We heard a lot about the best conference in college basketball this season. We heard even more around TBG land because one of our favorite programs – USF – is a part of it. Being a member of said conference is a good part of the reason the Bulls struggled so much. The Big East has more than its share of powers and being so large in numbers really made its mark on the regular season. Then, as if to one-up itself, it showcased a scrappy team that wouldn’t go away during its conference tournament – UConn. Then the Big Dance bids went out and 11 members of the Big East were invited. The world was ready to see what the conference would do come NCAA Tournament time.
We’ll admit we got sucked into the hype, but only partially. The official bracket of The Bull Gator had six Big East teams make the Sweet 16 and two of those advance to the Elite 8. Luckily, we didn’t have a single conference team headed to the Final Four, but with 11 total participants, you had to think numbers alone would prevail. They did, but it was numbers on the wrong end of the scoreboard.
We’re now down to 16 total teams left in the tourney. Only two of those 11 Big East participants remain. That’s right, two. Not half. Not even a third. Two. 68 teams entered the NCAA Tournament. 52 have already been eliminated. 9 of those are from the Big East alone. They account for 17.3% of all of the teams that have been eliminated. That’s not easy to do. It’s damn near impossible. And here’s the most fun tidbit you’ll hear all week: the city of Richmond, VA has just as many teams still alive as the Big East. One of them – VCU – got in via the play-in round. A play-in team made it this far, but 1-seed Pittsburgh didn’t. Either did 2-seed Notre Dame. Or 3-seed Syracuse. Or 4-seed Louisville…the list keeps going.
Want even more fun facts? Those two Big East teams that remain, who did they beat in the round of 32 to advance to the Sweet 16? OTHER BIG EAST TEAMS!!! It was bound to happen. With that many teams from one conference, they would have to face each other eventually. And they did. And that was how Marquette and UConn managed to survive.
It’s an amazing feat when you think of it. We could be having another discussion on Friday night and at that time there might not be a single Big East team left. Marquette faces 2-seed UNC and UConn gets 2-seed San Diego State. The Huskies are one of the nation’s hottest teams at the moment, but how long can they ride that wave? At this point should anyone anywhere be wagering on either of the Big East teams to advance? Make you picks at your own risk, but we’ll be staying as far away as we can.
The Big East won back-to-back National Championships following the 2002-2003 and 2003-2004 seasons, but hasn’t appeared in a title game since then. The ACC has won three of the last six; the SEC two of the last five; and although they haven’t won a National Championship since 2000, the Big Ten has appeared in three title games since the Big East’s last appearance. It’s time to start rethinking the “best conference in college basketball” discussion.