The Big East may not be the nation's best college basketball conference, or even the third best. But no major conference has more balance and none has had more exciting down-to-the-buzzer games this season.

With all eight conference teams having either two or three games remaining in the regular season, only the seventh- and eighth-place teams are out of contention for the regular-season title. But those two -- Providence and Seton Hall -- look to further jumble the standings by playing the contenders five times before the regular season ends on Feb. 28.

Had Georgetown not thrown away its late-game lead here Wednesday night and let Boston College escape Roberts Center with a 53-49 victory, there would have been a four-way tie for first.

But BC's last-second heroics, a 10-foot bank shot by Burnett Adams with the game tied at 49, provided the Eagles (8-3 in the conference) with a one-game lead over St. John's and Connecticut (both 7-4), and a 1 1/2-game lead over Villanova, Georgetown (6-5) trails by two games with three remaining, but two of those are against Villanova (today in Philadelphia) and Connecticut.

Boston College must face St. John's, then Syracuse in its Carrier Dome. In short, it's easier to figure out the NFL wild-card qualifications than to ponder the possibilities of the Big East race.

The only definitive statement to be made is that St. John's must defeat BC in Roberts today to be in a position to win the regular season title outright. Then of course, there's the Big East tournament -- March 5-7 -- in Syracuse; the winner almost definitely gaining a berth in the NCAA tournament. After the 1982 season, the NCAA bid will be automatic.

BC Coach Tom Davis, whose team is 19-4, says that if the Eagles hold on for the regular-season title, the NCAA should invite BC to the tourney as an at-large team, regardless of how they fare in the unpredictable conference tournament.

"This puts us in a situation for an NCAA bid," Davis said after the triumph over Georgetown. "This takes the pressure off us for the tournament. It doesn't become a must anymore. We can let our record speak for itself."

The Eagles were picked to finish only sixth in the Big East in the coaches' preseason poll and have far surpassed most expectations.

Georgetown, on the other hand, was picked to finish first. But the coaches underestimated the graduation of stars Craig Shelton and John Duren.

But the Hoyas have the toughest remaining schedule for the contending teams. St. John's also plays two games on the road; one against BC, but the second against Seton Hall, which has lost six league games by a total of 11 points. The Redmen then go home to play Syracuse.

Boston College must play at Syracuse, but its other two games are at home. Two of Connecticut's games are at home.