Smaller crowds could help favorites



If you have ever attended the NCAA tournament’s first or second rounds, you know the crowd loves getting behind the underdogs and lower-seeded teams.

As the intensity grows and the score remains tight, the fans in the stands are pulling for that huge upset. But in this crazy time of COVID-19, not many fans will be in the stands. I really believe this will ease the pressure on the favorites, as the arena will not be full of fans screaming against them. Upsets will happen, but take this into consideration when picking your bracket sleeper teams.

As far as pressure, what might be different for this week’s conference tournaments? Certain teams always feel right at home in conference tournament week. Examples? St. John’s at Madison Square Garden, Kansas at the T-Mobile Center in Kansas City, Indiana and Purdue when the Big Ten tournament is in Indianapolis (as it is this week) … and of course Duke and North Carolina usually pack the Greensboro Coliseum.

But St. John’s played on campus this year at Carnesecca Arena and did not get its usual “home” games at MSG to become familiar with the surroundings and shooting backdrop. Which brings us to my Big East Tournament breakdown and prediction.

If you’re a Villanova fan, you must be feeling sick. No team in America can match the culture around coach Jay Wright’s program. But the injury bug hit the Wildcats in a horrific way the last two weeks. Collin Gillespie’s torn MCL is devastating in more ways than one. Gillespie is a senior leader who knows exactly what Wright is looking for on the court. He knows when to take his money jump shot or dump it down low to Jeremiah Robinson-Earl. Gillespie is the heart and soul of the team. If that weren’t bad enough, stud sophomore guard Justin Moore went down last weekend at Providence and spent the rest of the game in an ankle boot. Early word is Moore is doubtful for the Big East tournament.

Creighton has as much offensive firepower as any team in the country when it is clicking. The Bluejays have five players who average in double figures, led by junior guard Marcus Zegarowski. But negative buzz surrounds coach Greg McDermott after his suspension for insensitive language in a team meeting. McDermott is one of the top coaches in the country, and the Bluejays will welcome back his experience on the sideline.

Not many teams are playing better basketball than Danny Hurley’s Connecticut Huskies. UConn is led by national player of the year candidate James Bouknight, who is back from an elbow injury. With a healthy Bouknight, the Huskies look like the team to beat. A potential semifinal matchup of UConn and Creighton would be a must-watch Friday night.

The second quarterfinal Thursday pits Seton Hall against St. John’s. The winner gets a shot at decimated Villanova, and I look for the winner to knock off the top-seeded Wildcats in the semis. The Pirates and the Red Storm are on the wrong side of the bubble, but if the winner can dispatch Villanova, it would have the selection committee’s attention. The loser would be done.

My pick: Creighton


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