The Big East has the best conference tournament. While I like to complain about the ungainly size of the 16-team conference and how the teams only play each other once a year for the most part, the five days in Madison Square Garden are the best. I also like that all 16 teams now get a shot at the tournament. Even the DePauls and Providences deserve a little postseason play. Perhaps deserve is the wrong word.
We’ll go through the first round of the Big East tournament today and look at the best and worst plays for each game. There are some teams who are not familiar with first day action in the tournament, such as Pittsburgh and Villanova. Connecticut was famously here for the first day last year and did not lose again. I don’t expect a similar run this year.
9. Connecticut vs. 16. DePaul
The Huskies had little problem dispatching DePaul on Feb. 15 and I don’t think they will have many troubles on Tuesday. Drummond had 15 points in the win and went 7-for-14 from the field (equaling his season high in shots). The highly touted freshman leaves a lot of points behind because of his horrible free throw shooting (31.3%), but he should be able to wear out the paint against the Blue Demons. It might be wise to get as many Huskies in your lineup as possible.
Worst: Cleveland Melvin ($174,000)
It is hard not to like what the 6-foot-8 forward did in his sophomore season. He averaged 17.4 points and 7.4 rebounds, but his production rarely contributed to wins. For our purposes, I’d prefer not to use Melvin because he only topped 17 points twice in his last seven games. He was held to 11 points against UConn on Feb. 15 on 5-for-14 from the field. He could get some garbage points if the Huskies are able to take control of the game, but he could also cede playing time to other Blue Demons.
12. St. John’s vs. 13. Pittsburgh
Best: J.J. Moore ($136,000)
The 6-foot-6 sophomore did not receive a lot of playing time until the end of the season, but he as played at least 21 minutes in the last five games. In that stretch, he has scored at least ten points in every game, including 21 points in the Feb. 19 loss to South Florida in which the Panthers only scored 47 points as a team. Moore had 14 points on Feb. 26 in the win over St. John’s. He hit a three treys and went 5-for-6 from the line. He might the future of Panther basketball.
Worst: Moe Harkless ($139,000)
Harkless played 40 minutes on Saturday on an injured ankle against Rutgers, but the injury clearly hampered his production. He had eight points on 4-for-15 from the field. Overall, the 6-foot-8 swingman has had an impressive freshman season with 15.2 points and 8.6 rebounds. He was hurt in the game against Pitt nine days ago and had just four points in 22 minutes. He played 36.0 minutes per game, so he’ll be on the court against the Panthers, but I’d look elsewhere.
10. Seton Hall vs. 15. Providence
I am not overly thrilled by any of the options in this game, so I’ll go with the guy who has scored 18 points or more in four of his last five games. Henton has had a brilliant freshman season and finished with two double-doubles in his last three games, including 24 points and 15 boards in the Feb. 25 win over DePaul. He was held to six points and nine boards against Seton Hall on Jan. 7, but the Pirates have fallen off since that point. Henton is hitting 40.2% of his threes to go along with averages of 14.3 points and 8.6 rebounds.
Worst: Herb Pope ($149,000)
Pope opened the season with such promise, but crashed back to earth in conference play. He did scored at least ten points in hi slast eight games, but he only topped 16 points once. The fifth-year senior only had 11 points against the Friars on Jan. 7. He should be able to crash the boards against PU, but I think his price is a little too high. He may score ten points, but I am skeptical about 15.
11. Rutgers vs. 14. Villanova
Best: Eli Carter ($141,000)
Because I don’t trust Maalik Wayns ($184,000) to score consistently, I’ll look to the Scarlet Knights’ best offensive option. The freshman closed his first season with three straight games of 14 points or more. He was only held to single digits four times in conference play and is the kind of volume shooter that should make Jousters smile. He had 14 points on 4-for-14 shooting against the Wildcats last Thursday, but he should have the ability to come up big in this game.
Like Harkless, Pinkston would be a value if he were completely healthy. The 6-foot-7 redshirt freshman is nicely priced for a guy who scored 18 or more points three times in his last seven games, including 18 on Mar. 1 against Rutgers in the Wildcats’ only win in their last six games. He is playing on a sprained ankle and will not be 100% on Tuesday. Pinkston was held to five points in the season finale loss to Cincinnati. I think Mouptaou Yarou ($117,000) continues to be a better play.