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Despite losses by nine, Big East's 11 earned bids


Marquette won.

Which meant Syracuse lost.

Marquette players celebrate ousting Big East rival and No. 3 seed Syracuse from the tournament. (Getty Images)  
Marquette players celebrate ousting Big East rival and No. 3 seed Syracuse from the tournament. (Getty Images)  
Which meant another Big East team was eliminated from the NCAA tournament Sunday, and the carcasses are stacked high. We started with a record 11 Big East schools and are now left with just two (Marquette and Connecticut) -- neither of which is projected to make the Final Four.

What it means is that the league experienced a disappointing four days.

What it doesn't mean is that the Big East didn't deserve 11 schools in the field of 68.

Those suggesting otherwise are grossly uninformed.

"We were the last team in [from the Big East] … and we're one of the [two] still remaining," Marquette coach Buzz Williams said. "That speaks to the depth of our league."

I could spend the next few hundred words explaining how St. John's might've advanced if not for the loss of D.J. Kennedy, and how Georgetown may have moved on if Chris Wright, whose first game in three weeks was against Virginia Commonwealth last Friday, hadn't broken his hand. Villanova was a shot away from beating George Mason; Louisville ditto vs. Morehead State; and Pittsburgh was one stupid foul away from getting past Butler.

I could simply label the league unlucky. A rebound here, a putback there, and the Big East might have five Sweet 16 teams instead of two. In that case, critics would be praising the league as opposed to punishing it.

It's an easy case to make.

I could make it.

But arguing the point only distracts from the main point I want to make: Nothing that happens in the NCAA tournament proves whether somebody belonged or didn't belong in the NCAA tournament.

If the Big East had nine schools in the Sweet 16, would that mean the league deserved more than 11 bids -- that Seton Hall and Rutgers should've received invitations, too? Of course not. Then why does anybody think the Big East having two schools in the Sweet 16 means the league deserved fewer than 11 bids?

Answer: Because people are dumb.

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We've gone over this before, but it bears repeating: Leagues don't get bids -- schools get bids. Casual fans (and casual followers of the sport on TV and radio, in newspapers and blogs) like to group schools by leagues and discuss them as if they're all part of the same team, but that's not how this works. The NCAA tournament selection committee, rather, takes the 31 automatic qualifiers off the board, then completes the field with what it considers to be the best 37 at-large candidates regardless of league affiliation.

And if you rewind a week and go back to Selection Sunday, there's not a reasonable person in the world who would've had fewer than 11 Big East schools in the bracket. Remember, back then we were arguing about Virginia Tech and VCU, Saint Mary's and UAB, Colorado and Clemson. But every bracket projector worth the price of a subscription had 11 Big East schools in the bracket because Connecticut was the league's automatic qualifier, and 10 other members clearly had among the best 37 bodies of work based on what happened during the four-month regular season.

That fact can't be rewritten now.

Did Butler deserve a No. 1 seed this year because it beat Pittsburgh in the Round of the 32?

Did Kansas not deserve a No. 1 seed last year because it lost to Northern Iowa in the Round of 32?

If you answered "no" to both of those questions -- and you have to answer "no" to both of those questions -- then you can't argue the Big East deserved fewer than 11 teams, because suggesting certain Big East members didn't deserve bids based on Louisville and Georgetown losing earlier than expected is the same as suggesting Kansas deserved a lower seed last year and Butler a higher seed this year based on what those schools did in those tournaments. This cuts both ways, you know?

Either way, using 40-minute basketball games as gospel instead of a four-month season is a ridiculous way to operate.

Bottom line, the Big East teams that got in deserved to get in.

They didn't perform well, obviously.

But that has nothing to do with any decisions made in Indianapolis eight days ago.

Gary Parrish is a senior college basketball columnist for and frequent contributor to the CBS Sports Network. The Mississippi native also hosts the highest-rated sports talk radio show -- The Gary Parrish Show -- in the history of Memphis. He lives in that area with his wife, two children and a dog.

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