Every year, the Big East gets lauded for being the unquestioned No. 1 conference in college hoops. And despite the lack of a tangible way to prove whether this is truly the case or not, every fan, blogger and sports writer has alluded to this fact numerous times. So really, I'm just as guilty as the rest of you out there.
As you (hopefully) know, the Big East is home to a whopping 16 schools. No conference in America can match that tally, and really, that number alone helps to serve as the backbone for my entire argument. Sure, the Atlantic 10 isn't too far off with 14, but as far as power conferences go, nobody has more than 12. And that's where the problem lies. How can we fairly compare a 16-team league to one that only has 10-12 members? The answer: You can't.
The concept of having 16 teams play in one single conference is great for college basketball. The fans eat it up like a free buffet. It's also quite a nice treat for ESPN, you know, the same television network that has an exclusive deal with the Big East to send their games into your living rooms multiple nights per week. Just like how you won't hear Gary Danielson praising a non-SEC school during a CBS college football broadcast, the crowded panel of ESPN talking heads are there to pump Big East basketball at every turn. It's just good business. Is it any wonder why Big East schools are routinely ranked higher in the ESPN/Coaches Top 25 polls than they are in the AP version? Somebody call Jesse Ventura. Let's get this conspiracy straightened out.
To try and explain what I'm talking about, we're going to run through two separate scenarios. First, I'm going to remove five schools from the Big East and see how it stacks up against the Big Ten for example. Obviously we can't just steal a couple bottom-feeders and be done with things, so I'm going to cut one contender, three middle-of-the-pack schools and one team that just flat-out sucks. The whole basis for this scenario relies on the importance of these five, and I think I went pretty light in terms of removing any resident powerhouses from their current home. Regardless, go ahead and wave goodbye to Villanova, Georgetown, Notre Dame, Cincinnati and DePaul.
As an 11-team conference, the Big East could look like this in comparison with the Big Ten:
|St. John's||Penn State|
You'd be hard-pressed to pick a clear-cut favorite here. And since these standings are based on the current state of each league, I think we'd be looking at some great one-on-one battles at the very least. Above all, even if you still think the Big East is hands-down the better 11-team league, the counterpoint is extremely strong in this case for the first time ever.
The second scenario is to add five schools to the Big Ten to create a second 16-team conference. And since Nebraska, who really blows, is already on the way, I've picked four other teams (Missouri, Iowa State, Butler and Tennessee) that would fit the bill based on location. With those five in the mix, here's what the Big Ten would look compared to the current Big East:
|Michigan State||West Virginia|
|Iowa State||South Florida|
See a dominant side? I sure as hell don't. That's the point. And if you agree with me on that fact, then you've officially conceded that the Big East is annually touted as the top conference for all the wrong reasons.
As far as contenders go, the polls will always be littered with Big East teams, deserving or not. Beating a ranked Big East squad usually ensures said school a place in the following week's rankings, and it honestly feels like this happens more on principle than anything else. In many ways this is exactly what we see with SEC football, and how it's inexplicable for a bad team to beat a good one and still remain equally as bad in the public's eye. You beat No. 5 ranked UConn at Storrs? Good, because every last voter on the planet saw it live and is now seriously considering you for their upcoming ballot. In the end it's a win-win for the entire conference.
My thesis here is simple: The Big East is viewed as best conference in the sport not because of how many great teams it has, but because it has the most teams to begin with and therefore can't possibly have a down season. With 16 schools in play, there is a statistically higher chance to produce more contenders and NCAA bids than anyone else year after year. Oh, and one more thing: Since the expansion in 2005, no Big East team has EVER made it to the NCAA Championship game, let alone won the crown. Defend that.