Seton Hall beat St. John's on Thursday night, and I can't think of a thing to say about that except that the guy, Hazell, is an animal and I'm very glad the Pirates have picked up a second and third conference win since breaking the seal against the Hoyas. I'd feel better if the second and third conference wins had come against, say, Pitt and Syracuse (especially Syracuse, come to think of it), but I'll take it.
Cruising around the webisphere, I come across ESPN's "Bubble Watch," which is a conference-by-conference look, more than a month before the Big Dance, at which teams are in, which teams are almost in and which teams have "work to do."
We scroll, as we always do, right to the Big East, where we find four teams listed as "Locks" -- no surprise, UConn, Pitt, Louisville, Marquette, the conference's well defined Top Four.
The site lists Villanova and Syracuse under "should be in," and then lists West Virginia, Georgetown, Cincinnati and Providence as teams with "work left to do."
So that's 10 total Big East teams that ESPN.com thinks have a shot at March Madness if, presumably, they all do the work they have left to do. What jumps out? Well, the fact that Notre Dame isn't one of them.
The Irish are paying the price for a six-game losing streak that stands an awfully good chance of reaching eight with their next two games against UCLA and Louisville. The streak includes no bad losses (the worst is at Cincinnati, which isn't as bad a loss as it looked like it would be a few weeks back), but the fact is that they need to win six of their final eight games to finish 9-9 in conference, and their schedule still includes Louisville, West Virginia, UConn and Villanova. This is why that loss at St. John's was so bad. The difference between a 9-9 conference record and an 8-10 conference record is huge to the selection committee, and if the Irish get hot, that loss could well be the difference.
Here's the rundown on some of the teams that DO show up on the Big East Bubble Watch:
*Villanova: "They are only 2-4 against RPI top-50 teams, and only seven of their 18 victories against Division I teams have come against RPI top-100 opponents." However, the site also points out the Wildcats' victory over Pitt as a big point in their favor and says their remaining schedule (which includes Marquette, West Virginia, Georgetown and two games against Syracuse) offers opportunities to beef up their credentials.
*Syracuse: "three very good nonconference victories (Florida and Kansas on neutral courts and at Memphis). The Orange probably could use one or two victories over the league's top five RPI teams to improve their seeding. They will have a chance to do that the next two weeks, when they play Villanova (twice), at Connecticut and home against Georgetown." Doesn't that last bit make you think that, if either Syracuse or Nova sweeps the other, one of those teams moves a lot closer to the wrong side of the bubble?
*West Virginia: "The Mountaineers bring a couple of decent nonconference wins (road victories at Ole Miss and Ohio State) and a win at Georgetown to the table, but they might need another signature victory to feel safe." They still have road games at Pitt and Cincinnati and home games against Villanova and Louisville, but they could lose all four of those and still finish .500 in the conference. If they win one of them, they're probably getting in.
*Mighty Hoyas: "it might take a complete collapse for the Hoyas not to receive an at-large bid. They have victories over Memphis, Connecticut and Syracuse, and are playing the country's third-toughest schedule." Fair enough, but does anybody else fear a "complete collapse" might be underway? Five straight losses and a shaky home win against Rutgers does not inspire confidence. I'd like to see them pick up one or two more "big" wins (say, home against Marquette or at Villanova, something like that) before I start feeling good. Mainly, though, I just want them to beat Cincinnati tomorrow and look awesome doing it. It's been a real long time since they looked awesome.
*Cincinnati: "Cincinnati has a couple of so-so nonconference victories (UAB and UNLV) and beat Georgetown at home. But the Bearcats probably need to finish better than .500 in Big East play to garner serious consideration." Can they do it? They're 5-5 right now with road games remaining at Georgetown, Pitt, Syracuse and South Florida and home games against St. John's, Louisville, West Virginia and Seton Hall. I say that's three they should win, three they should lose and two toss-ups (at Georgetown and home to West Virginia). So if they can complete the season sweep of the Hoyas tomorrow afternoon, they're set up with a good chance.
*Providence: "they might need a 10-6 finish to secure an at-large bid. They won't bring a single quality nonconference victory to the table...The Friars missed a big chance to make a statement by losing to Villanova 94-91 on Wednesday night." Anybody who's been following this blog (are you out there?) knows we love Providence. The Syracuse win was huge for them, but they've dumped a couple in a row now to UConn and Villanova and they've allowed exactly 94 points in each of their last three games (and 93 in the one before that!) The Friars will have to play over their heads the rest of the way to have a shot. They're 6-4, so they must finish 4-2 to hit that 10-6 mark. That means winning two of four very tough games -- at West Virginia, at Louisville, at Villanova and home against Pitt -- and not slipping up anywhere else.
Marquette travels to South Florida tonight for what should be a shutout, then we get a six-game Saturday slate whose highlight is the first of those Syracuse-Nova matchups. We'll watch that one as long as we can get the ESPN360 working and keep one eye on those Mighty Hoyas...
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