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March 7, 2007

Big East: Hoyas, Cards roll into tournament

The top seed: Georgetown. The Hoyas (23-6, 13-3) won 12 of their final 13 games to overtake Pittsburgh for the regular-season title.

Forward Jeff Green and center Roy Hibbert lead the way for coach John Thompson's young team (no senior plays more than 2 minutes per game). Green and Hibbert were unanimous All-Big East selections by the league's coaches. Georgetown plays suffocating defense: It ranked No. 1 in the conference and fifth nationally in scoring defense at 56.5 points per game. It has an underrated point guard in Jonathan Wallace and goes a solid nine deep. The draw, though, isn't the best for the top seed. It gets the winner of the DePaul-Villanova game in the quarterfinals, and the Hoyas split two hard-fought games with the Wildcats - losing by four at home before winning by three on the road.

Next best bet: Louisville. The Cardinals (22-8, 12-4) - like Georgetown - made the most of the stretch run. Rick Pitino's team won 10 of its final 12 games to steal the No. 2 seed in the conference tournament, and the draw sets up well for the Cards. They should win their quarterfinal with relative ease, setting up a semifinal matchup with the winner of Marquette-Pittsburgh. The Panthers, who led the Big East most of the way, stumbled down the stretch. Pitt lost three of its final six. One of those losses was a rout by UofL, 66-53.

Dark horse: Villanova. Despite entering the tournament as the ninth seed, the Wildcats (21-9, 9-7) have the league's third-best RPI (No. 18). Jay Wright's team has played one of the nation's toughest schedules, so 'Nova feels like it's tournament-tested and ready to go. It has a nice mix of senior leaders (Curtis Sumpter and Mike Nardi) with up-and-comers (Scottie Reynolds and Dante Cunningham). The Wildcats also played well down the stretch, winning seven of their final nine. They already have shown this season that they match up well with Georgetown, then they'd get the winner of the Notre Dame-Syracuse game. 'Nova split with both teams during the regular season.

NCAA locks: Georgetown, Pittsburgh, Louisville, Notre Dame, Marquette

Big East Tournament Schedule
All games at Madison Square Garden, New York City
*Approximate game times
Wednesday, March 7
Game 1: No. 8 DePaul vs. No. 9 Villanova (Noon)
Game 2: No. 5 Syracuse vs. No. 12 UConn (*2 p.m.)
Game 3: No. 7 W.Va. vs. No. 10 Providence (7 p.m.)
Game 4: No. 6 Marquette vs. No. 11 St. John's (*9 p.m.)
Thursday, March 8
Game 5: No. 1 Georgetown vs. No.8/No. 9 (Noon)
Game 6: No. 4 Notre Dame vs. No. 5/No. 12 (*2 p.m.)
Game 7: No. 2 Louisville vs. No. 7/No. 10 (7 p.m.)
Game 8: No. 3 Pittsburgh vs. No. 6/No. 11 (*9 p.m.)
Friday, March 9
Game 9: Game 5 winner vs. Game 6 winner (7 p.m.)
Game 10: Game 7 vs. Game 8 winner (*9 p.m.)
Saturday, March 10
Game 11: Game 9 winner vs. Game 10 winner (9 p.m.)
Who has work to do:
Syracuse: The Orangemen (21-9, 10-6) may believe they're already in with a fifth seed in the Big East tournament and 10 wins in the conference. But they're No. 50 in the RPI, which certainly indicates they're not a lock just yet. A loss to 12th-seeded Connecticut could prove disastrous. Two wins and Syracuse can punch its ticket.

DePaul: With an RPI of 63, the Blue Demons (18-12, 9-7) clearly are on the outside looking in at the moment. The only way they even can talk about busting out their dancing shoes is with two victories, meaning they would have knocked off Villanova (with its high RPI) and top-seeded Georgetown. Even then DePaul might have to reach the tournament final to ensure a bid.

Villanova: The Wildcats may be in already, but they probably need to go ahead and beat DePaul in the first round to sleep a little easier.

West Virginia: The Mountaineers (21-8, 9-7) have built a nice reputation in the NCAA Tournament the past couple of years, but does that mean the selection committee is predisposed to including them? A loss to Providence in the first round almost assuredly would mean NIT. John Beilein's team probably needs to win two, meaning a second-round upset of Louisville.

Must win the conference tournament: Providence, St. John's, Connecticut

Didn't qualify for the conference tournament: Seton Hall, South Florida, Rutgers, Cincinnati

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More Conference Tournament previews: ACC | Big 12 | Pac-10 | Big Ten | SEC

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