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Question of the day: How many Big East teams should qualify for the NCAA tournament?

February 22, 2011 |  9:36 am

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Writers from around the Tribune Co. weigh in on the topic. Check back throughout the day for more responses and leave a comment.

Shannon Ryan, Chicago Tribune

Everyone can start complaining about East Coast bias, but the Big East deserves 11 teams in the NCAA tournament. No one can argue with Pittsburgh as a No. 1-seeded team. No one can debate the merits of Notre Dame, Villanova, Georgetown, Connecticut, Syracuse, Louisville or West Virginia. And how many teams can say they’ve beaten five ranked teams like St. John’s? Welcome in Cincinnati, too, which has four victories against RPI top-50 teams. Marquette certainly has question marks, but their quality wins against Notre Dame, Syracuse and West Virginia should be enough to push them through the door.

Matt Murschel, Orlando Sentinel

When the NCAA field of 68 is announced, don’t be surprised to see 10 teams from the Big East make it into the field.

Not hard to imagine when eight of the league’s 16 teams are entrenched in this week’s top 25 rankings. Pittsburgh, Notre Dame, Georgetown, Connecticut, Villanova, Louisville and Syracuse are pretty much locks to make the tournament, with St. John’s making a strong case thanks to having the top strength of schedule in the nation. That leaves West Virginia (17-9), Cincinnati (21-6), and possibly Marquette (16-11) on the outside looking in. The Mountaineers have a top-25 RPI and rank fourth in the nation in strength of schedule, so they should also make it in. The Bearcats play three ranked teams in its last four games and could make a strong case to also be invited to the Big Dance. That leaves Marquette as the possible odd man out.

[Updated at 1:36 p.m.:

Chris Dufresne, Los Angeles Times

It seems ridiculous the Big East should get 11 bids to the NCAA tournament until you look at the conference and you look at the field. Tournament expansion this year, from 65 to 68, means the bubble is going to be softer than it's ever been. You can raise your eyebrows when NCAA committee chairman Gene Smith says  "We don't look at conference standings, we look at individual teams," but that doesn't negate the fact there are years when one league deserves disproportionate representation. This is one of them. Bob Knight said Monday night on ESPN that winning the Big East tournament this year may almost be as tough as winning the NCAA title. That's a stretch, but not by much. Ten Big East teams rank in the top 38 of the latest RPI, with Marquette seemingly "iffy" at 68. But Marquette has a top-40 strength of schedule, wins against Notre Dame and Syracuse and only lost to No. 1 Duke by five. If the Big Ten can have 12 teams in football and the Big 12 can have 10, why can't the Big East send 11 to the NCAA tournament? It's also Ok to rip the Big East unless it advances two teams to the Final Four.

Mike Anthony, Hartford Courant

We must start by poking fun at ourselves. This is a ridiculous question. The NCAA tournament field takes shape down the stretch of the season and even well into conference tournaments. But it also is something we all -- fans, media, coaches -- consider every day, every hour, as we inch toward March.
 
A bubble team that's in today could be out of the picture with a couple of consecutive losses. So the questions, the important questions that can only be answered on the court over the next few weeks, are which teams will play their way in and which teams will crumble and create room for others?

That doesn't have to do with conference affiliation, as much as we like to keep track. We'll say this: The Big East is, by far, the best conference in the nation; it chews up its own and spits teams toward the selection committee with bumps and bruises.

The conference has twice had eight teams in the tournament and, the way things look now, 11 are in position to play themselves in. The records might not match up with teams from other conferences, but the RPIs and strength of schedules will, and the rocky road to the Dance should help a team as much as the accumulation of losses might hurt it. That's why the Marquettes and Cincinnatis of the world might push the number of Big East teams participating to a record 10 or 11.]

Photo: Pittsburgh Panthers center J.J. Richardson dances in the team huddle. Credit: Charles LeClaire / U.S. Presswire.

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