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Marquette vs. Seton Hall in First Round of Big East Tournament at Empty MSG

The NBA has shut down, but the show must go on for now as far as college basketball goes. We’ll see how long that continues, but empty venues across the country will host college hoops contests until they, too, get stopped.

With that in mind, our focus is on the Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden, which is not far from the New Rochelle area of the state that has been quarantined due to a breakout of coronavirus cases. The tournament is on as scheduled, at least as of now, but like every other sporting event, it will be played to an empty arena. MSG is a tough enough place for scoring, but maybe the lack of fans will make things easier on the shooters. Who knows? I don’t. It’s all speculation at this point.

What we do know is that Seton Hall is -3.5 against Marquette in the 6 vs. 3 opening-round game. The total is 150.5 at DSI Sportsbook. Typically, we see totals get hammered down for MSG games, but this isn’t the time apparently.

Marquette did not play well down the stretch. At all. The Golden Eagles lost six of their last seven games and their only win came over Georgetown, a team well down the list as far as Big East power rankings go. Of course, Marquette also lost to DePaul, who is widely regarded as the worst team in the conference. It just hasn’t been a good look down the stretch for a team that is really dependent on one player in Markus Howard.

The supporting cast took a big hit when the Hauser brothers opted to transfer out of the program. Howard has done it all and has done everything he can with a 37.3% usage rate, but he just doesn’t get enough help. He’s scored at least 29 points in each of the last five games. Only one of them has been a victory. He’s averaged 27.7 points per game, almost out of sheer necessity.

In fairness to Howard and Marquette, three of their six most recent losses have been by one or two points, but still. This is a team that is reeling right now. Unlike some teams in conference tournaments that have had some time to wipe the slate clean and figure some things out, Marquette has a fairly quick five-day turnaround to attempt to right the ship. Head coach Steve Wojciechowski had a big job to do this week in practice. We’ll see if he was able to do it.

Kevin Willard had some things to figure out, too. Namely, how to get his Pirates to win close games. The Pirates come in just 3-4 over their last seven contests, including a blowout loss to Creighton on the final day of the regular season. Their other losses in that span were by 2, 3, and 5 points, including their first loss to Creighton. The losses down the stretch to Creighton and Villanova are the reasons why the Pirates are on the #3 seed line instead of a #1 or #2 seed line, where they would have drawn less dangerous opponents like Xavier or St. John’s.

It speaks to the parity in the Big East that Seton Hall, who had a three-game lead to win the conference regular season at one point, is only favored by 3.5 against a Marquette team that lost six of seven to finish with a losing record in the conference. The line also opened lower than that before getting bet up. Furthermore, a site like BartTorvik.com even puts the line at Seton Hall -2. These teams are really not that far apart in the grand scheme of things, even though the recent results and even our eyes tell a much, much different story in a lot of ways.

The worry that I have about Marquette here is simple. Markus Howard has to go off. And Markus Howard has gone off a lot and it still hasn’t mattered some days. Seton Hall relies a lot on Myles Powell as well, but Quincy McKnight, Sandro Mamukelashvili, and Romaro Gill are a much better supporting cast than what Howard has to work with. Seton Hall is a deeper team and a team that legitimately can wipe the slate clean and get back to business. For Marquette, the losses in six of seven don’t seem to just be a blip on the radar like the end of the season for Seton Hall. They seem to speak to a larger issue for that team and one that is highly likely to rear its ugly head in the NCAA Tournament too, if that gets played.

It’s Seton Hall for me. In fact, Seton Hall is the team I picked to win the Big East Tournament, too. The Pirates have the guys to start fresh here and get the hardware that they feel like they missed in the regular season.

Pick: Seton Hall -3.5

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