NEW YORK – West could be the direction that rules the Big East.
It could happen if No. 2 seed Marquette and No. 3 seed Notre Dame justify their lofty positions in the Big East tournament. Only one can advance to the conference championship Saturday because of their bracket, but each has enough wind in their sails to triumph.
“We wanted to win the league, but to finish second – we stand alone in a 16-team league,” Marquette coach Buzz Williams said. “That’s awesome.”
The Golden Eagles (25-6, 14-4) have more to brag about in the conference’s player of the year, 6-6 senior Jae Crowder, the only unanimous choice on the All-Big East first team. The honor for the Georgia native and onetime high school football quarterback comes two years after he was named Ânational junior college player of the year while at Howard.
His roommate, senior guard Darius Johnson-Odom, also was a first-team all-conference pick.
They were the conference’s highest-scoring duo. Crowder averaged 17.6 points and 7.9 rebounds, and Johnson-Odom averaged 18.3 points and four assists.
“I’m really happy and thankful I could coach them,” Williams said after his team completed a perfect conference home record Saturday with an 83-69 victory against Georgetown. “Their stats speak for themselves. But those kids really want to win.
“With guys like Jae and [Johnson-Odom] and Junior [Cadougan] and our guys, you can win a bunch of games. Anytime you get to March, it’s ‘plus one’ time – [you need] one more rebound, one more basket, one more game.”
Notre Dame’s season has been a Cinderella story. The team’s modest expectations were lowered even more when senior captain Tim Abromaitis suffered a season-ending knee injury after two games.
The Irish (21-10, 13-5) lost four seniors from last season’s 27-7 team that earned the No. 2 tournament seed, though their championship hopes ended in the semifinals in an overtime loss to Louisville.
Though the faces changed, coach Mike Brey saw similarities with last year’s team.
“I immediately started talking about and making comparisons to last year’s team because they’re competitive with that group before them,” he said. “[This year’s team] won nine games in a row, and last year’s team only won eight [straight]. Last year’s group only got to [the semifinals]. We’ve been to the semis, and we’d love to get over that hump and get to Saturday night.”
Junior forward Jack Cooley has been a difference-maker. He has six double-doubles in his last eight games and 12 overall.