Submitted by Jim Hurley on Friday, February 24, 2012 at 11:58 PM
At least that’s what Joe Lunardi of ESPN’s website is saying with his most recent report. Heading into a huge weekend for the Big East, highlighted by Syracuse and Connecticut on ESPN’s “GameDay” coverage in prime time, the conference has nine teams in the Dance right now, with unheralded South Florida knocking on the door.
We personally don’t have South Florida quite so high…and we’re skeptical that even UCONN is a tournament caliber team right now the way they’ve been playing. But, there are A LOT of mediocre teams fighting for the last few spots in the brackets…and SOMEBODY has to get in!
With the Big East under the “GameDay” spotlight, this seemed like the perfect time to get caught up in the Big East. Let’s run through the Bracketology and computer rating picture before providing some thoughts on tonight’s TV game.
First, the standings amongst the contenders for a Dance invite…
TOP OF THE BIG EAST
Notre Dame 12-3
South Florida 10-5
Seton Hall 8-8
West Virginia 7-8
Those are the 10 teams who matter this year in the Big East. St. John’s almost mattered, but they’re 5-10 in conference play, and their peak performances have been trumped by a slew of poor results. What’s astonishing to longtime fans is that Pittsburgh and Villanova are both 4-11 so far. Those teams are on TV ALL THE TIME because the networks figured it would be status quo in the Big East this year.
What’s also interesting is how South Florida has worked its way into the Dance conversation without really playing all that great. You’ll see in a moment that they have nowhere near the computer qualifications to earn a bid. Yet, ESPN has to save face!
If the Big East is a super-duper conference…and you’ve been hyping the likes of Louisville, Connecticut, and West Virginia all year…how can you NOT give respect to South Florida given the standings you see above? Or, how can the 4th place team in the Big East NOT be in the Big Dance discussion?!
You saw in the tournament last year that the conference as a whole was extremely overrated. Connecticut did play very well, and was a legitimate national champion with a strong inside game and a great point guard. But, the rest of the league basically humiliated themselves and the media with horrible results. This year, we’re seeing the storyline continue. ESPN keeps trying to tell you how great everybody is. Syracuse is for real. Notre Dame wasn’t supposed to be, but sits at 12-3. South Florida probably is a non-entity nationally, yet they sit at 10-5.
This is like one of those sitcoms where a character keeps telling lies and it all blows up in his face in the final scene. How will the selection committee seed all the Big East teams when the media has scrambled the eggs this badly?
They’ll likely use some input from the respected computer rankings we’ve been using for guidance all season. Let’s see what Ken Pomeroy and Jeff Sagarin of USA Today have to say about the conference contenders.
BIG EAST COMPUTER RANKINGS
Syracuse (5th in Pomeroy, 5th in Sagarin)
Marquette (16th in Pomeroy, 14th in Sagarin)
Georgetown (17th in Pomeroy, 15th in Sagarin)
Notre Dame (29th in Pomeroy, 36th in Sagarin)
Cincinnati (39th in Pomeroy, 42nd in Sagarin)
Louisville (28th in Pomeroy, 22nd in Sagarin)
Connecticut (37th in Pomeroy, 38th in Sagarin)
Seton Hall (38th in Pomeroy, 41st in Sagarin)
West Virginia (43rd in Pomeroy, 39th in Sagarin)
South Florida (69th in Pomeroy, 77th in Sagarin)
That’s why we think South Florida is a pretender. Normally you need to be top 50 to deserve consideration as an at-large candidate…and there aren’t necessarily going to be spots for everyone in the top 50. South Florida isn’t top 60 as a consensus view (including our own proprietary rankings), and they may not be top 70. Lunardi may feel obligated to put them in the mix because of the Big East standings. It’s a tough case to make when you’re looking at the big picture.
Over the rest of the conference…everyone would be safely in with those rankings regardless of how shaky they’ve been lately. Here at JIM HURLEY’S NETWORK, we think the conference is once again unlikely to play to those rankings in the postseason. It was interesting last year when the computers were closer to reality than the seedings, but still missed by a lot with this conference.
Here’s how Lunardi has his projected Big East seedings heading into this weekend’s action…
Syracuse #1 seed
Marquette #3 seed
Georgetown #3 seed
Louisville #4 seed
Notre Dame #6 seed
West Virginia #10 seed
Connecticut #11 seed
Cincinnati #12 seed
Seton Hall #13 seed
South Florida among the first four out
Things could get interesting down at the bottom. Seton Hall is among the last four in, and could drop out. Cincinnati isn’t safe as a #12 unless the selection committee stands by the computers. Connecticut has been struggling badly lately, and could slump their way out of the mix. At the top of the article we asked if the Big East could get 10 teams into the Dance. Lunardi has that as a possibility. But, a drop to 8 or 9 is also possible, with a drop to seven being conceivable given how the campaign ends for UCONN, Seton Hall, and South Florida.
We’ve mentioned Connecticut’s slump a few times. Since they’re in the showcase game tonight against Syracuse, let’s run through the their recent results dating back to mid-January…
UCONN (-6.5) lost to Cincinnati 70-67
UCONN (-3) lost at Tennessee 60-57 (non-conference, but on the resume)
UCONN (-9) lost to Notre Dame 50-48
UCONN (+2.5) lost to Georgetown 58-44
UCONN (-8.5) beat Seton Hall 69-46 (first ATS cover on the list)
UCONN (+3.5) lost to Louisville 80-59
UCONN (+10) lost to Syracuse 85-67
UCONN (-13.5) beat DePaul 80-54 (ATS cover)
UCONN (-3) lost to Marquette 79-64
UCONN (-3) beat Villanova 73-70 in overtime (miracle push)
Note that Tennessee isn’t projected to make the Dance, so that’s not a good loss even if the game was close. UCONN is 3-7 straight up during that stretch, with one win coming over a very bad DePaul team and another coming in overtime against bad Villanova. The team is WAY behind Syracuse, Louisville, and Marquette based on the scoring margin in those losses. We’re confident in saying that, RIGHT NOW, Connecticut isn’t playing tournament caliber basketball.
Maybe that will change tonight in a monster home game against powerful Syracuse. Michigan scored one for Saturday Night home dogs last week over Ohio State after Vanderbilt failed against Kentucky. UCONN isn’t playing nearly as well as Michigan is lately though.
JIM HURLEY knows you love winning the big TV games, so he’s been working hard to find an edge here. There’s a chance Syracuse-UCONN will show up in our weekly TV Tripleheader. We’re also looking at Missouri-Kansas, North Carolina-Virginia, Vanderbilt-Kentucky, UCLA-Arizona, and Virginia Tech-Duke. We can promise you one of the biggest releases so far this season as the weekend highlight. The last Saturday in February may be our single most favorite day to handicap because of all the late season intangibles that are in play.
We WILL have at least one GAME OF THE YEAR caliber selection on the Saturday card!
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See you tomorrow with a breakdown of key stats from Saturday’s marquee action. It’s going to be a great day on the hardwoods. We’ll run the numbers to show you what REALLY happened tomorrow!
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