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Top of the Arc - February 2, 2009

Feb. 1, 10 a.m.: The depth in the Big East has taken its toll on three teams that looked like solid NCAA tournament teams one month ago.

For Georgetown, Notre Dame and West Virginia, February could not have come at a better time. The three teams lost a combined 17 games in January. And for different reasons, all are in jeopardy of missing the NCAA tournament (my weekly predictions on the tournament field is now updated online and will be regularly thought Selection Sunday; the top four seeds in each region are below and to the right on this page and the full field can be found here). The Big East remains the nation’s strongest conference, but estimates of nine NCAA tournament bids now seem overstated.

Let’s first consider the state of Georgetown, which has dropped five straight games to fall into a 10th-place tie in the Big East with Notre Dame and – believe it or not – St. John’s. Yes, the Hoyas have the best strength of schedule in the country. And, yes, their RPI is still high at 18. But they will still probably need a 9-9 conference record, which means they need to go 6-3 the rest of the way. Games against Syracuse, Marquette, Louisville and Villanova are obviously challenging. Fortunately for the Hoyas, they also play the three worst teams in the conference, DePaul, South Florida and Rutgers.

Notre Dame is in a dire situation because the Fighting Irish have an RPI of 76. One of the worst marks on Notre Dame’s resume is a 2-7 record against the top 100. That’s not going to cut it. The Irish has a road game at UCLA on Feb. 7, which is an opportunity against a quality team that Mike Brey’s team can’t afford to squander. Losers of five straight games, the road game at Cincinnati this week is pretty much a must win. At this point, Notre Dame is a good bet to miss the NCAAs, unless it conducts a significant turnaround in the coming weeks.

West Virginia is an interesting case. The Mountaineers are 4-4 in the league and have a strong RPI (16). Here is the problem: The next five games. At Syracuse; Providence; at Pittsburgh; Villanova; Notre Dame. After that comes three consecutive road games, although two are against the likes of Rutgers and South Florida. And West Virginia closes the regular season against Louisville. The absence of hard-nosed point guard Joe Mazzulla, who has not played since Dec. 9 because of a shoulder injury, has not helped matters. While the Mountaineers are in stable condition now, they could very well be in critical condition in a couple weeks, largely because of the schedule ahead.

By Eric Prisbell  |  February 2, 2009; 9:57 AM ET
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