On Monday, ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi had 11 Big East teams in his latest NCAA tournament bracket with the only one cutting it close being 18-11 Marquette as a 10-seed; Cincinnati, at 21-7, was listed as a 7-seed. Marquette and Cincinnati face each other on Wednesday night before the Golden Eagles wrap up the regular season at Seton Hall. Cincinnati concludes its regular season with a tough home game against Georgetown on Saturday.
Despite an overtime loss at Louisville last Sunday, Lunardi still has Pitt a No. 1 seed along with Ohio State, Kansas and BYU.
Lunardi has Notre Dame a 2-seed, Syracuse a 3-seed, Louisville, Syracuse, Connecticut and St. John’s 4-seeds, Georgetown a 5-seed, and West Virginia and Villanova as 6-seeds.
However, concerns are growing in Main Line with Villanova losing three straight to Syracuse, St. John’s and Notre Dame and facing a tough road game at Pitt on Saturday to conclude the regular season. Villanova is just 5-8 in its last 13 games.
Despite losing two of its last three games, Pitt (25-4) is still the team to beat in the Big East this year, its poor free throw shooting aside. Many in the Steel City are expecting a Final Four run from this year’s team and it will be interesting to see if this is finally the year Pitt breaks through.
The Panthers have had some fantastic teams under Ben Howland and Jamie Dixon during the last 10 years, but the one thing the Pitt program has sorely missed is a franchise-type player who can get them over the hump when the whistles become tighter and the ball doesn’t always bounce their way in the NCAA tournament. The closest Pitt came to having a franchise player was in 2009 (the Panthers actually had two good ones that year in Sam Young and DeJuan Blair) - the year Pitt was knocked out in the Elite Eight by Villanova.
Pitt’s last first-round draft choice was guard Vonteego Cummings in 1999, and the school’s last lottery pick was center Charles Smith in 1988.
Ashton Gibbs and Brad Wanamaker are outstanding college players, but are they good enough to put the team on their shoulders and get them to the Final Four?
I know St. John’s (19-9) doesn’t have NCAA tournament experience and some people I’ve talked to think the Red Storm may be one and done in the NCAAs, but for some reason I think the Red Storm may be primed to make a little run in the tournament under first-year coach Steve Lavin. For one, St. John’s has a tremendous scorer in guard Dwight Hardy (17.9 ppg.) to go with a senior-dominated lineup.
And two, St. John’s is on a roll right now having won seven straight Big East games for the first time since 2000 with winnable games remaining against Seton Hall on Thursday night and against USF on Saturday. St. John’s could go into the Big East tournament winning 10 out of its last 11, including victories over Duke, UConn, Pitt and Villanova. That would constitute a team getting hot at the right time.
Plus, don’t forget Lavin has Gene Keady two seats down from him on the bench as a paid consultant.
The best Big East home team this year? That’s easy, Notre Dame. The Irish are 17-0 on their home floor this year following Monday night's blowout win against Villanova. Right behind the Irish is Pitt with a 16-1 home record with Villanova looming on Saturday.
The best Big East road team? Pitt gets the nod by a nose with a 6-2 road record over 6-3 Syracuse. Georgetown, Cincinnati and Villanova (each 7-4) have also performed well on the road this season.
The worst Big East road team? Providence gets that one hands down. The Friars are the only conference team yet to win a road game this year, Providence even worse on the road than DePaul. DePaul’s lone road win (and it’s only Big East win) came at Providence on Feb. 17.
Notre Dame was able to secure the second quarterfinal bye with Monday’s victory over Villanova, joining Pitt, which earned its double bye with last Thursday’s win over West Virginia. Louisville, St. John’s and Syracuse, with 11-5 league records, are still in the mix for double byes with 10-7 Georgetown on the outside looking in.
Did you know that St. John’s and West Virginia are the only two teams in the country with three or more wins over RPI Top 10 teams this year?
Most of the time players win games, but sometimes coaches can win games too. Last Sunday when West Virginia defeated Rutgers, 65-54, you can chalk that W up to the old ball coach. By my count, the Mountaineers got at least 10 points off of designed inbounds plays and then a 1-3-1 defense Bob Huggins used with two minutes remaining burned just enough time off the clock for the Mountaineers to get out of Piscataway with their fourth conference road victory of the season.
It’s comforting to know that the Mountaineers have a coach on the bench who can steal a game or two when they really need it.
West Virginia needs one win in its remaining two games to secure its sixth consecutive winning season in Big East play. The Mountaineers have won 62 percent of their conference games during the last six years.
When the book is finally closed on the 2011 season, West Virginia will have faced the toughest schedule in school history. Look for the Mountaineers’ strength of schedule to end up either first or second in the country when the regular season concludes on Saturday following games this week against Connecticut and Louisville.
I have seen some point to the Marshall loss in Charleston as being the one blotch on West Virginia’s schedule. Actually, based on College RPI.com, West Virginia’s two bad losses – if you can call them that – were to No. 68 Miami and No. 61 Minnesota.
Marshall, at 18-9, actually has an RPI of 54 heading into the final week of action.
The West Virginia women got a sorely needed victory on Monday night against St. John’s. Despite a 25 RPI (according to CollegeRPI.com) the Mountaineers were leaking oil, losing five out of their last six games and seven out of their last nine before blowing out St. John’s, 69-49, on Senior Night.
“That’s a big win for us,” said West Virginia coach Mike Carey. “We needed this one badly.”
West Virginia finishes the regular season with a 22-8 overall record, but more importantly, the Mountaineers were able to get to .500 in conference play at 8-8.
Of course we are all well aware of the talk of 11 Big East men’s teams getting into the Big Dance, well, there still remains a possibility of the Big East getting 10 in the 64-team women’s tournament. Based on CollegeRPI.com’s most recent rankings, the Big East should have eight tournament locks: No. 1 Connecticut, No. 8 Notre Dame, No. 12 DePaul, No. 16 Marquette, No. 18 Georgetown, No. 22 Rutgers, No. 25 West Virginia and No. 27 Louisville with No. 33 St. John’s still likely in good shape despite Monday night’s loss at West Virginia.
The 10th team squarely on the bubble is 21-8 Syracuse, which lost badly to Connecticut on Monday night. The Orange had an RPI of 48 heading into this week’s action.
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