Eleven teams in the NCAA tournament from the Big East Conference.
That is one of the major points of discussions following the release of the 2011 NCAA basketball pairings. The 11 teams show that the Big East had some serious depth this season.
With that depth comes some expectations. For example, ESPN's Jay Bilas is predicting that three Big East schools will make the Final Four. Many others are expecting this to be the year of the Big East. Luckily, there are some that have not drank the Big East love Kool-Aid.
Unlike many, I am not a Big East hater. I respect the depth of the conference and would consider the Big East to be the best overall conference in men's basketball. However, that does not mean success in this year's tournament.
Between the lack of breaks given to them by the NCAA selection committee, the challenges the teams will face and their own shortcomings, none of the 11 teams will make it to the Final Four, with only a few having a chance to even make it to the third weekend of the greatest event in college sports.
Here is where the road to the Final Four comes to a halt for each of the exalted 11.
Cincinnati: 25-8 (West Region, Sixth Seed)
The Bearcats have one of the hardest paths to the second weekend of the NCAA tournament. They open the tournament against Missouri (23-10, 8-8 Big 12), whose high-scoring attack could be a challenge for the Bearcats to keep up with. If they beat the Tigers, a second-round date with conference-mate Connecticut (who beat them 67-59 last month). This is where the road comes to a halt for the Bearcats as they start to prepare for next year.
Connecticut: 26-9 (West Region, Third Seed)
The Huskies were impressive during their five-day run through the Big East tournament. Kemba Walker was a man against boys in many cases as we demonstrated why he is one of the best players in the game. They open up NCAA play against Patriot League champion Bucknell (25-8, 13-1 Patriot). The Bison have not been pushovers in their past two appearances, defeating Arkansas and Kansas in back-to-back years.
If the Huskies are not shocked by the Bison, a second-round meeting with Cincinnati is in order. Connecticut should make it to the regional semifinals, but they should be looking at two tough potential matchups with San Diego State and Duke. While the Huskies have been impressive, the Blue Devils just have too much depth for them to make it to the final weekend.
Georgetown: 21-10 (Southwest Region, Sixth Seed)
The Hoyas enter the tournament struggling, having lost five of their last six. Luckily, they open the tournament play against the winner of the Virginia Commonwealth and Southern California play-in game. After that, the challenges for Georgetown pick up as they have a probable matchup with Player of the Year candidate JuJuan Johnson and Big Ten runner-up Purdue. This game will likely spell the end of their journey to the Final Four.
If the Hoyas find a way to get past the Boilermakers, they could have a matchup with conference-mate Notre Dame, who beat them 69-55 earlier this year. So, as we see the path to the Final Four definitely has its roadblocks for the Hoyas.
Louisville: 25-9 (Southwest Region, Fourth Seed)
The road to the Final Four starts out with a serious test as they open tournament play against Morehead State (24-9, 13-5 OVC). MSU is led by arguably the best mid-major player, Kenneth Faried (17.6 ppg, 14.3 rpg). If the Cardinals get past the Eagles, a potential showdown with Vanderbilt looms. Making it to the second weekend is possible, but their Final Four road comes to a dead end as they would come up against top-seeded Kansas in the regional semifinal.
Marquette: 20-14 (East Region, 11th Seed)
The Golden Eagles were the last of the Big East teams to make the dance. Marquette has struggled down the stretch, having won only won two of its last five. The Golden Eagles face Atlantic 10 champion Xavier (24-7, 15-1 A-10) in the opening round.
If the outmatched Golden Eagles get past the Musketeers, fellow Big East competitor, Syracuse would be next. With this being the case, getting out of the first weekend would be a lot of work for Marquette.
Notre Dame: 26-6 (Southwest Region, Second Seed)
The Fighting Irish have had one of their best seasons in recent history this year. Notre Dame starts this year's tournament against Akron (23-12, 9-7 MAC), who stepped up just in time in the MAC tournament to make the dance. In the second round, Texas A&M is the probable opponent and should not provide much of a threat to the Fighting Irish's desire to make the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2003.
The road to the second weekend starts off with a big challenge as a likely matchup with Player of the Year candidate JuJuan Johnson and Big Ten runner-up Purdue. If they can get past the Boilermakers, a probable matchup with Markieff and Marcus Morris and Kansas will end Notre Dame's run to the Final Four.
Pittsburgh: 27-5 (Southeast Region, Top Seed)
The Panthers come into the NCAA tournament as the highest seeded team from the Big East. They have been arguably the most consistent team in the conference this season and open tournament play against the winner of the Arkansas-Little Rock and UNC Asheville play-in game.
Once they dispatch the winner of that game, they will face the winner of Butler and Old Dominion. While both of these mid-majors dream of being this year's Cinderella, it would not be an easy task for them. With this being the case, the Panthers should make it through to the second weekend.
The second weekend presents what can be the roadblocks to Pittsburgh's quest to the Final Four: Wisconsin and Florida. The Badgers like to slow it down, slug it out with you and play defense, unlike many teams that the Panthers have played this season.
If they survive that showdown, the Gators, led by Chandler Parsons, are there to take on what could be a beat-up Pittsburgh squad. It would be two tough games that may be too much for the conference's best chance to make the last weekend of the tournament.
St. John's: 21-11 (Southeast Region, Sixth Seed)
The Red Storm may have peaked a little too soon. Through February, they were one of the country's hottest teams. In March, they are 2-2. They open the tournament against Gonzaga (24-9, 11-3 WCC), who is hitting its stride now, winning 11 of its last 13. If they get past the Bulldogs, a likely matchup with Jimmer and BYU is order. With an upset, they will then draw Florida. It is just too much for Steve Lavin's club to overcome and a great run falls short of the Final Four.
Syracuse: 26-7 (East Region, Third Seed)
The Orange had been on a six-game winning streak prior to losing to Connecticut in the Big East tournament. The first two rounds of the tournament are kind to Syracuse as the Orange start with MVC tournament champion Indiana State (20-13, 12-6 MVC). The Orange have too much for the Sycamores to handle.
The next round would bring Xavier, who provides little opposition to the Orange's quest to the Sweet 16. Unfortunately, business picks up in that round, as North Carolina will likely await. The Tar Heels have gelled at the right time and will provide to be too much for the Orange, as they will fall short of that Final Four goal.
Villanova: 21-11 (East Region, Ninth Seed)
The Wildcats collapsed at the end of the season, losing seven of their last nine after starting 19-4. With the way they have been playing they will fall in their opener to one of this year's Cinderella candidates, George Mason (26-6, 16-2 CAA). If they get past the Patriots, the Wildcats will be bounced by the Buckeyes in Round 2.
West Virginia: 20-11 (East Region, Fifth Seed)
The Mountaineers open tournament play against the winner of the UAB and Clemson play-in game. Neither team should present much of a challenge to West Virginia's journey to the second round. Unfortunately for the Mountaineers, the road hits a serious roadblock as they run into SEC champion Kentucky. The Wildcats, led by All-American candidate Terrence Jones, will prevail in the showdown of big-name coaches.
As seen, many roadblocks lie in the way of the Big East having a team in the Final Four; it is up to these 11 programs to represent the league. If they fail, they will become the laughingstocks of the sports world, as people will say the Big East is all quantity with only some quality for another year.
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