The Big East isn't going to get eight teams in the NCAA Tournament again, and there's a good chance they're not going to get seven. The sooner we accept this and move on, the better.
The NCAA Tournament Selection Committee saying that they select teams based on resume alone and never even look at conference affiliation is one of the great lies in all of sports. The committee doesn't like taking more than six teams from a conference and HATES taking more than seven for two reasons: One, they think it stirs up too much controversy. And two (I'm 100% serious), it's much harder to draw up the brackets.
If Missouri State and Cincinnati had played in the Patriot League and Big 12 last season, they would've been in. Missouri State was left out because the committee knew people were already going to be upset over the number of teams from the Valley, and UC was left out because the they didn't want nine teams from any conference mainly because (Again, I'm totally serious) it would have been too hard to make the brackets.
By Thursday of Championship Week, the committee has a basic outline of what they hope the final bracket will look like, complete with possible changes if some likely scenarios play out. They like to keep as closely to this original outline as possible, and when bubble teams or teams that weren't even being considered make miracle runs to the championship game on Saturday or Sunday, well, it screws things up.
The NCAA's official "Principles and Procedures for Establishing the Men's Bracket" state that: "No more than one team from a conference may be seeded in the same grouping of four (in line Nos. 1-4 and 13-16) in a region. In lines No. 5-12, two teams from the same conference may be placed in the same group of four. Conference teams shall not meet each other prior to the regional final unless a ninth team is selected from a conference."
So do you think it would have been easier to take a ninth team from the Big East, or take another almost equally deserving team from say the Mountain West?
The best example of how truly human the selection process actually is, always comes when a bubble team from a power conference wins its league tournament.
Syracuse was on the outside looking in after the regular season last year, but they won four games and all of the sudden they're a five seed. Did they deserve to be a five seed, absolutely not, but there were seven Big East teams already penciled in and it was the only spot in which they fit. If there had been an open spot at 6, 7, 8, or 9, then they would have gone there. Same with Georgia Tech (ACC runner-up) in '05, and Maryland (champ) in '04.
It's hard to draw these things out in a way that meets each and every requirement (See BYU in 2003), and a manageable number of teams from each conference makes it just a little bit easier. With this, and the success of mid-majors in last year's tournament in mind, I think it's fairly safe to say that Big East bubble teams have extreme cause for concern.
So now that we've established why the Big East isn't going to get more than seven teams, the next step is to see who's going to get left out.
Pittsburgh, Marquette and Georgetown are in, that's three. Barring a collapse, Notre Dame (with their huge win last night) is in too. So that leaves three, maybe two, spots for six teams (I'm including Depaul in this group for reasons I'll talk about later).
West Virginia (19-6, 7-5) is a team that a lot of people are saying is a lock, but I don't think it's that simple. They have a sparkling record, their RPI is fairly high (47), and they have a signature win over UCLA. But a closer look shows that Mountain Mama has an unfavorable schedule down the stretch (at Providence, at Pitt), their strength of schedule is 265, and the committee isn't going to completely disregard the fact that UCLA was playing at 10 a.m. pacific time and without their most important player, Darren Collison.
The Mountaineers aren't going to beat Pitt at their place, so the game to hone in on is at Providence. I know I said I hate absolutes when it comes to conference win totals, but I think 10-6 gets them in even with a first round loss in New York. At 9-7 they're probably looking at the 7-10 or 8-9 game against a quality opponent also on the bubble, and a loss could be pretty damning.
Though Beilein's boys might be thinking they're awfully comfortable at the moment, my advice would be win at Providence and take care of business against Cincinnati and Seton Hall or get ready to play for your season in MSG.
Next is Louisville (18-8, 8-4). The consensus is that the Cards are in at the moment, but a team whose shooting is so sporadic should never feel overly comfortable about anything. St. John's is playing very well, and if Pitino's Clankinos return on Feb. 21, then they're right back where they were two weeks ago.
Let's assume that the Cards end up 10-6 in the league with reasonable losses at Marquette and Uconn or 11-5 with an awful loss to St. John's or Seton Hall at home. In this case they're probably going to need a game in New York, a place where they haven't had much success recently.
Earning a bye would be cool and all, but in reality it's probably not something we should wish for unless we're 12-4 or 11-5 with a win at Marquette Saturday. If we're borderline then we're just going to need one more win to strip away those final Selection Sunday jitters. A five seed means we're probably going to get St. John's or Uconn, a much more winnable game than say, Notre Dame or Villanova to open with on day two. Losing in our first game on the second day of the conference tournament probably wouldn't kill our NCAA chances, but I think we'd be far more antsy than if we had won on Wednesday and then lost to the Irish or Wildcats on day two. Just something to think about.
I think Louisville's going to get in, but I'd be very surprised if it's in a manner as stress-free as the one many Cardinal fans seem to think it's going to be. Of course if we win in 'Sconsin tomorrow then things get a lot easier.
Villanova is just 6-5 in the conference and 18-7 overall, but they have wins over Notre Dame and Texas, and their RPI is a stunning 14. The Wildcats end the season with the rather difficult stretch of Georgetown, at Marquette, Rutgers, at Connecticut and Syracuse. If they finish out 3-2, then I think they're in, regardless of what they do in New York, although a first round win wouldn't hurt. If they go 2-3, then they'd be 8-8 and probably in need of at least a pair of conference tournament wins to have a chance, and a trip to the final to be in without a doubt.
