After the Big East lost many of the heavy hitters that made the conference so legendary in hoops for the past few decades, it appeared that it could be a while before really competitive basketball returned to the league. However, it is well ahead of schedule. It took just two years to return to a higher level of play.
While there is little doubt that the Big 12 is the strongest top-to-bottom conference in America, it is difficult to put many others ahead of the Big East. The ACC, sure, but after that, it’s an open question.
The only team that appears to be the cupcake of the conference is Creighton, which is still experiencing the Doug McDermott hangover. While only Villanova and Seton Hall crack the top 25 in both the AP and Coaches’ Polls, the conference also has four other teams which received votes – Georgetown, Providence, Butler, and St. John’s. To speak to the true depth in the conference, St. John’s is actually ahead of only Creighton after a 1-4 start in Big East play, but has one of the strongest non-conference resumes in the nation. So far, the surprise of the conference has been DePaul, which was 6-7 in non-conference play and has already knocked off Xavier, St. John’s, and Marquette in Big East competition.
Though the Big East does not have the strength at the top that the ACC does, the strength at the bottom of the conference is certainly stronger. It is awfully impressive to look at the schedule and know that any team can beat any other any night in the Big East. Remember the years when anything could, and most times did, happen in the Big East tournament? Guess what? It’s already back.
If you look at non-conference play, it is hard to find a conference that had more quality wins than the Big East as well. St. John’s beat St. Mary’s, Tulane, and Minnesota while winning at Syracuse. Even Creighton beat Oklahoma and Nebraska while taking St. Mary’s to overtime. Marquette beat Georgia Tech and Tennessee. Xavier beat Murray State and Alabama. Butler beat North Carolina and Northwestern, while taking Oklahoma and Indiana to the brink. Seton Hall beat George Washington and Rutgers. DePaul knocked off Stanford. Providence defeated Florida State, Notre Dame, Yale, Rhode Island, and Miami (FL). Villanova ran the table in non-conference play and beat VCU by 24. The Wildcats also beat Michigan, Syracuse, and (in New York on a neutral floor) Illinois. Georgetown has wins over Florida and Indiana, while losing to Kansas and Wisconsin by a combined eight points.
Beyond the strong wins outside the conference, the Big East did not pick up a lot of bad losses, either. With all of these realities in place, it appears that the conference may be underrated nationally in the top 25. Many teams will have a strong resume in March.
While the Big East lacks respect in the national rankings, it is not hard to believe that the conference can get six or seven team into the Big Dance – this depends on the ability of DePaul to continue to play well. Even if the Big East does not get all seven of its contending teams in, there is no doubt that the conference has made tremendous strides after last season. Not only that, it has revived itself after nearly flatlining when it lost traditional powerhouses Syracuse and Connecticut.
It’s amazing how much of a difference two months can make. Before the season, it was hard to think the Big East would be standing where it is today. The conference can only hope that the next two months will be as prosperous.