For the most part, I think I can safely say that the general consensus in regards to the teams leaving the Big East is that it is bad for the league.
Look at who the conference is losing — Syracuse, Pitt, West Virginia, Notre Dame. Those are four programs that annually compete for a spot in the NCAA tournament, including one of the nation’s best programs and most rabid fanbases in Syracuse.
Yes, there are still a number of quality programs left, and yes, adding Temple and Memphis will help mitigate some of the losses, but that doesn’t change the fact that two of the most storied programs in the conference are headed out the door.
I’ve argued that the Big East can withstand these losses, and I do believe that, but that doesn’t mean it will be the same Big East that we grew up on.
Mick Cronin, however, has a quite different take on the changes in conference structure. He spoke to SNY.tv about the shake-up over the weekend:
“People say, ‘Well, the Big East isn’t the same Big East.’ That’s good for Cincinnati,” Cronin told SNY.tv Friday at the Brayden Carr Foundation clinic at Rutgers.
But Cronin believes his team will never get the respect it’s due as long as the Big East bluebloods remain.
“Even though you win and you finish ahead of Georgetown last year, you beat them twice, and in the final national poll they’re ranked ahead of you,” Cronin said. “And then they get beat in the first round. But name-brand connotation, Big East basketball, what’s the first thing that comes to your mind? ‘Big Monday,’ Georgetown vs. Syracuse. It’s nobody’s fault, it just is what it is. So the changing of the Big East, it just gives us a chance to plant our flag deeper. And for any team, for the rest of us, that when you do win there’s room in the print for the story because there’s just so many other good teams. And people want to read about the other Big East teams. They don’t even think about you.”
On the one hand, he’s got a point. Cincinnati does not carry the same name-brand recognition as a program like Syracuse or Georgetown does. And that probably does hurt his team in the polls. All things equal, the people that don’t do their research will probably always give the benefit of the doubt to the team they are familiar with, and most are more familiar with the Hoyas and the Orange than they are with the Bearcats.
But on the other hand, there is a reason for that.
Since they’ve entered the Big East, Cincinnati hasn’t exactly been a powerhouse program. They ended a five-year tournament drought in 2011 before making it back to the NCAA tournament last season. And to his credit, Cronin’s done an admirable job rebuilding the Bearcats. They’ll once again be competing for the league title this season, just like they did a season ago.
That doesn’t change the fact that most people still associate this team with either a) the dominance they had under Bob Huggins as a member of Conference USA or b) the brawl they had with Xavier last season.
Respect has to be earned, and Cronin’s program has — and will, if it continues to progress in the same trajectory — earn plenty of respect over the coming years.
But it would have done so even if those four programs hadn’t left the conference.
In the new-look Big East, Cincinnati will simply be a bigger fish in a smaller pond.
Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.