'Nova is too good to miss the Big Dance, and I can't see Jay Wright not getting the job done down the stretch. They'll do some damage in in the Big East tournament and they'll earn a respectable seed on Selection Sunday.
Providence (15-9, 5-6) had two golden opportunities in the last week to put themselves in great position to earn an at-large bid, but the Friars faltered down the stretch against both Pitt and Notre Dame and are now in desperate need of a miracle run to end the season.
PC has a pretty favorable stretch to close the season, playing St. John's twice, Syracuse, West Virginia and South Florida. Still, if they don't win out and finish at 10-6 in the league, they're probably going to have to win four games in four days to dance. Their RPI is respectable (65), but they have just one quality win (Marquette), lost to Brown, and were absolutely embarrassed by Florida, Florida State and Seton Hall.
With Hill, McDermott and Curry, the Friars are easily one of the best 65 teams in the country, and it's a shame they're going to spend mid-March in the NIT.
Syracuse (18-8, 7-5) has to get either Georgetown or Villanova (maybe both depending on what everyone else does), and couple that with a strong showing in the tournament (in this case I think "strong showing" constitutes a win over a respectable opponent in round one, and a competitive loss, or win, against one of the big three in round two).
If the Orange do ultimately end up being left out, the losses at Uconn and Louisville are going to be the ones dancing in Jim Boeheim's head for seven months. Syracuse has beaten Marquette and Villanova, but they've lost to St. John's, blew a huge lead in Freedom Hall, and didn't show up in Storrs. Unless they beat Georgetown they're going to have done nothing to really distinguish themselves from the rest of the league's bubble teams in conference play, so attention will then shift to what they did in November and December and this doesn't bode well for them.
The 'Cuse went 11-3 in the non-conference portion of their schedule, but lost to the only three meaningful opponents they played (Oklahmoma State, Wichita State and Drexel). Their RPI is 63 which isn't high enough to give them the nod over Louisville, Villanova or West Virginia.
Still, Boeheim always finds a way to win in New York, and this team is definitely good enough to go on another run and steal a bid away from a bubble team that went down in round one. If this team makes it to March 8, then look out.
If they can get themselves in that position, Depaul (15-11, 6-6) would be the most fascinating bubble team in the country. The Blue Demons own wins over Kansas, Wake Forest, Rhode Island, Cal, Villanova, Notre Dame and Marquette, but have lost to Bradley, Northwestern (in a game where they scored 39 points), UAB and St. John's.
Obviously by having 11 losses in mid-February they've left themselves with little wiggle room, but they end the season by playing South Florida twice, Cincinnati, and a Notre Dame team they've already beaten. If they can get to 10-6 in the league and win a game at MSG, their resume might be too strong to keep them out. If they're 9-7, then the committee almost certainly won't take them unless they have to.
Wilson Chandler and Sammy Mejia make this a team that no one would want to play in an opening round 6-11 or 7-10 game, but Mejia is streaky and Chandler sometimes plays like Derrick Coleman which is the only reason this team isn't already a lock. I don't think they can beat Notre Dame in South Bend, and I think they're going to have an extremely hard time winning a game in the BEast Tournament because they're going to be matched up with a Villanova or a Syracuse that has showed numerous times throughout the course of the season that they have more heart than the Demons do. It's a shame they weren't more focused or didn't have more drive during the first half of the season, because this is a team that should go dancing, but won't.
Looking at all of this, it's scary how important the first two days of the conference tournament are going to be. I don't think it's unreasonable to say that no less than two bids will be won or lost on Wednesday alone.
So now for the final, completely irrelevant, summary of how I think this plays out.
Villanova: In. They shouldn't have gotten themselves in this position, but this team is too talented and too tough to not do what they need to do to get an NCAA bid.
Louisville: In. I do think that these next few weeks are going to be more stressful than many think they'll be, because I just can't see us getting by Marquette and I wouldn't be surprised if we went down either in Storrs or at home against the Johnnies. Still, this team is playing awfully well and when all is said and done, I just can't not see them dancing.
West Virginia: In (Barring conference tournament upsets). I don't think the Mountaineers are going to win at Providence, I don't think they're going to win at Pitt, and I don't think they're going to win a game in New York, but the law of averages says that one of these will probably happen. I think whether or not they're going to get in will come down to how many non-bubble teams steal bids by winning their conference tournaments, and whether the committee wants to take seven teams from a Big East conference having what is perceived to be a down year.
Syracuse: Out. I can easily see the Orange swapping places with WVU, but that's only because I can see them making another miracle closing run. The more likely scenario is they lose two of the three games in the Providence, Georgetown, Villanova swing, and the committee ends up not giving a damn what they do in the Garden.
Providence: Out. I would love to see this team make the tourney because I think they could represent the conference well, and because I think it would be a good chance for Herbert Hill to get some much deserved accolades. Sadly, they're going to lose at least once more in the regular season, and no one outside of Villanova is going to be able to get in with a 9-7 conference record.
Depaul: Out. They won't beat Notre Dame in South Bend and that will be that. Jerry Wainwright has no excuse for not taking this team to the NCAAs.