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A look at the Big East’s disappointing tournament

Mar 21, 2011, 3:34 PM EST

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Once you get past the referee mistakes and the poor late game execution, the central talking point of this tournament’s first weekend was that, for the second straight year, the conference that was supposed to be the nation’s best woefully underperformed.

There really is no way to argue around it.

The Big East sent 11 teams to the NCAA Tournament. Nine of those teams failed to make it to the Sweet 16. Of the two that did, they had to beat another Big East conference foe to get there — Marquette beat Syracuse in the second round and UConn beat Cincinnati in the second round.

There is really no defense. The Big East sucked in the tournament.

But that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have gotten 11 teams into the dance.

The league went 29-16 against the five other BCS leagues. The 11 teams that made the tournament had a combined record of 24-10 against tournament teams from other conferences. Yes, the Big East proved its worth during the regular season. There really is no justifiable argument against any team in the conference.

That said, it probably shouldn’t be that big of a surprise that the Big East struggled.

All season long, the consensus regarding the Big East conference was that it was a collection of a number of quality basketball teams. That there was a lot of good in the league but not much great. That beyond Kemba Walker, there wasn’t a single, surefire first round pick in the conference.

In conference play, the Big East slowly but surely built up each team’s individual profile. With so many games against good, but not great, teams, RPI’s became inflated. Wins began to look better than they were. Teams began to look more promising because they were winning games against the team in third place in the Big East.

What makes the Big East so entertaining to watch is also what causes an early tournament demise.

Villanova, for the second straight season, collapsed down the stretch of the season. They lost their last five games, seven of their last nine, and nine of their last thirteen heading into the NCAA Tournament. Anyone that picked them to beat George Mason was either a Villanova alum or a Philly native.

The same can be said for Georgetown. The Hoyas collapsed down the stretch without Chris Wright, and while he came back for the tournament, he wasn’t the same player and the Hoyas weren’t the same team. Everyone saw that loss coming as well.

St. John’s got an inflated seed thanks to a one-month stretch where the Johnnies played out of their minds and struggled to compete after losing DJ Kennedy to a torn acl. Anyone that watched Syracuse play this season knew that they were not going to go very far in the tournament with Scoop Jardine leading the way. Notre Dame and Louisville were both thought to be “overrated” all season long.

The writing was on the wall.

Perhaps the most telling fact, however, is that the Big East simply does not have the individual talent this season. Other than Kemba Walker of UConn, who is a surefire first round pick?

Regular season success is the result of team play and coaching. The season is a grind, and the teams that have their players prepared — physically, mentally, and with a firm understanding of the game plan — are the ones that succeed. But in a one game, winner-takes-all tournament, talent takes over. And the Big East just doesn’t — didn’t — have that talent level.

That said, the NCAA Tournament doesn’t change a season’s worth of sample size.

The Big East didn’t have the best teams this season, but they were the best conference. They deserved to get all 11 teams into the tournament, proven by the fact that the ninth and 11th place teams in the league are the two schools headed to the Sweet 16.

A disappointing performance in the NCAA Tournament — one that was predicted by just about every columnist, writer, blogger, and fan — doesn’t change that fact.

  1. fullnelson3 - Mar 21, 2011 at 5:34 PM

    The Big East Sucks!

    • mdn7779 - Mar 22, 2011 at 5:36 AM

      Not that the East sucks, I just think the sports writers east of the Missisippii are full of a lot of hot air and think that the East teams can do no wrong. The proof is in the pudding, now isn’t it!

  2. eztempo - Mar 21, 2011 at 8:12 PM

    Having gone to college west of the Hudson River, I don’t find the “East” bias surprising in college sports rankings. What I DO find surprising is that some media-types are acting all shocked that their bias “blidered” them to how mediocre their darlings actually are! And all this time I thought the Eastern Media were infallible.

    • gainesweaver - Mar 22, 2011 at 2:23 AM

      I am an ACC fan and admittedly despise the Big East. But the talk about “East Coast bias” is a joke. Guess what isn’t biased? That’s right—the computers. ALL of them consistently rated the Big East as the best conference and put more of its teams towards the top than those of any other conference. Also, the same computers consistently put the PAC10 schools lower and the conference lower. Obviously, the computers aren’t perfect (just like the humans). Otherwise, we wouldn’t bother with the tournament and we’d just award the NC to the top team in the RPI.

      But wait, there is more. There have been two exceptions to the low ratings of West Coast schools. San Diego State and BYU. They have been the DARLINGS of the East Coast media all season. I love their play enough to have picked both to go to the Final Four in my bracket. The computers have also rated them both highly all season. What this shows is not only that there is no “East Coast bias”, but that those who complain that there is are really just “PAC10 Apologists” peeved that they aren’t getting (undeserved) praise.

      Plus, let’s look at history. You know how long its been since a team west of Kansas won a title? 14 years! Do you know how many titles have been won by teams west of Kansas since UCLA’s streak ended in 1975? FOUR in 36 years! There are many sports the West Coast dominates in, but basketball simply isn’t one of them. That isn’t bias. It’s FACT.

  3. danallen2 - Mar 21, 2011 at 10:12 PM

    The writer has it right. You get bids based on what you do during the season, and the BE beat the other conferences during the season. I think calling Louisville overrated though is maybe too much. They had an injured Peyton Siva and lost Knowles during the game, they had no guards. You take any two teams best two players off the team, and they can lose. By the way, if Wisky goes out this week and the 2 BE teams advance, then you could make a case that the B10 is having a worse tourney (6 teams out of 7 losing to opposing conferences in the tourney versus 7 out of 9 in the BE). Plus, go back to the preseason rankings. 4 BE teams in the top 45, UConn didn’t even get a vote. the B10 was the early season darling among conferences.

  4. bigeastfromstart - Mar 27, 2011 at 10:51 AM

    Please note that better scheduling in the round of 32 could have easily put 4 Big East teams in the Sweat Sixteen, as the two that made it had to beat other Big East teams.

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