Thursday, January 27, 2011

What's going on in the Big East?

(photo courtesy of

First, Seton Hall blew out Syracuse in the Carrier Dome on Tuesday night. Then, Providence dismantled Villanova last night. Why are two of the Big East's worst four teams beating two of their best so decisively? It's called parity and it's rampant in the nation's best conference.

ESPN's Joe Lunardi's latest Bracketology has 11 of the 16 teams in the Big East making the NCAA tournament. That may seem like an absurdly high number for one conference but when you look at how the Big East has played out, it may actually be one or two too few.

Only four of the league's 16 teams haven't beaten a ranked opponent (Cincinnati, Rutgers, South Florida, DePaul). Cincinnati is 18-3, but those three losses have come against the only ranked teams they've played (Villanova, Syracuse, Notre Dame). The other three have seemingly no chance to make the tournament, but there are 13 teams in this conference that might have legitimate cases by season's end.

Lunardi had neither Providence nor Seton Hall in his 11 tournament teams, but his last update was January 24. That included the Friars' victory over Louisville, but not their blowout of Villanova. It also didn't take into account the Pirates' domination of Syracuse on Tuesday night. So what gives?

There will not be 13 teams from the Big East in this year's NCAA tournament, I can tell you that much. But who should get the final few spots?

Providence is just 2-6 in conference play, but they've won their last two against top teams. Seton Hall has Connecticut, Villanova and Notre Dame left on their schedule. What happens if they win one or two of those games?

Marquette and St. John's are in as of right now. The Golden Eagles have a win at Notre Dame on their resume, while the Johnnies have beaten both Notre Dame and Georgetown at Madison Square Garden.

The problem with St. John's resume is as follows. Their best road win all season was at West Virginia and they've been outscored by 65 points in their last three games away from the Garden, all against ranked conference foes by double digits.

If the Big East was locked in at 11 teams like Lunardi has in now, Seton Hall would still be out and St. John's and Providence would be fighting for the 11th spot. But if Cincinnati proves unable to beat a ranked team with five games remaining against top-25 conference opponents they may play themselves out of the picture with just a .500 conference record.

If Seton Hall and Providence can stay hot and pick up another quality win or two, they will be almost assured of a spot in the dance. And if St. John's can't beat a ranked team on the road, their chances will diminish greatly.

Bottom line: The Big East is awesome and well-deserving of 10-plus teams in the tournament. They probably have 13 teams that deserve a spot, but that's not happening. All I know is that it's going to be awesome following the final half of the conference schedule to see who plays their way in or out of March Madness.

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