The incredible parity this season in the Big East sends shivers through most fans of conference members who fear that the league’s 10 teams will take turns trying to knock each other out of consideration for the NCAA Tournament.
However, take it from a guy who knows how the selections are made, ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi, who says it’s a similar situation annually in every league that gets four, five or six teams into the dance.
“You’re playing a tournament team every night so you’re going to lose,” Lunardi said. “But generally speaking, the system rewards playing those games as much as it does winning or losing them, provided you win your share.
“If you’re playing eight Quad 1 games in your league and you go 0-8, well, then you’re not going to make the tournament unless you did something truly remarkable in the nonleague part of the season.”
Lunardi’s latest bracket projection, released Tuesday, has six Big East teams in the NCAAs, behind only the Big Ten (with 10) and ahead of the SEC, Pac-12, Big 12 and ACC (five each). Butler, picked to finish eighth in the Big East in the preseason, has gained early separation in the conference, with a No. 1 seed in the bracket and a No. 3 ranking in the NCAA Evaluation Tool (NET).
As for Villanova, the Wildcats dropped from a 4 seed to a 5 seed after losing Saturday at Marquette. Lunardi said they hold a slight lead in a tightly bunched group of five with Marquette and Seton Hall as 6 seeds, Creighton a 7 and Xavier an 8.
The Cats will play Creighton on Tuesday night in Omaha.
As for the rest of the Big East, both Georgetown and St. John’s are in the “first four out” with much of the season remaining. DePaul lost its first two Big East games, both at home, to fall off the bubble for now. Providence, thanks to a 2-0 start, is looking to rise into consideration.
“The league is as deep as it’s been, maybe since it became the new Big East,” Lunardi said. “There’s no national champion in the league and certainly no elite team like Villanova was two years ago.
“Even though Butler’s a No. 1 today, I don’t imagine they’ll hold it. This is more like the old days of being in the Big East for Villanova in that every game’s a war as opposed to them being the team that everybody is chasing.”
Villanova is 1-3 in Quad 1 games, defined as home-court games against teams ranked 1-30, neutral-court games against teams ranked 1-50, and away games vs. teams ranked 1-75. The Wildcats defeated Kansas, but lost to Ohio State, Baylor and Marquette.
The Cats are the only local team in the NCAA hunt at this time. Temple fell to No. 60 in the NET after its 70-44 loss Friday at Tulsa, and dropped out of Lunardi’s “Next Four Out” category in the new bracket.
“But they’re not out of it,” he said. “That league has win opportunities — Memphis, Houston, Wichita State, and on the road, Cincinnati and Connecticut are opportunities. In the bigger picture, they started with two on the road [Central Florida, Tulsa] and got a split, and that’s a good thing.”