By Scott Jarosz ’21
The Big East Men’s Basketball Tournament at Madison Square Garden is consistently one of the most exciting and unpredictable conference tournaments in all of college basketball. Any given Big East team is capable of making a run and getting to the championship game. Providence College’s performance at the 2018 Big East Tournament was a prime example of this. PC entered the tournament as the #5 seed and was matched up against #4 Creighton University in the quarterfinals. The Friars went on to beat Creighton in overtime, then faced the #1 seed Xavier University in a semifinal matchup.
PC was behind the entire game but went on to overcome a 17 point deficit and beat Xavier in overtime. PC would go on to play Villanova University in the championship game, where PC ultimately lost in yet another overtime thriller. PC’s run in last year’s Big East Tournament demonstrated that lower seeds are capable of making surprise runs in the tournament, given the conference’s lack of disparity between the best and worst teams. That is why there is good reason to believe that Xavier will be the team that wins the 2019 Big East Tournament.
Xavier currently has a record of 16-14 overall and 8-9 in conference play. While these numbers do not reflect a team that has had much success, Xavier has shown sparks late this season that show the team is ready for postseason play. With the departure of previous head coach Chris Mack, it took some time for the Musketeers to adjust to the new play style brought forth by new coach Travis Steele. Through the first 11 Big East games, Xavier had a conference record of 3-8 and looked like a team that had given up. But since then, Xavier has gone on to win five straight Big East games, including a 66-54 win over Villanova and an 84-73 win at St. John’s University.
Xavier’s final regular season game, following a road loss to Butler University and home wins against Seton Hall University and St. John’s University, will be a home game against St. John’s. What is the leading force behind Xavier’s sudden winning streak? A big part of it can be attributed to the steady stream of quality performances by forward Naji Marshall. During the team’s winning streak, Marshall scored 28 points against Seton Hall University and most recently 31 points against St. John’s at Madison Square Garden. If Marshall can continue his stellar play through the final regular season game and into the Big East Tournament, Xavier will be the team holding the Big East Championship trophy on March 16.