Ten conference wins may not equate to NCAA Tournament berth
Since the Big East went to an 18-game regular season schedule, 30 of 31 teams with at least ten conference wins have made the NCAA Tournament. The lone exception was Providence in the 2008-’09 season.
The Friars finished the season 19-14 (10-8 Big East) with wins against No. 15 Syracuse and No. 1 Pittsburgh. Providence’s ratings percentage index (RPI), an important factor when determining if a team is worthy of tournament consideration, was 72.
Connecticut, Seton Hall and West Virginia had chances to reach the ten-win plateau before the end of this season until each team lost close games this weekend.
Two teams that have at least ten wins, Cincinnati (20-9, 10-6 Big East) and South Florida (18-11, 11-5 Big East), are squarely on the tournament bubble.
South Florida defeated Cincinnati at home on Sunday, giving the Bulls their 11th conference win. Since the league expanded to 18 regular season games, all 25 teams that finished with 11 regular season victories have heard their names announced on Selection Sunday.
South Florida has not defeated a team ranked higher than them in the Big East standings all season, but its RPI of 50 is much better than Providence’s four years ago.
The Bulls get their chance to notch a marquee win with a trip to Louisville on Wednesday. If the Bulls lose that game, they may need a deep run in the Big East Championship Tournament to make the big dance.
As for Cincinnati, the Bearcats lost at home to Presbyterian (13-15) in November, but they boast four victories against ranked opponents. The Bearcats played the 322nd (out of 346) most difficult non-conference strength of schedule, meaning Cincinnati needs a victory against Marquette on Wednesday to solidify its tournament resume.
West Virginia’s struggles could be to Marquette’s advantage
The Mountaineers won six of their first eight games in Big East play, and it looked like senior forward Kevin Jones was a lock to win Big East Player of the Year.
However, the Mountaineers have lost seven of their last nine allowing Marquette’s duo of senior forward Jae Crowder and senior guard Darius Johnson-Odom to enter the player of the year race.
Jones has scored in double figures in every game this season and leads the conference in both points (20.0) and rebounds (11.0) per game. Jones has been efficient from the floor as well, ranking in the top ten in field goal percentage, converting 52 percent of his shots.
Many national pundits believe that the Big East will not give the player of the year award to a player that is on a team with a .500 record or worse, however.
West Virginia is 7-9 with two games left to play and the recent play of Crowder and Johnson-Odom may give the Golden Eagles their first Big East Player of the Year award.
Crowder is averaging 26 points per game in his last four games to lead Marquette. The Villa Rica, Ga., native joins Jones as one of two players to rank in the top 15 in seven different statistical categories.
Johnson-Odom leads the Big East with nearly 20 points per game in conference games. The preseason All-Big East First Team selection has scored in double figures in every game except the win against West Virginia Friday, when he was suspended for the first half.
While Jones may have a statistical advantage, the success of Marquette may reward one of its two seniors.
Game of the Week
South Florida at Louisville, Feb. 29
Louisville looks to be a lock for the NCAA Tournament and is playing for seeding in the both the Big East and NCAA Tournaments. The Cardinals have the stingiest defense in the conference, allowing opponents to shoot just 37 percent from the floor.
South Florida wants to play slow, averaging the third fewest possessions per game in the country. This game may be even more of an offensive struggle than the Bull’s 46-45 win over Cincinnati Sunday.
Player of the Week
Moe Harkless, freshman forward, St. John’s (#4)
18 points, 9.5 rebounds, 56 percent shooting
Harkless has been the lone bright spot for the rebuilding Red Storm this season. He played all 80 minutes in wins over DePaul and Notre Dame last week.
The rookie of the year candidate tallied a game-high 22 points and nine rebounds in an upset of the Fighting Irish, which snapped a nine-game winning streak for Notre Dame. Harkless gave Red Storm fans an early reminder that anything can happen at Madison Square Garden in preparation for the Big East Championship Tournament.