Say What You Want, the Big East is Still the Best

November 29th, 2006
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It seems like just yesterday. On a Sunday in March I sat down in front of the TV, turned ESPN on one TV in our living room, CBS on the other. I got out an empty bracket (even though there would be a filled one on the Internet in minutes) and I enjoyed one of the finest days of the year. It was Selection Sunday, always a day dear to my heart, but last year, one of even greater significance. My beloved Big East was the darling of the media, getting a record 8 teams in, with many clamoring for Cincinnati to be the ninth (and Dickie V can clamor with the best of them). And to make things even better, the ACC, who I have never once admitted was better than the Big East in any given year and would literally strangle friends who thought otherwise, had a measly four.

But after sending zero teams to the Final Four and having tournament favorite Connecticut knocked out by some CAA pushover (yeah right), as well as some early-season sluggishness this year, everyone has turned on the Big East.

But not me.

I know all the bad losses. Wofford over Cincy, Brown over Providence, Old Dominion over Georgetown, Jackson State over Rutgers. But I’ll be the first to tell you, it doesn’t matter, the Big East will still be the best conference in the country this year.

Teams like Syracuse, Pitt and Connecticut are going to hang out up North, feast on mid-majors in the comfort of their own gyms, get the fans all riled up, take their lop-sided, unimpressive victories and go have some hot cocoa.

Everyone will say the ACC and the SEC are superior, just like they do every year. Digger Phelps might angrily point a neon green hi-liter at them and tell them to play some real teams like his Notre Dame team did in the Sixties or something, but it doesn’t matter to Boeheim, Dixon and Calhoun.

The Big East coaches don’t give in to all that stuff. They realize the Big East conference schedule is the toughest grind in basketball. Tougher than the ACC, tougher than the SEC, hell even tougher than the NBA’s Eastern Conference playoffs. Every night a Big East team somewhere is headed to a gym where everyone in there flat out hates their guts (hopefully Vitale doesn’t have a copyright on “flat out”).

For all the complaining about the Big East being done in November, there will be the same praise there was last year come March. It’s the only conference with 16 teams that could beat any of the other 16 teams in the league on any given night, it’s the only conference that could potentially change the selection rules by sending over 8 teams to the tournament and it’s the only conference where a #9 seed can win the conference tournament and become a #5 seed in the national tournament.

For those still not convinced, I’ll try a drawn-out, convoluted metaphor.

The Big East teams treat the season like a friend’s 21st birthday party. You let the birthday boy (ACC, Big Ten) do all the hard work in the beginning. He’s chugging beers and pounding shots but the Big East is taking it easy (non-conference schedule), knowing the heavy drinking will come once they get to the bars (the conference play). Once you get there, everyone is having a good time, but the Big East is feeling good and starts catching up to the birthday kid, who is starting to slow down. So then it gets to the end of the night (Championship Week) and the Big East is still standing, possibly next to a pretty young lady (Madison Square Garden maybe?), and the Big East wants to find his buddy. He orders him up a nasty shot, forces it down his throat and the kid heads immediately to the bathroom to stick his head in the toilet and puke up his RPI. All the while, the Big East is still standing strong (Selection Sunday). The Big East calls his buddy the next night (NCAA tournament) to see how he’s doing and the kid still isn’t out of bed (early-round exits). The Big East thinks back to the beginning of the night and pats himself on the back, not because he’s not hung-over, because he’s got a hot date (the Final Four).

And if that still doesn’t make sense well then maybe they do just stink.