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.
New-Look Big East Means Fewer Chances for Marquee Wins
In the final season of the “old” Big East Conference, the league sent eight teams to the NCAA Tournament and two to the Final Four in Atlanta.
Rick Pitino and Louisville ended up cutting down the nets to give the Big East its second NCAA championship in three years, and fifth since 1999.
But as the new-look Big East gets set to tip off on Tuesday with all 10 teams in action, those five NCAA championship-winning programs will be long gone.
Louisville is now in the American Athletic Conference and will join the ACC in 2014. UConn — which won NCAA titles in 2011, 2004 and 1999 — is also part of the AAC. And 2003 NCAA champion Syracuse is now poised to square off with Duke and the North Carolina in the ACC.
With all that firepower gone from the Big East, it remains an open question how many teams the new league will send to the NCAA Tournament come March.
The Big East is currently 85-29 overall, but 5-19 against the Top 50 in the RPI. The league’s only win over a team ranked in the AP Top 25 came when Villanova beat then-No. 2 Kansas.
“I think at the end of the day we’ll have as many teams in that [NCAA] Tournament as any league in the country,” Providence coach Ed Cooley said the other day on the league conference call.
Somewhere in the 4-6 range seems about right.
But consider that in 2011 the league sent a record 11 teams to the Big Dance. That’s more teams than the league currently has in total.
At this point, No. 8 Villanova — which lost at No. 2 Syracuse on Saturday — is the league’s only ranked team and figures to be the safest bet to make the tournament. The Wildcats already own wins over Kansas and Iowa, currently ranked No. 6 and No. 13, according to KenPom.com.
As far as KenPom, Villanova is No. 8; Creighton is No. 16; Georgetown is No. 28; Xavier — which owns wins over Cincinnati, Alabama and Wake Forest in the non-conference– is No. 39; Marquette is No. 42; Butler is No. 50; St. John’s is No. 56; and Providence is No. 66.
The Big East is ranked No. 3 in Conference RPI.
Yet with Syracuse, Louisville and UConn gone from the league, the opportunity to notch big-time wins is gone from the Big East schedule.
Villanova now becomes a huge game for every league opponent.
“[The league] has at least five RPI-top 50 teams,” ESPN’s Joe Lunardi told SNY.tv. “[There are] plenty of good wins available.”
“Almost every team in our league will be a ‘quality win,'” Xavier coach Chris Mack told SNY.tv. “It may not be a signature, wow type of win but it will be a quality win no doubt.”
Mack said he expects at least four teams, and possibly as many as six, to make the Big Dance.
St. John’s coach Steve Lavin concurred with those numbers.
“It’s early but my projection is 5-6 will be in the mix for the NCAA and 9 of 10 teams will play in the NCAA or NIT,” Lavin told SNY.tv. “It reminds me of the Pac-10 in the 90s and early 2000s.”
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.