Submitted by Jim Hurley on Friday, January 20, 2012 at 10:35 PM
Pittsburgh was a #1 seed in the Big Dance last year, and was supposed to be a danger team once again in the league this season. Louisville is always a factor with Rick Pitino, and had a nigh national ranking just a few weeks ago. The Panthers have fallen off the map. Louisville isn't doing very well with directions themselves.
We'll talk more specifically about those teams in a moment. First, let's step back and look at the big picture. The Big East entered the season with something to prove. Even though Connecticut would ultimately win the national title last season with a fantastic run...the league as a whole was pretty embarrassed in the Big Dance. Not only were the results bad. But, TV analysis Charles Barkley announced to the world very early on that he believed that many Big East teams were overrated. Then, they went out and played down to his expectations.
Here's a quick review:
#1 seed Pittsburgh beat NC Asheville in the first round before getting stunned by #8 seed Butler in the second round 71-70 as 8-point favorites. The Big East's best hope for a national champion gone by the first Saturday!
#2 seed Notre Dame beat Akron in the first round before getting blasted by Florida State 71-57 in the second round. The Irish were favored by four points, but were never really in the game. Very poor showing for a second seed, particularly in terms of the eye test. Within the first weekend of action, Pitt showed that it wasn't significantly better than Butler, regardless of what the seedings suggested...and Notre Dame just seemed outclassed by a decent but not spectacular ACC also-ran.
#3 Syracuse beat Indiana State in the first round, before getting stunned by Big East rival Marquette in the second round as four-point favorites. It's not bad news for the league as a whole when one team beats another. But, we already three see the Big East's three best teams sitting on the sidelines before the Sweet 16. And, A LOT OF PUNDITS had chose amongst these three when listing possible Final Four entries, or even champions. We're guessing this brief review is reminding you about how your own brackets were busted.
#4 seed Louisville lost in the first round to Morehead State 62-61 as 9-point favorites. This was the worst loss of all in terms of caliber of opponent. And, it put Rick Pitino in a studio next to Charles Barkley, trying to convince the big man that things were fine in the Big East! Morehead State?!
#5 seed West Virginia beat #12 Clemson in the first round before losing a non-cover against Kentucky in the second round. Really no shame in this sequence for the Mountaineers. We don't mean to suggest that each and every team outside of UCONN was a disappointment.
#6 seed St. John's lost to #11 Gonzaga 86-71 in the first round as 1-point underdogs. The market didn't buy the seedings...and Gonzaga embarrassed the selection committee and the Big East with this blowout. It's startling how many embarrassing results we've seen to this point up and down the league.
#6 seed Georgetown lost 74-56 to ultimate tourney darling Virginia Commonwealth as 6-point favorites. Are you eyes starting to glaze over? Team after big-name team kept losing in the first or second round in what many had expected to be a monster year for the conference. Despite a full year (years really) of hype, the Big East just wasn't anything special...any more than a"league" featuring VCU, Gonzaga, Morehead State, Butler, and Florida State."
#6 seed Cincinnati beat Missouri impressively in the first round 78-63 before losing to UCONN in the second round. Bad luck for two of the few Big East teams playing well to run into each other that quickly.
#9 Villanova lost to George Mason 61-57 in the first round as 2-point favorites. It was kind of a coin flip game. Fortune wasn't smiling on the Big East last year, even in the coin flips.
#11 Marquette beat Xavier impressively 66-55 in the first round, before upsetting #2 Syracuse in the second round. The best early showing from the Big East came from a bubble team that wasn't supposed to get past the first round! And, the goodwill was erased with a 40-15 halftime deficit to North Carolina in the Sweet 16. Even the Big East darkhorse got embarrassed eventually.
Wow. The theme of"Hey, we won the championship, didn't we?" seem kind of hollow when you run through the full listings.
