Big East A Big Mess: Who Will Make the Dance?

February 27th, 2007

As the end of the regular season winds down and teams across the country assess their chances of being invited to the NCAA’s version of the Royal Ball, a number of Big East teams find themselves facing an uncertain future. Georgetown and Pittsburgh earned their dance card long ago, while Louisville and Notre Dame, with some recent impressive victories, are also assured of joining the conference leaders. However, six other Big East teams are vying for anywhere from two to four slots that could potentially go to league members.

A year ago, eight Big East teams received invitations to the NCAA Tournament, but this year the conference is not nearly as strong. Having eight teams from the league selected on March 11 may be a pipe dream.

Making matters even more complicated is the fact that so many teams could end up with identical, or nearly identical, records. It is possible that five teams could wind up with 9-7 conference records while a couple of others finish at 10-6.

And, as if that wasn’t enough, due to unbalanced conference schedules, some teams with poorer league won-lost records, may actually be more attractive to the selection committee than teams with better records. NCAA representatives have already stated that they consider difficulty of teams’ conference schedules when making this year’s selections.

So, who’s probably in, and who’s probably out? Obviously, it’s too early for any definitive statements as performance the next few days, as well as in the conference tournament, will have a major impact on teams’ fortunes. Still, to determine which programs presently deserve invitations and which do not, I looked at the 10 schools that have either locked up a berth or are fighting for one to see how they did against each other. The results paint a pretty clear picture. Here’s an overview of how each team has done against others on the list.

DePaul: The Demons are 8-7 in the league with a home game against USF left. They should end up 9-7 in league play. Against the other teams in contention, DePaul is only 3-6, with two of the three wins at home. De3spite recent wins over Notre Dame and Marquette, it’s just not good enough.

Georgetown: The Hoyas are obviously in. They are 12-3 in the league and 7-3 against other contenders with only one game, against UConn, left.

Louisville: Coach Rick Pitino’s squad has risen from the non-conference ashes to compile an 11-4 conference record that will almost certainly become 12-4 as their only remaining contest is against Seton Hall. The Cardinals will end up 5-4 versus others on this list. Pitino is back after a year on the outside.

Marquette: Coach Tom Crean’s team put itself in jeopardy with recent losses to Georgetown, DePaul, Louisville, and Notre Dame with a battle against Pittsburgh coming up. Still, MU can finish no worse than 9-7 with wins at Pitt and Louisville, and home wins over West Virginia, Providence, and Villanova. They are 5-6 against other contenders, and they will end up playing 12 of 16 games against the Top 10 league teams, which could work in their favor on Selection Sunday.

Notre Dame: The Irish are 10-5 with a game left at Rutgers, so the Irish should end up 11-5. Plus, they are 7-3 against the other nine teams under consideration. In short, they are a lock.

Pittsburgh: The Panthers are 12-3 overall and 7-3 against other Top 10 conference teams. Even if they lose to Marquette, they are obviously in. That’s four locks!

Providence: The Friars are 7-7 with two very winnable games left – against St. John’s and South Florida. Thus, they can finish 9-7. However, against the other teams on this list, Tim Welch’s team is only 2-6. Plus, they lost to Seton Hall. Unless they win at least two games in the conference tournament against teams on this list, Providence deserves to play in the NIT, not the NCAA.

Syracuse: The Orange now stands at 10-5 in conference play with a single game left, at Villanova. Coach Jim Boeheim’s team is 5-3 against the other teams listed here. Even a loss Saturday should not be enough to keep Syracuse on the outside looking in next Sunday. Their losses to St. John’s and UConn hurt, but they’ve been playing well lately and deserve a spot in the NCAA Tournament.

Villanova: The Wildcats are 7-7 but could easily end up 9-7 with wins at UConn and at home against Syracuse. However, they are only 4-7 (which could rise to 5-7 against the rest of the teams on this list). Complicating matters is the fact that ‘Nova has the third highest RPI (Kenpom) in the conference at #22 behind only Pitt and Georgetown. Coach Jay Wright’s mirror teams are Georgetown, Notre Dame, and Syracuse. If they end up 9-7, let alone 8-8, will that be enough to be on the right side of the proverbial bubble? It should be.

West Virginia: The Mountaineers are 8-7 with a home game against Cincinnati left, so they should end up 9-7. However, they are only 2-6 against contending teams. The loss to the Panthers pretty much seals West Virginia’s fate unless Coach John Beilein’s team gets to the semi-finals of the conference tournament.

The most complex scenario would be if Villanova defeats Syracuse, Pitt beats Marquette, and the favorites win every other game. The final standings would then look like this with RPI ranking through February 26:

Georgetown: 13-3 (RPI = 17)
Louisville: 12-4 (RPI = 39)
Pittsburgh: 12-4 (RPI = 6)
Notre Dame: 11-5 (RPI = 32)
Syracuse: 10-6 (RPI = 49)
DePaul: 9-7 (RPI = 61)
Marquette: 9-7 (RPI = 28)
Providence: 9-7 (RPI = 71)
Villanova: 9-7 (RPI = 22)
West Virginia: 9-7 (RPI = 58)

So who are the “winners”? Besides the four locks, Syracuse is Big East representative #5. A Marquette win over Pitt would put them at #6 with Villanova at #7, regardless of how the Wildcats do against Syracuse. An MU loss would drop them to #7, so if the NCAA takes only six teams, they’ll be left out. The other three contenders – DePaul, Providence, and West Virginia – need a major run in the conference tournament to hear their name called on Selection Sunday.