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).
THE SLEEPER: Connecticut
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.
KEY TOURNAMENT BEST BET: Play On Pittsburgh as a dog
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.