Rob Dauster of Ballin is a Habit is the RTC correspondent for the Big East Conference.
The top of the Big East is stacked. Syracuse is a legitimate national title contender. Villanova may end up as a 1 seed, and West Virginia and Georgetown both look destined to 2 seeds. Hell, Pitt might even be able to play their way into a top four seed if they can figure out their issues down the stretch.
So like I said, the top of the Big East is stacked. But what about the rest of it?
Once you get past Pitt, the Big East basically turns into one giant question mark. Marquette, Louisville, Notre Dame, South Florida, Cincinnati, Seton Hall, UConn. What is the difference between these seven schools? Do any of them actually deserve a bid? After Louisville lost to St. John’s last night, they probably don’t. The reason why might be a little different than you think.
Clearly, none of those seven teams are great teams, and some would struggle to even put them in the pretty good category. But they also aren’t terrible. They are all rated somewhere between 42d (Louisville) and 66th (Marquette) in the RPI. According to Kenpom, Marquette is 18th, Louisville 23rd, and the other five teams are sitting somewhere between 50th and 73rd.
The problem becomes separation. The seven teams in the middle of the Big East are all pretty average, meaning that during Big East play, they are going to beat up on each other. Usually, the MO for teams in the middle of the major conferences is to defend your home court against the teams you should beat, squeak out a couple on the road, and then hope you can topple one of the big boys in the league. If you can get to .500 or better in the major conferences with a couple of decent wins and a marquee win, that generally is enough to earn an at-large berth.
But this season, no one is beating the best teams in the Big East. Beating Villanova and Syracuse are season-changing wins, but Villanova has only lost to Georgetown and Syracuse has only lost to Pitt.* Wins over Georgetown or West Virginia aren’t quite marquee wins, but even those are hard to come by. The Hoyas lost to South Florida and Marquette, while WVU dropped a roadie to Notre Dame.
*Think about this. Let’s assume that Pitt had lost to Syracuse. They would then be 16-7 overall and 6-5 in the conference with wins over UConn, Cincinnati, Louisville, DePaul, St. John’s, and Seton Hall and losses to Seton Hall and South Florida. Is that really all that different from Louisville, who is 15-9 and 6-5 with wins over South Florida, Providence, St. John’s, Cincinnati, UConn, and Rutgers and losses to St. John’s and Seton Hall?
The issue isn’t that the middle of the Big East is terrible. They aren’t. The problem is that they aren’t good enough, and that Syracuse and Villanova are too good, for the teams needing a marquee win to get that marquee win.
Let’s take a quick look at what those seven teams need to do to earn a bid (RPI numbers don’t include games from Thursday night):
- Louisville: The Cardinals’ decent RPI (42) will no doubt take a hit after they lost by 19 to St. John’s on Thursday. With just a 1-6 record against the RPI top 50 (to be fair, they have wins over UConn (RPI 51) and Cincinnati (RPI 52) in addition to the win over South Florida) and losses to Western Carolina and by 22 to Charlotte, the Cardinals desperately need a couple of wins to bolster their resume. They will get the chance, as they play Syracuse twice and get Georgetown at home. My guess is that Louisville needs to go 5-2 over their last seven games for a shot at the tournament.
- South Florida: Its weird talking about South Florida being on the bubble. They have a couple very good wins (Georgetown, Pitt) and just one terrible loss (Central Michigan). More than anything, the Bulls just need to add some depth to their profile, meaning they just need to pick up some more wins. I think USF has a good chance to earn a bid if they can get 10 wins in the league, assuming they don’t drop one to Providence or DePaul. Beat Villanova on the road, and the Bulls will get in with a .500 league record.
- UConn: The Huskies are in big trouble. They have just one quality win (Texas), and even that win is looking less and less impressive. Their RPI (51) is only remaining respectable because their SOS is so high. But UConn will have plenty of chances to boost their resume as five of their last seven games come against teams with a RPI of 52 or better, including Villanova and West Virginia.
- Cincinnati: The Bearcats, despite the lower RPI, may actually be in better shape than UConn. They have a great win over Vanderbilt and another good win against Maryland, but Cincy hasn’t done anything on the road this season and absolutely needs to pick up a couple more quality wins. Cincy will have their shot to close out the season, as they head to West Virginia, get Villanova at home, and play at Georgetown.
- Notre Dame: The Irish lost to Seton Hall on Thursday night, which may have all but done them in. ND is now 6-6 in the league and 17-8 overall, but their only really good win is against West Virginia. The Irish played such a weak schedule in the non-conference that they didn’t leave themselves much room for slip-ups like losing to Rutgers or Loyola Marymount.
- Seton Hall: By beating Notre Dame, Seton Hall also keeps their thin hopes alive. The Pirates are like the Huskies. They don’t really have any horrible losses, but they haven’t really beaten anyone either. The Pirates only play one more game against teams outside of the bottom four in the league. They will likely have to win out for a chance to play in the tournament.
