Ok, clearly there's been a lot of ink spilled over the Big East in the last few days and the fact that "the best conference in the country" only got 2 teams into the Sweet 16 out of the 11 that made the dance. While there are a few supporters out there, Gary Parrish is one of them, most writers are saying that the Big East shouldn't have deserved to clog up thr 68-team field with 11 of its own teams when only 2 could make the Sweet 16.
As an avid supporter of Big East basketball, I figured it's worth a shot to take an un-biased (maybe) look at each of the 11 teams to see if the haters are right, or if the Gary Parrishes of the world are right. Let's go from the top down. For future reference, when I say "first round" I'm referring to the field of 64 teams, not 68.
1. Pitt - Beat #16 UNC-Asheville in the first round, lost to #8 Butler in the second round by a point. This game had arguably the wildest finish of the tournament thus far, with two questionable fouls being called with less than 5 seconds left in the game. Nonetheless, Butler came out on top in this one.
2. Notre Dame - Beat #15 Akron in the first round, lost to #10 Florida State in the second round. The fighting irish ran into a team that defends the three-ball better than any other team in the country. As a result, ND had a poor shooting night and was down by double-digits for most of this game.
3. Connecticut - Defeated #14 Bucknell in the first round, beat #6 Cincy in the second round. One of the two remaining teams in the tournament.
4. Syracuse - Beat #14 Indiana State in the first round, lost to #11 MU in the second round (!!!)
5. Louisville - Lost to #13 Morehead State in the first round. The eagles made a clutch three-pointer and a key block at the end of the game to win by a point.
6. West Virginia - Beat #12 Clemson in the first round, lost to #4 Kentucky in the second round. This one was pretty close for most of the way, but the wildcats made just enough shots down the stretch to advance.
7. Cincinnatti - Beat #11 Missouri in the first round, lost to #3 UConn in the second round.
8. St. John's - Lost to #11 Gonzaga in the first round. The Johnnies were clearly the underdogs with their third-highest scorer in D.J Kennedy out for this game.
9. Georgetown - Lost to #11 VCU in the first round. Same as St. John's, having Chris Wright back for the first time in three weeks certainly didn't help these guys.
10. Villanova - Lost to #8 George Mason in the first round. The wildcats continued their end-of-season collapse with yet another loss, this one coming right down to the wire.
11. Marquette - Beat #6 Xavier in the first round, beat #3 Syracuse in the second round. One of the two teams remaining in the tournament.
Right off the bat, the Big East could have at most 9 teams in the Sweet 16 since the second round featured two BE match-ups. Allow me to play a little defense for the other 7 teams:
- Pitt took on a team that's very tournament-tested. Even though Gordon Hayward is gone, the bulldogs still have Shelvin Mack and Matt Howard from last year's team that lost at the buzzer to Duke in the national championship. Referee calls aside, taking down this team would've been no easy feat.
- Notre Dame drew a terrible match-up in Florida State. Like I said, FSU is the best at defending the three-ball, which is a nightmare for a team like Notre Dame that wins big games by hitting three-pointers. If Notre Dame can't shoot well, they can't win.
- Preston Knowles from Louisville got injured with 9 minutes left in the game and didn't return. Up until then he had 9 points, 5 assists and 3 steals. Think he could've made a 2-point difference in those 9 minutes? Probably.
- West Virginia took on a very hot team at the moment in Kentucky. The wildcats had a mediocre stretch in the middle of their season, but have been playing great basketball over the last month.
- St. John's played without D.J Kennedy, wh is not only 3rd in scoring on the team, but lead the Johnnies in rebounds and steals. This is a quite a big hole to fill, no matter what team you are.
- Georgetown has a similar story. Having Chris Wright (arguably the second-best player on the team behind Austin Freeman) back for the first time in three weeks was still a burden for the hoyas. And he certainly didn't play like his old self, scoring only 6 points instead of his usual 13 and committing two more fouls than his average. Not to mention, VCU absolutely destroyed Purdue on Sunday, so it's not like they lost to a garbage team.
- Villanova went down to the wire with George Mason, which is what's supposed to happen in a 8-9 match-up. If these teams played 10 times, they'd probably split the series 5-5.
With all of these defensive points in mind, does this mean we should've gotten 9 teams into the Sweet 16? Absolutely not. But I do think a few of these merit a discussion. Of the 7 teams that didn't make the Sweet 16, I feel that Pitt and West Virginia probably should've made it to the Sweet 16 too. If Louisville and St. John's didn't have their injury issues, they probably would've been in the regionals too. Nobody should've expected Villanova to make the Sweet 16 because they would've been drilled by Ohio State, and G-town is a toss-up.
Do the haters out there have a point? Maybe. Did the Big East deserve to get all of these teams in, even though they didn't all advance as far as they should have? I think so. The 37 at-large bids go to the 37 best teams, but does that mean you're not one of the best teams because of one game that you played and lost? Every team in the tournament is just as hungry to win as the teams in the Big East. Just because a team lost to an equal team or was upset by a worse team doesn't mean they didn't deserve to be there in the first place. Given the pedigree, should the Big East have won more games this post-season? Definitely. But don't hate on the conference because it didn't pan out that way.