SB Nation has a gloating editorial about the Big East’s disappointing performance in the NCAA Tournament, in which there are only two Big East March Madness teams left in the Sweet 16 bracket. If you’re a fan of a Big East team, this whole article is probably going to get your blood boiling, but here’s just a bit of it:
The Big East deserves it. It’d be one thing if everyone came out and admitted that yeah, it was probably a little ridiculous for the Big East to be getting 11 teams in the NCAA Tournament. Or if everyone conceded that for all the hype surrounding the league’s top seeds (Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Louisville, Notre Dame, UConn) we really hadn’t seen them beat anyone but each other. But even now, people still think this is just some fluke.
The author himself admits to putting Louisville in his Final Four, so it’s hard to know how seriously to take all this. But it’s worth remembering a few things here.
-P- There were 11 Big East teams, and those teams have gone 9-9 so far in the tournament. They should have done better, given that teams like Pitt and Notre Dame had easy games against automatic bids in the first round, but they still did win half their games. It’s hard to really argue that the Big East didn’t deserve to have so many teams in the tournament if, after a performance that is widely perceived as an epic fail, the conference still won half its games.
-P- Nine losses, including a couple in which Big East teams eliminated each other, is a really small sample. In the eyes of the public, it will certainly outweigh the perceptions of coaches and pollsters who consistently ranked Big East teams among the best in the country throughout the season, but it probably shouldn’t.
-P- If Big East 11 teams didn’t deserve to make it, who should have stayed home? Villanova, probably, and that might be fair, given the Wildcats’ late-season collapse. What about Marquette? The Golden Eagles are still in the tournament, and they didn’t really have a loss to a bad team all season, except maybe Seton Hall. That’s it. The other nine teams simply weren’t bubble teams, and it’s a huge stretch to think any of them should have been.
The author notes that the conference’s top teams “hadn’t really” beaten anyone except one another. This could be said, though, of most top teams. The conference season is long, and it’s common practice for top teams to fill much of their non-conference schedules with cupcake games.
Kansas, for example, played Arizona, Memphis, and UCLA in its non-conference schedule, and needed overtime to beat Michigan, and that was about it for the Jayhawks’ non-conference games against really good teams. Duke played Marquette, Kansas State, Michigan State and Butler, but otherwise filled its non-conference schedule with snoozers against teams like Bradley, Saint Louis and Colgate. If Pitt’s or Notre Dame’s non-conference schedules were easier than the norm for top teams, it wasn’t by much at all.
SB Nation makes a provocative argument, and it’s one that will probably have resonance for most of the country, but I think it’s at least as likely that the Big East just had a somewhat unfortunate string of games at the wrong time. I know, I know – sports fans call that “choking.” But I prefer to think of it as variance.