Big East a Big Bust, So Far
Just one more win. That's all the Big East Conference needs out of either Syracuse or West Virginia for the Big East to extend its streak of having at least one team in the Elite Eight to nine consecutive years.
No other conference can match that current streak.
Yet as impressive as league teams have been in making deep NCAA tournament runs, the general consensus around the country -- except for those folks located in the Big East's offices in Providence, R.I. -- is that the Big East's success in this year's NCAA tournament can be summed up in one word: bust.
The big, bad Big East received a NCAA record-tying eight bids -- tying its own record, of course. They had a No. 1 seed (Syracuse), two No. 2's (West Virginia and Villanova) and two No. 3's (Georgetown and Pittsburgh) along with two No. 6's (Notre Dame and Marquette) and a No. 8 (Louisville).
All eight teams were favored to win their tournament opener, yet the league limped to a 4-4 finish.
The opening day was the worst as Georgetown, Notre Dame and Marquette each were eliminated while No. 2 seed Villanova needed overtime to escape past No. 15 seed Robert Morris.
On March 18, the carnage for the Big East looked like this:
No. 3 seed Georgetown, fresh off reaching the Big East tournament final, promptly lost to No. 14 Ohio. The same Ohio Bobcats, who were 7-9 in the Mid-American regular season and seeded ninth in the MAC tournament. They only made the NCAAs because they won the MAC tournament. Then they ran over and through Georgetown 97-83.
The Bobcats were Hoya Destroyas, scoring more points against Georgetown than the Hoyas had surrendered in any NCAA game. Ever. The 97 points also were one more than Georgetown allowed in consecutive games combined against Cincinnati and South Florida just two weeks earlier.
No. 6 seed Marquette held a 15-point cushion against No. 11 Washington with less than 14 minutes to play. The Golden Eagles, praised all year for their ability to win close games, promptly blew their lead and lost at the buzzer, 80-78, to a team some projected for the NIT until the Huskies won the Pac-10 tournament.
Not even the luck of the Irish could keep Notre Dame from a first-round exit. No. 6 seed Notre Dame closed the year by winning six of its last seven, even changing its style of play by bringing Luke Harangody, last year's Big East conference player of the year, off the bench.
The Fighting Irish's strong finish made them a dangerous team in the tournament -- until they blew a nine-point lead in their loss to No. 11 seed Old Dominion. Harangody was held scoreless until the final minute, when he managed a couple of meaningless buckets. He had zero free throw attempts and was 2-for-9 from the field.
As bad as March 18 was for the Big East, it could have -- no probably should have -- been worse as No. 2 seed Villanova nearly made it a complete first-day debacle.
However, the Wildcats managed to escape No. 15 Robert Morris -- in overtime, 73-70. Some folks have suggested, let's put this in a polite way, the Colonials got screwed by the officials.
Surprisingly, the three losses on the tournament's opening day was not an all-time worst for the league. Four years and two days earlier, on March 16, 2006, three Big East teams were bounced on the same day of the NCAA tournament when No. 5 Syracuse lost to No. 12 Texas A&M, No. 7 Marquette lost to No. 10 Alabama and No. 10 Seton Hall lost to No. 7 Wichita State.
On Day 2 of this year's NCAA tournament, Syracuse, Pittsburgh and West Virginia all won their openers as expected, but Louisville fell behind big early to Cal and never could recover.
So what determines which is the better league: more bids, more Final Four teams or who wins the national championship? With four teams advancing to the second round, Syracuse was impressive in blowing out Gonzaga and West Virginia outlasted Missouri. However, Villanova and Pittsburgh each suffered upset losses to 10th-seeded St. Mary's and No. 6 seed Xavier, respectively.
So what do we take out of the Big East's opening weekend? Eight teams, 12 games, six wins, six losses.
With only two teams remaining, the Big East's streak of 16 consecutive seasons without a losing record in the NCAA tournament is in jeopardy. Not since 1993 when Big East teams went 2-3 in the NCAA tournament has the league had a cumulative losing record among all its teams.
By comparison, only the ACC has a longer non-losing streak record, going all the way back to 1987. The other Big Six conferences each have suffered a losing NCAA tournament in the past decade: the SEC (2008), Big Ten (2006), Pac-10 (2004) and Big 12 (2001).
This year, only the Big Ten, with three teams, has more Sweet 16 teams remaining than the Big East. The Big 12 also has two Sweet 16 teams left.
So what determines which is the better league: more bids, more Final Four teams or who wins the national championship?
The Big Ten only had five bids this year, but three are still alive. The Pac-10 -- criticized and ridiculed all season for having a down year -- only got two bids, but Washington is in the Sweet 16. The Big Ten and Pac-10 are considered overachievers.
The Big 12 had seven bids, but only two remain and Kansas, the tournament's No. 1 overall seed, is not one of them. How has the Big 12 been judged this tournament? Other than the predictable Rock, Choke, Jayhawks headlines after KU's loss to Northern Iowa, the league has been perceived pretty favorable with Kansas State and Baylor still alive.
The Big East, though, is considered the Big Bust. So why all of the Big East haters?
Could it be people are tired of hearing how great the league is, even though the fact the league last won a national title six years ago? Could it be backlash to the East coast media bias?
Are people just sick and tired of hearing about and seeing teams from the Big East? Thanks to the Big East's unprecedented TV package, every single one of the Big East's 162 regular season contests and the entire league tournament was televised on ESPN's family of networks. What was the Bruce Springsteen song about 57 Channels And Nothin' On (but Big East basketball)?
Still since 2003, the Big East has easily had more teams reach the Sweet 16 than any other league. The Big East has ahd 25 teams reach the Sweet 16 with the Big 12 the next closet conference with 18 Sweet 16 teams.
Also, in the past eight seasons, the Big East has had at least two teams reach the Sweet 16 each March.
Sweet 16, Shmeet 16. Big East critics counter that the league hasn't won a national title since 2004 -- remember back when UConn was good? Since then three different conferences have won national titles.
Yet as bad as the Big East has fared so far this March, the league's top two teams -- Syracuse and West Virginia -- are still humming along.
Even playing without starting center Arinze Onuaku the past two games, Syracuse has rolled into the Sweet 16, while Big East tournament champion West Virginia also had little trouble advancing into the Sweet 16.
Twenty-five years ago, the Big East made history by sending three teams (Villanova, Georgetown and St. John's) to the Final Four. That season, Villanova upset Georgetown in the 1985 final. Since then only one other conference has had two league members meet for the championship when Kansas defeated Oklahoma in the 1988 final.
Last year, the Big East had two Final Four teams and it very well could have two reach Indianapolis next week. Who knows, maybe Syracuse and West Virginia will meet in the final?
If so, that might be the only way the league can quiet the recent Big East bashing and shake its bust label from the 2010 tournament.
Contact FanHouse senior writer Brett McMurphy at email@example.com