NCAA tournament 2011: Will 11 Big East teams reach the NCAA tournament?
No conference has ever sent more than eight teams to the NCAAs; the Big East did it three times (2006, 2008, 2010). This season, the Big East could send as many as 11 of its 16 teams to the NCAA tournament. Here is my position: If the season ended today, the Big East would have a decent chance to send those 11 teams to the NCAAs. Will it wind up like that in six weeks? I think the safe bet is that one or two teams will fade and that the mega-conference will wind up with nine or 10 NCAA tournament teams.
Remember, the selection process has nothing to do with the committee weighing one conference against another. Committee members don't say that the Big East needs to have more teams in the NCAAs because it is stronger this season than the ACC. Instead, inclusion has everything to do with how one school's NCAA tournament resume measures up with the resume of other schools competing for one of the final at-large bids. And with two of the Big East teams that had been fading - Marquette and St. John's - earning significant victories this weekend, the conference will enter February with a chance to fill 10 of the 37 at-large berths with its teams. The Big East tournament champ will earn the automatic berth.
This is not the Big East's best season. But the league, overall, is superior to most, if not all, of the other leagues out there, many of which are having down years. When your league has nine teams in the top 25 of the RPI, the league is going to have a chance to send a record number of teams to the NCAAs. And that's the position the Big East is in this season.
So which Big East teams are in strong position at this point to reach the NCAAs?
Notre Dame (17-4)
Another team remains in relatively strong position:
West Virginia (14-6)
Well, that's eight teams right there. And three more teams remain in consideration:
St. John's (12-8)
Marquette had lost three of four before beating Syracuse. Marquette has beaten three top 25 RPI teams. Some bubble teams have not beaten one top 50, or even a top 100 team. But some of the biggest negatives for Marquette are a 2-6 road record and an unfortunate 7-8 mark against the RPI's top 200. With three straight road games - Villanova, South Florida and Georgetown --- looming, this is a key stretch.
St. John's had lost five of six games before beating Duke by 15 points. St. John's has eight losses but it has played the nation's second-toughest schedule. The Red Storm has four victories against teams rated in the top 13 of the RPI - that's particularly impressive. Aside from the Steve Lavin story line, the game at UCLA this Saturday promises to be a significant game between two bubble teams.
Cincinnati is going to be an interesting case. We see situations like this every season. A team has a few top 50 wins and a league record that hovers around .500. The problem: Cincinnati has a non-conference record that rates as the 294th strongest in the country. That said, the Bearcats still have a winning record (6-4) against top 100 teams. And the wins over St. John's and Xavier look better now.
So, in the end, how many NCAA tournament teams will come out of the Big East?
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