Big East: "In" or "Out"

Marco RomanellCorrespondent IFebruary 20, 2009

With selection Sunday less then a month away, many teams are on the tourney "bubble". Lets look at who is "in" and who is "out" from the Big East:


Pittsburgh (23-2 overall, 11-2 Big East) RPI: 1, SOS: 11

The Panthers are a mortal lock for the NCAA tournament and are my pick to win the national title over North Carolina. DeJuan Blair and the rest of the Panthers made a statement Monday night when they went into Connecticut and beat the top-ranked Huskies. Blair is an absolute man among boys and is clearly one of the most dominant players in the country. However, I do not believe he is the key to the team. Levance Fields, with all due respect to Blair, is the heart and soul of this team, and one of the most underrated players in the country. Fields may not score a lot, but his leadership, toughness, and ability to make big shots are his contributions to his team. The Panthers can play tough with Blair and Young and they can shoot with Fields and Jermaine Dixon. After years of being “under-seeded”, the Panthers will be on everyone’s radar this March and will be the favorites to win the National Title.

Projected Seed: 1

Connecticut (24-2 overall, 12-2 Big East) RPI: 4, SOS: 26

The loss of Jerome Dyson was a major blow to the Huskies' national title chances. Despite the loss to Pittsburgh, UConn seems destined to be a No. 1 seed and is still one of the best teams in the country. The Huskies will need to find someone to carry the scoring load with Dyson out and that will be the main obstacle preventing them from advancing deep in the tournament. Hasheem Thabeet is a major shot-blocking threat that has been a force this season. However, he was dominated by Blair in their last game. Blair went right at Thabeet instead of trying to shoot over him or play away from the hoop. This may have given other teams a “blueprint” on how to have success against Thabeet, but then again, not many other teams have a DeJuan Blair. The Huskies play good defense and that is something that will keep them in every tournament game. If they can find some scoring to replace Jerome Dyson, then the Huskies are an absolute lock for the Final Four.

Projected seed: 1

Villanova (20-5 overall, 8-4 Big East) RPI: 10, SOS: 19

Despite a high RPI, the Wildcats are only 5-5 against teams in the top 50 of the RPI and they are 15-0 against teams outside the top 50. Villanova made the Sweet 16 last season as a No. 12 seed and this year’s version of the Wildcats are more experienced and more talented. Scottie Reynolds and Dante Cunningham pace the Wildcats' offense that has only one other player (Corey Fisher) that averages in double figures. Villanova has the talent and experience to make a run to another Sweet 16, and with a player like Scottie Reynolds, they could get even deeper.

Projected seed: 4

Marquette (22-4 overall, 11-2 Big East) RPI: 23, SOS: 102

Two weeks ago, the Golden Eagles were in first place and undefeated in the Big East, but they have lost two straight now with the meat of their schedule coming up. Jerel McNeal, Wesley Matthews and Domenic James provide a great three-headed scoring monster for Marquette. McNeal was an absolute beast in the tournament last year and is his team’s leading scorer this season. The key to making a deep run for Marquette would be to get some sort of inside presence from Lazar Hayward and company. Hayward has played well, but he will need to play consistently well if the Golden Eagles want to make a deep run in the tournament. Everyone says guard play wins in the tournament and Marquette certainly has that.

Projected seed: 4

Louisville (20-5 overall, 11-2 Big East) RPI: 15, SOS: 21

This Cardinals team is one of the most talented in the country and is a legitimate Final Four contender. Terrance Williams and Edgar Sosa provide experience and talent for Louisville and their play will carry them in the tournament. Louisville will likely get a No. 1 seed if it wins the Big East tournament, something that is entirely possible for this team. Free-throw shooting could hurt the Cardinals, but with a good combination of great talent and great coaching, expect to see Louisville playing three or more games in the NCAA Tournament.

