It’s a Shame We Didn’t Get the Old Big East For Another SeasonPosted by Jameson Fleming on December 11th, 2013
Football and the television money it earns have changed the landscape of college athletics. As the major conferences continue to rise, some of their counterparts have tumbled into the shadows. Big East basketball in its current state teeters on the brink of surviving with great success or squeaking along in mediocrity. The new Big East is good almost across the board. From Villanova to Providence and everyone in between, eight of the teams through one month of this season are in a position to at least be on the NCAA Tournament bubble. Despite how much some things change in college athletics, you can still count on DePaul and Seton Hall being terrible. What the league lacks is a signature elite team this season. Villanova is the closest to earning that distinction as the Wildcats remain undefeated. A Wildcats’ win at Syracuse in two weeks would give the league that much-needed premier team it lacks. All that said, it’s a fun exercise to look at what this conference could have been in 2013-14 had conference realignment only existed in the sweet dreams of of athletic directors. Here’s what the league lost:
- Syracuse: 9-0, #7 KenPom, #2/#3 in the polls, wins vs. Indiana, Baylor.
- Pittsburgh: 9-0, #4 KenPom, unranked in both polls, wins vs. Penn State, Stanford.
- Notre Dame: 7-2, #50 KenPom, unranked in both polls, no quality wins.
- Louisville: 8-1, #1 KenPom, #6/#4 in the polls, win vs. Southern Miss.
- Connecticut: 9-0, #22 KenPom, #9/#12 in the polls, wins vs. Indiana, Florida, Maryland.
- Cincinnati: 7-1, #31 KenPom, unranked in both polls, win vs. North Carolina State.
- South Florida: 6-2, #120 KenPom, unranked in both polls, win vs. Alabama.
- Rutgers: 4-6, #198 KenPom, unranked in both polls, no quality wins.
Losing Rutgers and South Florida isn’t a big deal. Every league needs its punching bags, so now those schools make for good tune-up games in the AAC. The rest of the departures, however, are devastating to the Big East’s 2013-14 profile. Syracuse, Louisville, and UConn all have the look of top-10 teams and would be the league’s signature team that Villanova is trying to become. Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and Notre Dame all have the potential to be Tournament teams with enough quality conference wins (the Irish also have two more chances against Ohio State and Indiana to grab quality wins in the non-conference season). When you stack up all the teams still in the league in addition to the departed, the picture of how good the Big East would have been this year becomes even clearer. Eleven of last year’s 15 teams would rank in the Top 61 of KenPom’s rankings. To put that into perspective, last year Temple was the worst at-large team entering the NCAA Tournament at #63. In 2012, Colorado State made it while ranked #78, and Southern Miss squeaked in while ranked #74.
Common sense suggests all 11 Big East teams wouldn’t have made the NCAAs even though 11 of 16 went dancing in 2011. There’s just not enough wins to go around during league play to make that happen. What’s more realistic would have been a repeat of 2012 when nine teams punched their ticket. The league’s balance is further demonstrated with the following scatter plot which shows all the teams from power conferences. The x-axis represents offensive efficiency and the y-axis represents defensive efficiency. The average AdjO through December 8 was 109.7 and the average AdjD was 97.7
Six out of 15 Big East teams (Louisville, Syracuse, Pittsburgh, Villanova, Connecticut, and Georgetown) were better than the average major conference team on both ends of the court. The Big Ten has the second most teams with five out of 12 members ranking above average in each. The Big 12 is comparable with the Big East with 40 percent of its teams falling in the top right quadrant. The SEC (2), ACC (1), and Pac-12 (1) fall way behind the rest of the country.
Overall, the old Big East’s case for best league would have been very compelling. Unfortunately, we won’t get to see its former members slug it out this season. Thankfully, Syracuse, Pitt, and Notre Dame going at it with Duke and North Carolina while Louisville and UConn tussling with Memphis aren’t the worst consolation prizes.