Sprint To The Finish

With a quick break in the Big East conference schedule before the final furious two weeks, it's a good time to see how the teams stack up in the race for the Big East title, byes and positioning in the league tournament, and, perhaps most importantly, slots in the NCAA tournament.

Of course, no one can totally predict the deliberations of the NCAA selection committee, but that won't stop us from taking a shot at it. We'll look at each team, and rate their chances for getting in the Big East tournament, their bye possibilities, and their NCAA hopes. Unless a team is mathematically eliminated, we won't list their chances for any particular event at zero, just to give their fans a smidgen of hope that they might actually have a shot.

Pittsburgh 22-4, 10-2, RPI: 5

Barring a complete collapse, the Panthers have a bye in the Big East tournament. Even if they go 2-2 in their final four league games against Seton Hall, Georgetown, WVU and Marquette, their 12-4 record will keep them in the top four no matter what they do. They also have a non-conference game against Washington before their last four league contests, but since it is at home it should be a big advantage for the Panthers.

Big East Tournament Probability: 100%
NCAA Probability: 100%

Georgetown 19-5, 9-2, RPI: 19

Georgetown is the hottest team in the league, and is eyeing a regular season championship if Pitt falters. The Hoyas have a mostly tough five games remaining against Villanova, Pitt, Cincinnati, Syracuse and Connecticut, but the dates against the Panthers and Huskies are at home. Nova and Syracuse could spring road surprises, but it's more likely that the Hoyas can manage at least a 3-2 record down the stretch. That gives them a bye as well.

Big East Tournament Probability: 100%
NCAA Probability: 100%

Marquette 21-6, 8-4, RPI: 27

Marquette has a tough finishing slate with Louisville, Villanova, Notre Dame and Pitt to round out the season. However, only the game against the Irish is on the road, so there is a chance to build some momentum. MU has stumbled recently, losing to Georgetown and DePaul to fall back into a tie with Louisville in the conference. The game with the Cardinals will be huge, and could set the tone down the stretch. It wouldn't be a surprise to see them go either 4-0 or 0-4 to close out the season, so for safety's sake we'll call it 2-2. That could throw them into a tiebreaking situation for one of the four byes. Only an 0-4 finish and a first game loss in the conference tournament could bring an at-large bid into the tiniest of questions.

Big East Tournament Probability: 100%
NCAA Probability: 99%

Louisville 18-8, 8-4, RPI: 58

The Cards boosted themselves back into the race for a bye with an impressive win at Pitt, and have a conducive schedule to making that stick. After a critical road game against Marquette, they finish the season with home games against St. John's and Seton Hall sandwiched around a road trip to UConn. A 3-1 finish isn't out of the question here, which would most likely put them in the top four in the league. For NCAA purposes, the RPI begins to come into play here, but don't overrate it. It is just one tool among several used by the selection committee. However, a collapse down the stretch (say, 1-4 overall), could well leave them out.

Big East Tournament Probability: 100%
NCAA Probability: 90%

Notre Dame 19-6, 7-5, RPI: 56

The Irish once again get a hugely favorable schedule at the end of the season, and thus their NCAA chances are almost assured. Road trips to Cincinnati and Rutgers should pose no major problems, and home contests against DePaul and Marquette will likely yield no worse than a 1-1 mark. A ten and six league record probably isn't good enough to sneak into bye contention in the league, but a 22-7 overall record going into the league tourney will likely get the Irish in.

Big East Tournament Probability: 100%
NCAA Probability: 95%

West Virginia 19-6, 7-5, RPI: 46

The NCAA bubble likely begins here, but the Mountaineers don't need any losses from other schools if they take care of business. If wins are recorded at home against Seton Hall and Cincinnati, WVU's big win over UCLA should have boosted it enough to get in. An additional win over Providence on the road or a win in its first Big East tournament game would lock things up, as would an upset over Pitt on the road. However, WVU's low strength of schedule against out of conference teams remains a concern, and if the Mountaineers are identical to several other teams in most other metrics, could be a determining factor.

Big East Tournament Probability: 100%
NCAA Probability: 80%

Syracuse 18-8, 7-5, RPI: 62

The Orange's out of conference schedule has always been a negative when it comes to tournament selection time, but they almost always won enough league games and compiled enough signature wins to get in. This year, that's going to be dicey at best. Some early losses, and the lack of any monster wins, make the Orange more bubbly than Crush, and even put them behind Villanova despite their one-half game lead in the league standings. Add in a tough closing schedule of Connecticut, Providence, Georgetown and Villanova, and it's a coin flip for the for the Big Dance. Even four losses, however, probably won't be enough to keep them out of the league tournament.

