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Jeff Eisenberg

Eleven NCAA tourney bids are within reach for the Big East

Jeff Eisenberg
The Dagger

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The once far-fetched notion that the Big East could land 11 NCAA tournament bids this season is on the verge of becoming reality.

Eight Big East teams appear in this week's AP Top 25, each of whom have already done enough to feel confident they'll hear their name called on Selection Sunday. A trio of others haven't quite punched their ticket yet, but they each appear more likely to make the NCAA tournament than miss it.

Cincinnati was once the biggest long shot of the 11 as a result of a threadbare non-conference schedule, but the Bearcats have defeated Louisville, Providence and Georgetown in the past 10 days to improve to 22-6 overall and 9-6 in Big East play.

Marquette (17-11, 8-7) is now on more solid ground after upsetting UConn on Thursday night, especially since the Golden Eagles finish the season with Providence, Cincinnati and Seton Hall.

West Virginia (17-10, 8-7) still appears safe as well despite four losses in its past six games. Victories over Purdue, Notre Dame and Georgetown separate the Mountaineers from the rest of the bubble riff raff, though they might be wise to win at least one of their remaining three games just to be certain.

While it might seem as though the Big East's potential 11 bids are a result of the new 68-team field and being college basketball's lone bloated 16-team super conference, it still would be an impressive feat percentage-wise.

The 12-team ACC and Big 12 have both previously earned seven bids, meaning 58.3 percent went to the NCAA tournament. By contrast, 11 Big East bids would be 68.9 percent.

The most bids the Big East had previously gotten was nine, but everything has broken in the conference's favor this year. Not only did Big East teams perform exceptionally in non-conference play this year, there also is a clear line of separation between the top 11 teams and 12th place Seton Hall (11-16, 5-10).

Maybe the biggest question still facing the Big East is whether double-digit NCAA tournament bids will translate into postseason success.

Seven of the nine Big East teams who made the NCAA tournament last season failed to make the Sweet 16. It seems unlikely we'll see a repeat of that flameout again this season, but we'll find out in March.

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