As it turns out, last year’s down season was an anomaly. The Big East remains one of the premier conferences in the country, only growing deeper next season with UConn’s return home.

The new league has never been better. It has three Final Four-caliber teams (Creighton, Villanova and Seton Hall) and another (Butler) ranked in the AP Top 25. It is likely that 70 percent of the league goes dancing — assuming Xavier doesn’t slip up against last-place DePaul — and two of the nation’s most talented scorers (Markus Howard and Myles Powell).

This year’s tournament at the Garden should be a fitting showcase for a season that eclipsed the preseason’s high expectations, setting up what could be the conference’s best performance in the NCAA Tournament since the Big East restarted seven years ago. The top half of the bracket could also be wide open, with Creighton not having the services of star point guard Marcus Zegarowski (right knee).

No. 1 Creighton (22-9, 13-5)

Coach: Greg McDermott

Star: Ty-Shon Alexander (16.9 PPG, 5.0 RPG). One of the league’s premier perimeter players, the 6-foot-4 Alexander became an all-around star this season, twice locking down Seton Hall star Myles Powell in a season sweep of the Pirates.

X factor: Denzel Mahoney (12.0 PPG, 3.1 RPG). The league’s Sixth Man of the Year, a versatile inside-out weapon, will be even more important due to the absence of Zegarowski, likely moving into the starting lineup.

Strength: Shooting. The Bluejays led the conference in points per game (78.3), field-goal percentage (47.1) and 3-point shooting percentage (38.6).

Weakness: Size. Christian Bishop is Creighton’s tallest starter at 6-foot-7. Forwards Denzel Mahoney and Damien Jefferson are both just 6-5. Kelvin Jones is 6-11, but he rarely sees significant minutes. It’s not a coincidence this team was last in the league in offensive rebounding percentage (23.6).

Can win title if: Alexander has an all-world tournament, making up for the loss of Zegarowski, and the 3-pointers are falling. The Bluejays took three of four from Villanova and Seton Hall, and enter red-hot, having won seven of their past eight games.

Odds: 3/1

No. 2 Villanova (24-7, 13-5)

Coach: Jay Wright

Star: Saddiq Bey (16.1 PPG, 4.7 RPG). The 6-8 forward has made one of the biggest leaps in the nation, becoming one of the country’s best two-way players and shooting over 45 percent on 3-pointers.

X factor: Justin Moore (11.3 PPG, 3.1 RPG). The freshman has become the embodiment of Wright’s “Shoot ’em up; sleep in the streets” mantra. Over the past nine games, Moore is attempting a 3-pointer on 67 percent of his shots (59 of 88) and connecting at a 44 percent clip.

Strength: Ball protection. The Wildcats top the Big East with just 10.2 turnovers per game, ranking 18th in the nation.

Weakness: Depth. Wright’s starters all average double-digit points, but only one reserve puts up more than two points per game.

Can win title if: Nothing changes. As usual, Villanova strikes the most dangerous blend of offensive and defensive prowess, heightened by a locker room that carries uncommon confidence this time of year.

Odds: 3/1

No. 3 Seton Hall (21-9, 13-5)

Coach: Kevin Willard

Star: Myles Powell (21.0 PPG, 4.3 RPG). When he’s on, there isn’t a more dynamic scorer in the country than the 6-2 Trenton native, who became only the second Seton Hall player in program history to be voted as a two-time, All-Big East First Team selection.

X factor: Jared Rhoden (9.1 PPG, 6.4 RPG). Take a look at Seton Hall’s biggest wins this year — at Villanova, at Butler, at Xavier, versus Maryland — and Rhoden played a significant role in all of them. The Pirates are at their best when the sophomore wing is producing.

Strength: Experience. Seton Hall has three senior starters (Powell, Romaro Gill and Quincy McKnight) as well as juniors Sandro Mamukelashvili and Myles Cale, who are in their second season in the lineup.

Weakness: Protecting the glass. The one downside of being such a good shot-blocking team — Seton Hall rejects 5.8 shots per game, seventh-most in the country — is it creates so many offensive rebounding opportunities for the opposition. The Pirates’ 69.6 defensive rebounding percentage was the ninth-worst figure in the league, only better than undersized St. John’s.

