All about the Big East: Slumping league teams aren’t loving life on the bubble

The Big East set a record with 11 NCAA tournament bids last season, and the league has received 19 bids in the past two seasons.

While double-digit bids were expected last season, this season is different. Five conference teams – Syracuse, Marquette, Georgetown, Louisville and Notre Dame – are in excellent shape right now, while five others are scrambling to impress the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee and are currently residing on the bubble.

Those five – Cincinnati, Connecticut, Seton Hall, USF and West Virginia – have wildly different résumés, and four of them (all but USF) are mired in slumps of sorts.

Cincinnati, led by Mick Cronin, is among four Big East bubble teams currently mired in a slump. The Bearcats have lost four of six.
(US Presswire)

Worth noting is that the top four teams in the 16-team league receive a bye into the league quarterfinals, and the teams that finish fifth through eighth get a first-round bye.

Here’s a look at the four “bubble teams” that are in slumps; despite an 8-4 league record, USF is a long shot to receive an at-large bid because it has just one RPI top-50 win.

Cincinnati
Record: 17-8 overall, 7-5 in league
RPI through Sunday: 92nd
Top-50 and Top-100 wins: Three, six
“Bad” losses: Three Buzz: The Bearcats have lost four of their past six outings, and the wins were over DePaul and St. John’s – hardly the kind of victories that will gain notice from the selection committee. The Bearcats now play three in a row at home, with two of those games (Seton Hall on Saturday and Louisville on Feb. 23) against the kind of opponent that can boost an at-large candidacy. There’s also a home game Feb. 29 against Marquette. Cincy made the NCAA tourney last season, which snapped a five-year streak with no bid.

Connecticut
Record: 15-9, 5-7
RPI through Sunday: 21st
Top-50 and Top-100 wins: Five, eight
“Bad” losses: Two Buzz: The defending national champs haven’t looked anything like an NCAA tourney team of late; the Huskies have lost six of their past seven. The good news is that the schedule does lighten a bit the rest of the way. The toughest remaining games, against Marquette on Saturday and Syracuse on Feb. 25, are at home; the other four remaining games are against teams that have won a combined 12 league games. Then again, with the way they are playing, the Huskies can take nothing for granted right now. In the past seven games, UConn has shot 38.9 percent from the field, with 73 assists and 87 turnovers. UConn last missed the NCAA tourney in 2010, and the most recent NCAA titlist not to make the field the next season was Florida in 2008.

[ Related: Weekly watch: NCAA positioning could be at stake ]

Seton Hall
Record: 17-8, 6-7
RPI through Sunday: 31st
Top-50 and Top-100 wins: Three, six
“Bad” losses: None
Buzz: The Pirates have won two in a row after a six-game losing streak. Most of the Pirates’ good work was done in 2011, and they have just one top-50 win this calendar year. Seton Hall has a navigable closing stretch, with just one game (vs. Georgetown on Feb. 21) against a for-sure NCAA team. The toughest remaining road game is Saturday at Cincinnati, which also is in desperate need of a “good” win. Seton Hall hasn’t received an NCAA bid since 2006.

West Virginia
Record: 16-10, 6-7
RPI through Sunday: 41st
Top-50 and Top-100 wins: Three, nine
“Bad” losses: One
Buzz: WVU has lost five of its past six, and the four most recent losses have come in excruciating fashion: by a combined 15 points. Coach Bob Huggins to reporters after Saturday’s loss to visiting Louisville: “I’m tired of ‘ifs.’ I’m tired of, ‘If we would do this right, if we would do that right, if we wouldn’t do this.’ We need to do it.” WVU has a tough closing stretch, with three road games (Pitt, Notre Dame and surprising USF) as well as a home game with Marquette. There’s also a home game with DePaul, which should be the only breather from here on out. “Nobody’s panicking. But fear? Fear is good for us now,” senior forward Kevin Jones told reporters. WVU hasn’t missed the NCAA tourney since 2007.

