Almost time for the Big East quarters

NEW YORK -- Bubble talk is almost over here at the Big East tournament. Of the remaining eight teams playing today, only one -- Cincinnati -- isn’t guaranteed to see its name on the board come Selection Sunday. And the Bearcats, frankly, have a lot more work to do before they can enjoy the view from the Barcaloungers.

So what’s left to play for? Nothing but being the top dog in the top conference in the country. And if you don’t think that matters, you haven’t been paying attention. Winning the Big East is akin to earning the medal of honor. It means you’ve done something darn difficult and borderline courageous.

Here’s a quick look at today’s slate:

Georgetown vs. Syracuse

The good news: This game will finish on the same day it started. A year ago today, the Orange tipped off against Connecticut on Thursday. The final buzzer sounded on a Friday morning after the marathon six-overtime game finally ran out of gas.

For the Hoyas: Georgetown dug itself a 23-point hole when it played Syracuse in the regular season. It absolutely cannot do that again. The Orange is too good defensively to come back against.

For the Orange: The regular-season loss ought to have an asterisk -- played in an emotionally fervent Freedom Hall. Syracuse remains the team to beat in this conference, but will need its big man combo of Rick Jackson and Arinze Onuaku to contain Greg Monroe today.

Marquette vs. Villanova

The good news: For Villanova, Taylor King is back in the lineup. Suspended by Jay Wright for "personal issues" he has been reinstated and gives the Cats another scoring threat.

For the Golden Eagles: Maurice Acker and Lazar Hayward are key. Acker needs to get by the deep and talented Villanova backcourt and get the ball to Hayward, who ought to have an edge on the Wildcats’ slim frontcourt.

For the Wildcats: Once 20-1, Villanova enters the Big East tournament on a 2-5 skid. Its biggest issue has been finding another reliable scorer to go alongside Scottie Reynolds and Corey Fisher.

Notre Dame vs. Pittsburgh

The good news: Luke Harangody looks not just healthy; he looks like the one time league Player of the Year. He provided a huge spark for the Irish off the bench against Seton Hall and posted a double-double.

For the Irish: Notre Dame’s game change to a slower, ball-controlling tempo has worked well. The Irish have won five games in a row and are the hottest team in the Big East right now.

For the Panthers: Pitt has a chance to right one of last season’s wrongs. The Panthers were stunned and crushed in this round a year ago, the No. 2 seed going down at the hands of rival West Virginia. To do it, Pitt will have to use its scrappy and disruptive defense to take the Irish out of their new slow-down mode.

Cincinnati vs. West Virginia

The good news: The Bearcats are still alive. Winless in the tournament since joining four years ago, Cincinnati now has two W's in the books. Plus, every night the Bearcats are here adds another breath of life to their slim NCAA tournament hopes.

For the Bearcats: Mick Cronin minced no words after his team beat Louisville on Wednesday night: “If we get beat on the boards, we lose.’’ Cincinnati need to bring the same gusto and fervor to its rebounding effort tonight as it did against the Cardinals. The Bearcats aren’t likely to match the numbers. West Virginia is a much better rebounding team than Louisville, but they need the same dedication and effort in order to prevent the athletic and long Mountaineers from dominating.

For the Mountaineers: West Virginia looked like the team with Final Four talent by year’s end. The Mountaineers won five of their last six in dominant fashion, riding the coattails and talent of Da'Sean Butler.