NCAA Tournament: Bracket Busting and the Big East

Jabber HeadSenior Analyst IApril 5, 2009

Michigan State continued its title run by upending top-seeded UConn in the first of Saturday’s semifinal games. Hours later, North Carolina made easy work of Villanova and coasted to victory.

That set the stage for a championship bout featuring the powers of the ACC and Big Ten. It also guaranteed that for the fifth straight year, the Big East, arguably the nation’s premiere basketball conference, is left on the outside looking in.

The Big East received seven invitations to this year’s version of the dance, equaling the participation of the Big Ten and ACC for the most entries. And if you listened to the hyperactive Dick Vitale, several from the conference were snubbed, with the Big East worthy of at least 10 invites.

Among those invited, three programs spent time atop the national polls at some point during the season, with Louisville entering the tournament as the nation’s undisputed No. 1. The tournament committee rewarded the conference with Louisville, Pittsburgh, and Connecticut representing three of the top four seeds.

The pieces moved to the Sweet 16, Elite Eight, and Final Four. But if you chose a Big East program to vie for the title, as I did, then again your bracket was busted.

Syracuse and Carmelo Anthony cut down the nets in 2003, and they were followed by Emeka Okafor and Connecticut in 2004. But since then, and despite the Big East having the greatest tournament representation (35) over the following five-year span, they’ve been shut out of each championship game. And ironically, in 2006 and 2008, they were shut out of the Final Four, despite sending the largest group of participants (eight) in each of those years.

The championship game is always a shuffle of teams in any given year, but of the six power conferences in college basketball, only the Big East has failed to make a title game appearance in the past five seasons.

Michigan State gives the Big Ten its third appearance of the period, followed closely behind by the ACC and SEC. The Pac-10 and Big 12 have one appearance each. And Memphis, a mid-major, played in the final a year ago.

Is the Big East overrated? I don’t think so. It’s a solid league, possessing more parity than any other. If anything, the hype for that one particular conference allows others to fly under the radar, as we underestimate opponents from shadowed divisions, and pencil in our victors based on media hype. 

But in the NCAA tournament, as in any playoff atmosphere, it isn’t about the number of good teams in one conference.  It’s about having one great team that can rip through the entire field.  In the past five seasons, the Big East, in all its greatness, has not produced this team.

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