Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Week That Was: Big East

#4 Pittsburgh 78, #8 Syracuse 60
Providence 72, Cincinnati 63
#3 UConn 89, #21 Villanova 83
West Virginia 75, #14 Georgetown 58

I did manage to cut down the unwieldy Big East to four important results since Sunday. The first result was no surprise, with Pittsburgh bouncing back from the Louisville upset to prove that they're still one of the two teams to beat in the Big East. And yes, I've bumped that number down to two, as UConn is the only team keeping pace with Pittsburgh right now. UConn obviously has a huge battle today at Notre Dame, and a win there would really cement their place in that top two.

One of the other big results from this week was West Virginia shocking Georgetown at the Verizon Center, although the margin of victory is deceptively large (it was a seven point game with 4:45 to go). That result makes Georgetown something of a long shot now to take the Big East, and also has big implications for the chances that the Big East collects a record ninth Tournament team, although I'll get to that in a moment. First I want to note that under-the-radar Providence victory over Cincinnati. With the win, Providence stays firmly on the bubble. Before going further, let's break this conference down:

Teams With A Chance To Win The Conference: This really is a battle between UConn and Pittsburgh, although we have to note that those two teams are currently sitting third and fourth in the standings, as Louisville and Marquette are still undefeated. You have to consider those latter two teams dark horses, because they are undefeated, but they still have flaws. Louisville has that win over Pitt, but that game was something of a fluke. I always get a lot of angry e-mails and comments when I use those words, because they don't understand what I'm talking about. The win was still a huge win, and it will count for a lot on Selection Sunday. But when projecting into the future, we have to acknowledge that Louisville won't normally play on that level. The crowd was unreal, and it just was all in all a remarkable game. You can't expect them to play that way the rest of the season. That win over Villanova was indeed a fluke in the more normal sense of the word, as Nova would have won easily if they could have found a way to miss a few less two foot bunnies. I would actually be surprised if they're still undefeated in the Big East after they leave Syracuse tomorrow evening. Marquette's schedule is also back-loaded, and they will pick up some losses when the time comes. I'll also throw Georgetown in this discussion, because they are still a very good team, and Syracuse is still alive with a minute chance at the conference title. But in the end, it's almost definitely going to come down to Pitt vs UConn.

Teams In The Tournament: Obviously Pitt, UConn, Georgetown, Louisville and Syracuse are locks for the Tournament. Marquette has a minute chance of missing the Tournament, basically because they'd be in trouble if any of their Big Three goes down with injury. But we can pretty much pencil them in as well, so we have six teams that are safe.

Likely Tournament Teams: I'm throwing Villanova and Notre Dame in this category. Both teams are extremely talented, and both of their fan bases would surely be offended to even discuss the idea of missing the Tournament, but I wouldn't be too surprised to see one of these teams finish 8-10 in the Big East and miss the Tournament. But the most likely result will be a Tournament bid for these two teams as well, pushing us to eight Tournament teams, which would tie the all-time record that the Big East set in 2006, and tied last season. But I think everybody expects the Big East to collect eight bids. The real question is whether they'll get that record ninth team:

A Ninth Team? A Tenth?: There are a number of other teams still firmly in the at-large hunt. I would list West Virginia, Cincinnati and Providence here. There are other teams that still have a chance to get hot and make a Tournament run, but it's unlikely. If the season ended now, I think West Virginia would certainly be in, while Cincy and Providence would be out. But we have a long way to go. West Virginia has outstanding computer numbers, but they did this last season as well, winning many of their games by big margins and inflating their computer numbers relative to their actual record. That win over Georgetown is huge, and they can really give themselves a fat margin of error if they can knock off Pittsburgh at home tomorrow. If they can win that game and get to 9-9 in the Big East, I think that puts them in as the record ninth Big East Tournament team. The scenario is not as simple for Cincinnati and Providence. Providence is currently tied for fifth in the Big East at 5-2, but that's really deceptive, as they have zero wins over the Top 25, and only a 3-6 record against the RPI Top 100. The reason that the Big East is not as good as the Big Ten or ACC is that they have too many bad teams at the bottom, and a team like Providence can get to 5-2 without having to beat anybody good. Of course, they get a great chance for a legitimizing win over the next two weeks, as Syracuse and Villanova come to town. They're going to need an upset or two, because their stay near the top of the Big East is surely temporary. Cincinnati is only 3-4 in the Big East, but probably has a slightly better resume than Providence. But they, too, need a marquee win. With Georgetown and Notre Dame coming to town over the next two weeks, they absolutely need to win at least one of those. Probably both, unless they pull off a road upset in the interim. I really can't see the Big East getting a tenth team into the Tournament, because there just aren't enough wins to go around, so Providence and Cincinnati have a lot of ground to make up. They've got to take care of their business while hoping that one or more of the teams above them slip up.

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