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The quest for the double bye

The four coveted double-byes for the first two rounds of the Big East Tournament are still up for grabs. Six teams are within two games of each other and there is plenty of basketball to be played over the next two weeks. Here’s a breakdown of each team and what their chances are of waiting until Thursday to play their Big East Tournament game.

1. Syracuse Orange: 13-1

Schedule: at Rutgers, South Florida, at Connecticut, Louisville

The Orange have all but solidified a double-bye in the Big East Tournament, needing one more win and a South Florida loss to wrap things up. Looking further, the dominant Orange are also in excellent shape to win the regular season championship. A combination of two wins and one Notre Dame loss would guarantee them the Big East title. This seems likely, as they have games at Rutgers and home against South Florida remaining on the schedule, while the Fighting Irish would need to win out, facing tough opponents in West Virginia and at Georgetown.

Prediction: 16-2, first in the Big East

2. Marquette Golden Eagles: 10-3

Schedule: at Connecticut, Rutgers, at West Virginia, at Cincinnati, Georgetown

Breakdown: The status of sophomore forward Davante Gardner and his injured left knee make the Golden Eagles a tough team to predict. Of the seven teams vying for a double-bye, Marquette is 3-3. With three tough road games and a date with Georgetown to close out the season, the Golden Eagles could go either way.

If Gardner can return in time for the back-to-back road contests against West Virginia and Cincinnati, Marquette has a good shot at getting to 13 conference wins. That would put them ahead of Louisville and Cincinnati, should both those teams win out, and South Florida, assuming the Bulls drop one of their last five games. If Gardner misses the rest of the Big East season, a 2-3 or 1-4 finish is not out of the question, given the opposing front courts waiting for the Golden Eagles down the stretch. With only one sure-fire win remaining, Rutgers, it will be an interesting finish for Buzz Williams’ group. That being said, 2-3 likely would get the No. 4 seed in the Big East Tournament.

Prediction: 13-5, fourth in the Big East

3. Notre Dame Fighting Irish: 10-3

Schedule: at Villanova, West Virginia, at St. John’s, at Georgetown, Providence

Analysis: The hottest team in the Big East has won seven straight and, more importantly, holds tiebreakers over Louisville, South Florida and Marquette. The Fighting Irish should be favored in four of their last five games, and the way they are playing means a 4-1 record to close the season could happen. Even if they finish 3-2, 13 wins would get them a double bye unless Marquette won four games and Cincinnati ran the table. A win over Georgetown on Feb. 27 would cement their spot in the top four, assuming they took care of business against St. John’s and Providence.

Prediction: 14-4, third in the Big East

4. Georgetown Hoyas: 9-4

Schedule: at Providence, at Seton Hall, Villanova, Notre Dame, at Marquette

Analysis: The Hoyas should be 12-4 when they take on Notre Dame before traveling to Marquette to finish the season. Picking up wins in one of those last two games almost surely would get them into the top four, having the tiebreaker over Louisville and South Florida already. Even if they dropped both those contests to end the season, a 12-6 record would be good enough unless Louisville won out, South Florida finished 3-2 or better in a brutal gauntlet and Cincinnati finished 4-1. For the Hoyas, it’s taking care of business the next two weeks against the easier half of their final stretch.

Prediction: 14-4, second in the Big East

5. South Florida: 9-4

Schedule: at Pittsburgh, at Syracuse, Cincinnati, at Louisville, West Virginia

Analysis: In case you were wondering why South Florida hadn’t been mentioned in the above discussions, it’s because of its remaining schedule. The Bulls are winless in three games against Big East teams with a winning record and are 9-1 against sub-.500 teams in conference. Their easiest remaining game is at Pittsburgh, which is 3-2 at home (including a win over Georgetown) since point guard Travon Woodall’s return.

Having losses to every team ahead of them and the same conference record, South Florida’s scenario is similar to Louisville’s, with the difference being the Bulls have a one-game advantage thanks to the weak schedule. Even if the Bulls surprised everyone and went 4-1 down the stretch, they do not hold tiebreakers against any contender.

Prediction: 10-8, seventh in the Big East

5. Louisville Cardinals: 8-5

Schedule: at DePaul, at Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, South Florida, at Syracuse

Analysis: Louisville finds itself in a tough situation.The Cardinals lost to the four teams in front of them, which means running the table would still only get them in the top four if A) Marquette loses at least three games; B) Notre Dame loses at least three games; or C) Georgetown loses at least two games.

The likeliest of those three is Marquette, but in order to win out Louisville would have to win on the road at Syracuse. A road contest against Cincinnati is no pushover, either. A 4-1 finish would be disastrous as one of Georgetown, Marquette or Notre Dame would have to finish with seven losses. That seems unlikely.

Prediction: 11-7, fifth in the Big East

7. Cincinnati Bearcats: 8-5

Schedule: Seton Hall, Louisville, at South Florida, Marquette, at Villanova

Analysis: Wins over Georgetown and Notre Dame make the Bearcats’ situation interesting, albeit still difficult. Given their schedule, a 4-1 finish is not out of the question which would put them in contention for a top four finish. They would still need help from collapses by either the Hoyas (a 3-2 finish or worse) or the Fighting Irish (a 2-3 finish or worse), but can not afford to drop two games down the stretch to have a shot. It’s not out of the realm of possibility, but it still seems unlikely that the Bearcats would run the table, or come close to it, and have late-season collapses from one of the two aforementioned teams.

Prediction: 11-7, sixth in the Big East

Conference standings predictions (1-8)
1. Syracuse (16-2)
2. Georgetown (14-4)
3. Notre Dame (14-4)
4. Marquette (13-5)
5. Cincinnati (11-7)
6. Louisville (11-7)
7. West Virginia (10-8)
8. South Florida (10-8)

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