LOUISVILLE KY - JANUARY 05: Rick Pitino the Head Coach of the Louisville Cardinals gives instructions to his team during the Big East Conference game against the Seton Hall Pirates at the KFC Yum! Center on January 5 2011 in Louisville Kentucky. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
What a joke this is. The sad part is, its really not a joke at all. Since the 2005 realignment, the Big East has gotten less than 7 teams in the tournament only once. Mind you, those years there were 64 teams in the tournament, plus one for the play in game. This year, with the NCAA tournament expanding to 68, where should those extra bids go? Well the experts feel that the majority of those bids will go to the Big East as they are projecting the conference to get 10 to 11 bids.
Its a little upsetting. I've been a Big East "hater" since the expansion, only because they are anointed as the best basketball conference in the nation hands down, without actually proving anything. Some years, that may be correct, but it isn't year in and year out. Last year was the ultimate example of this as the conference was praised throughout the regular season. The Big East was given 8 bids to the tournament, and only one of those teams made it past the sweet 16. I may be the only one who feels this way, but don't you actually have to win against other conferences, and in the NCAA tournament to actually be considered "the best"?This is no uncommon trend for a single conference to be given the title of the best. In football, its the SEC. There's only one difference. The SEC has won the last 5 National Championships. The SEC is undoubtedly the best football conference in America, but they have proven it over years of success, and they have continued to prove even into this year's national championship.
The Big East on the other hand has merely beat up on each other throughout conference play, and earned their title that way. The worst part about it is that it seems as though the system is set up for this. The Big East has 6, 7, 8 teams in the top 25 all season, every season. They may or may not be worthy of this, but regardless it builds the resume of every team in the conference.
One of the most crucial pieces of a team's NCAA tournament resume is their RPI ranking. Now how is the RPI calculated? Fifty percent of a team's RPI rank comes from their own winning percentage, twenty-five percent is from the winning percentage of their opponents, and twenty-five percent comes from the winning percentage of the opponents of their opponents. To show how bias this system is toward the Big East, look at the University of South Florida. They are currently 7-12 overall, 1-5 in conference, and only have 1 top 100 win (a 1 point win at home vs VCU). Their RPI? ESPN's insideRPI currently has the Bulls at no. 94! It's amazing. For comparison, Tulsa out of C-USA, is 9-8, 2-1, and has 3 top 100 wins, including two top 50 wins. They have an RPI of 118.
Because of this system, teams from the Big East have chance after chance after chance to come up with big wins. A team is bound to win a few. Especially when these teams play each other every year, and are so familiar with each other. Currently there are 3 of 16 Big East teams ranked outside the top 100 RPI. Rutgers is no. 105, Providence is no. 112, and DePaul comes in at no. 215. By the end of the season, with the way the formula works, all but 1 team should be outside the top 100. This means that all but 1 game in conference for Big East teams will be vs. top 100 opponents. Sounds like an easy way to pick up "quality" wins.
Since the 2005 conference realignment, the Big East has sent 37 teams to the NCAA tournament. Only 4 of those teams have reached the Final Four, and none of those teams made the National Championship game. On top of that, the conference has only had one year where their winning percentage was above 57%. Hardly seems dominating.
Now, of course, the Big East has some great basketball programs, and this year may be the year that one of them finds themselves back in the National Championship. But just because the top schools are great, does not mean that the 10th and 11th are also. You actually have to perform, build a body of work, and win consistently to get into the NCAA tournament. So many mid-major programs get snubbed year in and year out after winning 22, 23, 24 or even more games. Heck, UTEP very, very nearly got held out last year after winning 26 games.
It looks like more of the same this year. It seemed as though, the NCAA tournament expansion wasn't done in order to alleviate pressure around the final teams getting in the tournament, but to add more teams from the Big East. All season we have seen how level the playing field in college basketball has become with uspets, and near upsets all over the place. Here in Conference USA we are stronger than we have been in years, yet as of today most say the conference will only get two teams in the tourney. Sounds like the standard, but I guess that's just the way it works when you're the little guy.