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Big East Coaches: Bigger Is Better for NCAA Tournament

Feb 4, 2010 – 7:15 PM
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Brett McMurphy

Brett McMurphy %BloggerTitle%

Jay WrightBigger is better. At least that's what Villanova's Jay Wright, Seton Hall's Bobby Gonzalez and Georgetown's John Thompson III believe. All three Big East coaches said Thursday they are in favor of expanding the NCAA Tournament field.

"I love it, I think it's time has come," Wright said. "As we add Division I teams [now up to 347], look at college football, close to 50 percent go to bowl games. There are so many good teams that don't go to the [NCAA] tourney."

Wright is realistic enough to know that television will be the biggest factor in determining how much and when the NCAA tournament might expand.

"What's best for TV is what's going to happen and we have to understand that," Wright said.

Gonzalez said until recently he didn't think the tournament needed to expand. But now he believes the tournament field should grow.

"If you're in the middle of the pack in our league, you deserve to be in the NCAA [tournament]," Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez said he was swayed in part by Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim, who has talked openly about wanting to increase the NCAA Tournament from 65 teams to 96.

"I've been for expansion for years," Boeheim told the Syracuse Post-Standard in December. "The NCAA tournament has always been expanded when there's been a need. It started out with eight teams and then went to 12, to 16, to 24, to 32, to 48, to 64.

"I mean, it's been expanded seven or eight times. Expansion is nothing new. And we're in the longest time between expansions in history. The fact is, we have better teams. We have more good teams than ever before. And they should get the chance to play in the Tournament."

South Florida's Dominique Jones: "Unstoppable"

Another Big East opponent, another 29-point night. Ho hum, just another routine performance from South Florida guard Dominique Jones.

The junior scored 29 points, including 22 in the second half, leading the Bulls to an upset at No. 7 Georgetown Wednesday night.

In his last nine games, Jones is averaging 29.4 points and has carried the Bulls to four consecutive Big East victories. Jones is accounting for 40.3 percent of USF's points in the past nine games.

"He's the straw that stirs the drink," USF coach Stan Heath said.

Seton Hall's Gonzalez said Jones is the "most unguardable player" the Pirates have faced this season. Last week, Pitt guard Brad Wanamaker told FanHouse that Jones "is probably the best all-around player we've played this year."

Providence coach Keno Davis, whose club was lit up for 46 points by Jones on Jan. 23, said Jones "has a great ability with his size [6-foot-4] and strength and ability to score. The thing that stands out to me is he acts like he's a pro. Like he's been playing this game at a high level for a long time. He's definitely a very special player."

At least it lasted for a week

On Monday, the Big East had four teams -- No. 2 Villanova, No. 3 Syracuse, No. 6 West Virginia and No. 7 Georgetown -- ranked among the Associated Press poll's top seven teams, a first in the league's history.

Last season the Big East had five teams ranked in the Top 10 on Feb. 23 (No. 1 Pitt, No. 2 UConn, No. 6 Louisville, No. 8 Marquette, No. 10 Villanova), but the league never had four teams in the top seven before this week.

However, that accomplishment probably will be short-lived as Georgetown's loss to South Florida on Wednesday likely will send the Hoyas tumbling out of the Top 10.

From Final Four to missing the Big Dance

UConn and North Carolina each reached the Final Four last season, but this year both the Huskies and Tar Heels are in danger of not qualifying for the NCAA Tournament.

Actually for a school to go from Final Four one season to not even making the NCAA tournament the next season has been fairly common recently. If UNC and UConn don't make the Big Dance in March, it will mark the third time in the past four seasons half of the Final Four field didn't make the NCAA tournament the following year.

Florida and Ohio State reached the 2007 Final Four, but didn't make the 2008 tournament and George Mason and LSU played in the 2006 Final Four, but didn't make the 2007 field.

With the large turnover of players leaving early for the NBA and the better quality of opposition, it's harder to continually repeat that success each season, UConn interim coach George Blaney said.

"As each year goes along, it's gotten harder and harder to win," Blaney said. "Twenty-five years ago, there were 40 teams to compete against, then 60-70, then 80-90. Now the Harvards, Cornells of the world -- teams you wouldn't think about -- are playing really good basketball.

"The game is much better coached and there is more money to spend on recruiting. The number of scholarships limits you to being able to dominate, like UCLA [in the 1960s-70s] used to dominate. [You can't] hoard players. So many players look to go where they can play. There are a myriad of reasons."

Looking ahead

Villanova's biggest challenge at becoming the first league team in Big East history to go undefeated in league play comes Saturday and Monday when the Wildcats (20-1, 9-0 Big East) visit Georgetown (16-5, 6-4) and West Virginia (18-3, 7-2), respectively. ... UConn coach Jim Calhoun, who is on an indefinite leave of absence, will miss his sixth game Saturday when the Huskies (13-9, 3-6) play host to DePaul (8-14, 1-9). There is no timetable on Calhoun's return. "He seems good, he feels good, he's feeling better," Blaney said. "He wants to get back. He wanted to get back two weeks ago." ... Only four other Big East schools (West Virginia, Pittsburgh, Georgetown and Syracuse) have more victories against Top 50 RPI teams, according to, than Seton Hall (12-8, 3-6), yet the Pirates are tied for 11th in the league. The Pirates, who have defeated four Top 50 RPI teams, get a shot to revive their NCAA hopes Saturday at suddenly struggling Pittsburgh (16-6, 6-4), which has dropped five of six, but still has a healthy RPI ranking of 22.

Contact FanHouse senior writer Brett McMurphy at
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