Reynolds: Big East does big fade in NCAAs

Mar 23 2011 - 4:32pm

Where oh where is the Big East?

What happened to the 11 teams that made the NCAA Tournament, the most ever from any one conference?

How come there are only two left in the Sweet 16?

Why was Charles Barkley killing the Big East all weekend on television, everything from the "Little East" to the "Bid East" to the "Little Bitty East" to anything else derogatory he could think of?

Here's the killer stat, the one that almost defies belief, the one that says that there are as many teams left in the NCAA Tournament from the city of Richmond -- Virginia Commonwealth and Richmond -- as there are from the Big East.

And here's the second killer stat: The only two Big East teams left -- UConn and Marquette -- got to the Sweet 16 by beating other Big East teams, Cincinnati and Syracuse, respectively.

So what exactly is going on here?

One reason is parity, no question about that.

College basketball is full of it, to the point that it's become nearly impossible to watch a lot of it without soon realizing that not only are there no truly great teams, that the difference between many teams is miniscule. It's the reason so many tournament games go right to the wire. It's the reason this tournament already is a bracket-buster after just one weekend.

It's not just a coincidence that the only two Big East teams left in the NCAA Tournament are Marquette, which finished 11th, and UConn, which struggled down the stretch and came in ninth.

Not Pittsburgh, which was considered one of the elite teams in the country all year and a No. 1 seed.

Not Notre Dame, which everyone loved by the end of the year.

Not Louisville, which also came out of nowhere down the stretch to become everyone's new darling.

Not West Virginia, which got to the Final Four last year.

Go figure.

But it's more than that, too.

The Big East is overrated, is almost always overrated, for the simple reason that it's on television so much. From its beginning in 1980, the Big East always understood television's incredible power, always was the media league, courtesy of so many teams in big media markets. In many ways they are a winter reality show, "American Idol" with a scoreboard. The coaches are stars. The best players become stars. The conference tournament is in the bright lights of Madison Square Garden.

Is it any wonder the teams get overrated?

But getting a lot of exposure and being really good can be parallel universes.

One of the measures of great college teams is how many future NBA players they have on them. It's one thing to be well coached, and one thing to play hard, but you also need big-time talent.

So how good was Pittsburgh when you look at its roster and no one really jumps out at you? How good was Louisville? How good was Notre Dame, whose lack of overall athleticism was on display it its loss to Florida State? How good was St. John's when all is said and done?

Maybe it's this simple: Providence beat Louisville, and went right to the wire with the other three and around these parts, we know all too well how flawed the Friars were. Shouldn't that have been a clue?

Or maybe it's the fact that when St. John's went to the Final Four in 1985, they had four future NBA players on the roster, including Chris Mullin and Mark Jackson. This year's team? This year's team has Dwight Hardy, who has a chance to make an NBA team, and no one else.

Big East coaches can spin this anyway they want. They can say that the Big East is too tough, that it wears teams down, and maybe that's true. They can say that the NCAA Tournament is a single-elimination tournament and sometimes the best teams get upset, and there's no doubt that's true. They can say that it's not 1985 anymore, that amazing year when the Big East had three teams in the Final Four, and there's certainly no doubt about that.

Still, no one expected this.

No one expected nine out of the 11 teams to already have the basketballs put away for the summer.

No one expected a Big East flameout.

And the aftermath of that is the embarrassment the conference now pays for the expectations as big as the name of the conference, for always being on television, for always living in the middle of the camera. The embarrassment it is now paying for being the biggest dog in the room.

The embarrassment of having the city of Richmond with as many teams left in the NCAA Tournament as the Big East does.


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