Big East Weekend Wrap

Posted by Justin Kundrat on November 17th, 2014

The Big East Weekend Wrap will cover news and notes from the weekend’s games.

After an 11-game slate of games for the Big East’s 10 teams,  the league remains perfect. While none of those 11 games were against top competition, wins are wins at this point in the season and losses here can really damage a team’s NCAA Tournament resume. Despite the relative talent imbalance between most of the Big East teams and their opponents, some of these games were shockingly close and may have provided wake-up calls for teams and players who were still stuck in preseason mode. For others, it could be a sign of things to come. Below is a list of five key takeaways from the weekend’s Big East action.

Villanova Made Enough Twos to Make Up for a Cold Shooting Night From Three

Villanova Made Enough Twos to Make Up for a Cold Shooting Night From Three

  • Villanova came out flat, shooting 3-of-23 from deep in the first half before finishing 8-of-33 (24.2%) on the night. Those off nights were a major concern for this team last season when the offense sputtered and failed to create easy baskets when the three-point shot wasn’t falling. Starting guards Dylan Ennis and Ryan Arcidiacono combined for 10-of-28 shooting from the floor while senior wing Darrun Hilliard shot just 4-of-18 and 1-of-9 from deep. The Wildcats forced enough turnovers (28) and got enough points in transition to put Lehigh away, but the win was not a comfortable one by any means. The Wildcats’ shooting numbers are worth watching moving forward.
  • Creighton swept its weekend slate, finishing 2-0 against Central Arkansas and Chicago State by a combined 45 points. The biggest question for the Bluejays coming into this season was how the team would respond without its offensive centerpiece, Doug McDermott. While neither of the above teams was strong enough defensively to provide an answer to this question, the offense continued to fire on all cylinders. Creighton hoisted up a whopping 56 three-point shots in the two games, making just 19 of them, which is disappointing for a team that led the country in this category at 41.5%. Yet the offense was the same free-flowing, unselfish and pass-heavy one we saw last season. Senior center Will Artino was highly efficient with his touches in the paint in limited minutes, with sophomore Isaiah Zierden providing strong scoring output off the bench. Look for Toby Hegner to make a name for himself this season: the 6’9 freshman contributed 17 points and seven rebounds, including 3-of-6 shooting from deep.

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Big East Conference Preview: Xavier, Georgetown & Villanova

Posted by Justin Kundrat on November 14th, 2014

The Big East microsite will preview each Big East team in tiers in preparation for the season’s tipoff. The bottom tier was released earlier this week; it can be found here. Yesterday: the middle tier of the conferenceToday: the top tier, including Xavier, Georgetown and Villanova.

#3: Xavier

Xavier's Matt Stainbrook is a Load on the Blocks

Xavier’s Matt Stainbrook is a Load on the Blocks

Xavier’s projected top three finish is less a testament to the team being talented and more a statement about the lack of quality, NCAA-caliber teams in the Big East this season. But that’s not to say the Musketeers will be a bad team. Senior Matt Stainbrook, arguably the conference’s most talented big man, will play a crucial role in serving as the team’s go-to scorer and anchor in the paint. While the 6’10” center has not been considered a primary option in his career, he has started in almost every game dating back to his first two years at Western Michigan. Coming off a season in which he averaged 10.6 points on 55.6 percent shooting (second in the Big East) and 7.4 rebounds (5th in the Big East) in just 24.4 minutes per game, head coach Chris Mack knows what he has in Stainbrook. With the departure of leading scorer Semaj Christon to the NBA, Stainbrook will be the team’s number one option. Also gone from last year’s NCAA Tournament team are two additional starters: junior forward Justin Martin (transfer) and senior forward Isaiah Philmore (graduation), who together combined for 29 percent of the team’s total points per game.

