Big East struggles to show its power
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It was little more than a week ago that the Big East Conference was celebrating the unprecedented accomplishment of having 11 teams invited to the NCAA tournament. Not only did the conference qualify 68 percent of its membership, but its teams comprised 16 percent of the tournament field.
After the first weekend of tournament games, nine of those 11 have been eliminated. Only two teams remain -- Connecticut and Marquette, the 9th and 11th-place teams, respectively, from the regular-season standings.
No. 1 seed Pitt, No. 2 Notre Dame, No. 3 Syracuse, No. 5 West Virginia and No. 6 Cincinnati failed to reach the Sweet 16 after opening-round victories.
No. 4 seed Louisville, No. 6 Georgetown, No. 6 St. John's and No. 9 Villanova exited without a victory.
The Big East is 9-9 in NCAA tournament games and was not the only power conference to have a tough first weekend in the tournament. The Big 12 also had a bad showing, going 4-4 with only one team, Kansas, in the Sweet 16.
The other four major conferences posted winning records on the first weekend, with the Atlantic Coast Conference being the big winner.
• The Atlantic Coast Conference, which was considered to be among the weakest of the six power conferences, is 7-1 so far. Of the four teams the ACC placed in the tournament, only Clemson has been eliminated. Duke, North Carolina and Florida State are in the Sweet 16.
• The Big Ten Conference is 7-5 with two teams -- Ohio State and Wisconsin -- in the Sweet 16.
• The Southeastern is 4-2 with two teams -- Florida and Kentucky -- still alive.
• The Pacific-10 is 4-3 with one team -- Arizona -- alive.
Three mid-major conferences own winning records in the tournament.
• The Mountain West Conference is 4-1 with two teams, BYU and San Diego State, in the Sweet 16.
• The Colonial Athletic Association is 4-2 with Virginia Commonwealth in the Sweet 16.
• The Atlantic 10 is 3-2 with Richmond in the Sweet 16.
And the Horizon League, a one-bid conference this season boasts a 2-0 record, thanks to Butler's upset of Pitt, the top seed in the Southeast Region.
"In sticking up for our league, I think that it's suggested that we were the last team in, so for us to be one of [two] still remaining, that it speaks to the depth of our league and the talent depth of our league," said Marquette coach Buzz Williams, whose 11th-seeded Golden Eagles beat No. 3 seed Syracuse to advance to the Sweet 16. "I think Syracuse was ranked 10th in the country this week. When we played them on Jan. 29, they were 11th. They had lost four in a row and they were still 11, you know what I mean?
"We've won four out of our last five and on Monday we still won't be ranked. But I think that it does speak to the depth of our league. I think it kind of gets into he said-she said, whether too many teams are in, we're not any good, we're supposed to win in order to prove that we're good. I think over a period of time is how you can tell how good teams are. And I think the resume of those 11 institutions speak for themselves over the course of [the season]."
The Marquette-Syracuse matchup was one of two all-Big East matchups in the round of 32. Connecticut beat Cincinnati to also advance to the Sweet 16.
Conference matchups in the round of 32 are inevitable for the Big East if the conference continues to be strong and qualify more than eight teams.
Some of the more eye-opening results of the weekend came in games where Big East teams met with other teams from power conferences, or mid-major conference.
When Pitt lost to Butler, it was only the 14th time in 108 tries that a No. 8 or 9 seed upset a No. 1 seed since the tournament field expanded to 64 teams in 1985.
Notre Dame trailed by as many as 23 to No. 10 seed Florida State before losing by 14. Louisville lost to No. 13 seed Morehead State, one of the tournament's automatic qualifiers from a one-bid conference. St. John's lost to No. 11 seed Gonzaga by 15. Then Gonzaga got beat by 22 at the hands of BYU of the Mountain West two days later.
Georgetown lost to Virginia Commonwealth of the Colonial Athletic Association by 18. And finally Villanova lost to George Mason, also from the CAA.
After the rash of upsets over the weekend, the Big East is faced with the possibility of not sending a team to the Final Four for the fourth time in the past seven seasons. And if Connecticut and Marquette don't win their next games, it will be the first time since 2001 that the Big East is not represented in the Elite Eight.
First Published March 22, 2011 12:00 am