The Big East is not the best conference in the country. That distinction belongs to the Big Ten this season, yet here is the Big East in position to send as many as 10 teams to the NCAA tournament.Remember, when the tournament selection committee determines at-large bids, it does not take a certain amount of teams from any conference. Every resume is measured against every other resume.
Will 10 of the league’s 16 teams actually make the NCAA tournament? I doubt it. The league tournament at Madison Square Garden should go a long way toward helping or hurting some teams’ chances. And there are some schools — we’re looking at you, Connecticut — with no margin for error.
But on Leap Day, two schools — Cincinnati and South Florida — bolstered their chances of inclusion by collecting their most impressive wins of the season. And both schools figure to offer unique cases for the NCAA tournament selection committee.
Take Cincinnati, which beat Marquette, 72-61. Mick Cronin’s team has proved itself in conference play, racking up an 11-6 league mark, which includes six victories over top 50 RPI teams. The problem for the Bearcats, of course, is their nonconference schedule.
They played the 322nd-strongest nonconference schedule. They played nine teams with an RPI of 201 or worse (the number is 10 if you include conference foe DePaul). And they lost to one of those teams, Presbyterian, on Nov. 19. Year after year, the selection committee frowns upon such a lightweight non-league schedule, saying repeatedly that there is “no exhibition season” in college basketball.
The question is, if the Bearcats finish strong, have they done enough to overcome that wishy-washy nonconference schedule? Probably.
Now for South Florida, which did exactly what it needed to do Wednesday: Get a quality victory on the road. A win at Louisville certainly qualifies. Stan Heath’s team is now 12-5 in league play. South Florida played a good nonleague schedule, which ranks 54th nationally.
They remain just 2-7 against top 50 teams, however. Another opportunity against a quality opponent comes Saturday at home against West Virginia. They should feel a lot better about their chances if they win that game as well as at least one in the Big East tournament.
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