Big East Tournament Probability: 90%
NCAA Probability: 50%

Villanova 18-7, 6-5, RPI: 15

Despite nearly identical records to those of Syracuse, ‘Nova's schedule and performance give it a cushy RPI ranking. Five remaining league games give the Wildcats the chance to move up – or down – appreciably in the Big East rankings as well. Georgetown, Rutgers and Syracuse visit Villanova, while travels to Marquette and Connecticut won't be easy, either. A 2-3 mark over that stretch is enough to get into the league tourney, but leave the Wildcats squarely on the bubble for the big enchilada. A win in the Big East tournament would help wonders in that regard.

Big East Tournament Probability: 95%
NCAA Probability: 65%

DePaul 15-11, 6-6, RPI: 57

The recent win over USF gave the Blue Demons new life in the race for New York, and with perhaps the easiest remaining schedules of all the contenders, DePaul even has an outside shot at the NCAA. That would probably require a sweep of the final four games against USF (twice) Notre Dame and Cincinnati, as well as a couple of wins in the Big East tournament, but who's to say it can't happen? Still, it's a much safer bet that the Blue Demons become one of the NIT's first selections.

Big East Tournament Probability: 80%
NCAA Probability: 5%

St. John's 15-11, 6-7, RPI: 131

With only three league games to go, the Johnnies don't have as many chances to make up ground in the league as most of the other schools in the race. However, two games against Providence give the Red Storm a shot to put some separation between themselves and the other teams striving for the Garden, and contests against Louisville and Duke will give them a chance to burnish their NIT resume. Only a sweep of the final four plus at least two wins at the Garden would give them any sort of shot to continue the run at the NCAAs – and that's very far-fetched.

Big East Tournament Probability: 70%
NCAA Probability: 1%

Providence 15-9, 5-6, RPI: 59

Providence's loss to Notre Dame put a crimp in the Friar's Big Dance hopes, but it's not over yet. With two games against St. John's, plus single games against Syracuse, South Florida and West Virginia, they could push their record up dramatically over the final two weeks. A 4-1 finish is within reach, as the first three of the final quintet of games are at home. A sweep, plus two in the tourney, and the dream is alive.

Big East Tournament Probability: 85%
NCAA Probability: 10%

Connecticut 16-9, 5-6, RPI: 89

The Huskies have five games remaining in the league, and winnable games with Syracuse, Rutgers, Louisville and Villanova have them poised to erase the bad memories of a time, just a month or so ago, then they were being ruled out of the league show. Georgetown also remains on the league slate, but 3-2 over the final five puts UConn comfortably into the Garden. They would probably need all five regular season wins, plus at least two in the Big East tournament, to have any sort of chance of erasing their RPI deficit.

Big East Tournament Probability: 85%
NCAA Probability: 5%

Seton Hall 12-12, 3-8, RPI: 128

The Hall is playing for its postseason life, but has five chances to make a run at the final league opening and an NIT spot. The game at West Virginia Saturday is crucial. Pitt, South Florida, Cincinnati and Louisville follow, and the Pirates figure to need four of them to make it to New York. This far down the chart, only a Big East tournament championship will punch anyone's ticket to the NCAAs.

Big East Tournament Probability: 20%
NCAA Probability: 0%

South Florida 12-14, 3-9, RPI: 161 A pair of games against DePaul, with singles against Seton Hall and Providence, wrap up the Bulls' season. There's not much momentum, and not much to suggest that they could pull off four consecutive wins and put pressure on the teams above them. Look for another absence from the post season for a program that has improved, but not enough.

Big East Tournament Probability: 10%
NCAA Probability: 0%

Rutgers 10-16, 3-10, RPI: 183

The Scarlet Knights have Connecticut, Villanova and Notre Dame left. If they had North Florida, Northern Colorado and Iona left as league foes, they still would need help to get in.

Big East Tournament Probability: 1%
NCAA Probability: 0%

Cincinnati 10-15, 1-10, RPI: 162

The Bearcats' sole contribution to the Big East season was their overtime upset of West Virginia. If WVU misses out on the Big Dance, this game will be the culprit. Remind the Mountaineer football team of this issue next fall.

Big East Tournament Probability: 1%
NCAA Probability: 0%

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