Big Finish in the Big East
In what has become one of the most exciting college basketball seasons in recent memory, few conferences have seen as much action as the Big East. In its final year as a true basketball power, we’ve seen upsets and blowouts in equal measure. But more importantly for Wisconsin sports fans, the Marquette Golden Eagles once again find themselves in the thick of the standings on March 1.
It’s safe to say expectations in November weren’t that high, but Buzz Williams’s crew has proven to be scrappy and resilient, beating three ranked teams on their way to a 11-4 conference record. With three games left in conference play, they’re tied for second with No. 10 Louisville (11-4), and are just one game behind the No. 7 Georgetown Hoyas (12-3). Let’s breakdown the final three games for each squad and see where each should stand come Selection Sunday. While it’s impossible to count out schools like Syracuse, Notre Dame, and Pittsburgh – it’s more than likely someone else will be in first place at the end of the day.
Louisville arguably has the toughest schedule remaining of the three Big East powers. Two of their final three are against ranked squads. First up, they’ll travel to No. 12 Syracuse on March 02. And though the Orange just lost to Georgetown at home, their last home loss before that was February of 2011. Don’t be surprised if it’s another two years before they lose at the Carrier Dome again – this one goes to Syracuse. The Cardinals then host a feisty Cincinnati (7-8) squad on March 04. Though Cincinnati has beaten two ranked teams this season and Louisville will be on short rest, this should be a win for the home team, as the Bearcats have lost 5 of their last 6. Louisville’s final game of the regular season is at home against No. 21 Notre Dame (10-5) on March 09, a rematch of last month’s 5-OT thriller. Since these teams are clearly evenly matched, the advantage once again goes to the home team. Predicted Finish: 13-5
All the Hoyas have to do to win the Big East regular season crown is win out. But how likely is that? Their first test is easy enough – a home game against Rutgers (4-11) on March 02. Rutgers is a woeful 3-7 on the road and hasn’t beaten a good team since January. Chalk one up for Georgetown. On March 06 the Hoyas travel to Villanova (9-7) for what, on paper, looks like a good matchup. But Villanova has a good home record this season (11-4), and most importantly, they’ve beaten the last three ranked teams they’ve played (No. 3 Syracuse, No. 5 Louisville, and No. 17 Marquette). This is a trap game, and Villanova’s going to walk away with a late-season statement win. Georgetown will end their season at home on March 09 against No. 12 Syracuse (10-5). It’s certain to be a great game, but Syracuse is losing momentum fast and the home team is looking to bounce back after a tough loss. The Hoyas squeak it out. Predicted Finish: 14-4
Marquette Golden Eagles
Marquette has one big test left this season, and it comes on March 02 against No. 21 Notre Dame (10-5). The Golden Eagles are only 3-2 against ranked conference opponents this year, but they currently have the second-longest active home win streak in Division 1 basketball. This is a different team at home, and Notre Dame will experience a student section that often takes flack for lack of attendance but likes to show up in a big way for big games. Marquette wins this one. After that, the schedule gets easy for the
Warriors Eagles. They’ll face off against Rutgers (4-11) on March 05, and Saint John’s (8-7) on March 09. Though these are both road contests, neither team has shown much pep this season and shouldn’t be an issue. Marquette ends the season on a four-game win streak. Projected Finish: 14-4
Under this scenario, Georgetown and Marquette would be tied for first in the Big East with identical 14-4 records. And since they split the season series, the second tiebreaker goes to the better record in common games against the next-best opponent. That will most likely be Lousiville, who Georgetown beat but Marquette lost to. Georgetown nabs the regular-season crown and a #1 seed for the Big East tournament.
Of course – once these teams get to Madison Square Garden, anything can happen. Though a 2 seed would get Marquette a double bye all the way into the quarterfinals, it doesn’t guarantee anything from there. All of these teams will be dancing later this month, but it sure will be exciting to see exactly how they get there.