The Big Ten has stolen the headlines this season, but don’t sleep on the Big East. It’s still one of college basketball’s strongest conferences, and the Big East Tournament could decide the fate of eight or more teams in search of a NCAA Tournament bid.
The Big East’s top six teams don’t have a lot to worry about. Short of a first-round exit in conference play, each will be in line for a decent standing in the Big Dance.
For the next three teams in the conference standings (all unranked), earning a bid to the NCAA’s premier tournament will come down to big performances in the conference bracket.
Let’s examine the three Big East teams with the most to gain from a strong showing in the conference finale.
Villanova (18-12, 9-8 Big East)
Conference play has been hard on the Wildcats, and a 5-5 record in their final stretch of the regular season will make earning a NCAA bid a difficult task.
ESPN’s Joe Lunardi projects Villanova as the one of the 14 seeds in the Midwest bracket. With a berth far from guaranteed, the Wildcats need a very strong performance to finish the season.
Were the tournament to take place today, Villanova would have the No. 8 seed and a matchup with No. 9 Providence in the first round. Getting past Providence (a team it hasn’t beaten this year) would be difficult enough, and a second-round matchup with the No. 1 seed would then present a nearly insurmountable challenge.
Without at least one win in the Big East Tournament, Villanova may be on the outside looking in on Selection Sunday.
Cincinnati (20-10, 8-9 Big East)
With a 20-10 overall record, Cincinnati has a good chance of securing an at-large big for the NCAA Tournament, but the Bearcats will need to get past USF on Saturday and at least make it to the second round of the conference tournament to feel safe.
Wins over Marquette and Pittsburgh earlier in the season will help Cincinnati’s cause, but seven losses in its last 11 games is reason to worry. Several conference losses have moved the Bearcats into 10th place in the conference standings with a first-round matchup against the No. 7 seed on the horizon.
Lunardi projects Cincinnati as the No. 9 seed in the West bracket of the NCAA Tournament, but failing to show up against USF in the regular-season finale and exiting from the Big East tournament early could give the selection committee pause.
For the Bearcats to feel confident in earning a NCAA Tournament berth, they will need a big performance in the conference tournament.
Providence (17-12, 9-8 Big East)
Of all the teams vying for a NCAA bid, Providence has the toughest row to hoe. Anything short of three big wins in the conference tournament will likely mean a trip to the NIT.
Some ugly losses in the middle of the regular season really hurt the Friars’ chances of clawing their way up in the Big East. Winning seven of their last eight games was a good start, but an RPI of 76 won’t look good in the eyes of the selection committee.
The Big East Tournament may not even matter with a regular-season finale against Connecticut on the horizon, but it’s too early to count the Friars out. With a win over the Huskies on Saturday, the door will at least still be open for a deep tournament run and a potential NCAA bid.
When examining all of the nation’s bubble teams, Providence stands out as one with very slim chances of a making a trip to the Big Dance. There isn’t another team in the conference with more to lose with an early exit from conference play.