Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Danger Zone for mid-pack Big East teams

What a rotten night. You can't enjoy a Syracuse loss at Providence when it comes 20 minutes before a Hoya loss at Cincinnati.

Syracuse loses three in a row and four out of five, and you can't enjoy it because...holy crap, the Hoyas have lost four in a row and six out of eight and are in a stone-cold free-fall with a trip to Marquette coming Saturday.

And you start doing math, and you start worrying, seriously, about making the NCAA tournament.

Georgetown is now 12-7 overall and 3-5 in the conference. The last two losses, at Seton Hall and Cincinnati, rank as bad losses, plain and simple -- the kind that will stand out to an NCAA selection committee evaluating a team on the bubble. And that bubble is exactly where these Hoyas are headed.

Ten games remain on Georgetown's regular-season schedule. The ones they should win (grain of salt here, of course, remembering that if they could lose to Seton Hall and Cincinnati they can lose to anybody) are the home games against Rutgers, Cincinnati and DePaul and the road games at South Florida and St. John's. Games in which they will not be favored are the road games at Marquette, Syracuse and Villanova and home games against Louisville and Marquette.

Assuming they go 5-5 (winning the ones they should win and losing the rest), that makes them 17-12 overall and 8-10 in the conference going into the conference tournament (where they'd be playing on Tuesday in the bottom-half, first-day group that has to win five games in five days to win the tourney title).


Now, we can all look back on the road win at Connecticut, and how good they looked at home against Syracuse, and imagine that things can get better -- that somebody will wake up on offense, that the turnovers will ease up and that somebody will fight somebody for a rebound and the Hoyas will play better than .500 the rest of the way.

But right now, the evidence is running thin. We're like Coach Taylor in the first episode of this "Friday Night Lights" season -- we need something good to happen.

Elsewhere on a Big East Wednesday, big, big win for Villanova against Pitt, Louisville and West Virginia continue to look strong and at this writing UConn is pulling away from DePaul. More on this in the morning, if I can drag my depressed butt out of bed to blog on the good teams in the conference.

But one final note:

We've been tracking these so-called "bad losses," in which teams from the supposed Top Nine lose to teams in the supposed Bottom Seven. For the first four weeks of conference play, there was only one of these -- Notre Dame's loss at St. John's on Jan. 3. But in the last four days, there have been three more, two by Georgetown (at Seton Hall and Cincinnati) and one by Syracuse (at Providence).

This could be a symptom of burnout. It could be a sign that the conference isn't as deep as we thought it was. But it's definitely a sign that those "Top Nine" and "Bottom Seven" designations aren't set in stone. Right now, Providence and Pitt are in a tie for fourth place. Cincinnati is alone in ninth. Georgetown and Notre Dame are tied for 10th. Those nine NCAA bids for the Big East look like a pipe dream right now, and even if they got them, they wouldn't go to the nine teams everybody thought they would.

Deep breaths, I know. A whole February still to go, and things could turn around quickly. But after a long, cold, snowy, slushy day ended with another Hoya loss, it's tough to feel real good about things.

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