20 Questions: Can the Big East Approach Its Record of 11 NCAA Bids Again This Season?Posted by rtmsf on November 10th, 2011
Brian Otskey is the Big East correspondent for RTC and a regular contributor. You can find him on Twitter @botskey.
Question: Can the Big East Approach Its Record of 11 NCAA Bids Again This Season?
The Big East can certainly “approach” its record of 11 NCAA Tournament teams but I feel pretty confident in saying the conference will not equal that number this season. There is too much uncertainty at schools such as Georgetown, Notre Dame and West Virginia to proclaim that all three will again make the field of 68. For the Big East to equal 11, those three teams plus one of Rutgers, Seton Hall and St. John’s (teams in the 11-13th place range) would have to wildly exceed the expectations of most writers and analysts to make the field. This assumes, of course, that DePaul, Providence and South Florida have no shot whatsoever of going dancing this March.
When you break it down, Connecticut, Louisville, Pittsburgh and Syracuse are considered preseason NCAA locks with Cincinnati, Marquette and Villanova not far behind. That makes seven teams and you have to figure at least one (probably two) of Georgetown, Notre Dame and West Virginia will earn bids as well. That makes eight or nine teams with an outside shot at ten in a best case scenario. As we’ve seen in the six year existence of the 16-team Big East, the league eats itself alive, especially in the middle. Ten wins in this conference is usually enough to garner an invitation but 9-9 and 8-10 records, often seen around tenth place, make a team’s situation dependent on what goes on in other leagues around the country.
Last year was the perfect storm for the Big East. It was a deep and dominant conference that benefited from an expansion of the NCAA Tournament field and a down year in other traditional powerhouse leagues. Just five Big 12/SEC and four ACC/Pac-10 schools earned trips to the tournament in 2010-11 which opened up four to five more spots than in a “normal” year. Combined with tournament expansion, at least seven or eight extra spots (maybe more) were available in last year’s tournament. The Big East, specifically Marquette and Villanova, seized the moment and reaped the benefits of those few extra spots. The Golden Eagles lost 13 regular season games, including their last two, en route to a 9-9 league finish. Villanova entered the NCAA Tournament on a five-game losing streak and had lost 10 of its last 15 games before bowing out to George Mason in the first second round. In a normal year, the Big East may have only received nine bids. Of course, the “new normal” is a tournament with 68 teams and lots of parity all across the nation.
As I mentioned previously, earning 11 bids depends on the Hoyas, Fighting Irish and Mountaineers to all have successful years plus an unexpected surprise from one of the three New York City area schools. For Rutgers to make the tournament, Mike Rice’s team has to receive immediate contributions from a number of talented freshmen, including point guard Myles Mack. Rutgers has two important pieces returning in Dane Miller and Gilvydas Biruta but the freshmen have to make a difference right away in order for the team to have any chance to dance. Up the road at Seton Hall, the Pirates have a solid trio of Jordan Theodore, Herb Pope and Fuquan Edwin returning but the roster is pretty thin after those three players. Kevin Willard will need a huge improvement out of sophomore Patrik Auda as well as impact minutes from freshmen guards Aaron Cosby and Haralds Karlis for the Hall to surprise. As we’ve seen in two St. John’s games this week, the Red Storm is entirely dependent on freshmen. Yes they’re talented, but Steve Lavin has to get this group to buy in defensively in addition to running a more structured offense. The Johnnies were often out of position while rebounding and playing defense in their two games against William & Mary and Lehigh but that should improve with more practice, coaching and experience. This team is talented but it’s also incredibly thin and young. St. John’s can overwhelm inferior opponents with sheer athleticism but that’s not going to happen night after night in conference play.
As you’ve now seen, it’s highly unlikely that the Big East places 11 teams into the NCAA Tournament come March. The potential is there for up to ten bids but one more seems like a long shot. Setting the over/under at nine seems like a good place to start.