On Friday, Luke Winn from SI.com ran some numbers through his all-knowing calculator and gave us a handy-dandy little chart that more or less confirms everything we thought we knew about realignment: the Big East got buried, the ACC got much stronger, Conference USA and the Mountain West got weaker and everyone else pretty much stayed the same.
But what Winn’s story doesn’t tell you is that the problem with the Big East isn’t that the conference doesn’t have any remaining basketball powers.
Because that’s not true at all.
Louisville made the Final Four in 2012. They are one of the consensus top three teams heading into this season and are being guided by a hall of fame head coach in Rick Pitino. And Louisville may not even the most relevant program in the conference, as UConn has won three national titles since 1999, including one in 2011. Granted, the Huskies have a mountain to overcome with the retirement of Jim Calhoun and the current postseason issues they are facing, but until proven otherwise, UConn is still UConn.
That’s not all, either. Georgetown, Marquette and Cincinnati have all been constants in the NCAA tournament and spent the season in and out of the top 25 in recent years. The same could have been said of Villanova prior to the past two years. Temple is joining the league next season, as is Memphis. Do the math, and those are eight programs with tradition and name recognition. I don’t think it would shock anyone if seven of those eight teams made the NCAA tournament every year.
The issue is with the rest of the conference, because once you get past those top eight, things get ugly. Providence, Seton Hall, St. John’s and DePaul haven’t mattered in what feels like two decades. Rutgers hasn’t been relevant in basketball, period. South Florida had a banner year last season simply because they made it to the NCAA tournament and played in a play-in game.
The additions of Houston, Central Florida and SMU won’t help the issue of a diluted league, but hey, at least give them credit for trying to matter. Houston brought in two top 50 recruits this year in Danuel House and Chicken Knowles, although Knowles won’t be suiting up this season. SMU hired Larry Brown as a head coach and gave him a talented staff full of recruiters. Central Florida is trying so hard to become a player in college hoops that they’ve already gotten caught cheating on the recruiting trail.
The Big East is still going to send teams to the NCAA tournament and they still are going to have a few programs competing for Final Fours and national titles.
But unless the programs at the bottom of the league find a way to improve significantly, Big East basketball is going to have quite a few ugly games throughout the season.