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Big East overhyped

Big East overhyped

Big East overhyped
By Bruce Marshall
The Gold Sheet

During last Saturday night’s Florida-Tennessee telecast on ESPN, Dick Vitale let the viewers know that he didn’t think this year’s SEC was all that great of a conference. He did so, however, in a roundabout sort of way, claiming that no SEC entry could finish in the top eight of this year’s Big East.

We like and respect Dickie V, and who is to say that he might not be right about his latest proclamation? After all, this year’s Big East is admittedly loaded, and by all accounts it appears to be something of a down campaign in the SEC.

But are we all getting a bit too carried away with this year’s Big East? Is the loop really worth all of this commotion?

We’re not sure.

Chalk this up, perhaps, to the nonstop hype the league receives from ESPN, and the fact its sixteen schools represent almost every major media market in the northeast and a few more big ones in the midwest and south. It’s good business for ESPN to promote the heck out of the Big East, which has almost all of its games carried in one form or another on ESPN’s family of networks.

But is the league really that good?

We suppose that we’ll find out for sure in March, but by us, we’re not convinced the league is as strong, at least at the top, as it was in the early and mid ‘80s, especially the 1984-85 season in which three of its entries (Villanova, Georgetown, and St. John’s) all made it to the Final Four. Granted, the league is bigger (16 teams) these days, and we can’t argue about the quality of depth in the conference, but we think the loop’s strength might be a tad overrated.

We’re not sure that wins over other Big East teams should carry as much weight as the media seems to believe. One reason is the performance of Big East teams in non-conference action.

And upon inspection in this area, there are some real indicators the league is indeed being overhyped.

Especially since many of the Big East elite played a very soft non-league slate. That doesn’t necessarily include top-rated UConn, but even the Huskies’ non-league resume’ raises a few eyebrows. November wins in the Paradise Jam over Miami-Florida and Wisconsin, though impressive, might not be as meaningful as first considered, with both the Canes and Badgers no better than NCAA “bubble” teams at the moment. And anyone who watched UConn’s overtime escape in Seattle against Gonzaga knows that the Huskies were very fortunate to avoid defeat vs. the Zags. Close wins over LaSalle and Buffalo, while potential banana peels each, hardly suggest the Huskies are head-and-shoulders above the rest of the country, either.

How about Pittsburgh? We’re impressed by the Panthers, but again, their non-conference slate hardly qualified as a killer. Wins over Washington State and Texas Tech are not as meaningful as a year ago, as both the Cougars and Red Raiders have slipped this season. The most impressive Panther win outside of the conference is probably a 56-48 grinder at Florida State, a nice result to be sure, but at the expense of a good-but-not-great team on the periphery of the NCAA bubble.

Louisville? Granted, the Cards picked up the pace after New Year’s, but should we just ignore the non-conference action? After all, the Cards were whipped by Western Kentucky, lost in Glendale, Arizona against Minnesota, and then inexplicably fell 56-55 at Freedom Hall against Lon Kruger’s UNLV team that was minus arguably its top weapon, G Wink Adams. The Cards were also life and death vs. Kentucky, which lost by only 3 at Freedom Hall.

Georgetown? Vitale might find it interesting that the Hoyas lost by 12 to Tennessee in the Old Spice Classic at Orlando. We’ll give Georgetown credit for a home win over Memphis, but it took JT III’s boys an overtime period to do so, and the rest of the non-league slate was as soft as those JT III’s papa, “Big Jawn” himself, used to put together in the ‘80s and ‘90s.

Marquette? Cruising along at 20-2 after last night’s easy 76-61 cruise past hurting DePaul, it’s worth noting that the Golden Eagles were beaten in their two toughest non-league games, dropping double-digit verdicts against both Dayton and...Tennessee, from the SEC.

(So, Dickie V., would you like to reconsider your statement regarding the SEC now?)

That’s not all. Syracuse, which recorded a few close yet impressive wins at the expense of Florida, Kansas, and Memphis, also lost at the Carrier Dome vs. Cleveland State and barely survived by 2 at home against Ivy League leader Cornell. Villanova, in its only severe non-league test, lost by 9 against Texas. Notre Dame, although a 1-point winner over those same Longhorns, was whipped by 15 against North Carolina, and lost by 5 against Ohio State in Indianapolis. Providence failed its three toughest non-league encounters, losing vs. Northeastern, Baylor, and Saint Mary’s. Cincinnati squeezed by UNLV, 67-65, but lost by double-digit margins to Florida State, crosstown rival Xavier, and Memphis. Meanwhile, West Virginia did beat Ohio State by 28 in Columbus, but also lost by 11 vs...Kentucky, from the SEC.

(Once more, Dickie V., would you like to reconsider?)

And the bottom part of the loop has numerous scars from non-conference action, too. St. John’s was a double-digit loser vs. three good-but-not-great ACC teams (Boston College, Virginia Tech, and Miami-Florida). We won’t dock Rutgers for losing big at North Carolina, but what was with the overtime loss at home vs. St. Bonaventure? Seton Hall was a 14-point loser vs. Memphis (no shame there) but was also a 6-point loser at...James Madison. South Florida’s non-conference defeats came against Virginia, UAB, nearby UCF, Niagara, Vanderbilt, Wright State, and Oral Roberts, those last four all by double-digit margins.

And then there’s DePaul, still looking for its first Big East win, but also on the short end of plenty of non-conference scorelines, losing by 10 at Cal, 27 at Northwestern (the Blue Demons admittedly shorthanded that afternoon inevanston when minus C Mac Koshwal), and also a 4-point loser at the Allstate Arena vs...Morgan State, from the MEAC.

As mentioned before, we’ll find out in March how good the Big East really is this season. But for the moment, forgive us for thinking the league might be suffering from a bit of overhype. Evidence would certainly suggest so!

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