As of right now, 19 of the top 25 teams in the country are from the Big East. In the RPI, 12 out of the top 10 teams are from the Big East. The Big East’s record against other BCS schools so far this season is 822-9. Congress has mandated that league-based power-rankings produced by independent analysts must not mention any other conferences. These are the facts, people.
I know we’re well into year 3 (4?) of the Big East surpassing ludicrous speed in its era of perpetual domination of the college basketball world — and that because of this it’s almost become cliche to discuss Big East power — but that doesn’t mean it isn’t fun to reflect on the league’s supremacy from time to time. Scanning the national polls, RPI numbers, and league-to-league records is one way to demonstrate my point, but I’d rather take this opportunity to highlight a more personally satisfying duo of examples: UConn and Georgetown crapping their early season Big East beds.
First the Huskies: UConn came out of the preseason on a blistering pace; they had entered the season unranked but shot all the way to #4 in the country by the time league play started. They had a top 5 NBA pick in Kemba Walker, they had knocked off a couple of Top 25 non-conference teams on national TV far from home (then #2 Michigan St and then #9 Kentucky) and brought a 10-0 record into league play.
What happened then? They got their teeth knocked in on the road at Pitt and Notre Dame, and started their Big East season 1-2. So the national media starts to wonder: is UConn for real or was their early season success just a fluke? Just luck? Ummm…no. It wasn’t luck, the Big East is just that sick. How do we know? Because two days ago UConn played their final non-conference game of the season — against #12 Texas — and beat the Longhorns in OT. In Texas. In other words, UConn can beat anyone in the country, anywhere, but they probably won’t finish in the top 5 in the Big East.
Now Georgetown: a couple weeks ago I wrote up a review of each Big East team’s performance against the rest of the country. Here’s the blurb about the Hoyas –
What am I supposed to say? Georgetown appears to be insanely good this year. It sucks, but that’s reality. They played the 2nd hardest preseason schedule in the nation and beat basically everyone. They lined up a crazy array of opponents, played them all over the country, and pretty much smacked them all down. With that kind of a schedule, of course you’re going to lose one every once in a while, so their lone blemish means little. Old Dominion is 9-2 and 12th in the RPI; for some reason Georgetown played a road game against them, and they won it. Utah State is 11-2. Missouri is 11-1 and in the top ten, their only loss was to Georgetown, and it was right in Mizzou’s backyard. The Hoyas schedule was ridiculous. I don’t think they played a single home game. I don’t want to talk about this anymore.
So after that world-beating preseason, what’s Georgetown’s record in conference now? 1-3. Three losses already, including a home stinker against West Virginia and an ambush by St John’s in the Garden. All of a sudden the Hoyas look lost, confused, and helpless. But does that mean anything I said 2 weeks ago was wrong? Nope, not wrong. Everything Georgetown did in the preseason is still completely valid, it’s just that playing all those non-conference studs did very little to prepare them for life in this league. Now the Hoyas are plummeting down the top 25, but it’s hardly fair for the voters to punish them. No one’s getting through this Big East season unscathed, or even semi-scathed.
Back in the day when the Big East seemed awesome at the top but always trailed the ACC in the RPI, we used to complain about how it’s easier for a smaller conference to have good RPI numbers because they have fewer bottom-feeders dragging down the league (this was especially true when the ACC had 9 guys, before they kneecapped themselves by poaching BC, VT and Miami). Well, it’s still true. Smaller conferences have an advantage in the RPI for just that reason: it’s easier to be strong from top to bottom. But nowadays the Big East is vastly larger than every other conference, yet there it sits, locked in at #1 in the RPI.
The league has exactly one bottom-feeder killing it in the stats department: DePaul. Not surprisingly, that’s not quite enough to drag down 15 tough-as-nails teams who are ready to come at anyone, any time. Right now there are 10 virtual NCAA locks in the Big East, one bubble team (Marquette), and four guys who aren’t going dancing but who aren’t any fun to play at all (Rutgers, USF, Seton Hall, Providence). No one is escaping this league season with less than 4 losses, I’m predicting that right now. But one or two Big East teams should grab #1 seeds anyway, just based on this insane strength. And the 2 and 3 seed lines should be stocked with the other guys. Overall more than 25% of the national at-large bids to the Big Dance are going to go to the Big East. Is the rest of the country starting to hate us yet?
Enjoy this run while it lasts.