Mar 21, 2011, 3:34 PM EDT
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.
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