- Marquette: The Golden Eagles are an interesting case. With so many close losses, they are fairly high on Kenpom’s rankings, but sport a 66 in the RPI. They also have a couple very nice wins – Georgetown and Xavier – but not much else. 5-2 down the stretch, with a couple good wins, will get Marquette in.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Kris Joseph, Syracuse
Don’t look now, but Jospeh, who is the Orange’s sixth man, has become the second leading scorer for the Cuse. We said he would be the x-factor for this team, and it looks like he has become just that. He’s long and athletic like Wes Johnson, he can get out and run the floor in transition, he attacks the rim, and he makes plays on the defensive end. This past week, he averaged 15.5 ppg and 5.0 rpg. His two threes against Cincy sparked a late run.
TEAM OF THE WEEK: Georgetown Hoyas
The Hoyas certified themselves as a Final Four contender by going 2-0 this past week, including a beatdown on then-#2 Villanova. Georgetown jumped out to a 50-31 lead at the break on the strength of hot shooting from three, and sealed the game by controlling the ball offensively and hitting their free throws. In the other game this week, Georgetown went on the road Providence and avoided an upset by overcoming a halftime deficit. Austin Freeman continued his fantastic play, averaging 21.0 ppg for the week while Greg Monroe posted averaged of 15.5 ppg, 7.5 rpg, and 9.0 apg.
1. Syracuse: 24-1, 11-1
Last Week: 2/7 @ Cinci 71-54, 2/10 vs. UConn 72-67
Next Week: 2/14 vs. Louisville, 2/18 @ Georgetown
2. Villanova: 21-2, 10-1
Last Week: 2/6 @ Georgetown 90-103, 2/8 @ West Virginia 82-75
Next Week: 2/13 vs. Providence, 2/15 vs. UConn
3. Georgetown: 18-5, 8-4
Last Week: 2/6 vs. Nova 103-90, 2/10 @ Providence 79-70
Next Week: 2/14 @ Rutgers, 2/18 vs. Syracuse
4. West Virginia: 19-4, 8-3
Last Week: 2/6 @ St. John’s 79-60, 2/8 vs. Nova 75-82
Next Week: 2/12 @ Pitt, 2/17 @ Providence
5. Pitt: 18-6, 7-4
Last Week: 2/6 vs. Seton Hall 83-58, 2/8 vs. Robert Morris 77-53
Next Week: 2/12 vs. West Virginia, 2/18 @ Marquette
6. Marquette: 15-8, 6-5
Last Week: 2/6 @ Providence 82-79
Next Week: 2/13 vs. South Florida, 2/18 vs. Pitt
7. Louisville: 15-9, 6-5
Last Week: 2/6 vs. Rutgers 76-60, 2/11 @ St. John’s 55-74
Next Week: 2/14 @ Syracuse, 2/17 vs. Notre Dame
8. Notre Dame: 17-8, 6-6
Last Week: 2/7 vs. South Florida 65-62, 2/11 @ Seton Hall 87-90
Next Week: 2/14 vs. St. John’s, 2/17 @ Louisville
9. South Florida: 15-8, 5-6
Last Week: 2/7 @ Notre Dame 62-65
Next Week: 2/13 @ Marquette, 2/16 vs. Cincinnati
10. Cincinnati: 14-9, 5-6
Last Week: 2/7 vs. Syracuse 54-71
Next Week: 2/13 @ UConn, 2/16 @ South Florida
11. UConn: 14-10, 4-7
Last Week: 2/6 vs. DePaul 64-57, 2/10 @ Syracuse 67-72
Next Week: 2/13 vs. Cincinnati, 2/15 @ Villanova
12. Seton Hall: 13-9, 4-7
Last Week: 2/6 @ Pitt 58-83, 2/11 vs. Notre Dame 87-90
Next Week: 2/14 vs. Louisville, 2/18 @ Georgetown
13. Providence: 12-12, 4-8
Last Week: 2/6 vs. Marquette 79-82, 2/9 vs. Georgetown 70-79
Next Week: 2/13 @ Villanova, 2/17 vs. West Virginia
14. St. John’s: 13-10, 3-8
Last Week: 2/6 vs. Louisville 60-79, 2/11 vs. West Virginia 74-55
Next Week: 2/14 @ Notre Dame, 2/17 vs. Seton Hall
15. Rutgers: 12-12, 2-9
Last Week: 2/6 @ Louisville 60-76, 2/8 vs. Caldwell 70-62
Next Week: 2/14 vs. Georgetown, 2/16 @ DePaul
16. DePaul: 8-15, 1-10
Last Week: 2/6 @ UConn 57-64
Next Week: 2/14 @ Seton Hall, 2/16 vs. Rutgers