Yet the Musketeers still find themselves with a projected third place finish. Aside from Stainbrook, there are two reasons for this. First, point guard Dee Davis is back for his senior season. Davis has shown over his career that he can run an offense, averaging 4.7 assists per game last season (second in the Big East) with an assist-to-turnover ratio of 2.5-to-1. Second, Xavier brings in guard Remy Abell, an Indiana transfer, and six new freshman in an incoming class that ranks as one of the best in the program’s history. Headlining this list is 6’5 forward Trevon Bluiett, who could very well be the conference’s second best freshman behind Isaiah Whitehead. Bluiett is a big time scorer at the wing, and he will most likely see immediate playing time in the starting lineup as the Musketeers’ depth at the wings is limited. Additionally, the development of rising sophomores Jalen Reynolds and Myles Davis, who round out the starting lineup, will be instrumental in determining Xavier’s postseason success. Both players have shown flashes coming off the bench, but will need to find consistency if Xavier is to push for another NCAA Tournament bid. Given the team’s relatively weak non-conference schedule this season, the Musketeers will have to capitalize on their games versus projected conference front-runners Georgetown and Villanova.

#2: Georgetown

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Four Teams in the Preseason Top 10: Banner Year for the ACC?

Posted by Brett Thompson on November 12th, 2014

The Atlantic Coast Conference looks poised to have a dominant season among basketball’s top conferences, boasting four of the nation’s preseason top 10 teams in Duke, North Carolina, Virginia and Louisville. After a short one-year stint in the American Athletic Conference, Louisville is the latest former Big East team to join the ACC, while the Blue Devils, Tar Heels and Cavaliers are ACC mainstays — each hopes to carry the conference banner to the finish line in March. Virginia wants to defend its conference title and prove last season wasn’t a fluke; Louisville hopes to send a message in its ACC debut; and the Tobacco Road teams are hoping to make it back to their rightful place in the Sweet Sixteen and beyond. Simply put, the ACC is going to be a war at the top of the standings, and each team has a major driver pushing it this year.

Virginia's ascendance will only help the ACC's argument that it's the premier basketball conference (USA Today Sports)

Virginia’s ascendance will only help the ACC’s argument that it’s the premier basketball conference (USA Today Sports)

This season marks the third time since 2002 that a conference has had four teams in the preseason top 10. Ironically, both of these instances came courtesy of the Big East. In 2011, the conference placed Connecticut and current ACC members Pittsburgh, Syracuse and Louisville within the top 10; and in 2008, Connecticut, Pittsburgh, Louisville, and another current ACC member, Notre Dame, topped the list. In each of those years, the ACC’s only two representatives were — who else? — Duke and North Carolina. This definitely speaks to the prestige of the basketball programs that the ACC has added in recent years, and it’s not implausible to think the ACC could place even more than four squads in the top 10 in coming seasons.

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Big East Conference Preview: Seton Hall, Providence & St. John’s

Posted by Justin Kundrat on November 12th, 2014

The Big East microsite will preview each Big East team in tiers in preparation for the season’s tipoff on Friday. The bottom tier was released yesterday; it can be found here. Today: Seton Hall, Providence and St. John’s make up the middle tier of the conference.

#6: Seton Hall

The Kevin Willard era hasn't been great so far, but this might be his most talented team. (Getty)

The Kevin Willard era hasn’t been great so far, but this might be his most talented team. (Getty)

The Kevin Willard era at Seton Hall has not been a successful one by any stretch of the imagination. After a 21-10 season at Iona in 2010, Willard’s Pirates have continually found themselves outmatched by Big East opponents, producing just one subsequent season above .500 during his tenure. Yet you can’t argue with his recruiting results of late: In 2013, Willard brought in four-star point guard Jaren Sina, a highly-skilled passer and shooter who was coveted coming by many, with offers from the likes of Memphis, Villanova and Pittsburgh. This year Willard brings in a top-tier recruit in shooting guard Isaiah Whitehead, who ranks #2 in the country at his position. Couple him with a 6’8″ four-star power forward in Angel Delgado, a strong rebounder for his size, and four other three-star recruits and Willard’s latest recruiting class was ranked 12th nationally as a result. Whitehead’s impact is expected to be immediate — the 6’4″ shooting guard was a McDonald’s All-American and has shown an ability to score in a number of different ways. It should come as no surprise that the media pegged him as the favorite to win this season’s Big East Freshman of the Year award. His talent, in addition to the return of backcourt mates Sterling Gibbs and Sina, will without question force opponents to play small in order to contest the Hall’s perimeter attack and stop transition buckets. However, the Pirates also lose three senior starters and junior forward Patrick Auda, and their collective loss of leadership will not go unnoticed. Rising senior Brandon Mobley will also need all the frontcourt help he can get from Delgado and redshirt freshman Rashed Anthony. The Pirates are expected to feature some three-guard sets, and should boast one of the best backcourts in the conference — the key will be finding ways to mask their relative lack of size in the paint, which wasn’t as big of a problem with Gene Teague. An NIT berth is certainly not out of the question for this young, talented squad, and it will completely depend on how well the backcourt gels over the course of the season. Read the rest of this entry »

