Breaking Down the Big East Bubble TeamsPosted by Todd Keryc on February 25th, 2014
Last week we examined the two-horse race between Creighton and Villanova to determine the Big East regular season champion. Today we take a look at the teams on the cusp of the NCAA Tournament, those who currently sit on what is commonly referred to as the bubble. As crazy as it seems, the two co-leaders are the only Big East teams currently assured of making the NCAA Tournament. At the other end of the spectrum, teams such as Butler, DePaul and Seton Hall can only get in by winning the conference tournament. That leaves five teams — half of the league — sitting in various positions ranging from “in but not out of the woods” to “we have to run the table.” Let’s take a look at the status of each.
Current Status: In But Be Careful. The Musketeers are the likeliest third Big East team in the field. They have 18 wins and sit tied for third in the conference standings. They have a strong early-season win over Cincinnati but that is their only RPI top 50 victory. On the flip side, they only have one loss against a team outside of the RPI top 150 and only two total against teams below the top 100. Xavier also has wins against fellow bubble-mates Tennessee, St. John’s, Providence, Georgetown and Marquette. Of course, they’ve also lost to all of those teams except St. John’s.
Looking Ahead: Crunch Time. There are two ways of looking at Xavier’s remaining schedule. One is that they have several chances to register big wins that could seal their bid. The other way is to say they have a very difficult schedule down the stretch. The Musketeers get both Creighton and Villanova at home, which gives them a huge chance to score a second marquee win and lift their RPI into the top 50. They also have St. John’s on the road in a bubble game and Seton Hall in a chance for revenge after the Pirates beat them in Ohio earlier this season.
Prediction: In. Xavier has the kind of home court advantage that could pull off one, if not both, of the big upset chances remaining on their schedule. Look for them to upset a Big East big boy and big-time it back to the Big Dance.
Current Status: Square on the Bubble. The Johnnies have used a recent run to work their way very much into NCAA Tournament consideration. They have won nine of their last 11 games and the only losses are at Creighton by three and at Villanova by three. Next to the dynamic duo at the top of the Big East standings, the Red Storm have been the best team over the last month. However, their RPI sits in the 50s, they are only 1-5 against the RPI top 50, and they have losses to Penn State and DePaul sitting as black eyes on their resume. What they have going for them is a terrific win against Creighton and they have been red hot (pun intended) over the last month of action.
Looking Ahead: There for the Taking. St. John’s only has three games remaining before the Big East Tournament and, given their current form, all three are winnable. They host Xavier and DePaul this week before finishing the season at Marquette. If they sweep all three, they’ll finish 11-7 in Big East play and would be trending up entering the conference tournament that just so happens to be in their home building. If they slip up against Xavier or Marquette, they will have the local advantage at MSG to try to make a late run in.
Prediction: In But Maybe Heading for Dayton. If the Johnnies continue their hot streak, win their final three games and reach the semifinals at the Garden, they should avoid Dayton. Another loss or an early exit at the Big East Tournament, however, and Steve Lavin’s squad could be facing the ultimate sweat on Selection Sunday and a likely trip to the First Four if they sneak in.
Current Status: Bubbling Over. Providence is sitting exactly on the bubble heading into the final two weeks of the regular season. They are 18-10 overall but just 8-7 in Big East play. They are 61st in the RPI and have that bubble-winning combination of minimal quality wins and minimal shaky losses. The Friars are 1-4 against the RPI top 50 with their best win coming at home against Creighton. They are 12-1 against teams outside the RPI top 100 with the only loss being against Seton Hall on New Year’s Eve. They have had chances recently but if you want to realistically gauge Providence’s chances, take a look at their last eight games. In that stretch, they have two wins against DePaul and one against Butler. In the same span, they have five losses, with those coming against Marquette, St. John’s, Xavier, Georgetown and Villanova. This does not look like a team on the right side of selection at the moment.
Looking Ahead: Time To Turn it Around. Providence has just three games remaining. The Friars play Friday at Seton Hall, then next week at home against Marquette before finishing up at Creighton. A loss to either the Hall or Golden Eagles would be devastating for the Friars’ chances. At a minimum, they need to win those two and then make a little noise in the Big East Tournament. The better move would be to run the table and finish off a season sweep of Creighton. That would give the committee a good reason to put Providence in the Dance, something they may be lacking at the moment.
Prediction: Just Miss. Providence’s best non-conference wins are against Vanderbilt and La Salle, and they have been basically mediocre in league play. They have one of the league’s best players in Bryce Cotton, the kind of guy who could catch fire in March and become a household name in a hurry. But Providence needs to enhance its resume if it will have a chance. Having to go to Creighton on Doug McDermott’s senior day is a brutal ask for a win and I think the Friars are more likely to drop a game before that than they are to take out the Bluejays again.
Current Status: Outside Looking In. The Hoyas looked like they were ready to make a February run. They beat a wounded Michigan State team on a neutral court, then handled business against DePaul, Butler and Providence to start the month. But then they ran into road woes in the northeast, dropping games at St. John’s and at Seton Hall before recovering with a home win against Xavier over the weekend. They played a tougher schedule than most of their Big East brethren and the three non-conference wins against RPI top 50 teams Michigan State, Kansas State and VCU help their cause. But 7-8 in the Big East this year is not going to do the trick. They also have to overcome dreadful losses to Northeastern and a season sweep to Seton Hall. They would be off the radar entirely if not for those three big wins plus…
Looking Ahead: So You’re Saying There’s a Chance. Georgetown finishes at Marquette, home against Creighton and at Villanova. They need to win two of the three just to finish at .500 in Big East play and they probably need two to stay in the NCAA Tournament mix. A sweep and the Hoyas would have the best wins of any Big East bubble team when combining a Creighton/Villanova double with the non-conference slate.
Prediction: NIT. Given Georgetown’s form this season, it is hard to expect them to beat Creighton or Villanova, much less both of them. Given the expectations and pedigree of this team, it is incredible that they may waste a strong non-conference schedule but JTIII and company look a lot like an NIT team.
Current Status: Have to Catch Fire Quickly. Marquette should get credit for a good non-conference schedule that gave the Golden Eagles five games against RPI top 50 teams before league play even began. They just did not win any of them, and now sit as the seventh Big East team looking to get in. They lost to Ohio State, Arizona State, San Diego State, Wisconsin and New Mexico and are currently 0-3 against the Creighton/Villanova combo. Add all of that up and they are 1-8 against RPI top 50 teams (and an incredible 0-7 against the Top 25). They are still hovering on the bubble based on a solid Big East performance and by beating the teams they were supposed to beat.
Looking Ahead: Time to Run the Table. The Golden Eagles still have games remaining against Georgetown, at Villanova, at Providence and home against St. John’s. If they win all four, they’d be 12-6 in Big East play, probably the best of all of the bubble teams. They would still be lacking the non-conference performance that you expect out of a bubble team, but they would at least enter the Big East Tournament with a chance to make it. In particular, they need that win at Villanova to help boost an RPI that currently sits in the mid 70s, an area that rarely produces NCAA Tournament bids.
Prediction: NIT. Amazingly the team picked to win the Big East in the preseason could finish in the neighborhood of third or fourth and still miss the NCAA Tournament. At some point, the Dance is all about who you beat and where you beat them and Marquette simply lacks the kind of resume that gets rewarded in March.