Big East Bracket Bias

big-east-basketballThis special Struming looks at a common disease many of us in the Northeast have—Big East Bracket Bias. I catch that disease each year in early March as I fill out my brackets, and then inevitably suffer thereafter, when the Big East teams are eliminated earlier than their seeding would indicate. However, it will not be a bias that will continue in the future, at least not for me.

During the past few weeks we’ve been regaled with stories of lost Big East rivalries. The implosion of the Big East conference, of what had been a “super” Basketball conference, has led to the nostalgic look at great games, Big East tournaments –always fun to watch in person at the Garden in NY–and great Big East teams. There in fact have been some great teams and tournaments, but I submit that the majority of these were 10+ years ago, and the Big East of the last 10 years has been a good, but not great, conference. And of the remaining “Catholic Seven” who will reunited in the “New Big East”, only three teams, Georgetown, Villanova, and Marquette, even made the NCAA tournament, and Georgetown and Villanova lost in their first game. Three other Big East teams in this year’s tournament, Pitt, Cincinnati and Notre Dame, also lost in their first game. For now only three Big East teams made it out of the first week with Marquette,  Syracuse and overall #1 seed, Louisville, in the “sweet 16”. That’s a combined 6-5 record for Big East teams to date, who were the higher seed in 9 of those 11 first weekend games. Poor performance for a power conference.

The reality is that of the six men’s national championships won by Big East schools, U Conn, which has been adrift and wondering what conference it may ultimately land, has won half (1999, 2004, 2011). Their women’s basketball team is even stronger with eight championships. Syracuse has also won one championship (2003). However, the strength of the conference was in the 80s. Big East historians will yearn for the era when Georgetown was national Champs (1984) and a consistent powerhouse. St. John’s, in the Berry/Mullins era was a powerhouse then as well and, though not quite at the same level, Villanova won their Championship (1985) with their miraculous run. Syracuse was strong during the 80s too. But that great era is now 30 years gone.

Given its primarily eastern U.S. focus, I have always been interested in the Big East, have seen many Big East games in person (at my alma mater, weak basketball sister Rutgers). Furthermore, come bracket time, I always have selected the 8-10 Big East entrants to go deep into the tourney–bad strategy. It’s time to realize that while there have been a few really good teams during the past 10 years, the Big East, which arguably was the best basketball conference for a roughly 20 year stretch from 1984-2004 (when a Big East team won 5 NCAA Championships), has not been the same caliber since. Only U Conn, carried in 2011 on the broad shoulders of a miraculous Kemba Walker performance in the Big East tourney and through the NCAA tourney, has been a national champ since 2004. So while basketball fans mourn the demise of the Big East, let’s be honest that the league has not been the same dominant force recently, and even a possible championship by Marquette, Syracuse, or Louisville, the remaining Sweet 16 teams, will not change that.

New leagues form and other conferences welcome Big East teams and new rivalries will begin. Let’s see if the “New Big East” will regain its lost luster. My 2 cents is that if it does, it will be done through incoming teams—Butler, Xavier and Creighton–which are joining the Catholic 7. These new teams may not be local favorites, or even northeast teams, but they play damn good basketball and that’s what the Big East was all about.  But please remind me in the future not to lean so heavily on “new Big East”  teams (or old ones)  in my brackets.

Hope I remember this sage advice next March.

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