10:44 am Mar. 6, 2012
The 32nd Big East Championship tournament will tip off at noon today in Madison Square Garden, showcasing a depth of talent not seen anywhere else on the college basketball landscape. As of Monday, Professor of Bracketology Joe Lunardi has 10 of the 16 Big East teams in the NCAA's field of 68, to be determined and announced this coming Sunday. That would represent the largest single-season bid total by a conference, with the exception of ... last year's Big East, with 11 teams.
Still, several Big East teams could fall out of the field, based on their performances this week, while others can move to a more advantageous seeding with a strong performance. Here's what's at stake for each of the 16 Big East teams, in order of conference seeding.
For Syracuse, the tournament offers exactly nothing, other than a chance to cap a dominant season with a conference title. The Orange will almost certainly be a number one seed on Sunday, no matter what happens this week in New York.
Marquette, currently projected as an NCAA three seed, could move to a two with a strong showing at MSG. Like the other top four Big East teams, they only need to win three games to capture a tournament crown. For seeds 5-8, four wins are necessary; for seeds 9-16, five wins in five days is what it will take.
Notre Dame currently projects as an NCAA six seed, thanks to a weak out-of-conference schedule that limited the payoff the Fighting Irish received from playing so well in the Big East. A strong week at MSG, however, could move them to as high as a four should they at least reach the final. Their potential path is a relatively easy one, with a Thursday game against either six-seeded South Florida, 11-seed Rutgers or 14-seed Villanova.
Cincinnati, despite the double-bye, is still just a nine seed as per Lunardi's projections right now. The Bearcats also struggled down the stretch, with a 7-5 mark over their last 12, to go along with a weak OOC schedule. They are likely to face Georgetown in their first game on Thursday, a team the Bearcats beat earlier this year when playing better and Georgetown was playing worse. A bad loss could force Cincinnati into a double-digit seed on Sunday.
Georgetown, though the Hoyas lost on Sunday to Marquette, has much going for it heading into the tournament. Lunardi projects them as a three seed, and that is relatively safe, though a Thursday or earlier loss could bump them to a four. Their schedule is impressive, and their Wednesday matchup—against either St. John's or Pittsburgh—should be eminently winnable. If they beat Cincinnati Thursday, Syracuse probably looms on Friday. The result means that should the Hoyas beat Syracuse, then win the conference title, a two seed is probably in their future.
South Florida wasn't even in the NCAA field according to most projections until the last week or two. The Bulls are just 19-12 overall, with ugly losses to Old Dominion, Auburn and Penn State. But a win over Louisville seems to have gotten them the necessary late-season credibility, and Lunardi has them at a 12 seed right now. That 9 p.m. Wednesday night game against the winner of Villanova/Rutgers looks like a trap game that could take them out of the field. A win there, and they are probably safe. A win against Notre Dame on Thursday, and they're just playing for seeding.
Louisville, though seeded below South Florida in the Big East, will have a higher seed than the Bulls come NCAA time. Lunardi has them as a five seed, and a win over either Providence or Seton Hall Wednesday probably keeps them there. Should Louisville go on to beat Marquette Thursday, a four seed is entirely possible. And if the Cardinals win it all, the NCAA is a good bet to reward them with a three seed.
West Virginia has much to prove, following a 5-7 slide in its last 12 games. Worse still, it likely faces Connecticut on Wednesday, a team by no means assured of a tournament bid. Should the Huskies win, the Mountaineers, currently seeded tenth by Lunardi's projections, could fall to 11-12 easily. And if the NCAA is feeling really punitive about late-season slumps, the Mountaineers will need to hold on dearly come Selection Sunday.
As for Connecticut, it is astonishing that it's come to this. Lunardi has them in as of Monday, as a 10 seed, and even slightly above West Virginia. The RPI of 34 is solid. But Connecticut is 4-8 in its last 12. With a roster that should be contending for an NCAA title, the defending champs are instead scrambling to avoid being underdogs in the NCAA's first round.
That said, Connecticut can still make a big move with a repeat of last year's five wins in five days. Assuming the Huskies beat DePaul at noon on Tuesday, a tournament bid is all but assured. A win over West Virginia Wednesday will set up a confrontation with Syracuse Thursday, and a likely matchup with Georgetown Friday, before a championship bid on Saturday. Should Connecticut advance that far, their seed could go as high as seventh. A Big East title would probably mean a six seed, since their RPI would rise considerably, while the biggest mark against them—poor recent play—would disappear.
Still, one cannot assume a win over DePaul: just ask Seton Hall. The Pirates beat Georgetown late last month, and an NCAA bid seemed assured. But incredibly, the Pirates went on to lost to Rutgers at home, and to DePaul by 28 points on Saturday to end their regular season. Seton Hall absolutely must beat Providence at 7 p.m. On Tuesday if the Pirates want to make the NCAA tournament; they might need to beat Louisville Wednesday to make the field, too.
As for seeds 11-16—Rutgers, St. John's, Pittsburgh, Villanova, Providence and DePaul—they all face the same fate: either win five games in five days, or their basketball seasons are over. Starting Tuesday at noon, that desperation will be played out in 15 games over five days, against competition from the best basketball conference in America.