Big East Basketball: Predicting the Final Standings in Wild Season
Based on the growing sample size we have to work with through nearly six weeks of the Big East season, few conference certainties have been established (Spoiler Alert: Seton Hall is not destined for a title).
A group of teams have emerged as strong front-runners, while others are unraveling before our eyes.
The majority of Big East teams fall somewhere in between, still searching for answers to deficiencies and very much on the March Madness "bubble". Where these squads ultimately end up in conference standings will have a huge impact on tournament fortunes.
The Big East postseason tournament, hosted by basketball cathedral Madison Square Garden, is smaller than in past years. Longtime conference member West Virginia now competes in the Big 12 and Connecticut is ineligible due to the program's recent substandard academic performance.
The remaining 14 teams automatically qualify to compete in the the tournament. Teams slotted 11-14 participate in an opening round game, while 5-10 earn a first-round bye and 1-4 sit idle until the third round.
This unique bracket structure makes any advantage in the standings more significant than ever. Here's a forecast of how things shake out during the final stretch of Big East regular season action.
Prediction: DePaul 11-20 (2-16 in Big East)
The road ahead: The Oliver Purnell era opened with plenty of fanfare and optimism. The curtain could close on the Blue Demons beleaguered coach by season's end.
DePaul has a chance to pick up another Big East win or two with matchups against South Florida and Rutgers, but it's hard to see the Blue Demons suddenly hitting their stride and knocking off a top-level team like Pittsburgh or Connecticut.
14. South Florida
Prediction: 11-19 (2-16 in Big East)
The road ahead: This time last year the Bulls were surrounded by excitement and on the verge of locking up an NCAA tournament bid for the first time in school history. That success is starkly contrasted by the 2013 version of South Florida.
South Florida is clearly the conference's most inept offensive team, shooting less than 40 percent from the floor.
Still, I think the Bulls could upset Providence or St. John's. A loss to DePaul would be the cherry on top of a terribly disappointing season in Tampa.
13. Seton Hall
Prediction: 14-17 (3-15 in Big East)
The road ahead: Seton Hall still has an opportunity to at least win some respect in the Garden State. The Pirates play in-state rival Rutgers twice in the final seven games (I see a split in the cards).
Seton Hall faces a challenging slate of games, headlined by consecutive contests against Syracuse, Marquette and Louisville.
Prediction: 13-16 (4-14 in Big East)
The road ahead: If you squint your eyes while watching the Scarlet Knights play, you can almost remember the team that started conference play 2-1 and had people wondering whether the program finally turned a corner. Rutgers has won just one Big East conference game since.
The Scarlet Knights get two shots at Seton Hall and play lowly DePaul, so the team's toughest stretch of the schedule is behind it. Regardless, 12th place is essentially the ceiling for Rutgers right now.
Prediction: 15-15 (7-11 in Big East)
The road ahead: Not bad for a team picked to finish dead last in conference standings according to the preseason Big East Coaches' Poll. The Friars final four games of the season are against Rutgers, St. John's, Seton Hall and Connecticut.
Salvaging at least a split in those matchups would put Providence in a favorable position for the first round of conference tournament competition.
Prediction: 18-13 (9-9 in Big East)
The road ahead: Villanova has been the toughest team to read all season. Road games at UConn, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh won't make things easy on the Wildcats.
Jay Wright's bunch wrap up the regular season versus Georgetown. The result of that clash could have a dramatic affect on the Big East tournament bracket.
Prediction: 20-9 (10-8 in Big East)
The road ahead: The Bearcats have dropped two straight, losing some traction in Big East standings. Cincinnati still takes on UConn twice in the next month and travels to Louisville.
The Bearcats do have the benefit of hosting both Georgetown and Villanova in upcoming games.
8. St. John's
Prediction: 18-12 (10-8 in Big East)
The road ahead: The Red Storm have bounced back from a 6-12 conference finish last season and are on track to earn a first round bye in the postseason tournament. Led by steadily improving Big East Rookie of the Year candidate Jakarr Sampson, St. John is capable of turning heads this February.
Sandwiched between meetings with Louisville and Notre Dame is a three-game stretch (South Florida, Pittsburgh and Providence) that will help define this team, for better or worse.
The Red Storm win an eighth-place tiebreaker versus Cincinnati by virtue of a head-to-head win in early January.
7. Notre Dame
Prediction: 23-8 (11-7 in Big East)
The road ahead: National Player of the Year candidate and double-double machine Jack Cooley continues to pave the way for a resilient Fighting Irish squad. Notre Dame's next two games (DePaul and Providence) are very winnable, but the journey gets rough ahead.
The Fighting Irish face a daunting three-game stretch (Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and Marquette) and finish the season at Louisville.
Prediction: 22-7 (12-6 in Big East)
The road ahead: Georgetown is currently riding a five-game win streak, but the Hoyas are due for a heat check. The team still faces Syracuse twice, including a home showdown in the regular season finale.
Road matchups at Villanova, Connecticut and Cincinnati will speak volumes about Georgetown's toughness.
5. Connecticut (ineligible for Big East Postseason Tournament)
Prediction: 22-8 (12-6 in Big East)
The road ahead: These final few weeks of conference competition may mean more to Connecticut on a personal level than any team. The Huskies are ineligible for the postseason, so expect the squad to put it all on the line against tournament-bound opponents.
Kevin Ollie's squad looks to assert itself as a force and make a statement for next season.
With remaining games against Syracuse, Cincinnati and Georgetown there will be plenty of opportunities for Connecticut to make an impact on the tournament bracket.
The Huskies, with nothing to lose, should be looser than most conference foes.
Prediction: 24-7 (12-6 in Big East)
The road ahead: Pittsburgh, victorious in seven of its last eight games, continues to emerge as a true title contender. The Panthers must maintain that level of play in order to lock down one of the Big East's top four seeds.
Pittsburgh's final three games (South Florida, Villanova and DePaul) present a manageable path to earning an automatic double-bye.
The Panthers are awarded fourth place because of head-to-head wins versus both Connecticut and Georgetown, who are also projected to win 12 conference games.
Prediction: 22-8 (13-5 in Big East)
The road ahead: Marquette's remaining schedule features four teams that currently reside in the AP Top 25. Fortunately, three of those meetings occur on its home court where the Golden Eagles are unbeaten this season.
Marquette hosts Pittsburgh, Syracuse and Notre Dame in the next three weeks. Winning two out of those three matchups should seal Marquette's spot among the conference's top four tournament teams (and a two-round bye).
Prediction: 22-8 (13-5 in Big East)
The road ahead: People are beginning to have trouble trusting Louisville after four losses in its last seven games. Expect Rick Pitino's veteran team to kick things into a higher gear during the final push toward the postseason.
The Cardinals entered the 2012 Big East Tournament as a seven seed and still ultimately claimed the conference crown.
The team's next four games (St. John's, South Florida, Seton Hall, DePaul) should allow Louisville to fine-tune game plan tactics in preparation for a March 2 showdown at Syracuse that could ultimately determine who finishes on top of the regular season standings.
Prediction: 27-4 (15-3 in Big East)
The road ahead: I don't think Syracuse is capable of running the table during its final eight conference contests, but the Orange will beat the teams it has to in order to take the top seed in the Big East tourney.
Jim Boeheim is a leading Coach of the Year candidate for a reason. His squad is persistent on both ends of the court and hasn't wilted when dealing with occasional adversity this season.
Syracuse gets fellow title contenders Louisville and Georgetown at home, which is huge.