West Virginia forward Kevin Jones is having a huge season, but his team is slumping.
(US Presswire)

3 to watch

West Virginia at Pittsburgh, Thursday, 9 p.m., ESPN: WVU will try to stop the bleeding with a game at its archrival. Pitt beat WVU in Morgantown on Jan. 30. And if WVU does indeed leave for the Big 12 after this academic year, this could be the last meeting for a while, which should add even more intensity.

Marquette at Connecticut, Saturday, noon, ESPN: UConn has DePaul on Wednesday at home, then welcomes in Marquette. The Golden Eagles are trying to stay among the top three teams in the Big East, while UConn quickly is reaching desperation mode.

Seton Hall at Cincinnati, Saturday, 4 p.m., Big East syndication/Fox Sports Ohio/Sportsnet New York/MASN/ESPN FullCourt: A matchup of two bubble teams seeking a “good” win. Cincy has lost four home games this season; Seton Hall is 2-5 on the road in league play.

Who’s hot?

Notre Dame F Jack Cooley: After back-to-back eight-point games, Cooley poured in a combined 43 points in two games, scoring 21 in a win at West Virginia and 22 in a victory over DePaul. He was 17-of-21 from the floor in the two games (80.9 percent) and added 26 rebounds and five blocks.

[ Related: Bracket Big Board: No luck involved in Irish’s hoops turnaround ]

Villanova F JayVaughn Pinkston: Pinkston has had an uneven freshman season, but has played perhaps his best basketball of the season of late. He has scored 55 points in the past three games and added 24 rebounds and three blocks. The averages of 18.3 points, 8.0 rebounds and 1.0 blocks are far above his season norms of 9.7 points, 5.4 rebounds and 0.4 blocks.

Marquette F Jae Crowder: Crowder doesn’t get enough credit nationally for his steady play. He averaged 18.5 points, 8.5 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 3.0 steals and 1.0 blocks in two victories last week. He shot 54.2 percent from the field (13-of-24) and 90.0 percent from the line (9-of-10) in the two contests.

Who’s not?

Connecticut G Jeremy Lamb: In his past four games, Lamb is just 16-of-52 from the field (30.8 percent), including a woeful 7-of-33 (21.2 percent) from 3-point range. Given that his two-point percentage in that span is just a bit less than 50 percent, perhaps he should quit jacking up so many 3-pointers.

Georgetown C Henry Sims: He’s 16-of-43 from the field in the past four games (37.2 percent). The bad percentage is somewhat mystifying. Sims, a 6-foot-10 senior, hasn’t taken a 3-pointer all season and was 19-of-24 (79.2 percent) from the line in those same four games.

West Virginia G Darryl Bryant: Bryant has played all but two minutes in the past five times (one of those was an OT matchup), and his play in the past two games – he played all 40 in both – was ragged. He was 3-of-24 from the floor (12.5 percent) in the two games, including 2-of-13 from beyond the arc. He did have a combined nine rebounds and nine assists and just three turnovers, though.

Good win last week

Notre Dame 55, West Virginia 51: This was the third road win in a row for the Irish, who had been 1-7 away from home (road and neutral-site games) before the winning streak. The Irish’s defense was excellent; it was the second-lowest point total of the season for WVU and the lowest at home.

Bad loss last week

USF 63, Pittsburgh 51: Just when it appeared as if Pitt was playing its way back into the NCAA discussion, the Panthers went on the road and lost to USF. They followed that up with a loss at Seton Hall.

Numbers game

USF has been a pleasant surprise this season, sitting at 15-10 overall and 8-4 in the Big East. The Bulls are one victory away from tying their highest Big East win total (9-9 in 2009-10). USF plays host to Villanova on Wednesday. The Bulls, who are 12-1 at home this season, won by 17 at Villanova on Jan. 5.

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Mike Huguenin is a Yahoo! Sports college sports editor. Send Mike a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Monday, Feb 13, 2012