Since my last view of the tournament horserace back at the start of the year, the tournament picture has become clearer for the Big East. UL has been exposed. WVU and Cincy have proven themselves as solid teams. Marquette, UConn, and Georgetown continue to prove they belong. And Syracuse continues to roll.
At this early stage, the league has already sorted itself out into 7 top-"half" teams worthy of tournament consideration (Syracuse, Marquette, Cincy, Georgetown, UConn and West Virginia, and possibly Seton Hall), and nine flawed bottom-"half" teams that probably aren’t and probably can’t get there (Pitt, USF, Lousville, Villanova, St. Johns, Rutgers, DePaul, Providence, and Notre Dame). At this point, I can't see an 8th deserving team.
I’m not looking at the mathematical possibilities—I’m looking at the realistic chances based on the old adage that a leopard doesn’t change its spots. With about 20 games under every team’s belt, we have a pretty good idea how good they are, not just by looking at the W/L record, but where those wins and losses came. Take a team like Louisville for example. If they can’t beat Notre Dame or Providence—and the only conference wins are against DePaul and St. Johns—you probably aren’t going to turn it around when you hit a stretch that includes UConn, Georgetown, Syracuse and Cincinnati.
There have been 28 matchups between a top- and bottom-group team. And the top group has won 24 of those of those games. Those 4 exceptions are Rutgers over UConn, USF and Villanova over SHU, and St. Johns over Cincy). Those are upsets—not a sign of hope for RU, SUF VU or SJU.
Take the case of a team like Villanova. They’re 2-5 in conference. They have an easier schedule coming up, with seven games against other bottom opponents (ND and PC at home, road games at Rutgers, Pitt, UL, USF and St. Johns). But I don't see that a team that lost to USF at home can go 7-0 against that schedule. They’re going to lose a few of those. And they still have to face MU, Cincy, GU and UConn as well.
South Florida has a good-looking 4-2 record, but most of those wins have come to other bottom half teams. They also all but disqualified themselves in non-conference play. Five non-conference losses, including Penn State (currently last in the Big 10), and Auburn (nearly last in the SEC) show that USF is not tournament worthy,
The biggest question mark in the conference remains Seton Hall. Their wins over UConn and WVU suggest they belong in the top. But their losses to USF and Villanova suggest they don’t. I’m putting them in the top because the UConn and WVU wins are (for now) more impressive than USF’s win over Seton Hall. And USF is already out based on their poor non-conference performance.
In basketball, past performance is an indication of future capability, but not a guarantee. It is still possible that team like Notre Dame or Rutgers transform themselves and start playing like a contender. That (as they say) why they play the games.
But don’t be surprised when bids come out if the Big East has just seven bids.
Top "Half"/Likely Tournament Worthy:
Syracuse: Undefeated. Interestingly, they have a 6-0 record against the bottom, and have just on game (MU) against the top.
WVU: Overall 4-2. 1-2 against the top half, 3-0 against the bottom half teams. Bottom half wins were over VU, and Rutgers twice. Plus they have a win vs. Cincy. Both losses were to top half teams (SHU, UConn).
Georgetown: Overall 4-1. 1-2 against the top half (Win over MU, losses to WVU & Cincy. 3-0 against the bottom half teams (DePaul, SJU, Providence).
Cincy: Overall 5-1. 2-0 against the top (Georgetown, UConn). 3-1 versus the bottom with wins over VU, Pitt, ND and a loss to SJU.
Marquette: Overall 4-2. 0-2 against the top (GU, SU), 4-0 against the bottom (VU, SJU, Pitt, U).:
SHU: Overall 4-3. 2-1 against the top (Wins over UConn, WVU, loss to Syracuse). 2-2 against the bottom (Beat DePaul, Providence, lost to USF, Villanova)
UConn: Overall 4-3. 1-2 against the top (Beat WVU, Lost to SHU, Cincy). 3-1 against the bottom (Wins over USF, St. Johns, ND, loss to Rutgers)
Bottom Half/Probably Not Tournament Worthy:
USF*: 4-2 overall. 1-1 against the top (win over SHU, loss to UConn). And 3-1 against the bottom (wins vs. RU, St. Johns and Villanova, loss to ND).
St. Johns*: 2-5 overall. 1-3 against the top (Win against Cincy, losses to MU, GU, UConn). 1-2 against the bottom (Win over PC, losses to USF, UL).
Rutgers*: Overall 3-3. 1-2 against the top (Win over UConn, 2 losses to WVU). 2-1 against the bottom (Wins vs. ND & Pitt, loss to USF).
Notre Dame*: Overall 3-3. 0-2 against the top (UC, UConn), 3-1 against the bottom (victory over Rutgers, losses to Pitt, UL, USF).
DePaul: Overall 1-5. 0-3 against the top (SU, SHU, GU); 1-2 against the bottom (win over Pitt, losses to VU, UL).
Villanova*: Overall 2-5. 1-4 against the top (Beat SHU, lost to MU, WVU, SU, Cincy). 1-1 against the bottom (Beat DePaul, Lost to USF).
Providence: Overall 1-5. 0-4 against the top (GU, SUx2, GU). 1-1 against the bottom (UL was the win, St. Johns was the loss)
Louisville: 2-4 overall. 0-2 against the top (MU, GU), and 2-2 against the bottom (Wins versus SJU, DePaul, losses to ND, PC).
Pitt: No wins – 0-6 overall. 0-3 against the top-half (Cincy, MU & SU), 0-3 versus the bottom-half (ND, DePaul, Rutgers).
*Team with five or more non-conference losses.