Why is no one talking about the Big East and its four legit Final Four teams?
A lot more than Villanova, the league is every bit as strong as the ACC, if not stronger
Conference play has arrived in college basketball.
Are you aware that no league is as good at the top as the Big East? It's true.
Doubt it? I'll convert you in a minute here.
The conference, on the whole, ranks third in KenPom's conference rankings and first in conference RPI. I'm not here to argue the Big East is the best league; it's not. I am here to inform you that the top of the Big East is as good -- if not better -- and more accomplished this season than any conference in America.
This shouldn't be surprising, but given the league's lack of consistent widespread love, the topic is worth bringing to the table. Once a mega-conglomerate in the sport, the Big East has been wrongly demoted in discussion in recent years. Not even Villanova's amazing national championship fully brought the conference back into the convo for the best leagues. Since 2014, most pundits have defaulted to the ACC, Big Ten and Big 12.
So let's re-initiate the Big East again, once and for all.
Since being forced to adopt a no-FBS-schools, 10-team union in 2013, the Big East has averaged NCAA Tournament bids for half of its membership. It's on pace to do that again. A guarantee: The Big East will put at least five teams into this year's Big Dance. Why? As you'll see below, the performance in non-league play has secured the conference's fortunate fate for March. While the college landscape changed around the Big East, the league remained steady and refused to become a two- or three-bid outfit.
A lot of people predicted the Big East would be closer to the Mountain West than the Big Ten. Those people were wrong.
Look at this season: The Big East boasts four teams with legitimate expectations of reaching the Final Four in 2017. Only the ACC can claim the same.
Villanova (undefeated), Creighton (undefeated), Butler (11-1), Xavier (10-2) and Seton Hall (10-2) represent a heavy and mighty top half. (Sort of reminds me of that spell when the Big 12 was essentially split into "GOOD" and "EHHH" columns for four or five years in a row.) Nova is the No. 1 team in every ranking: AP poll, coaches poll, KenPom, Massey, RPI, KPI, all of it. The Wildcats have been the undeniable top club in the country for nearly a month now.
But the Big East is a lot more than the Wildcats.
(Not far) behind VU is Creighton and its quick offense, which puts up 90/game and has taken out Wisconsin. Butler's beaten Arizona, Indiana, Cincinnati, Northwestern and has a road win vs. Utah. This was supposed to be the down year for BU. Instead, it would probably be a No. 2 seed if the NCAA Tournament started tonight.
Xavier currently comes in at the 4 spot in the league's power rankings, but it was a 2 seed in last year's tournament, has a 10-2 record now and could wind up being the No. 2 team in the league standings again. From a roster standpoint, X has the pieces to make it to Phoenix in April. Remember, this team hasn't had Myles Davis on the floor; he's been suspended all season to this point. If/when he returns, the roster fills out and X becomes all the more legitimate.
In terms of player performance, Josh Hart is the undisputed leader in the Player of the Year race as of now. Mo Watson Jr. at Creighton is a potential All-American, as is Butler's Kelan Martin. Edmond Sumner, J.P. Macura and Trevon Bluiett at Xavier will all threaten to make the league's First Team. And in terms of newbies, Justin Patton (Creighton) and Shamorie Ponds (St. John's) are top-10 freshmen in America.
Right now, give me Villanova, Creighton, Xavier and Butler vs. any other conference's top four teams. You want specifics? In terms of metrics (I averaged out KenPom, Massey, RPI and KPI), here are the top four teams in the ...
Big Ten: Wisconsin, Purdue, Indiana, Northwestern
The ACC is the only conference with a surefire case vs. the Big East in a top-four-vs.-top-four scenario. Duke, UVa, UNC and U of L all currently rank as top-10 teams at KenPom. If you want those four, I can't fault you. They've combined for five losses against an average non-con strength of schedule that comes to 92.
Counterpoint: The Big East's top four teams have combined for just three losses against a non-con schedule that averages out at 96.
The ACC has wins over Kentucky, Wichita State, Florida, Rhode Island, Ohio State, California and Wisconsin. The Big East's best four have taken out Wisconsin, Purdue, Northwestern, Arizona, Indiana, Cincinnati, Clemson, Notre Dame and Wake Forest (twice). All the aforementioned victories are of the top-50 variety. The ACC has seven; the Big East has 10. And remember, two fewer losses vs. virtually the same strength of schedule is noteworthy, especially when you account for the fact that the ACC's top four teams have played 20 games away from home.
The Big East's top four has done that 22 times. And it's won nine games vs. ranked opponents.
I bring all this up not just because the Big East warrants it, but because league play gets going Wednesday night. It's set up to be a tremendous season. Villanova plays at Creighton later this week in what could be a big-time game that announces, on a national stage, what the Big East can provide over the next two-plus months. It's nice to see the league fall into some competitive games (Seton Hall-Creighton coming at you Wednesday night) right off the bat.
Speaking of the Hall, I place it firmly at No. 5 -- and that's no disrespect. SHU, which hasn't lost back-to-back non-conference games since 2010, is quietly 10-2, has one of the best post players in the country (Angel Delgado) and won last year's Big East tournament. Seton Hall's started 10-2 or better in five of the past seven seasons. Delgado is averaging a double-double (14.7/11.8), and when he gets a double-double (he has 31 in his career), Seton Hall wins almost every time. It's on a 20-game victory streak when that's happened.
The question is: Can anyone take down Villanova -- and would it be good for the Big East if that happened? The conference right now is in a tricky spot. Nova is the tide to lift all boats but it's not been so dominant for so long that it feels like a Wichita State or Gonzaga situation. Villanova represents the league; it does not speak for it.
The conference has four teams in the top 10 of the RPI, and by my count, three teams with the eight best resumes in America. It's been a fantastic start for the top half through the first six weeks of the season. Now it's up to the rest of us to start giving the conference its due.
But even if we don't, the NCAA Tournament selection committee should and will. I'd be shocked if the Big East doesn't have four teams with No. 4 seeds or better come Selection Sunday. This isn't just one of the six best leagues in America. It's unquestionably top-three, and in terms of its top half, no conference has had a better start this season. You're judged as a league not by your whole but by your best -- by the teams you send to the tournament. In this regard, no one can honestly deny the Big East's quality.
The Big East isn't "back" because it never really left. It changed, then evolved, and now has kept pace on its own terms.
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