Louisville Favored to Win Final Big East Tournament Before Catholic 7 Leaves League

Peyton Siva, Russ Smith, Eric AtkinsThe Big East and what it brought to college basketball in its heyday in the 1980s is a big reason why the sport is so popular today. Thus, this week’s Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden will truly be the end of an era.

The Catholic 7 of Georgetown, Marquette, Seton Hall, Providence, DePaul, St. John’s and Villanova are creating their own basketball-only conference next season. Those schools will take the Big East name with them as well as the right to play their conference tournament at the historic Garden. Syracuse and Pittsburgh are going to the ACC after this season as well, and Notre Dame will likely join them next season. Louisville is scheduled to join in 2014.

Rick Pitino‘s Cardinals are the highest-ranked Big East team in the new polls at No. 4 and also are the +125 opening Bovada favorites to repeat as conference tournament champions. Last year, Louisville entered the Big East Tournament having lost two straight and four of six but beat Seton Hall, Marquette, Notre Dame and then Cincinnati in the championship for its second overall Big East Tournament title. It was the first time in the event’s history that at least one of the original seven members of the conference wasn’t in the championship game. No team has repeated as Big East champion since Syracuse in the mid-2000s.

Louisville was the unanimous preseason choice as the Big East champion. The Cards finished tied with Georgetown and Marquette atop the regular-season standings and are the No. 2 seed in New York. Louisville is rolling into the Big Apple with seven straight wins — all but one by at least 14 points — since a five-overtime loss at Notre Dame. Louisville has the Big East Defensive Player of the Year in center Gorgui Dieng. He averaged a league-best 10.8 rebounds in conference play and was second with 2.8 blocked shots.

Georgetown (+450) is the No. 1 seed and looking for its first conference tournament title since 2007. The Hoyas, who have won a record seven titles, are led by Big East Player of the Year Otto Porter Jr., the only unanimous first-team All-Big East selection. He leads the team in scoring (16.4), rebounding (7.5) and steals (2.0). Georgetown won 12 of its final 13 games, closing the regular season by dominating Syracuse for the second time in two weeks. Those rivals could meet in the semifinals.

Syracuse (+490) is the No. 5 seed. The Orange really struggled down the stretch, losing four of their final five games and scoring 53 points or less in three of them. Their 39 points in Saturday’s 22-point defeat to Georgetown was the school’s worst point total since 1962, which was well before the shot clock was introduced. It was the Orange’s fourth straight loss against a ranked team after winning their previous four. Syracuse hasn’t won this tournament since 2006.

Third-seeded Marquette (+650) and No. 4 Pittsburgh (+475) also get the double-byes into the quarterfinals. The Golden Eagles have yet to reach a Big East Tournament final. Pitt last won the event in 2008. Connecticut, which has six Big East titles, can’t play in postseason tournaments due to NCAA sanctions.

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