Big East flexing its muscle once again
Keno Davis arrived in the Big East at perhaps the most
In his first season in charge of Providence last year, seven
league teams reached the NCAA tournament, including a record three
No. 1 seeds. Five advanced to the round of 16, four made the
regional finals and half of the Final Four was made up of familiar
Davis thinks the Big East is tougher this season.
“A lot of the coaches were talking at the beginning of the
season, saying we’re going to be a really good conference because
the bottom-half teams have all improved – so we might not have
three No. 1 seeds or be as top heavy,” the second-year Providence
coach said. “Well now, maybe we are as top heavy as we were last
Davis can offer an unenviable perspective on it, too. His team
is midway through a stretch of four straight games against teams
ranked in the top 10.
“I don’t see there’s any reason why the teams in the Big East
can’t have similar success in the postseason, not just because of
the depth of the conference, but because of how good Villanova is,
how good Syracuse is, how good Georgetown is,” Davis said.
The sheer brutality of the Big East was on display last
In the friendly confines of the Carrier Dome on Sunday, then-No.
2 Syracuse was dumped by unranked Louisville. A few hundred miles
to the south, struggling Rutgers stunned then-No. 7 Georgetown.
West Virginia lost to Villanova and Pittsburgh, both ranked in the
Top 25, to tumble from No. 5 to No. 8 in the poll released
Of the four Big East teams that held down the top seven spots in
the ranking last week, ‘Nova was the only team to escape
“I think most years there’s six, seven, eight teams that are
pretty much separated, but this year you could go down to 12,”
said Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim, whose 34 seasons at the school
make him something of an expert.
“Definitely more good teams than I think there ever have
The strength of the Big East has often been rooted in a handful
of programs, going back 25 years to when it became the first
conference to get three teams in the Final Four. Rival leagues like
the Atlantic Coast Conference and Big 12 supposedly offered more
That’s not the case this year.
Every team but Rutgers and DePaul have at least four conference
wins. In the case of UConn, once ranked in the top 10, that’s all
it had entering Monday night’s game against Villanova.
Then there are the programs that have traditionally occupied the
cellar. South Florida rattled off four straight Big East wins
earlier this season, among them Pittsburgh and at Georgetown. Seton
Hall is in the NCAA tournament discussion with the softest part of
its schedule still on the horizon.
Soft being a relative term.
“South Florida, I think, has not got the notoriety they’re
deserving of,” said Buzz Williams, whose Marquette team is dealing
with the same injustice. “They have great athletes, they’re all
strong. Dominique Jones, everybody is talking about.”
The junior guard is averaging 21.6 points per game for the
Bulls, just behind Seton Hall’s Jeremy Hazel and Notre Dame’s Luke
Harangody. Hazel’s teammate Herb Pope is the league’s leading
rebounder, a pretty good indication that talent is more evenly
distributed than ever before.
Last year, most of the best players were stacked on the best
teams: Marquette’s Jerel McNeal and Wesley Matthews, Pittsburgh’s
Sam Young and DeJuan Blair, Syracuse’s Jonny Flynn and Paul Harris,
UConn’s A.J. Price and Hasheem Thabeet.
All of them graduated or left early for the riches of the NBA,
one of the reasons that many pundits thought – incorrectly, it
turns out – the Big East would regress this season.
“I think top to bottom, it is,” Villanova coach Jay Wright
said, when asked whether the league is better this year than last.
“I think in terms of overall depth and knowing you can get beat
any night by anybody, I do.”
Connecticut is a pretty good case study in how teams can get
caught in the spin cycle and have their season completely washed
out. The Huskies won two of their first three games in the Big
East, then had to face Georgetown and Pittsburgh four days apart –
They later lost four of five while coach Jim Calhoun was on a
doctor-ordered medical leave of absence, and things didn’t get
better in his first game back over the weekend. Cincinnati blitzed
UConn 60-48 in Hartford to basically eliminate one of the league
favorites from making the NCAA tournament.
“There’s going to be some really good teams in this conference
being left out of the tournament,” Davis said. “Some teams that
could go really far in the tournament. I think that’s why they look
at possibly expanding because there’s always teams that are left
out that go to the NIT that could go far in the NCAA. Maybe not win
it, but win a few games.”
AP Basketball Writer Dan Gelston in Philadelphia contributed to