The experts will say that the Big East did not deserve a record 11 teams in the NCAA Tournament this year. They’ll say that not enough teams went deep enough and won enough games.
While it is true that some teams lost early, in the end, the Big East has one of the four representatives in the Final Four - even though it makes me cringe to think that it is Connecticut that remains.
First, let’s look at the numbers based on the percentage of teams the Big East held in the Tournament:
Round of 64: 11/64=17.19%
Round of 32: XX/32= 7/32=21.88%
Sweet 16: 2/16=12.5%
Elite 8: 1/8=12.5%
Final Four: 1/4=25%
While the Big East may have started off with a higher percentage of teams in the tournament, it isn’t like there was a disaster and all teams lost in the opening round. They basically held their own. One more team making it to the Sweet 16, and they are performing above expectations. The fact that Connecticut made it to the Final Four, despite being the ninth best team in the conference, only goes to show how deep the conference is.
The fact that Big East teams were bound to play each other at some point - in this case relatively early on in the tournament for some teams - made it impossible for more than a certain number of teams to advance. When only so many spots exist, some teams need to be sent home. No matter how you draw it up, when Syracuse played Marquette, the Big East was going to send one team to the Sweet 16, but also send one team home.
Only one other major conference - the SEC - has a representative in the Final Four. The other two teams - Butler and VCU - showed how easy it is for any team to win at any time in NCAA basketball.
The Big East also faired relatively well against the remaining teams in the tournament during the regular season. VCU dropped a game to bottom dweller South Florida early on in the season. Butler lost to Louisville early in the season and then barely beat #1 seeded Pitt in the tournament’s second round. Kentucky beat Notre Dame and Louisville but lost to their next opponent, Connecticut.
The Big East also saw other good results during the regular season with Connecticut knocking off Texas (Pitt beat them, too) and Michigan State (who was #2 at the time). Georgetown beat a #17 Memphis team and #8 Missouri team. Louisville beat Butler, as mentioned before, and also won over #19 UNLV. Syracuse beat both Michigan and Michigan State and West Virginia beat Vanderbilt. This is all before the brutal Big East schedule started. By the end of the season, seven Big East teams were in the top 25, though more saw time in the rankings throughout the year.
Despite all this, the real issue is once tournament time comes, all bets are off. There are no more conferences. Other side issues get in the way of a national championship run like injuries or bumping into a particularly hot team. Winning it all is really tough for any team. Each team has its own individual path, which has no bearing on the strength of the conference overall. So while the Big East performed well in the regular season, once tournament time came, it didn’t really matter anymore.
After all, is the Colonial Athletic Association really one of the best conferences because VCU made it to the Final Four?