The Big East Is Not Down; Just Different Up Top

Jonathan LintnerSenior Analyst IDecember 15, 2009

NEW YORK - NOVEMBER 20:  Wes Johnson #4 and Arinze Onuaku #21 of the Syracuse Orange celebrate after defeating the North Carolina Tar Heels in the championship game of the 2K Sports Classic on November 20, 2009 at Madison Square Garden in New York City. The Orange defeated the Tar Heels 87-71 to win the championship.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

There are 11 undefeated teams left in college basketball; four from the Big East Conference.

The Associated Press ranks 25 teams a week; six represent the Big East.

This in a season when they said college basketball’s mega-conference was ready to meet its match. Careen into mediocrity. Finally receive some payback.

Come again?

Yes, Louisville is down after parading to a 16-2 regular-season conference record last year, and it seems like whenever a Big East team (minus Syracuse v. North Carolina) steps on the big stage, it takes a big dive. But there’s four more months of basketball to play and a plethora of opportunities for the Big East’s front line to schedule a facelift.

Pittsburgh, Connecticut and Louisville are out at the top. Instead, No. 5 Syracuse and No. 6 West Virginia are leading at the first turn. Perennial top dog Georgetown isn’t lurking far behind, still undefeated and a paper’s width from solidifying a top-10 ranking. Don’t forget about No. 8 Villanova.

So why does the perception that the nation’s largest conference is in rebuilding mode linger? Because the Big East is reloading in a unique way—by welcoming a new platoon of teams to the battlefront.

The nation heard all about Cardinals, Panthers, and Huskies last season. Now that they’re gone, the adjustment period to hearing Orange, Mountaineers and Hoyas will take some time.

That doesn’t mean you can officially dismiss last season’s leaders from the field of 65 either—especially in December. Connecticut is merely a two-loss team, with stumbles against Duke and Kentucky. Pittsburgh is still licking wounds left by the NBA draft. And Louisville—famous for the late-season surge—could flip its switch any time.

A conclusion?

The Big East is looking at another big year.

Seton Hall is still unscathed and St. John’s has one loss along with Villanova. Notre Dame looks formidable again, Cincinnati is back, and Rutgers is starting to piece its program together.

Depending on how Big East play pans out, any number of the conference’s 16 teams could head to the NCAA Tournament, perhaps even for a seven-bid repeat appearance.

That sounds familiar—like last season. Like the Big East is somehow underrated, which makes a person wonder how all this talk of the conference being down ever started.

You can blame the preseason rankings—the ones that plopped Louisville in at No. 18 and left Syracuse and Cincinnati out of the mix. They’re the same ones that rated California the nation’s 13th-best team. They’re the same rankings that pass judgment a few weeks too early every year.

You can blame the nation for growing weary of hearing the same names, over and over, tired of the monster staying out from under the bed.

You can blame a resurgence of Kansas in the Big 12, Purdue out of the Big 10, and Kentucky from the SEC—along with the staying power of Duke representing the ACC.

All are out to steal glory from the best conference top to bottom in the nation.

In the case of the Big East, they should have known better.