As the season winds down, we examine each team's chances to get an extra day off before post season play begins. Since no team has ever played on Wednesday and won the Big East tournament, that's a goal worth attaining.
With three road games remaining out of its final four, including a tough road trip to UConn, the Wildcats certainly don't have an easy path left. However, even a shocking four-game losing streak probably wouldn't be enough to drop 'Nova out of the top four. A trip to Cincinnati and a home date against St. John's should be wins, and the trip to resurgent Syracuse, while not easy, could be another win.
OUTLOOK: Villanova cruises to a bye with a 14-2 mark.
The Huskies are pointing to Sunday's rematch with Villanova, and have a favorable schedule down the stretch. Closing the season at winless South Florida and at home against Louisville won't do much to hurt UConn's record.
OUTLOOK: The best team in the nation sails to the finish with a 3-0 mark to claim the second of four byes.
And now it gets interesting. The Panthers and Mountaineers game on Feb. 27 will do much to sort our their order of finish and determine the final two byes. West Virginia must win that game to gain a season split, which would then send the teams into tiebreaker mode to determine the final standings if they finish in a tie. (See the Big East tiebreaker procedures for details.) Both teams lost to UConn, and the Panthers did not play Villanova, so in the event the two teams finsih with the same record the tiebreakers would likely come down to their play against Marquette or Georgetown. WVU holds the tiebreaker advantage if the comparison comes down to Georgetown, while the Marquette games would be passed over due to the tiebreaker rules.
All that makes the WVU game very important for Pitt, as its other two remaining games, against Providence and Seton Hall, figure to be victories for the Panthers.
OUTLOOK: Most WVU fans are already counting the Pitt game as a win, but the Panthers' sticky defense certainly gives them a chance of pulling off a season sweep. A closing 2-1 record gives Pitt a shot at the third bye in the league, but two Georgetown wins puts that hope in serious peril.
WEST VIRGINIA (9-4)
WVU controls its own destiny, but has probably the toughest closing schedules of any of the contenders. Dangerous Louisville, which is fighting for its tournament life, bitter foe Pitt and a road trip to resurgent Cincinnati all offer landmines on West Virginia's once seemingly-safe path to the top four. The weekend homestand against the Cardinals and Panthers offer WVU a chance to sew up one of the league's byes with more than a week to go.
OUTLOOK: Although many are hopping off the WVU bandwagon, the thinking here is that the Mountaineers have too much experience, and too much home court advantage, to let a top four spot slip away now. Look for at least a 2-1 record down the stretch to earn the Mountaineers a Wednesday off in New York.
Trailing WVU and Pitt by just a half-game are the Hoyas, but their pursuit of those two teams is quite different. WVU owns the head-to-head tiebreaker, so the G-men need to win two more games than the Mountaineers in order to pass them in the standings. However, the reverse is true in the case of Georgetown and Pitt, as the Hoyas defeated the Panthers in their only meeting this year. With games left against Syracuse and South Florida, an 11-5 record is a strong possibility for G-town, and of the teams currently outside the top four, they look to have the best chance to move up.
OUTLOOK: The Hoyas figure to win their final two games, but a good bit of their bye hopes ride on the outcome of the Pitt-West Virginia game. They'll be pulling hard for the Mountaineers to give the Panthers the one loss they need to drop into a tie with them by season's end. They also need Marquette to lose one of its last three games in order to stay ahead of the Golden Eagles, who hold the tiebreaker by virtue of a head-to-head win.
The Golden Eagles have a huge game with Notre Dame, which is fighting for its tournament life, up next. Past that, winnable games against Louisville (which will have a huge effect on the standings at the top of the league, with games remaining against UConn and WVU as well) and Providence will help Marquette build its resume down the stretch. Like Georgetown, Marquette loses to WVU on the head-to-head basis, but its 1-1 record against Pitt would put it into a tiebreaker race with the Panthers.
OUTLOOK: The Golden Eagles must win their final three and have West Virginia and one other team above it stumble down the stretch, but that's certainly a possibility in the ultra-competitive Big East.
Seton Hall, Syracuse and Cincinnati all trail this pack with 7-6 conference marks, but for any of that group to jump into contention, a number of pieces would have to fall into place. First, the Pirates, Orange or Bearcats would have to win their three remaining league games, then see at least one, and possbily two, of the top six in the conference lay a goose egg for the remainder of the regular season. Possible, but not likely.