NCAA Basketball Tournament - Kansas State v Syracuse

Does Big East tourney success make it strongest conference?

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The Big East set records last season.

Eleven teams were given an invite to the NCAA tournament. Only two made it out of the first weekend. Both of them were the result of Big East-on-Big East violence; No. 11 seed Marquette upset No. 3 seed Syracuse before getting drubbed by North Carolina in the Sweet 16 and, of course, UConn rolled through Cincinnati en route to the national title.

Every other Big East team — all seven of them — fell in either the first or the second round. It’s not exactly a rousing performance for a conference that had been mentioned as one of the best ever.

This year, the Big East still got nine teams into the NCAA tournament, but for a variety of reasons, the conference was generally looked down upon. It’s not easy to figure out way. Coming off of such a dismal postseason performance, the nation watched as South Florida managed to finish tied for fourth place in the conference. South Florida! One of the teams that they were tied with, Cincinnati, had lost to Presbyterian earlier in the season.

So you can see why the rest of the country had their doubts.

But this year, the Big East is actually performing. After Saturday’s games, three Big East teams have made their way into the Sweet 16 — Syracuse beat Kansas State, Marquette survived Murray State and Louisville eliminated New Mexico. And with Georgetown playing NC State, South Florida taking on Ohio and Cincinnati squaring off with Florida State, there is a good chance that two more get through Sunday, if not all three.

When do we start asking the question of whether or not the Big East is the nation’s best conference?

Because at this point, the only other league that deserves to be in the conversation is the Big Ten. The SEC has just two teams left in the tournament. Same with the Big 12 and the Atlantic 10. The ACC has three left, but in order to get three teams into the Sweet 16, the ACC needs a 3-0 day Sunday.

The Big Ten, like the Big East, already has three teams in the Sweet 16. But unlike the Big East, getting five into the Sweet 16 is not probably. Purdue would have to upset Kansas while Michigan State holds serve against St. Louis. (But since the Big East has more teams — and more tournament teams — than the Big Ten, I think it’s fair to say four Big Ten teams is roughly equivalent to five Big East teams.)

To be frank, determining conference strength based on tournament performance is not exactly an precise exercise. I don’t think anyone would be smart to argue that the Big Ten wasn’t the best league in the country.

But it is fair to say that, based on the way they were viewed during the regular season, the Big East has way out-performed expectations.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.

VIDEO: Duke’s Grayson Allen beats No. 7 Virginia at the buzzer

Duke's Grayson Allen (3) and Marshall Plumlee (40) react during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Louisville in Durham, N.C., Monday, Feb. 8, 2016. Duke won 72-65. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
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Notre Dame’s Steve Vasturia sparks come-from-behind win over No. 13 Louisville

Notre Dame’s Steve Vasturia (32) goes up for a shot over Boston College’s Idy Diallo (4) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Jan. 23, 2016, in South Bend, Ind. (AP Photo/Robert Franklin)
(AP Photo/Robert Franklin)
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Demetrius Jackson scored 20 of his 25 points in the first half and Steve Vasturia scored 15 of his 20 points in the final 20 minutes as Notre Dame landed a 71-66 win over No. 13 Louisville on Saturday afternoon.

The Fighting Irish trailed by as many as 11 points early in the second half, but Vasturia’s hot shooting combined with Notre Dame holding Louisville to just 15 points in the final 15 minutes made all the difference.

The Fighting Irish are not as good as they were last season, but they are built in a similar mold. Jackson, as we expected, as become one of the nation’s most dynamic point guards, impossible to slow-down in isolation and ball-screen actions. Steve Vasturia emerging as a legitimate secondary option offensively and Zach Auguste is one of the nation’s most underrated big men and one of the most dangerous as the roll-man in ball-screens.

Combine all of that with a handful of shooters creating space and Bonzie Colson’s emergence as a force on the offensive glass, and Mike Brey once again has one of the nation’s most lethal offensive attacks.

Where they struggle is on the defensive end of the floor, which is what makes the end of Saturday’s win so meaningful. The Irish entered the day ranked 232nd in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency metric, which more or less means they’re as good as a bad mid-major program at keeping their opponents from scoring.

But they don’t have to be great to be able to win games.

They have to be good enough and they have to get important stops.

That’s precisely what happened on Saturday.

Whether or not that actually becomes a trend for this group will be something to monitor — it happened for Duke during last year’s NCAA tournament — but the bottom-line is this: Notre Dame does something better than just about anyone else in college basketball, and that’s score the ball.

On the nights they are able to gets some stops, they are going to be able to win some games. In the last eight days, they’ve proven that, beating North Carolina, Clemson on the road and Louisville.

And that makes them dangerous in March.