Beating Syracuse now could only help Cats

Just a week ago, there was much debate about who was in and who was out - Villanova or Syracuse?

Today's game, which might have decided which of these Big East teams advanced to the NCAA tournament, now probably will not be much more than just the regular-season finale.

Villanova reached 20 wins and has a strong Ratings Percentage Index (RPI). Syracuse is ranked in the top five in conference standings and just ended Georgetown's 11-game win streak.

It's still not a bad idea for the Wildcats to go ahead and get one more win to make sure of its big-picture status before the Big East Tournament starts on Wednesday at Madison Square Garden. A win today against the Orange at the Wachovia Center would also avenge the 75-64 thumping Villanova took at the Carrier Dome in January.

Of course, Villanova is never a team that likes to talk about how significant one game is to the course of the season.

Even after beating Connecticut on Wednesday to quite possibly slide into the NCAA tournament, Wildcats coach Jay Wright needed to clarify what that game meant.

"That was big," Wright said.

Lest anyone think he meant it was significant because it very possibly locked up a chance to play in the national tournament - every team's goal, right? - Wright made it clear the win was meaningful because every game matters to the Wildcats.

"I don't care where we are, NIT or NCAA," Wright said after taking down the Huskies on Wednesday, 78-74, at the Gampel Pavilion. "We care how we play in the Big East. It's big to win on the road in the Big East."

That was real big for Villanova to record the magic-number 20th win, especially on the eve of March 1, in a deadlocked middle-of-conference pack.

There are still a few things to be determined in the topsy-turvy Big East standings.

Five teams - Villanova, Marquette, West Virginia, DePaul and Providence - could finish the conference at 9-7. (Villanova lost to all of those teams but Providence.)

Five other teams - Georgetown, Pittsburgh, Louisville, Notre Dame and Syracuse - are ranked among the top five in the conference standings. (Villanova split with Notre Dame and Georgetown, beat Louisville, and lost to Pitt and Syracuse.)

'Nova recruits in national all- star game. Corey Fisher, a 6-1 guard from the Bronx, N.Y., and St. Patrick's High School in Elizabeth, N.J., and Corey Stokes, a 6-6 guard from Bayonne, N.J. and St. Benedict's High School, will play in the Roundball Classic at Chicago's United Center on April 3 at 7 p.m.

Contact staff writer Shannon Ryan at 215-854-5503