Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Power of the Big East

I'm headed to the Pete tonight to watch our beloved Panthers take on a frisky mid-major in the Siena Saints, a game that, while certainly won't give us much of an indication of Big East play, should at least be something of a challenge for the Panthers, especially early on. I'll report back in tomorrow with my thoughts on the game, and hopefully they are nothing but upbeat and cheery.

On the national college b-ball scene, the red giant known as the Big East continues to make all other conferences look like white dwarves. And yes, that was an astronomy analogy. Deal with it. In the latest Top 25 polls, the Big East has 8 teams in both polls, 6 in the top 15 in the coaches' poll and an astounding 7 in the top 15 in the AP poll. And in all honesty, I think a few others besides those 8 could see time in the Top 25 before the end of the season. West Virginia, as much as I don't like to admit it, is a pretty good team with a fair amount of talent, but that's bound to happen when you have a coach who has consistently run shady programs. Seton Hall, Providence, and St. John's look like they are programs on the rise and have gotten off to strong starts this season and will be teams to reckon with in Big East play, and Cincinnati looks to be headed back up after a few down years. Really, the only teams in the Big East that have struggled thus far are South Florida and DePaul.

I mean that's 12 squads right there that in any other conference would figure to be favorites to earn NCAA bids, yet in the Big East, they will have to fight tooth-and-nail to earn a 7 or 8 seed for most. In my mind, though the Big East deserves double digit bids, they will only get 9, which would be a record. So here's how I break it down on percentage points for the Big East's 16 teams:

UConn 100%
Pitt 100%
Louisville 99%
Notre Dame 98%
Syracuse 95%
Georgetown 85%
Villanova 83%
Marquette 83%
West Virginia 60%
Cincinnati 24%
Seton Hall 23%
Rutgers 20%
Providence 15%
St. John's 12%
DePaul 2%
South Florida 1%

Anyway, all this leads me to my long-standing question: How long can this league really stay intact as is? Though nothing has been public about any trouble in the league, you've really got to wonder how long schools like Seton Hall, DePaul, Providence, and St. John's will really want to stay at the bottom tier of the conference. Big East football will keep bottom-feeding South Florida in-conference for good, but the rest worry me. Especially the three long-time Big Easters there who have exceptional tradition but have watched their success dry up in recent years. I also wonder about Notre Dame, too, even though they have enjoyed success. The latest capsizing football season really makes me wonder if they are edging closer toward coming to their senses and joining the Big Ten for all sports. Of course, there is a slim chance they could just join up with the Big East in football, but that seems unlikely.

I think the appointment of another Providence man as the new Big East commissioner will stave this off temporarily, but it can't be easy for the lesser Catholic schools, who at this point must feel like they are buried alive. I think this peace can only last for so long no matter what, and the bet here is that this Big East, unless we see some parity start to hit the league, is very different 5 years from now. But only time will tell.

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