As of today, here's a look at what the Big East Standings look like with three weeks left to play in the regular season:
Pittsburgh 10 – 1 (.909); 22 – 2 (.917)
Notre Dame 9 - 3 (.750); 20 - 4 (.833)
Georgetown 8 - 4 (.667); 19 - 5 (.792)
Villanova 7 - 4 (.636); 19 - 5 (.792)
Louisville 7 - 4 (.636); 18 - 6 (.750)
Connecticut 6 - 4 (.600); 18 - 4 (.818)
Syracuse 7 - 5 (.583); 20 - 5 (.800)
Cincinnati 6 - 5 (.545); 19 - 5 (.792)
West Virginia 6 - 5 (.545); 15 - 8 (.652)
Marquette 6 - 5 (.545); 15 - 9 (.625)
St. John's 5 - 5 (.500); 13 - 9 (.591)
Rutgers 4 - 8 (.333); 13 - 11 (.542)
Seton Hall 4 - 8 (.333); 10 - 14 (.417)
Providence 3 - 8 (.273); 14 - 10 (.583)
USF 2 - 10 (.167); 8 - 17 (.320)
DePaul 0 - 11 (.000); 6 - 18 (.250)
For anyone concerned about Pitt "only" beating Rutgers by three at the RAC two weeks ago, your worries are no more. Be thankful Pitt actually pulled out the win, as the Scarlet Knights had one of their biggest wins ever in a 79-78 win over No. 9 Villanova on Wednesday night. The game came down to a four-point play from senior Jonathan Mitchell, with 0.8 seconds left in the game.
Villanova's loss combined with Louisville's 89-79 overtime loss at Notre Dame Wednesday impact Pitt significantly. Both the Villanova and Louisville losses on Wednesday night put the Panthers three full games ahead of the Wildcats and Cardinals, with seven games left to play. Additionally, the win over Louisville gives Notre Dame another tiebreaker among the current top five. Currently, Pitt only holds a tiebraker over third-place Georgetown. Notre Dame holds tiebreakers over Pitt, Louisville and Georgetown, with a game against Villanova on February 28.
Of course, a win for Pitt at the Pauley Pavilion on Saturday, or any place on the road in the Big East, is uncertain as it is anywhere. In fact, there's no given assumption anywhere anymore. Look no further than the Wildcats, who had won 15 of 19 meetings against Rutgers since the Scarlet Knights joined the Big East in 1996, including seven of the previous ten meetings at the RAC.
Though Pitt's loss to Notre Dame looks like it will hurt the Panthers in terms of RPI less and less as the Irish keep winning, it's still disheartening knowing the Panthers led the Irish up until nine minutes remaining in that game. Though 10-1 in Big East play to this point is impressive, 11-0 would be a little bit more comforting at this point. Pitt has just a game and a half on the Irish in the standings, which is not much given the parity in the Big East this year and the fact that there are still seven conference games for Pitt, and now just six remaining for the Irish.
Still, Pitt is the team who benefits the most from the losses that amounted in the Big East on Wednesday night. Pitt is still at least a week away from clinching a first-round bye in the Big East Tournament, but they are also the team who is in most control of their own destiny.
Even though Georgetown leaps past Louisville, Villanova and now Syracuse in the standings, the Orange have a chance to make up for it with a rematch at Georgetown on February 26. Either way, the top four seeds will come down to that last weekend of February. Six teams, battling for the top four spots, will all play each other (Pitt at Louisville, Villanova at Notre Dame, Syracuse and Georgetown).
With Syracuse losing to Georgetown, coupled with Pitt's wins over both Syracuse and Georgetown, this particular game means the most to Pitt in terms of finishing in the top four of the standings, and clinching a first-round bye in the Big East Tournament. With 2 ½ games up on the Hoyas, and a full 3 ½ ahead of Syracuse and tiebreakers over both, Pitt would need to lose at least three of their remaining games on their Big East schedule, coupled with unbeaten marks by both Georgetown and Syracuse, to even slip out of contention. On the other hand, if Pitt wins its next three games, regardless of what the Hoyas and Orange do over their next three games, the Panthers could clinch a first-round bye as early as next Saturday at St. John's, a game that ironically takes place at Madison Square Garden.
Here's a look at the remaining schedules of the top five teams in the Big East standings right now:
2/12 at Villanova, 9 pm
2/16 vs. USF, 7 pm
2/19 at St. John's, Noon
2/24 vs West Virginia, 9 pm
2/27 at Louisville, 2 pm
2/12 at USF, Noon
2/19 at West Virginia, 1 pm
2/23 at Providence, 7 pm
2/26 vs. Seton Hall, 7 pm
2/28 vs. Villanova, 7 pm
2/13 vs. Marquette, 1 pm
2/16 at UConn, 7 pm
2/19 at USF, 7 pm
2/23 vs. Cincinnati, 9 pm
2/26 vs. Syracuse, Noon
2/12 vs. Syracuse, Noon
2/16 at Cincinnati, 7 pm
2/18 vs. Connecticut, 9 pm
2/22 at Rutgers, 9 pm
2/27 vs. Pitt, 2 pm
2/12 vs. Pitt, 9 pm
2/15 at Seton Hall, 7 pm
2/19 at DePaul, Noon
2/21 vs. Syracuse, 7 pm
2/26 vs. St. John's, 2 pm
2/28 at Notre Dame, 7 pm
The Panthers could go 3-2 over these next five games, and the rest of the teams could go 4-1. Here's what the conference standings would then look like:
Notre Dame 13-4
If Pitt goes anything better than 3-2 over the next five games, all the more comforting it will be. If they would happen to go a perfect 5-0 over the next five games, and even if Notre Dame goes a perfect 5-0 over the next five games, Pitt still has that game and a half lead over the Irish. If it gets to that point, Pitt has a road game at USF (March 2) and a home finale against Villanova on March 5. Notre Dame only has a game at UConn on March 5. If it all comes down to this—with both the Panthers and Irish going 5-0 in their next five games—Pitt just needs to win at USF on March 2 to clinch first place. Of course this is all still a long way off, but will become more clear with each passing slate of Big East games.
Though Pitt is still a long ways away from clinching first-place in the conference, it took a step closer without even playing on Wednesday, thanks to wins from Georgetown, Rutgers and Notre Dame. Obviously, games against Villanova and Louisville—with both of those teams among the top five in the Big East standings—are the biggest on the remaining schedule in terms of both clinching first-place and/or a first-round bye in the Big East Tournament.