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Big East Conference Preview: DePaul, Creighton, Marquette & Butler

Posted by Justin Kundrat on November 11th, 2014

The Big East microsite will preview each conference team in tiers in preparation for the season tipoff on Friday night.

#10: DePaul. As a perennial Big East bottom-dweller, it should come as no surprise that DePaul finds itself at the bottom of the preseason list once again. Turnovers and shooting percentages were abysmal last season (#269 and #257, respectively), and the team was too focused on pushing the pace to get crucial stops down the stretch (#326 in opponents’ effective field goal percentage). The loss of three contributors from last season’s 12-21 squad and an underwhelming recruiting class puts DePaul right where they finished last season: dead last. However, that’s not to say things won’t turn around here eventually. The team returns two key sophomores in Billy Garrett Jr., a 6’6 guard with the ball-handling skills of a one and the length of a small forward, and Tommy Hamilton, a 6’10” sophomore whose shooting ability makes him a mismatch for most defenders. To offset the loss of last year’s go-to guy, Brandon Young, DePaul has brought in a recruiting class featuring a transfer from Illinois, Myke Henry, and three junior college players, who, along with lone senior Jamee Crockett, are expected to offer much needed experience. Anyone who has watched the Blue Demons recently knows that there are a handful of talented pieces here that could serve as building blocks for the future, but with every step forward, there are two steps back. Garrett and Hamilton will certainly improve, but these are players who haven’t yet been asked to lead a winning program. With Young and running mate Cleveland Melvin now gone, defenses will turn their attention to Garrett and force other players to score. It appears to be yet another long season for DePaul.

Greg McDermott Needs to Figure Out What to Do Next (Getty Images).

Greg McDermott Needs to Figure Out What to Do Next (Getty Images).

#9: Creighton. Last season’s success marked a coming of age of sorts for Creighton. Four-year star Doug McDermott won the National Player of the Year award and graduated with the honor of ranking fifth all-time in points scored at the Division I level; the team posted its fourth consecutive 20-win season and was invited to its third consecutive NCAA Tournament; and the Bluejays ran one of the most efficient offenses in the country. But gone are the players who got them there. Four of the team’s five starters have since graduated, leaving senior point guard Austin Chatman to fill the void as the lone returning player who averaged more than 17 minutes per game. He will be joined by seniors Devin Brooks and Will Artino along with rising sophomore Isaiah Zierdan in what will without question be called a rebuilding year. Head coach Greg McDermott will likely be more concerned with the cohesion and development of his top recruits, Ronnie Harrell and Leon Gilmore, the first of whom has drawn favorable comparisons to former Creighton star Kyle Korver. Both should fill in nicely for a team that will lack depth at the forward position. Perhaps a projected ninth-place finish in this conference is too harsh given the return of four seniors who have plenty of experience playing in the Creighton system, but there are too many question marks around how they will perform without their All-American scoring machine in the lineup. Although there is enough talent here to finish much higher, such a result will be highly dependent on whether Artino, Brooks and the other former role players who flourished when McDermott drew the attention of defenses can prove themselves as reliable Big East starters. For now, the safe bet is on no.

