Saturday, February 16, 2008

Bubble Puzzle: Marquette Pounds Pitt

Marquette 72 Pittsburgh 54
There's a swinging door at the entrance to the NCAA field of 65, and it swung wide open for the Marquette Golden Eagles last night. For the Panthers, though, that door is closing fast, and they may just have to climb in through an open window in the Big east tournament.

Marquette outplayed the Panthers in every aspect of the game: the Golden Eagles shot 49%, grabbed 36 rebounds, dished 20 assists, turned the ball over 10 times, made 6 steals and blocked 4 shots. The numbers for Pitt were 37%, 33, 12, 15, 3 and 1. The Panthers were also a dreadful 1-11 from 3-point range.

Marquette stepped past Pitt in the Big East standings, improving to 8-5 in conference and 18-6 overall. Pitt is 7-5 and 19-6. Both teams are on the bubble, but Marquette served notice that they are worthy of reaching the next level.

Pittsburgh is an enigma wrapped in a sweat sock. Here's a team that's beaten both Duke and Georgetown, but has lost to the likes of Dayton, Rutgers, Cincinnati, UConn and Villanova. They're a horrible 2-4 on the road against Big East opponents and their next game is at Notre Dame, where the Irish have won 34 straight. Pitt will have to raise the ghost of Andrew Carnegie to win that one.

Next Sunday, the Panthers host Louisville, one of the hottest teams in the country, then play Cincy, a team that already beat them. Two road games, against contentious Syracuse and West Virginia precede the season finale against DePaul.

If the Panthers finish up 4-3 or 5-2 in those final seven games, they'll need a bit of a run in the Big East tourney to impress the NCAA selection committee. Winning less than four of their remaining games probably wipes them off the bracket board even before the conference tourney.

Marquette has similar bubble problems, but the win over Pitt really aids their cause. A pair of losses to Louisville, a split with Notre Dame and road losses at UConn and West Virginia are among the negatives. An out-of-conference win over Wisconsin helps, though a March 1 showdown with Georgetown, at Marquette, and the Big East tourney, will be keys to their success.

The Big East is likely to send seven teams to the national tournament. Georgetown, UConn, Louisville and Notre Dame look like locks already. With Syracuse, Cincinnati and West Virginia knocking on the door, Pitt may be the odd team out.

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