In its final year of existence, the Big East secured eight NCAA berths (and it would have been nine if UConn was eligible).
Here’s my outlook for all eight schools:
Louisville (No. 1, Midwest) — That Big East title game against Syracuse was simply amazing.
The Cardinals have all three elements of a national champion: a good point guard (Peyton Siva), an imposing big man (Gorgui Dieng) and a big-time scorer (Russ Smith). Problem is, Smith and Siva have been erratic. You wonder if they’ll hit a scoring drought, thus bouncing Louisville before it reaches Atlanta. It’s possible, but I’m sticking with the Cards to the Final Four.
Syracuse (No. 4, East) – I like N.C. State over the top-seeded Indiana in the second round, which opens the door for Syracuse to make an Elite Eight run. The Orange must be crushed after the debacle in the Big East title game, but the fact remains: ‘Cuse has the personnel to play with any team in the nation. Its extreme length on defense should cause some problems, especially against non-league foes that aren’t so familiar with the ‘Cuse zone.
Georgetown (No. 2, South) — History doesn’t bode well for the Hoyas, who have lost to a double-digit seed in their past four tournament appearances. Good thing history doesn’t count for much.
Georgetown has a bonafide stud in Otto Porter, perhaps the best wing in the country. The Hoyas have a fairly difficult path to the Final Four, though. I say their run ends against high-scoring Florida in the Sweet Sixteen.
Marquette (No. 3 , East) – The committee rewarded the Golden Eagles with a No. 3 seed (seems a little high) for its 14-4 Big East regular season record. Marquette is solid, but to me, it’s the weakest of any top four seed in this field. I like Butler over the Golden Eagles in Round Two.
ONE AND DONE
Pittsburgh (No. 8, West) – Everyone is looking to bounce Gonzaga early. Pitt, which could draw the top-seeded Zags in the second round, will be a popular Sweet 16 pick. I’m sticking with Wichita State over Pitt in Round One, though. The Shockers are a veteran group — three seniors and a junior comprise their top four scorers — that has the size to bang with the Panthers up front. Pitt doesn’t have enough offensively (it lacks a go-to scorer) for a deep NCAA run.
Villanova (No. 9, South) – Despite wins over Louisville, Syracuse, Georgetown and UConn, I’m not crazy about the Wildcats. They get a tough draw in the first round with North Carolina, a talented team that is peaking at the right time. The ‘Heels have too many offensive weapons for ‘Nova.
Notre Dame (No. 7, West) – The Irish generally struggle in the Big Dance, and this year should be no different. Even if Notre Dame gets by Iowa State in the opening round, it’s difficult to envision this group knocking off Ohio State to reach the Sweet Sixteen.
Cincinnati (No. 10, Midwest) – Sorry, but I’m not a fan. The Bearcats looked totally undisciplined late in the season, dropping seven of their past 11 games. Their two leading scorers — Sean Kilpatrick and Cashmere Wright — shoot less than 40 percent from the field. A polished Creighton squad awaits in Friday afternoon’s opener.