March 21, 2011
If the knock on the Big East before the NCAA tournament was that the conference lacked a Final Four-caliber team, then it's safe to say the criticism has gotten far more scathing in the past 24 hours.
Butler waylaid Big East regular-season champion Pittsburgh in a dramatic Round of 32 game. Second-place Notre Dame couldn't even make it close in a dismal Round of 32 showing against a Florida State team whose best player is still recovering from injury. And fellow upper division Big East teams Louisville, St. John's and Georgetown all failed to even win opening-round games in which each were favored.
Maybe the worst part is the way Sweet 16 participants Connecticut and Marquette advanced to the NCAA tournament's second week. Both beat fellow Big East teams Cincinnati and Syracuse in the Round of 32 in order to stay alive.
"In sticking up for our league, I think that it's suggestive," Marquette coach Buzz Williams told reporters after his team's win. "I think over a period of time is how you can tell how good teams are. And I think the resumé of those 11 institutions speak for themselves over the course of from Christmas to spring break."
There's no denying the Big East underperformed in this NCAA tournament, but Williams is correct in at least one respect. Those revisionist historians who say the Big East didn't deserve its 11 bids are flat-out wrong based on the season-long body of work of those teams.
A combination of the Big East's nonconference dominance and the top-11 teams making a clear line of separation between them and the Seton Halls and Providences of the league created a perfect storm on Selection Sunday.
You want to argue that Villanova didn't belong after losing 11 of 16 to end the season? Fine, but the Wildcats beat UCLA, Temple, Cincinnati, Louisville, Marquette, Syracuse and West Virginia in the regular season. Or how about that the ninth-, 10th- and 11-place teams in the Big East didn't belong in the tournament? OK, but two of those are UConn and Marquette, the only two Sweet 16 participants from the league.
The bottom line is that just like it took a perfect storm for the Big East to land 11 bids, it also took a perfect storm for nine of them to be eliminated by the first Sunday of the tournament.
Pile on the Big East all you want for an embarrassing NCAA tournament. Just don't make the case those teams didn't belong in the field because there wasn't anyone with a strong enough resume to take their place.