Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
The Big Beast has become The Big Least.
The Big East Conference, which at one point this season had nine teams ranked in The Associated Press Top 25 and placed a record 11 teams in the NCAA Tournament, now has just two teams in the Sweet 16.
UConn and Marquette are still alive.
Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Louisville, Georgetown, St. John’s, Notre Dame, Villanova, Cincinnati and West Virginia are all on spring break.
“You know how when your friend tried to set you up with a girl and he said she has a good personality?” Turner and CBS NCAA analyst Charles Barkley asked The New York Post. “That’s not good. The Big East has a good personality.”
The Big East certainly hasn’t performed well in this Big Dance, but it’s hard to make the argument that all 11 teams shouldn’t have been allowed in in the first place.
Remember, Marquette was the 11th team in and the No. 11 Golden Eagles upset No. 3 Syracuse, 66-62, Sunday to advance to the Sweet 16 in Newark. There, they will join a Blue Blood group that includes Ohio State, North Carolina and Kentucky.
“In sticking up for our league, I think that it’s suggestive, if we were the last team in, which I think is hard to argue that we weren’t, for us to be one of three still remaining, that it speaks to the depth of our league and the talent depth of our league,” Marquette coach Buzz Williams said.
Ironically, just three-and-a-half weeks ago, Marquette’s whole season seemed on the brink when it lost its regular season finale at Seton Hall. Now, the Golden Eagles are headed back to that same building, the Prudential Center, to take on No. 2 North Carolina in an East Regional semifinal.
“They just told me that we were staying in the same hotel that we stayed at when we were in Newark,” Williams said. “Obviously we can’t change that, since the NCAA’s paying for it. But we probably need to change where we eat and what we eat, because they need to be better.”
UConn, which finished ninth in the Big East standings, captured the Big East tournament by winning five games in five days. The Huskies are the No. 3 seed in the West and will play No. 2 San Diego State in a West Regional semifinal Thursday.
Overall, the Big East went 29-16 against other BCS teams during the regular season, by far the best record, according to Andy Glockner of Sports Illustrated.
The Big 12 went 25-20, the ACC 24-27, the Big Ten 17-20, the Pac-10 12-19 and the SEC 19-24.
But when it came time for the Big Dance, the Big East fell flat on its face.
Pitt, the conference’s lone No. 1 seed and pre-tournament favorite to make a Final Four, was stunned by Shelvin Mack, Matt Howard and company in a game with one of the more bizarre endings you will ever see.
Two fouls were called in the final 2.5 seconds, with each team trying to out-do the other in stupidity, before Butler prevailed, 71-70, on a Howard foul shot with .8 seconds left.
Two days earlier, No. 8 Butler stunned No. 9 Old Dominion, 60-58, when Howard hit a putback layup at the buzzer.
“It’s been the craziest weekend of my life basketball-wise,” Mack said. “Win two games on game-winners coming down to the last play of the game.”
Barkley attributes the Big East’s struggles to the lack of marquee talent.
After all, outside of Kemba Walker, how many first-round draft picks can you name out of the Big East?
“When the Big East got 11 teams in, people thought they would dominate the tournament,” Barkley told the Post. “I didn’t, but people thought I was just saying, ‘Big Least’ to say it.
“When Morehead beat Louisville, they had the best player on the court in Kenneth Faried. When Butler beat Pittsburgh, they had the two best players on the court. The Big East has a great personality — they play the hardest and have the best coaches.
“But the league doesn’t have the talent to be Miss America.”
Of the 16 teams remaining, the ACC has three — Duke, Carolina and Florida State — while the Big East, Big Ten (Wisconsin, Ohio State) and SEC (Florida, Kentucky) have two apiece.
St. John’s coach Steve Lavin, whose team was blown out by Gonzaga in the first round in Denver, may have foreshadowed this whole scenario on Selection Sunday.
“I think there ‘s no guarantee that the Big East will represent well in the NCAA Tournament because that’s the beauty of postseason and the uncertainty of a single-elimination game format and why so many people worldwide enjoy watching this sport,” Lavin said before the tournament started.
“No conference is deeper in terms of volume of quality teams, so we face the best night in and night out which, in theory, should enhance your chances of being successful in the postseason. But it doesn’t guarantee because it’s not a best-of-five or best-of-seven series like the NBA. It’s a one-and-done scenario.”
And now nine of the 11 are done…and the Big East is feeling the heat.
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Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.