Big East Bubble Teams: Who’s Getting In Who’s Left Out?
Just as it was last year, the Big East is arguably deepest conference in the nation and will again have a slew of “bubble teams” when Selection Sunday rolls around. With three weeks left until the Big East Tournament in Madison Square Garden, many teams will be fighting for their NCAA dreams with every game that they play.
It’s safe to say that the Big East has four locks to make the tournament in Syracuse, Villanova, West Virginia, and Georgetown. At 19-6, the Pittsburgh Panthers are all but in the tournament as well. But outside of the five locks, there are seven Big East teams that can consider themselves “on the bubble” as the home stretch comes into view.
Today we’ll take a look at Marquette, Notre Dame, South Florida, and Connecticut followed by Louisville, Cincinnati, and Seton Hall tomorrow.
1. Marquette Golden Eagles, 16-8 (7-5)
RPI: 56 SOS: 67
Good Wins (RPI): Xavier (20), Georgetown (7)
Bad Losses (RPI): North Carolina State (118), @ Depaul (162)
Why They’re In: The Golden Eagles have played some of the best teams in the nation down to the wire and have proved they can hang with the big boys. A big win over Georgetown became Marquette’s signature win of the year and they also took down Xavier in the Old Spice Classic over Thanksgiving. Tough wins on the road against UConn and Providence also look good on the resumé. With their deadly three-point shooting, they are a perfect candidate for pulling off an upset if they get to the tournament.
Why They’re Out: They have stayed close with those teams, but losses are losses. Even worse, they have two losses to teams with an RPI outside 100, North Carolina State and Depaul. They have struggled on the road this season, losing their first five away from the Bradley Center before winning their last two. Outside of the Georgetown win at home, there aren’t any other signature wins the Golden Eagles can hang their hats on.
Outlook: As it is for most bubble teams in the Big East, Marquette will have the chance to boost their record and knock other bubble teams over the next three weeks when they play Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Louisville, and Notre Dame. They began this stretch nicely by taking out South Florida on Saturday, but they still have a little bit of work to do. Closing out the season 5-1 and finishing 12-5 in conference should get them the No. 5 seed in the BET and a spot in the Tourney. VERDICT: IN
Predicted Finish: 20-10, (11-7), bye and one win in Big East Tournament, No. 9 seed in NCAA
2. Notre Dame Fighting Irish, 17-8 (6-6)
RPI: 65 SOS: 70
Good Wins (RPI): West Virginia (6)
Bad Losses (RPI): Loyola Marymount (204), Rutgers (124)
Why They’re In: Luke Harangody and the Fighting Irish have outplayed expectations this season and once again find themselves in the thick of things as the season comes to a close. At 6-6 in conference and already at 17 wins, the Irish can play themselves into the tournament with a strong finish. Their win against West Virginia was a necessary victory and a win over Georgetown could really solidify their resumé.
Why They’re Out: If the Irish miss the tournament again this year, they will be kicking themselves in the head for their embarrassing home loss to Loyola Marymount back in December. The West Virginia win was big, but it might not be enough to cancel out the LMU loss as well as the loss to Rutgers. They also might be starting to unravel, going 3-5 in their last eight games.
Outlook: It’ll be a recurring theme, but Notre Dame can play themselves in by knocking off teams like Louisville and Marquette down the stretch. They have played fairly consistent and having a player like Harangody definitely helps their chances of making the tournament. However, just playing “good” isn’t enough to warrant a spot in the tournament, and those losses will hurt down the stretch. VERDICT: OUT
Predicted Finish: 20-11, (9-9), NIT
3. South Florida Bulls, 15-9 (5-7)
RPI: 55 SOS: 46
Good Wins (RPI): Pittsburgh (14), Georgetown (6)
Bad Losses (RPI): Central Michigan (194)
Why They’re In: South Florida is one of the more intriguing teams in the Big East because of their recent four-game win streak that saw them defeat Pittsburgh and Georgetown in the span of four days. Their RPI and strength of schedule are helping them out and the return of Gus Gilchrist is a huge boost. With two very good wins under their belt and a favorable schedule to finish the year, USF could get in.
Why They’re Out: Their conference record (5-7) is not too hot even though they have played the top six teams in the conference already. If they don’t jump a few teams in the standings, they could get lost towards the bottom of the Big East. The loss to Central Michigan was also a bad home loss and could come back to haunt them.
Outlook: Dominique Jones has the ability to take over a game the way few in the Big East can, and with two top-15 wins in the RPI and winnable games the rest of the way, South Florida’s resume is looking very good. Just as it is with any bubble team, they can not afford a slip-up this late in the season because it will cost them dearly. VERDICT: IN
Predicted Finish: 19-11, (9-9), bye and one win in Big East Tournament, No. 11 Seed in NCAA
4. Connecticut Huskies, 14-11 (4-8)
RPI: 59 SOS: 4
Good Wins (RPI): Texas (28)
Bad Losses (RPI): Michigan (127)
Why They’re In: Most teams who have just four conference wins at this point and are barely over .500 for the season would not be talking NCAA Tournament, but Jim Calhoun’s squad is still alive at this point. A win over then-No. 1 Texas is definitely the focal point of Connecticut’s resume, as well as the fact that they have played the fourth toughest schedule in the nation, including Duke, Kentucky, and their Big East foes.
Why They’re Out: Simply put, they just haven’t won games. Outside of the loss to Michigan, they haven’t had a bad loss that would burst their bubble, but they have failed to win games against other bubble teams (Marquette, Louisville, Cincinnati x 2) and that will hurt them in the end. The best they can finish is 10-8 in the conference, and that would include wins over Villanova and West Virginia.
Outlook: It will take a miracle for Jim Calhoun to get his team back to the tournament, but it isn’t out of the question. We have seen them play on a high level against some of the best teams in the nation and there are games left on the schedule that could bump them back into the discussion. They will need to lose just one game the rest of the way and win two games in the Big East Tournament to even be considered, and that might be too tall an order. VERDICT: OUT
Predicted Finish: 17-13, (7-11)