Projected seed: 2

On the Bubble:

Syracuse (18-7 overall, 7-6 Big East) RPI: 17, SOS: 16

In the last two weeks, the Orange played themselves onto the tournament bubble. With a conference record above .500 and five wins against the RPI top 50, Syracuse seems to be in the the Tournament with some breathing room to spare. Paul Harris, Eric Devendorf and Johnnie Flynn have paced the Orange attack and should do enough to carry this team into the tournament. This Syracuse team lacks NCAA Tournament experience, which could hurt them should they get into the big dance. Right now the Orange or in, but if they keep losing games and end with a conference record that is below .500, they will be an interesting case when Selection Sunday comes around.

Projected seed: 6

West Virginia (18-8 overall, 7-6 Big East) RPI: 14, SOS: 5

Say what you want about Bob Huggins, but the man can most certainly coach. Huggins has his Mountaineers team in position to get a second consecutive NCAA Tournament berth. With a high RPI and SOS, West Virginia will have to have a major collapse to play its way out the Tournament. The Mountaineers made a somewhat surprising run to the Sweet 16 last season and while this team might not be as talented as lat year’s team, nobody will want to play West Virginia in the tournament.

Projected seed: 7

Providence (16-10 overall, 8-6 Big East) RPI: 70, SOS: 42

The Friars are one of the last few teams in the tournament as of right now. Despite their overall record, an 8-6 record is good enough for sixth place in the conference and is helping the Friars' case to make the big dance. If Providence can beat the teams they are “supposed” to beat, then they will strengthen their case even more. Providence has a key game at home against Georgetown that will likely burst the bubble for whichever team loses. If it comes down to Providence and Cincinnati to see who gets in the tournament, the Friars swept the Bearcats this season, so they have the advantage over them there. It would behoove Providence to finish with no more then seven losses in conference if it wants to see NCAA Tournament play.

Projected seed: 12

Cincinnati (17-9 overall, 7-6 Big East) RPI: 48, SOS: 23

The Bearcats have been one of the surprises in the Big East this season with a 7-6 record. Despite having a better record then Providence, Cincinnati seems to be on the outside looking in thanks to two losses to the Friars this season. The Bearcats are only 3-7 against the RPI top 50 and 10-0 against the RPI 101-150. The Big East allows for teams to improve their tournament chances since you likely face a quality team every night. The next three games for Cincinnati are against Louisville, West Virginia and Syracuse, so the Bearcats will have the chance to play themselves into the NCAA Tournament. If they win two out of these three games and finish over .500 in conference play, then the Bearcats will be dancing. As of right now, I believe they are probably the first team out of the tournament.

Projected seed: First team out

Georgetown (14-10 overall, 5-8 Big East) RPI: 37, SOS: 3

The Hoyas are one of the major disappointments of this college basketball season. Georgetown has a great strength of schedule and a good RPI but the Hoyas will need a better overall and conference record to get off the tournament bubble. The next three games will make or break Georgetown, as they play Marquette, Louisville and Villanova. Winning these three games will put them back at .500 in the conference and their tournament resume will look that much better. A 3-8 record against the RPI top 50 hurts them, but they will have the chance to improve on this record with their remaining games of the season. The Hoyas can likely get in with a record of something like 17-12 and maybe even a game under .500 in the conference. Unfortunately for them, the Hoyas are a long way from that.

Projected seed: Out

Notre Dame (14-11 conference, 5-8 Big East) RPI: 75, SOS: 45

The Fighting Irish were a preseason Final Four pick of many of the media members, but are nowhere near that right now. I personally do not see why Notre Dame is even considered on the bubble with its record and low RPI, but I feel that the committee is looking for any way to put them in the tournament. The Irish’s next two games versus Providence and Rutgers are must wins before they have to play Connecticut, and if they do not win both of them, then they can start planning their NIT trip. This team still has talent to be dangerous and if they do end up playing to their talent level, then they will make it into the tournament and could be dangerous. The Irish have the most work to do of any Big East bubble team.

Projected seed: Out