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March 12, 2008

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Georgetown: The Hoyas might not be the prettiest team in the league, but they're clearly the best. Georgetown won last year's regular-season and tournament titles and could repeat that feat this season. The Hoyas clinched the Big East regular-season title with a 55-52 victory over Louisville that showed their ability to hit big shots in the clutch. Georgetown also leads the nation in field-goal percentage defense, allowing opponents to shoot just 36.4 percent. A tournament title makes Georgetown a comfortable No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

AT A GLANCE
Roy Hibbert led Georgetown to the Big East Tournament title a year ago.

WHEN: March 12-15
WHERE: Madison Square Garden, New York.
EXPECTED NCAA BIDS: 7-9. Georgetown, Louisville, Notre Dame, Connecticut, Marquette and Pittsburgh already have locked up at-large bids. West Virginia also is in good shape, though a first-round loss to Providence could have the Mountaineers feeling nervous on Selection Sunday. Syracuse and Villanova still have reason to hope they could earn at-large bids, but both need to do well in New York. Problem: They meet in the first round, which could be a do-or-die game.

TOURNEY SCHEDULE
(ALL TIMES EASTERN; ALL GAMES ON ESPN)
FIRST ROUND - WEDNESDAY
No. 8 Villanova vs. No. 9 Syracuse, noon
No. 5 WVU vs. No. 12 Providence, 2 p.m.
No. 7 Pitt. vs. No. 10 Cincinnati, 7 p.m.
No. 6 Marq. vs. No. 11 Seton Hall 9 p.m.
SECOND ROUND - THURSDAY
No. 1 Georgetown vs. No. 8/9 winner, noon
No. 4 UConn vs. No. 5/12 winner, 2 p.m.
No. 2 Louisville vs. No. 7/10 winner, 7 p.m.
No. 3 N. Dame vs. No. 6/11 winner, 9 p.m.
SEMIFINALS - FRIDAY
Game 5 winner vs. Game 6 winner, 7 p.m.
Game 7 winner vs. Game 8 winner, 9 p.m.
FINALS - SATURDAY
Semifinal winners, 9 p.m.

Louisville: Considering they lost to the Hoyas by only three points on Georgetown's home floor, the Cardinals ought to have a decent chance of winning a rematch on a neutral site. Louisville was the hottest Big East team at the end of the season. The loss to Georgetown ended a nine-game winning streak. Louisville proved in a 90-85 victory over Notre Dame that it can run up and down the floor with teams, and it has proved in splitting two games with Georgetown that it also can beat teams at a slower pace. Louisville ranks sixth in the nation in field-goal percentage defense. Louisville could make its case for a No. 2 seed by winning the Big East Tournament.

SLEEPERS

Connecticut: If a team's tournament success depends on its point guard and its post play, you have to like the Huskies' chances. No point guard in the Big East had a better season than Connecticut's A.J. Price. The Huskies also boast one of the conference's best inside tandems in shot-blocking center Hasheem Thabeet and double-double machine Jeff Adrien. The Huskies beat Louisville this season and lost by only three points at Georgetown, so they certainly won't be intimidated by the thought of facing either of the top two seeds this week. Connecticut is hoping for a No. 3 or No. 4 seed in the NCAA field.

Notre Dame: The Irish never have advanced to the Big East championship game, but perhaps this is the year. Notre Dame typically relies heavily on 3-point shooting, but power forward Luke Harangody has given the Irish an interior presence to balance their perimeter attack. They distribute the ball so well that they lead the nation with 19.1 assists per game. Notre Dame's draw might be working against it. The Irish have earned a first-round bye, but their likely second-round foe is Marquette, whose talented backcourt could cause problems for the Irish. Notre Dame could secure a No. 3 or No. 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament by faring well this week.

Pittsburgh: The Panthers have advanced to the championship game six of the last seven years, but they'll have a tough time getting that far this season. Pittsburgh didn't earn one of the four first-round byes this year and instead must play a Cincinnati team that split two regular-season meetings with the Panthers. A first-round victory would set up a second-round matchup with Louisville. Then again, Pittsburgh was playing as well as anyone in the country in late December. If the Panthers recapture that early season form, they could be playing all the way to Saturday. Pittsburgh has locked up an NCAA bid, but the Panthers probably need a good week to assure themselves of anything higher than a No. 6 seed.

Marquette: The ability of ball-hawking guards Dominic James and Jerel McNeal to force turnovers gives Marquette a decent chance against just about anyone, though an 87-72 loss to Syracuse in the regular-season finale doesn't bode well for the Eagles' Big East tourney prospects. The bad news for Marquette is that it has lost twice to Louisville by double-digit margins. Marquette probably would have to face Louisville in the semifinals if the Eagles get that far. Marquette has locked up an NCAA bid, and a Big East tournament title could get the Eagles a No. 4 seed.

West Virginia: The Mountaineers enter on a bit of a roll after winning four of their final five regular-season games. That late-season run probably guaranteed West Virginia an NCAA bid, though a first-round loss to Providence could cause the selection committee to have second thoughts. West Virginia doesn't have a favorable draw, with a potential second-round game against Connecticut before a possible semifinal date with Georgetown. But when the Mountaineers are making their 3-pointers, they can throw a scare into just about anyone. West Virginia is playing for NCAA seeding; it could be as a high as a No. 7 or as low as a No. 10.

FILLING OUT THE FIELD

Villanova: The Wildcats have plenty of motivation because an RPI in the 50s means they may need to win at least twice this week to earn an NCAA bid. Villanova also has a revenge motive. If the Wildcats beat Syracuse in the first round they split their two regular-season meetings they'd have a chance to avenge their controversial 55-53 loss to Georgetown in the second round.

Syracuse: The Orange proved two years ago they know how to deliver in this tournament when an NCAA bid is at stake. Too bad Gerry McNamara's not on the roster anymore. Syracuse would have to face Georgetown in the second round, but the Orange won't be intimidated by such a matchup. The Orange beat the Hoyas 77-70 at the Carrier Dome and lost 64-62 in overtime at Georgetown.

Cincinnati: The Bearcats split two regular-season meetings with first-round opponent Pittsburgh. Cincinnati also won at Louisville, which would be looming in the second round if the Bearcats got that far. Then again, it's tough to imagine Cincinnati doing much damage at all this week after ending the regular season on a five-game losing streak.

Seton Hall: The Pirates have the unenviable task of facing a Marquette team that whipped them by 25 points last month. Seton Hall also ended the regular season on a three-game skid that included losses to St. John's and Rutgers teams that couldn't even crack the Big East Tournament field. It would be a major surprise if Seton Hall advanced beyond the first round.

Providence: After losing by double-digit margins each of the two times it faced West Virginia during the regular season, it's hard to envision the Friars having much more success against the Mountaineers in the Big East Tournament. But if Providence pulls the upset, the Friars have reason for optimism. Their potential second-round foe is Connecticut, which lost twice to Providence during the regular season.

MORE: Rivals.com Daily Bubble Watch | Weekend Rewind | Play Yahoo! Sports Tourney Pick'em

Steve Megargee is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at smegargee@rivals.com.



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