Can win title if: Powell finds his Big East Tournament form of a year ago — he averaged 26 points in three games — and the perimeter defense shakes off the poor performances against Villanova and Creighton, when it allowed 27 of 58 3-pointers made.

Odds: 13/4

No. 4 Providence (19-12, 12-6)

Coach: Ed Cooley

Star: Alpha Diallo (14.1 PPG, 7.8 RPG). The senior and three-year starter scores inside and out, and is an elite rebounder at just 6-7. Providence doesn’t really have one star — seven different players average at least 5.4 points per game — but the well-rounded, hard-nosed, Harlem native is clearly its soul.

X factor: Luwane Pipkins (10.8 PPG, 2.8 APG). The UMass grad transfer has gone from a bust, benched in early February, to this team’s engine.

Strength: Offensive rebounding. The Friars attack the glass with fervor, leading the conference with a 33.7 offensive rebounding percentage.

Weakness: Shooting. Despite the strong finish, Providence was still ninth in field-goal percentage (41.3) and seventh in 3-point percentage (33.2).

Can win title if: Providence’s recent offensive uptick — it’s averaging 77.0 points per game and shooting 40.8 percent from 3-point range during a six-game win streak — continues at the Garden. Remember, the Friars beat the top three teams in the league over the past month and could get a compromised Creighton in the semifinals.

Odds: 7/1

No. 5 Butler (22-9, 10-8)

Coach: LaVall Jordan

Star: Kamar Baldwin (16.2 PPG, 3.3 APG). The 6-1 senior has hit multiple game-winners this season and arrives to New York coming off of the biggest game of his career, during which he scored a career-high 36 points at Xavier and hit the deciding 3-pointer with 1.2 seconds left.

X factor: Aaron Thompson (7.2 PPG, 4.7 APG). The floor-leader and three-year starter is the team’s best on-ball defender and offensive catalyst, ranking fourth in the league in assists.

Strength: Defensive field-goal percentage. The Bulldogs hold opponents to a league-low 39.5 percent shooting from the field.

Markus Howard
Markus HowardGetty Images

Weakness: Butler ranks 290th in the nation in forcing turnovers, averaging 11.6 per game.

Can win title if: The Bulldogs play to their desired pace. Butler has one of the nation’s slowest tempos and is 19-2 when holding opponents under 70 points. It’s 2-7 when the opposition surpasses 70 points.

Odds: 6/1

No. 6 Marquette (18-12, 8-10)

Coach: Steve Wojciechowski

Star: Markus Howard (27.8 PPG, 3.3 APG). The reigning Big East Player of the Year is in contention for the prize again. Howard, a 5-11 senior, became the Big East’s all-time leading scorer this season.

X factor: Sacar Anim (13.1 PPG, 4.1 RPG). The senior has proven to be a capable wingman with four 20-plus point performances in Big East play, but also mixed in four single-digit scoring efforts in the past month.

Strength: 3-point shooting. The Golden Eagles rank 10th in the nation, hitting 38.2 percent from deep, while averaging nearly 78 points per game.

Weakness: Turnovers. Marquette is 324th in the nation in forcing 11 turnovers per game and averages more giveaways (13.7) than assists (13.5).

Can win title if: Howard pulls a Kemba Walker. With six losses in the past seven games, Marquette’s only chance is for the nation’s leading scorer to put on an all-time performance at the Garden.

Odds: 9/1

No. 7 Xavier (19-12, 8-10)

Coach: Travis Steele

Star: Naji Marshall (16.9 PPG, 6.2 RPG). The versatile All-Big East First Team selection hasn’t gotten enough help. It’s hard to find fault in his season, as Xavier’s leading scorer, distributor and best defender.

X factor: KyKy Tandy (6.7 PPG, 1.3 RPG). Xavier’s top pure shooter, the freshman guard provides much-needed scoring punch off the bench.

Strength: Guarding the 3. Opponents make just 30.4 percent from deep against Xavier.

Weakness: Free-throw shooting. The Musketeers make just 65.6 percent of their attempts, the 316th-worst rate in the nation.

