With their win at Butler last night, the Muskies cemented themselves at 3rd place in the Big East with a pivotal tilt at 4th place Marquette upcoming. But those are not the only two teams with NCAA Tournament aspirations in the conference, here is a look at who is in, who is clinging to life, and who is figuring out where the CBI is being played this year. This issue will examine the top 5 teams, while tomorrow we will look at those with quite a bit more work to do.
1. Villanova (9-1)
Most recently: Last Friday, the Wildcats stomped the fire out of Seton Hall to improve to 9-1 in conference and 21-2 overall. With wins over Kansas and Iowa, as well as everyone in the conference except Creighton, Jay Wright's team is fighting for a #1 seed in regional play the rest of the way.
Prognosis: The only possible hiccups on the rest of the slate are trips to Creighton, who bombed Nova into submission in Philly, and Xavier, who did whatever the opposite of that is. If the Wildcats have the wherewithal to run the table into the tournament, it will be very hard for the selection committee to overlook them for a #1 seed (which they might do anyway).
2. Creighton (9-2)
Most Recently: The Bluejays went stone cold from three, shooting just 5-22 (23%) in a stunning loss at St. John's. It dropped them off Villanova's pace by a half game in the standings but, much like the Wildcats, they are primarily concerned with seeding at this point, with most projections seeing them at a 3 or 4 seed.
Prognosis: My bold prediction is that Creighton will not end up a 3 seed because their run in features a home date with #6 Villanova before they take trips to Xavier, Marquette, and Georgetown. A hot streak could see their stock rise to a 2 seed, but with such a difficult slate, it is hard to say if they are up to it or if they will suffer a resume damaging loss somewhere in there.
3. Xavier (7-4)
Most Recently: The X men came out of Hinkle Feedhouse with a confidence, if not resume, boosting win, making it two in a row for the Muskies. Most publications have X on the right side of the bubble, getting into the tournament with a 9-11 seed. However, the feeling remains that another big time win would solidify their claim to being worthy of an At Large bid.
Prognosis: It cannot be overstated how big the upcoming game at Marquette will be for Xavier. A rough end to January led to a dismal opening to February and left the Musketeers with some work to do to piece their case for inclusion in the field of 68 back together. Trips to Georgetown and St. John's give them chances to pick up road wins at the expense of some of the lesser lights of the conference but hosting Creighton and Villanova on March 1 and 6, respectively, with a trip to Seton Hall thrown in the middle is a hard stretch to be positive about closing the season with for X fans.
4. Marquette (6-5)
Most Recently: In what has been a season of near misses for Marquette, they got the job done against Seton Hall to improve to 6-5 in conference play and extend their win streak to 2. The Golden Eagles are current;y on the outside looking in to the NCAAs with near misses coming against 6 current tournament teams by margins of 10 or less, including an OT loss to Villanova and a 2 point heartbreaker at Arizona State.
Prognosis: Marquette could get the ball rolling on a late run for a bid with a win Saturday and could really get things going if they find a way past Creighton next week. Unfortunately for the Golden Eagles, losses in the next two games may spell the end of their already waning aspirations as only a trip to Villanova would remain as a chance at a marquee win.
5. Providence (6-6)
Most Recently: After beating Xavier on January 25th, the Friars sat at 5-2 in conference play and were looking set for a run at a bye in the first round of the Big East Tournament. However, things have gone distinctly sideways since then and their loss to Georgetown on Monday was their 4th in 5 games. With opinion fairly split on this as a tournament team, Providence could use to regain their form of a month ago if they are to live up to their aspirations of making the field of 68.
Prognosis: Tuesday's home game against Villanova could go a long way in determining Providence's fate. Failure to beat the Wildcats leaves only a trip to Creighton as a chance at a valuable win before tournament play begins. The Friars host DePaul and Marquette and travel to Seton Hall and Butler as well, and probably need all four of those to strike the fancy of the selection committee.