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Saturday Big East Preview: The Book Is Closing

With just a few weeks separating us from the NCAA Tournament, Big East teams are running out of time to make their final cases for inclusion, with the added problem of trying to do so against teams in a similar position.

In other words, just as notable in DePaul's victory over Providence this week as the snapping of their conference losing streak dating back to 2008 was that the contest featured no realistic NCAA tournament contender. The Big East has seven games on Saturday: all feature at least one team with a decent-or-better tournament case. Let's see exactly what is at stake:

VILLANOVA at DEPAUL: For Villanova, this represents the easiest remaining chance to continue pushing for a top four conference finish. The Wildcats are one of eight teams with either five or six Big East losses, meaning there is a ton of fluidity between getting seeded third and tenth. For DePaul, this is a chance to build on the Providence victory, and for fans, a chance to see more Cleveland Melvin.

PITTSBURGH at ST. JOHN’S: To me, this one is pretty simple. While Pitt is playing for a potential number one seed- not in the Big East, but in the NCAA tournament- I think St. John's punches it ticket to the tournament with a win here. The Red Storm would improve to 17-9 overall, 9-5 in the conference (guaranteeing a .500-or-better finish), and improve an RPI that already has at 16th best in the country.

NOTRE DAME at WEST VIRGINIA: For the Fighting Irish, a loss puts them into the mix to lose that second seed- it would be conference loss number four, and, as previously mentioned, there are eight teams with only five or six losses right now. West Virginia, meanwhile, badly needs a win to stay above .500 in the Big East. They are 16-9, 7-6, with three wins over top 25 RPI teams- but just 7-5 over their last 12.

RUTGERS at SYRACUSE: The Orange re-asserted home dominance with a win over West Virginia. They are playing for NCAA seeding only, though a loss to Rutgers would hurt that seeding. Meanwhile, the Scarlet Knights had a huge win over Villanova last week mask a 1-4 record in their last five games. This win would certainly help that NIT bid, with a loss dropping them to 13-13, or right at the minimum record for NIT consideration.

CINCINNATI at PROVIDENCE: The biggest win anybody had this week, in terms of tournament credentials, came for Cincinnati over Louisville. Even after the win, Cincinnati is at 43rd in RPI, a distinctly mediocre mark. A 14-0 beginning has given way to a 6-6 last 12, and if the Bearcats intend to make the NCAA field, a win over Providence is a must.

GEORGETOWN at USF: For the Hoyas, Wednesday's loss at Connecticut was as uplifting as a loss can be. Against a top 15 team, with their best player absolutely unstoppable, the Hoyas pulled to within one with four minutes to go, despite four fouls on Chris Wright, little from Jason Clark after halftime, and Austin Freeman going scoreless in the second half (and scoring just three field goals in the first half). This speaks to Georgetown's depth. Their out of conference schedule actually has their RPI above Pitt right now, and a strong finish should put them in the one seed conversations on Selection Sunday. All that is moot, however, with a loss to South Florida.

SETON HALL at MARQUETTE: Right now, Marquette has to be on the outside of even the expanded tournament. At 15-11, 6-7 in the Big East, and an RPI of 66, they need a strong finish just to enter the conversation.  On the other hand, they've played most of their toughest games already- 13 against top 25 RPI schools. With a win here, then at Connecticut, Marquette could jump back over .500 in the Big East, and face three remaining games: Providence at home, Cincinnati at home, and at Seton Hall. Don't count them out yet- unless they lose Saturday.