Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Marquette 71, Notre Dame 64

It's all about perspective, I guess. As concerned as we here at RCR are about the Hoyas' current plight (justifiably concerned, mind you -- the loss to Seton Hall was inexcusable and devastating), it's possible that the Notre Dame Fighting Irish have it worse.

ND has lost four games in a row, the last two at home (where they previously hadn't lost in three years). And their next four games are (sitting down?) at Pitt, at Cincinnati, at UCLA and home against Louisville.


I mean, if they slip up at Cincinnati, they're looking at a real good chance of an eight-game losing streak! NCAA tournament teams don't have eight-game losing streaks, no matter what conference they play in.

Which brings me to my overall point, which is...

How many teams can the Big East expect to get into that tournament, anyway?

We and others have been operating as if nine is the number -- that Louisville, Pitt, UConn, Marquette, Syracuse, Georgetown, Notre Dame, Villanova and West Virginia are all tournament teams and that if somebody like Cincinnati or Providence won some games they weren't supposed to win the number could go to 10.

But not only are we learning that the conference isn't as uniformly deep as we thought (There's a clear "Top Four" of Louisville, Pitt, UConn and Marquette taking shape), we middle group are in danger of slipping onto or even under the tournament bubble.

Think about it. If ND goes 1-3 in those next four games (winning at Cincinnati), they're 13-10 overall and 4-7 in conference. With trips to West Virginia and UConn still on the schedule after that, they're looking at being maybe 18-12 overall and 9-9 in conference going into the Big East tournament. That's no slam dunk for the tournament committee.

In Georgetown's case, the truly brutal part of the schedule is behind them. But (a) they just lost to Seton Hall, which means there are no gimmes for them and (b) they still have Marquette twice, Louisville once and trips to Syracuse and Villanova. Those are five games in which they will not be favored, and if they lose all five and win the rest, they're 18-11 overall and 9-9 in conference heading into the Garden. BUBBLE!

Both of these teams have had their moments, and could play well enough the rest of the way to make these arguments irrelevant. But they've also had bad losses (ND at St. John's, GU at Seton Hall), and if they have one or two more of those, things could get dicey. The Big East thought it was a monster conference that could snag almost 15 percent of the NCAA tournament bids come March. But late January has exposed some cracks, and some of these teams will need to have big Februaries if they want to make that happen.

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