March 03, 2017

The Big East has been strong at the top, led by defending national champion Villanova.

The second-ranked Wildcats (23-3, 14-3 Big East) won the regular-season conference title and will be the No. 1 seed in next week's Big East Tournament regardless of what happens Saturday against Georgetown.

No. 13 Butler (23-6, 12-5) is in good shape for the NCAA Tournament and Creighton (23-7, 10-7) should be as well despite dropping out of the AP Top 25 this week.

The other four Big East teams on the NCAA bubble may still have some to work to do - or at least avoid a bad loss.

Seton Hall (19-10, 9-8) avoided a misstep in one of those can't-lose games by beating Georgetown. The Pirates can help their resume by beating No. 13 Butler, but still should be in good NCAA shape barring a quick exit in the conference tournament.

Providence (19-11, 9-8) had a similar win by beating DePaul this week, but can't afford losing to St. John's on Saturday or an early conference tournament exit. The Friars already lost to St. John's once this season, one of several bad losses already on their resume.

Marquette (18-11, 9-8) has proven it can score and has a win over then-No. 1 Villanova on its resume. The Golden Eagles have trouble on the defensive end, though, which has put them on the bubble.

Marquette beat fellow bubble team Xavier on Tuesday and has a big potential booster on Saturday, facing Creighton in Milwaukee.

Xavier (18-12, 8-9) was once among the elite teams in the conference. Then point guard Edmond Sumner went down with a torn ACL, sending the Musketeers into a tail spin.

Xavier also had to play without Trevon Blueitt in two games and had its losing streak stretched to six with the loss to Marquette. The Musketeers end the season against DePaul, a game they can't afford to lose.

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ON THE RISE

Northwestern. The Wildcats' long wait to finally reach the NCAA Tournament may be over. Northwestern (21-9, 10-6 Big Ten) had a rough go two weeks ago with losses to Illinois and Indiana, but followed that up with a win over fellow bubbler Michigan. Still, when you've never been to the big dance, the wait is going to be nerve-wracking.

Nevada. The Wolf Pack (24-6, 13-4 MWC) have bounced back from two losses in three games with a five-game winning streak. They face a big game against Colorado State and may have to hope the Mountain West is a two-bid conference if they don't win the MWC Tournament.

Michigan State. Even with a loss to Illinois this week, the Spartans (18-12, 9-7 Big Ten) appear to be in decent shape in a season that looked lost early. A loss to Maryland on Saturday and an early exit in the conference tournament could change that.

Wake Forest. The Demon Deacons (17-12, 8-9 ACC) were in dire need of a marquee win and got one on Wednesday, knocking off No. 8 Louisville 88-81. A win over Virginia Tech on Saturday could help even more.

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FADING HOPES

California. The Bears (19-10, 10-7 Pac-12) were already teetering on the bubble and a 30-point loss to Utah Thursday night is not going to push the needle forward. Cal may need to beat Colorado and a deep Pac-12 Tournament run to reach the dance.

VCU. The Rams (23-7, 13-4 A10) appeared to be a lock, then last week happened. Losses to Rhode Island and Dayton put a lot more importance on Saturday's home game against George Mason; they still appear to be on the right side of the bubble thanks to a strong RPI, but can't afford to lose this one.

Houston. The Cougars (20-9, 11-6 AAC) failed on a chance for a resume-boosting win this week, losing 65-47 to No. 18 Cincinnati. Now Houston likely has to avoid losing to East Carolina and make a deep run in the conference tournament to have a shot.

Tennessee. The Vols (15-15, 7-9 SEC) may need to win the SEC tournament after losing six of their last eight games, including LSU on Wednesday.

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More AP college basketball: www.collegebasketball.ap.org and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25

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