DePaul beating Georgetown last night was probably not the way other members of the Big East Conference were hoping the first tournament was going to start. That’s not because they hate the Blue Demons, which they might because their athletic department does not seem to care about their program, but because there’s a growing sentiment regarding the new version of the old league. One that isn’t shining the most positive of spotlights on the conference.
A full history lesson on how we got here is probably not needed, but a quick refresher wouldn’t hurt.
The previous version of the Big East was divided into different factions. Almost as if it were pro wrestling. On one side of the coin was a set of schools who had football programs. Those football programs brought in a lot of money for their schools and they weren’t happy with the (then) current level of programs on the football side of things. On the other side of that same coin were the Catholic Seven, a group of traditional basketball programs who did not have Division I football programs.
Former Big East commissioner and now AAC mastermind, Mike Aresco, wanted to expand the Big East. His focus was not on basketball, but on football. Which makes sense from a financial standpoint, although it also spit in the face of what the Big East was always supposed to be, a basketball conference.
As Aresco started to invite different programs to join the Big East, the Catholic Seven grew weary. Tired of playing second-fiddle to football, not pleased with the level of programs being brought in and realizing the days of the Big East as we knew it were coming to an end, they eventually got out of dodge.
Fast-forward a Fox Sports network deal and programs like Creighton and Butler joining the fold, a new Big East Conference was born. Unfortunately for this new league, conference realignment and football money was running rampant throughout all of college sports. Which also meant that the basketball only schools would have to build the new Big East without historical powers Syracuse and Pittsburgh, who went to the ACC and Louisville, UConn and Cincinnati, who (at least for now) stayed with Aresco for the inaugural AAC season.
So, even before this season started people had questions concerning the new Big East. Truth be told, most of them were fair. Asking if this league was going to be anywhere remotely as strong as previous incarnations seemed logical. Plucking five of the better programs out of any conference would make people wonder such things.
Still, some basketball purists were thrilled. A league that is focused solely on basketball, with a major sports network deal, and the potential to be one of the best leagues in the entire nation. Really, it was like a really good dream for people sick of football ruling college basketball.
Then the season started. It didn’t take long to realize that the Big East was not going to be as strong as it was the year before. With only Villanova and Creighton being a consistent member of the top-25 and the league looking like receiving only two NCAA Tournament bids being a reality, talk started to surface as to the current status of the league. As in, is this still a power conference or are they now a mid-major, type of gibber-jabber.
It has not helped the Big East that the AAC has looked strong. The top five teams in The American are as good a top five as there is in any league in the country. Granted, the bottom of the league is filled with the Club State Pool Cleaners and University of Broken Dreams of the world, but it’s not like the bottom of the Big East was any better — I mean they have DePaul.
That’s part of the reason as to why March might be the most important month for the Big East going forward. Well, at least for the perception of it.
The Big East Tournament needs to go off without a hitch. DePaul taking down a Georgetown team who needed a serious run to get an at-large bid to go dancing did not help. DePaul would need to win the entire tournament, which is not happening, and the Big East can ill-afford match-ups that viewers do not want to see.
The tournament is young, however. St. John’s has to play Providence, in a battle of two teams on the bubble, which might be one of the few early Big East games with NCAA Tournament ramifications. Xavier, another bubble-ish team, might be able to earn a spot with just one victory in the tournament as well.
But one of those teams need to make a run. They need to take the decision out of the hands of the Selection Committee. The Big East can’t trot out just two teams to the big dance. It is a basketball only league. The priority being, good basketball. What would it say about the members of the new Big East if the league they previously stuck their noses at, the AAC, were to get five teams in and they were to get just two?
A likely scenario calls for the Big East to get three teams in the NCAA Tournament (Creighton, Nova and the winner of St. John’s vs Providence and/or Xavier), but there is an outside chance of four getting in. That would be if a program like Xavier were to make a run or Marquette won the whole shebang. Although, no matter the number of teams getting into the NCAA Tournament, there is still more work to be done if the league wants to be validated.
A team, preferably two, will need to make a deep run in the big dance. Early exists would only reaffirm the idea that the league isn’t that good or only on a mid-major type level to those who are not high on the new Big East. Without Selection Sunday giving us the ability to project, however, it is far too early to predict the outcomes for whatever number of Big East programs get a chance to go dancing.
All of this is just for immediate success for the league. The potential is still there for this league to function and perform as well as the previous version. It could also be said, as I admittedly start to make excuses for the conference, that Marquette is never this bad, that St. John’s and DePaul are (as always said to the point of nausea) sleeping giants, and that Providence and Seton Hall are programs on the rise. Couple those things with the already known commodity that is Villanova and (usually) Xavier as well as hoping Butler finds itself post Brad Stevens and Creighton can survive a Doug McDermott graduation, there’s plenty to be optimistic about.
But we live in a right now world. As of right now, the Big East isn’t doing as swell as other power conferences. Only two locks for the NCAA Tournament, a slew of other programs under-performing and the perception of the league in a negative fashion growing, March might be the most important month in the less than a year old history of the new Big East.
With that being said, every month going forward is going to be the most important month of the league. Well, that’s until they can change the perception of the league by winning more games, getting more teams in the NCAA Tournament and sending them on deep runs in the big dance.
All of which feels a bit hyperbolic, because judging this league for its first season seems silly. Sure it carries the prestigious Big East moniker, but it isn’t the same Big East. We all know that. It doesn’t have the same teams, history or nearly any form of tradition that came with it. It is up to this new Big East to start building moments of their own and it has to start doing so right now. If not, they might just become a Big East basketball afterthought.
No pressure, though. Right?