLANOVA has been bounced from this tourney by a No. 1 seed in each of the previous three years and their mediocre 5-5 SU and 4-6 ATS record vs. better than .750 opposition this year doesn't give us much faith they can stop that trend anytime soon. The Wildcats are, however, 19-1 SU and 14-5 ATS vs. 750 or less foes this year and a solid 19-5 SU and 14-10 ATS off a SU win so expect a prolonged stay in the Big Apple. The Mounties of WEST VIRGINIA are flat out dangerous. Along with five returning starters, they arrive with a veteran coach in Bob Huggins who is a no-nonsense 32-10 SU and 24-17-1 ATS in conference tourney affairs, including 5-1-1 ATS as a dog or favorite of less than a trey. Unfortunately, their 3-7 ATS log vs .800 or greater opposition along with their surprising 1-5 ATS mark with revenge this season will probably have us heading for the hills. PITTSBURGH came alive down the stretch (8-1 last nine games) and they'll be eager to make amends for last year's one-and-done. The defensive-minded Panthers are always worth a look when they show up as dogs (see more below).
Huskies dragged their tails until Jim Calhoun returned to the sidelines in mid February. The bottom line is there is simply too much pedigree to overlook (read: 21-9 SU last Beast East tourney games). Remember, through all their woes this season, UConn was still 4-2-1 ATS as a conference puppy.
We placed the Panthers in this spot, under the same parameters last season, and they delivered the bacon. The fact of the matter is Pitt is 7-3 SU and ATS in its last 10 roles as a Big East tourney dog - with all seven wins straight up. They were also 7-1-1 ATS as a conference dog this season, and yes - all seven wins were straight up! It ain't broke, and we're not about to fix it.