With 16 teams, the Big East is the biggest conference in college basketball. And with five of its teams ranked in the top 11 of ESPN’s Ratings Percentage Index, it can certainly be argued that the Big East is the best league in the country.
But how many other Big East teams will be dancing in the NCAA tournament after Selection Sunday on March 14?
Louisville, Connecticut, Marquette and Notre Dame are four that can still be considered “bubble” teams entering the last week of the regular season.
Connecticut (17-12 overall, 7-9 in conference)
Connecticut made a huge statement on Feb. 22 with an 11-point upset over West Virginia at home and has won three of five games since coach Jim Calhoun returned from a medical leave of absence in January.
However, following a crushing home loss to Louisville Sunday, the Huskies will likely need to defeat either Notre Dame or South Florida on the road in their final two games of the regular season and win two Big East conference tournament games to be included in the NCAA tournament.
Louisville (19-10, 10-6)
The Cardinals took a huge step toward making the tournament with a road win over Connecticut on Sunday and will likely need to win at Marquette tonight as well as a game or two in the Big East tournament in order to breathe easier on Selection Sunday.
Louisville upset Syracuse 66-60 on the road Feb. 14, but does not have much to show the NCAA committee from their non-conference schedule.
Marquette (19-9, 10-6)
The Golden Eagles’ three overtime road victories in the past 10 days will likely have them in the tournament on March 14.
Marquette has now won eight of its last nine games and has beaten Georgetown at home and Connecticut on the road, as well as securing a neutral court victory over fellow bubble team Xavier.
Notre Dame (19-10, 8-8)
A week ago, the Fighting Irish were looking at an NIT berth at best, but as coach Mike Brey said, a week in the Big East can change everything.
Notre Dame destroyed Pittsburgh 68-53 at home and won easily at Georgetown, 78-64 last week without Luke Harangody, who, according to Brey, might be done for the season with a hyperextension/bone bruise in his right knee.
Two games to watch
Connecticut at Notre Dame, Wednesday March 3
The Huskies must win this game in order to keep their NCAA tournament hopes alive and have a chance to finish 9-9 in conference play. Kemba Walker’s 28 points led the four Huskies who scored in double digits in their 78-76 loss to Louisville on Sunday. The Irish need to win as many games as they can to slide into the tournament without Harangody. Ben Hansbrough and Tim Abromaitis must come up big again in place of their injured star to win this game.
Syracuse at Louisville, Saturday March 6
The Orange are now the country’s top team, according to the ESPN/USA Today coaches’ poll, and for good reason. Syracuse manhandled Villanova, 95-77, Saturday night and took a commanding two-game lead in the conference standings. The Cardinals will know more about themselves after tonight’s game at Marquette, but would like to send their seniors off with one last win against a terrific Orange team.
Player of the week
Ben Hansbrough, Notre Dame, G, Sr.
Hansbrough has helped pick up the slack for the injured Harangody and was instrumental in the Irish’s two huge victories this past week. Hansbrough scored 15 points and added nine rebounds in a 68-53 victory over Pittsburgh and chipped in 21 points in a surprisingly easy 78-64 road win against Georgetown.
Points per game: 12.5
Rebounds per game: 4.0
Assists per game: 4.7
Field goal percentage: 48.7
Three point percentage: 45.0
Free throw percentage: 72.3