A mixture of great early season performances and shocks in conference play should see the Big East providing the selection committee with a big headache ahead of the NCAA Tournament. Al Dannity explains how the Big East’s gain is going to cause headaches when it comes time to arrange the bracket for the Big Dance.
Breaking new ground
No conference has ever sent more than eight teams to the NCAA Tournament in a single season. The Big East is virtually certain to do that this year. The question is not so much whether they send more than eight teams but how high they go. This presents a problem for the NCAA’s selection committee. The standard protocol in March Madness is to ensure that conference rivals can’t possibly meet until the Elite Eight. The addition of a ninth, tenth, or maybe even eleventh team for College Basketball’s premier conference will make this impossible.
How it happened
It’s not unusual for the Big East to send a lot of teams to the Big Dance but two factors this season have created the perfect storm. The expansion of the tournament from 65 to 68 teams has created 3 more at-large bids. This coupled with some Big East teams performing well beyond expectations, in particular #9 Notre Dame and #23 St John’s, has turned this into a ground-breaking year for the conference.
Right now the Big East can lay claim to eight ranked teams, all of whom that are guaranteed to go dancing. Top of the pile are #4 Pittsburgh and Notre Dame in the eys of the pollsters and College Basketball betting fans. They are joined in the ‘locks’ column by #11 Georgetown, #14 UConn, #15 Villanova, #16 Louisville, #17 Syracuse, and St John’s. The Orange removed any doubts about their place in the dance with a big win at Villanova last night while the Johnnies punched their ticket with a home win over Pitt on Saturday.
On the soft bubble
West Virginia narrowly missed making this week’s AP Poll and only a disastrous end to the season will stop the Mountaineers from making March Madness. Quality wins over Louisville and at St John’s look like they will be enough to drag Cincinnati over the line. A 2-2 record in the Bearcats last four games would help. That leaves Marquette as the last potential Big East team in the dance. The Golden Eagles have a road date in Cincinnati that could send them dancing. Defeat wouldn’t condemn Marquette but it would leave them in need of a lot of help on Selection Sunday.