Monday, March 21, 2011

The Big Least

When the Big East got 11 teams into the NCAA Tournament I knew that after the first weekend critics would be questioning the inclusion of so many teams from the same conference.
But I never expected it to be this bad. 7-4 in the opening round sounded about right, but Pittsburgh, Notre Dame and Syracuse all losing in round 2 was unexpected.
The top 5 teams in the regular season (Pitt, Notre Dame, Louisville, Syracuse) all lost to teams seeded at least 8 spots lower.
There are a lot of reasons this could have happened:
1) The conference was simply overrated. Possible but there was a lot of empirical evidence during the regular season to show it really was the best conference. It didn't have the best teams but it had the most good teams.
2) The conference grind wore these teams down. Possible, but unlikely. I just don't believe in that cumulative effect. For instance, if Gilbert Brown hits the second free throw, we might not even be having this conversation right now. It just doesn't seem likely that 9 teams experienced an almost simultaneous teamwide fatigue.
3) The Big East style of play does not lend itself to victories in March. I can't argue with this one but I don't think the style of play (other than bruising Pittsburgh) differs that much from the rest of the country. Louisville and Notre Dame play wide open games relying on outside shooting. I see that in a lot of other conferences that don't experience Fukushima-like meltdowns in March.
4) Shit happens. My go to approach for almost all seemingly inexplicable questions in life and in sports. 9 Big East teams did melt down, all at the same time. But it doesn't mean the conference wasn't good or the teams weren't good. Is there any other conference that could send two teams from its bottom half to the Sweet 16? I don't think so. Even though the two teams that advanced beat Big East teams to do so perhaps avoiding a worse fate for the conference.

In football, the SEC dominates. It has won the last 5 championships, with 4 different schools. In part that's because football's regular season is so meaningful compared to basketball. The Big East is that conference in basketball. It hasn't won a title in 6 years, and it has egg on its face right now, and will likely never get 11 teams again. But I have seen this conference since it expanded to 16, and I believe it's still the best in the country. Even after this weekend's disaster.

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