Can win title if: Marshall receives the scoring support he has lacked, conference-leading rebounder Tyrique Jones avoids foul trouble and Villanova’s hex over Xavier — the Wildcats have won eight of the past nine meetings between the two — ends in a quarterfinal upset.

Odds: 15/1

No. 8 Georgetown (15-16, 5-13)

Coach: Patrick Ewing

Star: Omer Yurtseven (15.8 PPG, 10.0 RPG). The 7-foot NC State transfer gives the Hoyas a unique inside edge, but he’s appeared in just one game in the past month due to an ankle injury and seems doubtful to play.

X factor: Jagan Mosely (8.4 PPG, 3.7 APG). The senior guard from New Jersey has been asked to do more than most in the nation, averaging more than 38 minutes per game in Big East play.

Strength: Free-throw shooting. Georgetown is one of the best in the nation from the line, topping the Big East at 77.3 percent.

Weakness: Depth. In a wild season during which four Hoyas transferred, Ewing has just six healthy scholarship players.

Can win title if: Ewing puts on a jersey. With Yurtseven and standout guard Mac McClung unlikely to play, the Hoyas don’t have the talent or endurance to win four games in four days.

Odds: 75/1

No. 9 St. John’s (16-15, 5-13)

Coach: Mike Anderson

Star: LJ Figueroa (14.3 PPG, 4.5 RPG). The junior wing, who has had even more responsibility thrown on his shoulders because of Mustapha Heron’s season-ending injury, remains a game-changing defensive threat, averaging two steals per game.

X factor: Julian Champagnie (14.6 PPG, 6.3 RPG). The Brooklyn native was named to the league’s All-Rookie team, putting up a total of 44 points, 18 rebounds, three blocks and two steals in the regular season’s final two games.

Strength: Defense. Anderson’s system has been an instant success, causing constant havoc and producing the second-most steals per game (9.8) in the nation.

Weakness: Shooting. The Johnnies’ 41-percent shooting percentage from the field — including 32 percent on 3-pointers — ranks lowest in the Big East and 296th in the nation.

Can win title if: Countless improbable breaks go their way. The Red Storm haven’t won back-to-back games in conference play this season.

Odds: 30/1

No. 10 DePaul (15-16, 3-15)

Coach: Dave Leitao

Star: Paul Reed (14.9 PPG, 10.6 RPG). The 6-9 junior is an elite athlete and future pro, a dynamic finisher and the second-leading rebounder in the conference.

X factor: Romeo Weems (8.2 PPG, 4.9 RPG). The 6-7 wing is a matchup problem who was selected to the All-Rookie team. Consistency has eluded him, but the former four-star recruit is brimming with potential.

Strength: Rim protection. DePaul, blessed with significant size and length, blocks five shots per game.

Weakness: Perimeter defense. Opponents prefer to avoid the Blue Demons’ trees in the paint and shoot 34.0 percent from deep. Only Georgetown allows a higher 3-point percentage (36.5).

Can win title if: The team from November and December that started 12-1, while beating Iowa and Texas Tech, shows up, rather than the group that failed to win a single road game in conference play. The Knicks reaching the playoffs is as likely to happen.

Odds: 150/1

Kussoy prediction

Big East Champion: No. 2 Villanova
Most Outstanding Player: So. F Saddiq Bey

Let’s not get cute. Let’s not overthink this. The Wildcats are riding the league’s first-ever three-peat — also claiming four of the past five titles — and have suffered just one loss in the past month, with Bey potentially playing his way into the upcoming lottery of the NBA draft. With shooters aplenty and always strong support in the stands, the conference’s best coach will cut down another net.

Braziller prediction

Big East Champion: No. 4 Providence
Most Outstanding Player: Sr. G Luwane Pipkins

Zegarowski missing the tournament due to a right knee injury opens up Providence’s side of the draw. The Friars have been the best team in the conference over the past month, a run that continues through Saturday. They knock off St. John’s Friday night — yes, the Red Storm stun Creighton in the quarterfinals — and outlast Seton Hall in the title game, as Pipkins outduels Powell in an overtime thriller.