NEW YORK – It was a bad day to be a favorite at the Big East tournament.
Three of the conference's top four teams were beaten in the quarterfinals Thursday at Madison Square Garden, jumbling the league's NCAA picture and setting up a pair of surprising matchups in the semifinals.
Third-seeded West Virginia was the only one to escape — and the Mountaineers needed a 3-point bank shot at the buzzer from Da'Sean Butler to beat 11th-seeded Cincinnati 54-51.
"I think that's what is great about tournaments," Villanova coach Jay Wright said after his 10th-ranked team lost 80-76 to Marquette. "We've all played each other. We all know each other. I think that's what makes the games great."
Lazar Hayward and the fifth-seeded Golden Eagles (22-10) will play in the first semifinal Friday night against No. 8 seed Georgetown. The 22nd-ranked Hoyas (22-9) were a 91-84 winner over top-seeded and third-ranked Syracuse, the league's outright regular-season champion.
West Virginia takes the court in the nightcap against seventh-seeded Notre Dame (23-10), which grinded out a 50-45 victory over 16th-ranked Pittsburgh, the No. 2 seed.
It's the fourth time in Big East tournament history that three of the top four seeds failed to reach the semifinals. Of the four teams remaining, Georgetown is the only one with a title.
All of a sudden, the Big Apple is upset city.
"So much for the double byes, huh? I do think there's some advantage to being able to play a little bit," Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said.
Indeed, the double-bye format has turned into a major topic at the Big East tournament.
Last year, the first time all 16 teams participated, the top four seeds were awarded double byes straight into the quarterfinals.
Those four teams went 2-2 in their openers, with No. 2 Pittsburgh losing to rival West Virginia and third-seeded Connecticut falling short in a six-overtime epic against Syracuse.
This season, the teams with double byes were 1-3.
"I'm not a fan of the double bye, but I don't know that that had that much to do with it," West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said.
Despite his team's early elimination, Wright remains a fan of this format.
"If we would have won, you only have two more games to win a championship," he said. "We all know the NCAA tournament is important. Your top teams aren't beat down. ... There's still a great advantage to only playing three games in a tournament and having a chance to win it all."
Despite the surprises, the top eight finishers in the Big East regular-season standings are still expected to make the NCAA tournament. Seeding, however, could change based on this wild week in New York.
"The league is so good. The teams are so good. I think usually when you get a double bye, you think in most situations you're going to get a team that's a big difference," Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. "In this league, that's not the case."
Georgetown and Marquette had each lost twice during the season to the teams they beat Thursday.
"It's just who you get and where they finish. It's such a long year, guys are going to be playing better in January than other teams," Dixon added. "So a double bye had nothing to do with it. It's just a team that's playing well against another team that's playing very well. Probably the teams with the best records down the stretch are playing together in the quarterfinal game. And that's really what you had.
"I think we won eight of our last nine. They won their last four," Dixon said, referring to Notre Dame. "Those two teams playing in the quarterfinals. It speaks to our league."
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