Big East Tournament: Double Bye or Not?
Since two of the Big East's top four seeds that received double byes in last year's Big East tournament were upset in their opening games, coaches haven't been so sure if getting a free pass all the way into the tournament quarterfinals is such a great thing.
Last year's Big East tournament was the first that included all 16 teams. To reward the top four seeds, they received two byes into the tournament quarterfinals.
There was just one problem: No. 2 seed Pittsburgh lost to No. 7 West Virginia and No. 3 UConn lost to No. 6 Syracuse in the epic six-overtime game.
Prompted by those upsets, there was a great deal of discussion at last year's Big East meetings about ditching the double-bye format.
One option was making the tournament a 16-team bracket without byes. The No. 1 seed would play No. 16, No. 2 vs. No. 15 and so on. It would take three wins to reach the final with the two finalists having to play four games in as many days.
Former Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese was not in favor of the league tournament expanding from 12 to 16 teams. His reasoning was that he didn't want the league's top teams worn down by the league tournament and reducing their chances to win the NCAA tournament.
Yet, all it took was two upsets last year for the coaches to consider saying bye-bye to the double bye.
"We talked about it in the league meetings last year," Pittsburgh coach Jamie Dixon said.
Pittsburgh (23-7, 12-5 Big East) clinched a top four seed and a double bye for a second consecutive season with Thursday night's 73-71 victory against Providence.
"If you go by last year's record in [the Big East Tournament, the double bye] doesn't look like it would be that big of an advantage," Dixon said. "But I would think it would be. [A top-four finish] is something you want to strive to have for obvious reasons.
"At the end of the day, you're going to have to play a good team in our conference [tournament] no matter where you end up."
Syracuse, Villanova and West Virginia have locked up double byes in next week's Big East tournament at Madison Square Garden with Pittsburgh and Marquette battling for the final double bye. West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said he "honestly doesn't know" if he likes it.
"I think it's kind of hard to sit there [without playing] for two days," Huggins said. "But in order to win the tournament, I think it's an advantage if you can win the first game."
Long before Syracuse had clinched a double bye -- and then the league's regular-season title -- Orange coach Jim Boeheim said his team doesn't worry about whether it receives a double bye.
But exactly how much of an advantage there is depends on how many byes a team receives.
Next week will be the fifth Big East Tournament since the league expanded to 16 schools by adding Cincinnati, DePaul, Louisville, Marquette and South Florida.
Here is an interesting stat from the previous four tournaments: Teams that received a bye were 12-8 playing against a team that played the day before. Obviously all eight of those losses were to teams that had lower seeds.
Once teams reach the semifinal round, it's a coin flip picking a winner. In the semifinals and finals during the past four Big East Tournaments, the higher-seeded team is only 6-6.
However, in the tournament's opening-round games, the higher-seeded team has dominated, winning 13 of 16 games. So basically, the deeper in the tournament you advance, the more likely it is that an upset will occur.
"There are some that say playing a game and getting a win and then having the other team sit out for two days is an advantage," Dixon said. "We'll have to see how it plays out year after year. I think most teams would like to be in that top spot for obvious reasons."
Besides the top four seeds getting two byes, the Nos. 5-8 seeds receive one bye into the second round. The remaining eight teams meet in Tuesday's opening round and must win five games in as many days to earn the league's automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
Twice in the past four years a team has won four games to capture the league title -- No. 7 seed Pittsburgh in 2008 and No. 9 seed Syracuse, led by Gerry McNamara, in 2006.
"It's been done [four wins in four days], it's possible," Dixon said. "Five [games] makes it more difficult. But nothing's impossible. That's been proven."
While the coaches remain unsure whether they like the double bye format, the players realize the importance of a top-four league finish.
"That's one of our goals," Pittsburgh sophomore forward Nasir Robinson told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "We just try to come out and get wins. Wherever we are: fourth, fifth, third, whatever. We're just trying to finish up [strong]."
Contact FanHouse senior writer Brett McMurphy at email@example.com