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Bulls vie for tournament spot

With 26 games left in the season and most teams midway through conference play, it all comes down to this: Twelve teams are battling for eight spots in May’s Big East Tournament.

The Bulls are tied for eighth place with the University of Connecticut Huskies. Both teams have 15-15 overall records and 5-7 conference records.

“The Big East is a conference where anybody can beat anybody,” pitching coach Lazer Collazo said.

The Bulls can certainly testify to that, as they have lost to 10th place Georgetown at home but came within a couple of innings of sweeping West Virginia on the road, a team that is fifth place in the Big East with a 6-3 record.

Collazo said, “The beautiful thing about the Big East Tournament is that everybody has a clean slate, it’s a whole new season and everybody is 0-0 once again.”

In order for that to be true, however, you have to make it in first.

Knowing that baseball is unpredictable and that anything can happen between now and May 17, I separated the 12 teams into four categories that assess their chances of making it to Clearwater. Each team’s conference record and seeding if the season ended today is in parenthesis.

The Beasts of the East: St. John’s (7-2, 1), Notre Dame (7-2, 2), Cincinnati (7-2, 3).St. John’s, traditionally a basketball school, has risen to the top of the conference with outstanding pitching and timely hitting. On Sunday, the Red Storm allowed 10 runs against the Louisville Cardinals, marking the first time they allowed 10 runs or more in their last 57 games.

The Fighting Irish – which reached second place after taking two of three games from the Cincinnati Bearcats – have always been a Big East Conference power and will face the USF Bulls in the last series of the year from May 15-17. That series could decide seeding and provide a preview of a potential first-round matchup between the Bulls and the Irish.

Cincinnati is an enigma, as it started the season 6-9 before winning nine of its last 11 games and putting itself in a good position to qualify for the tournament.

The middle of the pack: Seton Hall (8-4, 4) and West Virginia (6-3, 5)These are two teams USF has seen up close and with whom it has been able to play toe-to-toe.

Seton Hall has shown it has great starting pitchers as well as bullpen issues. The Pirates dominated the Bulls during the first seven innings of the first two games of the series in Tampa, but let both games slip away in the last two innings.

West Virginia is an incredibly resilient team that has a good bullpen and a consistent offense, but lacks starting pitching.

Work left to do: Louisville (4-5, 6), Villanova (4-5, 7), Connecticut (5-7, 8), USF (5-7, 9)USF will face each of these teams except Connecticut, starting with Louisville this weekend in Tampa.

These four teams have been inconsistent throughout the season. They have proven they can be good enough to beat the top teams in the conference, but bad enough to lose to the bottom feeders. A long winning streak could vault one of these teams to sixth place, but an equally long losing streak could make one of these four the odd team out.

Looking for some help: Georgetown (3-9, 10), Pittsburgh (2-7, 11), Rutgers (2-7, 12)Georgetown is only two games out, but it seems like a team that is still a year away from making the top eight. Against USF, it showcased strong starting pitching, but its lack of offense has been holding it back.

Pittsburgh faces two of the top three teams in the Big East – Cincinnati and St John’s – in its next two series. Pitt would need to get four of six to stay alive in the race.

The same goes for Rutgers, which has a critical three-game series against Georgetown coming up. If the Knights sweep it or get two out of three, they go up a level.