In 2021, the Big East Conference sent just four teams to the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, a down year for a traditional powerhouse conference. One year later, they could be looking at six, seven, or even eight teams making it to the Big Dance, the most for the conference since Villanova’s championship year in 2018, with six Big East teams qualified. With Selection Sunday less than three weeks away, let’s take a look at who’s in, who’s out and who still has work to do.
Locks: Villanova, Providence, UConn
No surprises here. Regardless of how these teams fare in their last three to four regular season games and the Big East Tournament, consider them already dancing. All three of these teams are nationally ranked, and all have been consistently beating up on most of the other teams in a deep conference. While Providence has a lower KenPom rating (46th) than their record of 22-3 suggests, this is attributed to their ability to win the vast majority of their one-possession games. The truth is that good teams win close games. It’s time to stop the “Providence is lucky” charade until they prove it otherwise.
Near-locks: Marquette, Xavier, Seton Hall
Marquette (17-10, 9-7 Big East)
Head coach Shaka Smart has turned what was supposed to be a program in the midst of a rebuild to a tournament threat. They were ranked in the AP Polls as recently as Feb. 7, and sit at No. 35 and No. 32 in KenPom and NET rankings, respectively. The Golden Eagles have certainly been put to the test this year, going .500 in their 14 Quadrant 1 games to date. Their most notable wins include a home win over Illinois and a clean sweep of Villanova, more than enough to make their case. Freshman Justin Lewis has flashed enough to potentially be an all-conference player, and barring a complete collapse to end the season, expect the Golden Eagles to make their first NCAA tournament appearance since 2019.
Xavier (17-9, 7-8 Big East)
Don’t let their losing conference record fool you. This Xavier team ranks No. 37 and No. 25 in KenPom and NET rankings, respectively, and received votes in this week’s AP Poll. The Musketeers only lost one non-conference game all year, with wins over Virginia Tech and Ohio State helping them to five Quadrant 1 wins. Their recent home loss to DePaul stings, but sweeping Creighton and beating a tough UConn squad really boosts their resume. As long as they take care of business against Seton Hall and Georgetown at home, Travis Steele and Co. should be dancing on Selection Sunday.
Seton Hall (16-9, 7-8 Big East)
Another team that had just one non-conference loss, the Seton Hall Pirates are primed to make their fifth appearance in the tournament in just seven years. They currently stand at No. 36 in both the KenPom and NET rankings, and were nationally ranked for eight weeks straight earlier in the season. Jared Rhoden and Kadari Richmond are the real deal, helping their team to five Quadrant 1 wins, including Michigan on the road, and both Texas and UConn at home. With two tough road games against Xavier and Creighton up ahead, Seton Hall could practically punch their ticket before the Big East Tournament kicks off.
Work to do: Creighton, St. John’s
Creighton (18-8, 10-5 Big East)
How about Creighton making a last minute push? While they struggled in their non-conference slate, only notably beating Brigham Young at a neutral site, the Bluejays have really found their stride in Big East play. Greg McDermott’s players rank at just No. 64 and No. 62 in KenPom and NET standings, respectively, but have some very quality wins over Villanova, UConn and Marquette. Teamrankings.com has the Bluejays at an 87% chance to dance, and if they can win a couple of their upcoming games against St. John’s, Providence, UConn and Seton Hall, Creighton is a safe bet come Selection Sunday.
St. John’s (15-11, 7-8 Big East)
For the Red Storm, their resume is fairly self-explanatory. They’ve won the games they were supposed to win, and lost the games they were supposed to lose. The Johnnies sit at No. 60 in KenPom and No. 66 in NET, beating teams like Seton Hall and Xavier on the road, but unable to find conference wins against anyone else besides Georgetown, Butler and DePaul. The good news for St. John’s is their upcoming slate, with crucial games against Creighton, DePaul, Xavier and Marquette. If Julian Champagnie and his teammates can find a way to win three of those four, St. John’s may have a shot at the NCAA Tournament.
Auto-bids or bust: Butler, DePaul, Georgetown
For these groups, it’s most likely “better luck next year.” All three of these squads rank below 100 in the KenPom ratings, and would need a massive weekend at Madison Square Garden to ensure their spot in the Big Dance. Georgetown would fit that bill especially, as the reigning conference champions currently don’t have a 2021-2022 Big East win to their name. Young players like Simas Lukosias of Butler and Aminu Mohammed of Georgetown could help their respective teams make deep runs into April someday, but it certainly won’t happen this year.