How Bad is the Big East?
Are they the itty bitty East?
by Eddie Maisonet, III / @edthesportsfan
From what started as 11 entries from the Big East Conference into the 2011 NCAA Tournament has quickly whittled down to just two teams (UConn and Marquette) in the span of 96 hours. The detractors of this “super conference” seem to feel justified after watching Pitt, Notre Dame and Syracuse each bite the dust in their own gruesome fashion. Then Charles Barkley came out and made the proclamation heard ’round the nation…
So is the Big East the “its bitty East” as the Round Mound says they are? Let’s break this down into the parts Barkley brought up…
1) Is the Big East top heavy?
Considering the fact that the 9th (UConn) and 11th (Marquette) ranked teams in the Big East are the only ones still standing from the Big East in the Sweet 16, it’s tough to say. Those 11 teams that made the Tournament had at least .500 records in their conference, so loading up on some wins on the bottom feeders isn’t out of the question. Only two teams in the Big East had road wins against out-of-conference teams with higher than No. 6 seeds, want to guess which two? UConn and Marquette. And, with no real emergence of an elite team, the Big East teams usually just beat up on each other, with the talent level not differentiating that much from the top-11 teams in the conference. Which leads me to my next point…
2) Does the Big East lack talent?
After perusing Chad Ford’s ESPN lottery machine, I scanned the list for Big East talent. Only until I got to the end of the Lottery — to the 13th pick — did I find UConn’s Kemba Walker coming off the board. In comparison, the Mountain West has two players (The Jimmer, Kawhi Leonard) being drafted in the Lottery. Start thinking about who some of the other best players in the Big East are… Marshon Brooks? Losing squad in Providence. Jeremy Hazell? Losing squad in Seton Hall. What about Ben Hansbrough? When Hansbrough was at Mississippi State, he was a sixth man and clear role player for a middling SEC team. He transfers to Notre Dame, a system that utilizes shooters and plays no defense, and voila! Ben Hansbrough’s a star on the Fighting Irish. Its not a diss on Hansbrough, but it is a joke that he was voted Player of the Year over Kemba Walker. Maybe it’s smart coaching…
3) Does the Big East have the best coaching?
Off the top of my head, I can name the following coaches: Calhoun, Boeheim, Pitino, Dixon, Brey, Cronin (because I live in Cincinnati), Thompson the third, Huggins, Lavin, Wright and The Buzz (only because he’s being considered for the Oklahoma job). Coincidentally, those are the 11 programs that made the Tournament. I couldn’t name more than four coaches for any other conference, trust me…I tried. To Barkley’s point, and it’s a good one, the talent in the Big East is hardly ever overwhelming. Yet, time and time again we’re sold these teams that have stellar records, we see them on television all the time, (genius move by the Big East having the relationship with ESPN) and the East Coast Bias is in full effect. The success of these coaches in the Big East is quite commendable, but are any of them better than Duke or UNC’s coaches?
Bad luck (Pitt), close losses (Villanova, Louisville, West Virginia), beating themselves (Syracuse, Cincinnati), or getting the brakes beat off of them (Notre Dame, St. John’s, Georgetown) all contributed to the Big East’s failure; however, let’s not act like the rest of college basketball was that much better. This is what happens when you put 16 teams in a conference (plus, get ready for team No. 17 with TCU in ‘11-12) you have the opportunity for more teams to succeed.
Conclusion: The Big East was full of pretty good teams, none of them great. In many respects, the Big East was like the SEC in football — didn’t have to play anyone out-of-conference, never really had to prove themselves, thus building up pretty good records along the way. Difference? No one in the Big East really has anyone like Cam Newton, and there isn’t a team nearly as dominant as Auburn.
Eddie Maisonet is a freelance sports writer, blogger and big time hoops fan from Oklahoma who currently resides in Cincinnati. Keep up with Eddie at SLAMonline as well as his blog Ed The Sports Fan and on Twitter.