Let this declaration be heard from Watertown to White Plains: The Big East is the deepest college basketball conference in the country. No league has as many quality teams from top to bottom. There were a legitimate nine schools that could’ve won the Big East tourney at Madison Square Garden, which is simply remarkable. As we all know, a record 11 schools got invites to the Big Dance. The Big East was a bear night in, night out, yet again this season.
The Fizz’s “What Went Wrong” Series
- Thursday: Fab Melo went bust
- Wednesday: Season-long spotty play
- Tuesday: Lack of elite scorer
- Monday: Team FizzCast dissects the blame
But it was also overrated and that ended up hurting the Orange. Nearly every Big East school not named UConn (puked in my mouth a little there, sorry) or Marquette failed to live up to their seeding. Nine of the eleven schools were bounced on opening weekend. A #1, #2, #3, #4, #5, and two #6 seeds from the Big East were all gone by the 2nd round. Pitt’s annual early exit created more questions about Jamie Dixon. Notre Dame’s five seniors were embarrassed by Florida State’s defense. Louisville, St. John’s, Villanova and Georgetown were one and done.
But weren’t those all quality wins for the Orange? Going to D.C. and winning was a statement. Beating the Johnnies at MSG twice was huge. Scoop’s game at ‘Nova was legendary.
Or was it?
UConn could be credited for winning five games in five days at MSG, vaulting to a three-seed in the NCAA’s and reaching the Elite 8. But let’s look at that picture’s reflection in the mirror. The 9th-best record in the Big East knocked off the first, third and fourth-best teams (while supposedly playing on fumes) when it mattered most.
While the Big East was clearly the most-competitive conference in the country (what other nine-seed could’ve done what the Huskies did?), that doesn’t necessarily mean the league had any truly elite teams.
The fact is, the conference had eleven truly solid squads – all deserving of tourney bids. But beating seven or eight good schools (like Syracuse did) is far different than knocking off three or four elite ones. What was SU’s best win this season? It’s UConn – a team that played on the same day as DePaul in the conference tournament.
But the Big East’s national respect, its incredible depth of competitive teams and overall mediocrity of the 68-team field sold the committee on over-seeding the league. It created unusually high expectations for less than elite teams. The Big East was a grind the entire season. But that’s just because it was a league chock full with the same level of teams: good, not great.