By RALPH D. RUSSO AP College Sports Writer
NEW YORK (AP) — This Big East Tournament has a distinctly different look.
No. 6 Marquette is the top seed heading into the four-day frenzy at Madison Square Garden for the first time since the Golden Eagles joined the conference in 2005.
Two of the newest Big East members, No. 15 Xavier and No. 24 Creighton, occupy the next two seeds, making this the first men’s basketball tournament since the league reorganized in 2013 to have none of its long-standing schools in the top three.
Villanova (16-15, 10-10) Big East, which has dominated the current iteration of the league by winning five of eight conference tournaments, is the sixth seed.
It’s been an unusual season in the Big East, which makes the 43rd edition of the conference tournament especially difficult to predict.
“This is a brutal league, man,” Connecticut coach Dan Hurley said.
The tournament opens with three first-round games Wednesday and then the top five seeds get going Thursday in the quarterfinals. The championship will be decided Saturday night.
Hurley’s fourth-seeded and 11th-ranked Huskies play the 4-5 game Thursday against Providence.
“You’re playing for different stakes, but there’s no team in the country playing better than them right now,” Providence coach Ed Cooley said.
Under second-year coach Shaka Smart, Marquette won the Big East regular-season title outright for the first time. The Golden Eagles (25-6, 17-3) were picked ninth in the preseason poll, but ended up having their best regular season since Dwyane Wade led them to a Conference USA championship in 2003.
Marquette plays the winner of the 8-9 game between St. John’s and Butler in the opener of Thursday’s quadruple-header.
The Golden Eagles swept the AP’s top Big East honors, with point guard Tyler Kolek taking player of the year and Smart coach of the year.
A year after being one-and-done in the Big East Tournament, leading scorer Kam Jones and the Golden Eagles have their sights set on leaving a legacy. Marquette has never reached the Big East championship game, while Xavier lost in its only appearance (2015) and Creighton is 0-4.
“You know how the teams from the past, they come up and they talk to us about what they did, and stuff like that,” Jones said after clinching the regular-season crown last Saturday. “It was just cool to think about how the next 10, 15 years, I can come back to Marquette and be like: ‘We won the Big East outright. What you going to do?’”
If bracket projections are to be believed, the Big East doesn’t have any teams on the NCAA Tournament selection bubble.
Marquette, Xavier, Creighton, Connecticut and Providence all seem to be comfortably in the field — though the Friars (21-10) have lost three of four to create a bit of uncertainty.
For the rest, the automatic NCAA bid that goes to the tournament champion looks like the only path.
“Well, I think we’ve got a couple of teams in our league in Seton Hall and Villanova that could beat anybody, and then you got another team in St. John’s that just came out here and nearly beat us today,” Smart said after Saturday’s regular-season finale. “They’ve also beaten UConn and Providence.”
Villanova’s first season after Hall of Fame coach Jay Wright’s abrupt retirement has been bumpy.
Kyle Neptune’s team seemed to be playing its way onto the fringes of NCAA Tournament consideration late in the season, but a 12-point loss at home to UConn on Saturday left the Wildcats’ streak of nine straight appearances in peril.
Villanova plays last-place Georgetown on Wednesday night, with third-seeded Creighton awaiting the winner.
“We’ve got to go out and prepare for one team. And then prepare for another team and then hopefully prepare for another team,” Neptune said.
Patrick Ewing’s six-year tenure as Georgetown coach peaked during the pandemic-marred season of 2020-21, when the Hoyas made a surprising run to the Big East Tournament title in a mostly empty Madison Square Garden.
Now it could come to an end in the building where he starred for 15 seasons with the New York Knicks.
Georgetown is 13-49 over the last two seasons, with only two Big East victories. The Hoyas closed the regular season with a 40-point loss at Creighton. Ewing, a basketball Hall of Famer and former Georgetown great, is 75-108 as Hoyas coach.
Xavier forward Zach Freemantle, the team’s leading rebounder, will miss the postseason after having surgery on his left foot. The Musketeers have played their last nine games without the 6-foot-9 senior and gone 6-3. He is third on the team in scoring at 15.2 points per game.
Second-seeded Xavier plays Thursday against the winner of Seton Hall-DePaul.
AP Sports Writers Steve Megargee in Milwaukee and Dan Gelston in Philadelphia contributed.
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