Surprises At The Big East Tourney

Steve O Speak

The Big East Tournament is in many ways like a mini-NCAA Tournament, considering the talent and depth of teams involved. It is by far the most prestigious of the conference tournaments, as well as the toughest. This year that last part has been well emphasized, as many top teams have already fallen. In the first round perennial powerhouse UConn was throughly beaten by St. Johns. The second round saw last year’s winner Louisville, lose a close game to Cincinnati. Yesterday though was filled with upsets, with three of the top four seeds losing in their first game. Top ranked Syracuse lost to 8th seed Georgetown, while Pittsburgh got knocked off by 7th seed Notre Dame, and Villanova lost to Marquette. The lone top four seed to advance, was 3rd seed West Virginia who needed a last second shot to hold off Cincinnati.

Now because of yesterday’s massacre of top seeds, people will begin to question the Big East Tournament format and whether or not it should be changed. Because of it’s 16 team size the Big East Tournament has a unique format, where in which the top 8 teams receive a bye, and the top four teams get a double bye. In the last two seasons with the double bye format, those teams with the extra rest are 3-5 in their first round game. Now people are already calling for a change in format. I feel that is well premature. While it is disturbing that the double bye teams are falling so early, a few things should be remembered. One, these games for the most part have been very close, that number could have been worse, but it also could have easily been 6-2 or 7-1, in favor of the double bye teams. Two, we are only talking about two years here. If this was a trend over 5-6 years, I’d maybe say you have a problem, but if the top four seeds sweep the next two years (which is not out of the question) then that number is 11-5, quite a difference in opinion. The last thing that should be remembered is that this is the Big East we are talking about. They are by definition a super conference.

The Big East has more talent and parity then we’ve ever seen in college basketball before. Last season they had THREE number 1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament, despite the fact that two of those teams, UConn and Pitt lost their opening game in the Big East Tournament. This year the Big East isn’t as talented, but they will still send 8 teams tournament bound, and still have some of the top teams to watch. Teams like Marquette, Georgetown, and Louisville would have probably finished 3rd or 4th in most conferences. And teams like South Florida, Cincinnati, Seton Hall and even Connecticut, would have likely been top 8 seeds in another conference. My guess is if you broke up the Big East and spread them around the other conferences, you’d probably have a good 10-12 teams make the NCAA tournament each year, with at least two receiving number 1 seeds. That is how deep and talented this conference is.

Now I’m not saying this as a pity party for the Big East, just pointing out that all conference’s aren’t created equal. You can’t compare how the top four seeds in the Big East do, compared to the Big Ten or Pac-10 (honestly couldn’t just about any team in the Big East win the Pac-10 this season?). Or even compare them to two of the better conferences Big-12 and ACC. Those other ‘powerhouse’ conferences might run 7 or 8 teams deep, but the Big East runs a good 12 teams deep.

I think it would be too much of a knee-jerk reaction to change the format of the Big East Tournament. I don’t think they could go back to the way it was 3 years ago when only the top 12 teams made it. And while its feasible, I’m not sure if teams would want to do a tournament bracket system,where 1 seed plays 16, ect. Since that would negate any team from getting a bye. Hopefully wiser heads will prevail and they will keep the tournament as is for the next couple years before they make any changes. Maybe the double bye is harmful to those teams, but I’m not sold yet, and in the meantime I’ll just keep enjoying the best postseason basketball in the country.

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