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UConn and the ACC: The One That Got Away

Posted by Chris Kehoe on April 4th, 2014

When the most recent jumble of conference realignment was underway, the ACC squarely targeted the Big East for its newest conquests. Commissioner John Swofford wanted to add programs that were strong in the revenue sports of football and basketball, holding distinctive geographic locations that would open up the conference to new fans and marketing possibilities. The ACC won out in a big way, snagging prominent athletic programs at Syracuse, Louisville, Notre Dame and Pittsburgh from the old Big East. While these programs are have had varying degrees of success in the sport that drives realignment, Notre Dame is the only football name brand (and the Irish retained their football independence). So while the current athletic landscape is shaped by the financial juggernaut that is college football, the ACC locked up some of the country’s most elite basketball programs.

UConn has a rising star in Head Coach Kevin Ollie (credit: CT Post)

UConn has a rising star in Head Coach Kevin Ollie (credit: CT Post)

So while the ACC may have sought greater football legitimacy as its primary goal, the league also landed two massively successful basketball programs in Syracuse and Louisville. As a result, the ACC may very well have positioned itself as the basketball conference of the future, made up of most if not all of the best programs up and down the East Coast. That is, with one notable exception. As the league plundered the Big East, it may have made a drastic mistake from a basketball perspective. The ACC left behind a basketball powerhouse in its own right, Connecticut, a school that all but pleaded for entry into the ACC and a Final Four participant in a season when no conference team made it past the Sweet Sixteen. Recall the silly preseason talk about how the ACC was supposed to be ‘the best ever’, and it leaves you wondering if the exclusion of a program like UConn was the right move. The basketball program based in Storrs has had continued and sustained excellence in the sport over a long period of time, winning the national title three times since 1999 (as well as 2004 and 2011), and putting 13 players into the NBA as lottery picks since 1994. Few programs can match that record.

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Virginia Tech Earns Instant Credibility With Hire of Buzz Williams

Posted by Lathan Wells on March 25th, 2014

When Virginia Tech announced on Friday that it had poached head coach Buzz Williams from Marquette to replace the recently-fired James Johnson, the immediate reaction was that of general astonishment. Why on Earth would Williams leave a team he’d taken to the postseason in five out of six years on the bench to a program that had only reached the Big Dance once since 1996 and has finished last in the ACC three years running? While the reasons, thoroughly outlined here, became more apparent in the ensuing days, the real story is the amazing acquisition made by new Virginia Tech athletic director, Whit Babcock. The hiring of Williams and the way it managed to circle all of the major media outlets during the opening weekend of NCAA Tournament play, gave the Hokies basketball program something it hasn’t experienced in years: instant credibility.

Buzz Williams Virginia Tech PR campaign included a TNT appearance during the NCAA's (cbssports.com)

Buzz Williams’ Virginia Tech PR campaign included a TNT appearance during the NCAA Tournament (cbssports.com)

Williams oversaw a very successful Marquette program in the Big East, going an impressive 139-69 in his six years at the helm and taking the school to two Sweet Sixteen appearances and an Elite Eight run. No doubt his ability to navigate a difficult conference schedule (prior to realignment) and enjoy postseason success was extremely attractive to a Hokies program just trying to get noticed. Williams obviously looked around the ravaged Big East — a conference that the ACC raided to bring in Syracuse, Notre Dame, and Pittsburgh — and saw a chance to jump to the premier basketball conference in the land to match wits with four Hall of Fame coaches in Roy Williams, Rick Pitino, Jim Boeheim, and Mike Krzyzewski. Some may have originally seen the move as a bizarre one (especially Williams’ pay cut from $3 million to $2.3 million annually) , but coupling the chance to compete in the new-look ACC with the uncertainty in the Marquette administration as well as the state of the weakened Big East, the decision began to make more sense.

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Rushed Reactions: #7 Connecticut 77, #2 Villanova 65

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 22nd, 2014

RTC_tourneycoverage

Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCeastregion@RTCMWregion,@RTCsouthregion and @RTCwestregion.

Three Key Takeaways.

