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Harris: Big East a great league' Hardly

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Is Big East basketball overrated?

Darn right.

OK, so I'm not the sharpest tool in the shed, pointing out the obvious in the heart of Big East country.

But facts are facts, and the facts tell me the Big East hasn't lived up to its season-long hype.

Eight Big East teams were invited to the NCAA Tournament -- more than any other conference. Only two teams remain: No. 1 seed Syracuse and No. 2 West Virginia.

No. 2 Villanova, No. 3 Pitt and No. 3 Georgetown -- gone.

No. 6 Marquette, No. 6 Notre Dame and No. 9 Louisville didn't survive the first round.

Everyone looks down on the Big Ten, but the Big Ten had five teams in the tournament, with three teams still alive despite only one member seeded as high as No. 2 (Ohio State).

The Big 12 and Southeastern Conference have two teams remaining in the tournament; neither conference had eight teams invited like the Big East did.

The Atlantic Coast Conference has one team left.

"Whoever doesn't think the Big East is a great league really shouldn't write sports. Do cooking or something," West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said Sunday after the Mountaineers defeated Missouri, 68-59, in the second round of the East Regional. "The Big East is a great, great basketball league. And by the way, you (national media) are the ones who voted four of us in the top 10 for the majority of the year. So apparently a lot of people thought we were pretty good then.

"Is the Big 12 not any good because Kansas lost (to Northern Iowa)• No. The Big 12 is a great league."

This year, the Big East may have been too great for its own good.

Just because two Big East teams reached the Final Four last year (Villanova and Connecticut) doesn't mean Villanova deserved a No. 2 seed this year despite uneven play late in the season, or that up-and-down Georgetown deserved a No. 3 seed.

Both teams' early tournament exits against much lower seeds -- Villanova barely escaped against No. 15 Robert Morris in the first round -- proved they were seeded too high.

In fact, of the eight Big East teams that made the tournament, five were seeded No. 3 or higher.

That tells you how highly the NCAA selection committee thinks of the Big East, and how it will put a Big East team in the tournament over a more deserving team from a conference with a lesser reputation.

Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim suggested in a off-hand way that the selection committee could be influenced by the Big East's reputation when selecting teams.

"The problem with college basketball is everyone wants to make it seem like it's a big gap. It's not a big gap," Boeheim said Sunday after Syracuse routed Gonzaga in a West Regional second-round game in Buffalo, N.Y.

"I know Villanova is a good team. I watched the whole game. St. Mary's outplayed Villanova. It's as simple as that. If you watch the games, which unfortunately people don't do, they just say St. Mary's shouldn't win this game. They have a great big guy. They've got great guards. They've got great forwards. They have a great coach. If you watch the games, that was not an upset. They have a better team."

Still, given the choice between taking a second-tier team from the Big East or a top-level mid-major team, the selection committee will almost always favor the Big East team.

Sunday's Pitt-Xavier matchup was another classic example of the have-nots outshining the haves in the tournament.

Pitt entered the game as a No. 3 seed facing No. 6 Xavier from the Atlantic 10, but Xavier was clearly more athletic and should have been seeded higher than the Panthers.

Reputation got the best of Pitt in Sunday's 71-68 second-round loss in the West Regional.

In an attempt to keep up with Xavier, coach Jamie Dixon gave longer looks than normal to freshman Dante Taylor and junior Gilbert Brown, whose freelance playing styles didn't always mesh in Dixon's patterned offense but gave Pitt the best chance against a more talented team.

A step down• Pitt's basketball program could be taking a step up if it considers joining the Big Ten.




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