Not much separates teams in Big East
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There will be a new No. 1 team in men's college basketball next week after Duke lost by 27 points Wednesday night at Miami. It will be the fourth time in five weeks that a new No. 1 team has ascended to the top of the polls.
If the season ended today teams such as Creighton, New Mexico, Virginia Commonwealth and Wichita State would be among the teams battling for high seeds in the NCAA tournament. Among those teams that would be sweating out Selection Sunday are defending national champion Kentucky, North Carolina and Pitt.
There does not appear to be a dominant team in college basketball. Parity is reigning supreme.
The Big East Conference is a prime example of that. One game in the standings separates fourth place from ninth place heading into Saturday's games.
Pitt is among those seven teams vying for positioning in the conference. History suggests the middle of the pack is not a bad place to be.
Two years ago, Connecticut was 9-9 in the Big East in the regular season. Then the Huskies won five games in five days to win the Big East tournament to secure their place in the NCAA field. From there, the Huskies stayed hot and won their third NCAA championship.
Last season, Louisville was 10-8 and finished in seventh place in the standings after losing three of its final four games in the regular season. The Cardinals then won four consecutive games to win the Big East tournament and made it to the NCAA Final Four before losing to Kentucky in a semifinal game.
"I've used the Louisville example as a team that got off to a slow start and got going," Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. "I think you lose a few close games and everybody tends to write you off in any conference. It's a long year in our league. You can have a number of losses and still have a good team. I think that's the case every year. We always have a team that's maybe .500 in conference and is really good and can beat anybody.
"It's just part of having 8, 9, 10 or 11 NCAA tournament teams. The numbers add up where you'll have a .500 team in the Big East that's NCAA tournament quality and maybe even more special than that."
Dixon pointed to the Big East games that took place earlier this week. Providence took Pitt to the wire before the Panthers prevailed by four points. In Philadelphia, unranked Villanova beat No. 5 Louisville by nine points.
The Big East is unpredictable. Georgetown traveled to Notre Dame and beat the Irish by 16 points Monday, two days after losing to a South Florida team that is in last place in the conference.
"I said to our guys today, 'Half your games, or close to three-quarters of your games, will come down to two or three possessions,' " Dixon said. "That's what will decide it. That's been my history in 14 years in this conference and probably more so in the last few years. There's not much separation. It's foul trouble, an injury. Those are the things that often change teams or seasons."
With its three-game winning streak, Pitt (16-4, 4-3) is up to No. 51 in the Ratings Percentage Index. In the most recent NCAA tournament projections the Panthers are in the field of 68. Joe Lunardi of ESPN has Pitt as a No. 9 seed. Jerry Palm of CBS has Pitt as a No. 10 seed. Both projections were done before Pitt defeated Providence.
Pitt plays host to DePaul Saturday afternoon and will look to gain a little separation in the standings. The Blue Demons have lost four of their first five conference games, but one of those losses came by two points to Seton Hall and another came by five points to Cincinnati.
"Everybody is really close," junior guard Trey Zeigler said. "It's balanced. Everyone has depth. Any night you can be beat if you don't come out ready to play. That's one thing we've been focused on, not taking anyone lightly."
Correction/Clarification: (Published January 30, 2013) Louisville lost to Kentucky in a semifinal game of the 2012 NCAA men's basketball championship. An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that Louisville had lost in the national championship final.
First Published January 25, 2013 12:00 am