Shabazz Napier had a big night, and the Huskies are heading to the Sweet Sixteen. (Credit: UConn Athletic Communications/Stephen Slade)

Shabazz Napier had a big night, and the Huskies are heading to the Sweet Sixteen. (Credit: UConn Athletic Communications/Stephen Slade)

  1. Shabazz Napier was awesome. Killer crossovers, in-your-face threes, acrobatic layups – Napier took the game over in the second half like only he could. The senior guard scored 21 points in the final 20 minutes – including three straight triples midway through the period – to give Connecticut the edge in what had looked to be a barnburner. Even a late, seemingly serious ankle injury couldn’t stop the AAC Player of the Year. After sitting out a minute or two of action, Napier returned with a bang, making a crucial reverse layin and nailing several big free throws to effectively finish off the Wildcats. He ended the night with 25 points, just one more than he scored against Saint Joseph’s on Thursday, but the difference was his efficiency: Napier shot 9-of-13 from the field and 4-of-8 from distance.
  2. The Huskies’ defense shined during key stretches. Connecticut entered the night ranked 15th in the country in defensive efficiency, and that stinginess was on full display during several crucial periods against Villanova. When the Huskies trailed 20-11 at the 10-minute mark of the first half, their defense promptly shut out the Wildcats for over nine straight minutes and enabled the offense to chip away at the lead. Then, following a back-and-forth start to the second half, Connecticut asserted itself on the interior and prevented Jay Wright’s club from finding any good looks in the paint. It put a lot of pressure on Villanova’s three-point shooters, who were unable to carry the full load.
  3. Villanova probably overachieved in 2013-14, and it will be back. Many people felt the Wildcats were the most vulnerable #2 seed entering the NCAA Tournament, and they were probably correct. The fact is that this team likely won more games than it should have this season, especially considering their lack of NBA-caliber talent (according to projections) and limited experience. But the good news for Jay Wright is that – aside from James Bell – every significant contributor returns to the Main Line next year. Expect very good things out of Villanova in 2014-15.

Star of the GameShabazz Napier (25 points, five rebounds, three assists, 9-of-13 FG). Who else? The star point guard was extremely efficient and took the game over in the second half, nailing big shot after big shot and propelling Connecticut on to the Sweet Sixteen.

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Rushed Reactions: #2 Villanova 73, #15 Milwaukee 53

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 20th, 2014

RTC_tourneycoverage

Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCeastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCsouthregion and @RTCwestregion.

Three Key Takeaways.

Villanova will need to be better on Saturday in order to beat Connecticut.  (Ron Cortes/Staff Photographer)

Villanova will need to be better on Saturday in order to beat Connecticut. (Ron Cortes/Staff Photographer)

  1. Villanova can’t shoot like this and expect to go anywhere. Three-point shooting is a big component of the Wildcats’ offense, and they were absolutely awful from behind the arc tonight. After starting an ice-cold 0-of-17, Villanova finished just 4-of-23 from distance. James Bell, the team’s most relied-upon shooter, went 0-of-8. It proved to be alright against Milwaukee, because the defense was stout – holding the Panthers to 28.6 percent shooting from the floor – but the Big East regular season champs will not get away with similar results against Connecticut on Saturday, especially with the Huskies’ strong interior defense.
  2. We didn’t learn much about the Wildcats. Following Villanova’s Big East tournament loss to Seton Hall last week, no one really knew what to make of the Wildcats heading into the Big Dance. Sure, they are a #2 seed and yes, they won 28 games this season, but nothing really jumps off the page about this team. Are they a Final Four contender or a flawed group susceptible to an early upset? Unfortunately, nothing about their ho-hum victory over the Panthers answered that question. They never looked dominant – their lead wasn’t blown open until the last five minutes – but they also never looked truly threatened. The jury’s still out on these guys.
  3. Can they contain Shabazz Napier in the same way they contained Jordan Aaron? Milwaukee guard Jordan Aaron is no Shabazz Napier, but he is a solid player who can create his own shot and score in bunches. Villanova shut him down tonight, limiting the senior to just six points on 1-of-15 shooting. Whatever blueprint they used against the Panthers’ best player, they might want to consider using against Napier this weekend as well.