Are we due for a repeat performance this year? Well, ESPN has backed off the hype machine a bit out of self-defense. But, the Big East is still front and center when it comes to projecting out the championship picture. Here's a recent Bracketology assessment of the Big East for March of 2012 from Joe Lunardi at ESPN's website. Right now eight teams are projected to get in.
#1 seed Syracuse
#3 seed Connecticut
#3 seed Georgetown
#6 seed West Virginia
#6 seed Seton Hall
#7 seed Marquette
#8 seed Louisville
#12 seed Cincinnati
Interesting that Pittsburgh was a #1 seed last year, but isn't even on the bubble at the moment. Notre Dame was a #2 seed last year, and is currently among the eight teams on Lunardi's bubble. How many of those teams look overseeded to you? As we get deeper into the season, we'll try to find some more context for what may or may not happen in March. For now, we could very easily see early disappointments on the horizon again for a conference that's lost its swagger.
THIS WEEK'S GAMES AMONGST THE BIG EAST ELITE
Saturday: Cincinnati at West Virginia on ESPNU
Saturday: Syracuse at Notre Dame on ESPN
Saturday: Louisville at Pittsburgh on ESPN
Note that the full ESPN GameDay crew will be in Pittsburgh for what was initially expected to be a huge event! Now, the network has to cover the surprising collapse of the Pittsburgh program, as well as the slump that Louisville is going through. Those are the dangers of planning way ahead!
Monday: Syracuse at Cincinnati on ESPN
Wednesday: Notre Dame at Seton Hall
Worth noting that Syracuse is still undefeated entering this weekend, and will face two TV road challenges in the next few days against Notre Dame and Cincinnati. Must see TV.
Let's take a quick look at recent adjusted offense and defensive rankings for the teams we've discussed today teams so you have a better sense of strengths and weaknesses. We've been excluding the also-rans this week in our previews because contenders are much more likely to be relevant to handicappers deeper into the season. A league as big as the Big East has a lot of also-rans. We'll catch up down the road with anyone who surges into contention if that happens.
The adjusted rankings are available at Ken Pomeroy's fantastic college basketball website...and represent scoring adjusted for tempo and schedule strength.
Syracuse: 4th on offense, 10th on defense
Georgetown: 22nd on offense, 15th on defense
West Virginia: 24th on offense, 29th on defense
Marquette: 30th on offense, 25th on defense
Seton Hall: 59th on offense, 30th on defense
Connecticut: 21st on offense, 72nd on defense
Cincinnati: 58th on offense, 54th on defense
Louisville: 148th on offense, 12th on defense
Notre Dame: 89th on offense, 117th on defense
Pittsburgh: 40th on offense, 184th on defense
Those break into fairly clean groups:
Great and Balanced: Syracuse
Balanced and Dangerous: Georgetown, West Virginia Marquette, Seton Hall
Not Quite There: everyone else
In terms of tonight's TV game...we're looking at a stunningly bad offense of Louisville (considering their talent), facing a Pittsburgh defense that's just fallen off the map.
It's easy to give Pitt too much credit on defense because they play such slow basketball. They're one of the slowest major college teams, which creates low scoring games. But, when you account for that...and just focus on STOPPING people in halfcourt possessions, Pittsburgh turns out to be bad by Big East standards.
Louisville plays a faster tempo, which hides a great defense. We've talked about this a lot in recent years with Rick Pitino. His teams play great defense. Whatever offensive magic touch he had a couple of decades ago is long gone though. Defenses know how to stop what he's doing. Offensive stars aren't flocking to play for him.
Here at JIM HURLEY'S NETWORK, we may or may not have a play in that TV game tonight. We only get you the best plays on the board...and Saturday has a lot of games on the board! Be sure you check our"buy picks" page for the latest details on what's available. We do have something very special planned in the Saturday baskets...one of the biggest releases we'll have all season. And, you can usually expect a stellar TV Triple Crown to highlight Saturday action around the calendar. If you have any questions about this weekend's specials or longterm service, call the office at 1-800-323-4453.