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NCAA Tournament Instareaction: Big East Teams

Posted by George Hershey on March 16th, 2014

Four Big East teams were selected to participate in the NCAA Tournament, a solid showing for the new league. At one point it looked like up to six teams could be dancing, but even more recently it was a realistic possibility that only two teams would earn bids. Below are a few quick thoughts on the four Big East selections.

Jay Wright and the Wildcats should be excited about their chances

Jay Wright and the Wildcats should be excited about their chances

  • Villanova has to be very happy about its region: The Wildcats will play in Buffalo the first weekend, and if they make it to the second week, will remain nearby at New York City’s Madison Square Garden. The Wildcats will miss ssome of the most dangerous top-three seeds, such as Duke and Syracuse, and will probably face Iowa State, a beatable Big 12 team with some flaws, in the Sweet Sixteen. The top seed in the region is Virginia, a great team deserving of the honor, but Villanova was only one spot behind them on the official seed list, so Jay Wright’s team should be feeling confident that it can beat anybody in the region.
  • Creighton’s #3 seed was surprising: Most, including Doug McDermott, thought that the Bluejays would be a #4 seed in this Tournament, but they ended up on the #3 line, similar to Marquette’s placement a year ago. The Bluejays do not have the easiest path, with a potential second game against Baylor in San Antonio and a trip to Anaheim for the second week if they advance that far. Creighton is similar to Wisconsin in many ways and should match up well if they are to play the Badgers. If they end up playing Arizona for a spot in the Final Four, Ethan Wragge could exploit the Wildcats’ frontcourt by drawing them outside their comfort zones.

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Otskey’s Observations: Episode XV, Player and Coach of the Year Edition

Posted by Brian Otskey (@botskey) on March 6th, 2014

Each week throughout the season, RTC columnist Brian Otskey (@botskey) will run down his observations from the previous week of college basketball.

As the college basketball regular season wraps up, I thought this would be a good time to run down my Coaches of the Year and Players of the Year in each of the major conferences. Here goes…

ACC

  • POY: T.J. Warren, NC State (24.2 PPG, 6.9 RPG, 1.8 SPG). Warren has been a tremendous bright spot on an otherwise mediocre Wolfpack squad. Since a rough four-point game against Virginia on January 11, Warren has scored at least 20 points in every game he has played (he missed one game due to injury). At 6’8” and an athletic 215 pounds, Warren is a match-up problem for nearly every opponent. He has had eight 30+ point games (only one fewer than Doug McDermott), including Monday’s 41-point explosion in a road win at Pittsburgh. Some may disagree because NC State is not at the top of the ACC, but a season like this where Warren brought it night after night deserves special recognition.
Tony Bennett has done a tremendous job at Virginia. (virginiasports.com)

Tony Bennett has done a tremendous job at Virginia. (virginiasports.com)

  • COY: Tony Bennett, Virginia (25-5, 16-1 ACC). Bennett’s teams have always been terrific defensively and this one is no exception. Ranked third nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency, Virginia has allowed only four ACC opponents to score 60 or more points this season. Even in a league with a tempo as slow as this year’s ACC, that is a remarkable statistic. Virginia was a trendy surprise pick but I am not sure anyone thought it would turn out to be this good. The Cavaliers were picked fourth in the preseason ACC poll but currently hold a three-game lead over Syracuse and North Carolina with just one game to play.

American

  • POY: Russ Smith, Louisville (18.0 PPG, 4.5 APG, 2.0 SPG). This was a really close call between Smith and Cincinnati’s Sean Kilpatrick but I am giving Smith the slightest of edges. Both mean so much to their respective teams but Smith’s decision to return to Louisville for his senior year has proven to be a wise one. Smith is enjoying the best shooting season of his career (46.8 percent) and has matured greatly. He is playing smarter and has led this Louisville team to a 25-5 overall record. The Cardinals again have the look of a Final Four contender and Smith is the primary reason why.

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Breaking Down the Big East Bubble Teams

Posted 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.

XAVIER

Chris Mack is Safe For Now But Shouldn't 'Get too Comfortable (Getty)

Chris Mack is Safe For Now But Shouldn’t ‘Get too Comfortable (Getty)

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.

ST JOHN’S

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.

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