For all its prestige, its history, and its clout, you have to admit you haven’t been paying that much attention to the Big East year. The new Big East, stripped of Syracuse, Pitt, and Louisville, isn’t quite as sexy as its former self. But the biggest issue facing the conference might be lack of exposure. The conference sold its soul to Fox Sports before the season and the results have been sub-par. Fox Sports 1 and Fox Sports 2 are hard to find, outside of most people’s regular sports channel rotations, and loads of people don’t get them at all (I don’t get Fox Sports 2 and I missed the first Villanova-Creighton game because my hotel didn’t get Fox Sports 1). Fox Sports’ ratings have been bad and the Big East simply doesn’t have the buzz it has had in past years.
Now let’s be clear: the Big East is not the best conference in the country. The Big Ten and Big 12 are undeniably the kings of the land. But the Big East is still really good. Unlike the ACC, or the AAC, or the Pac-12, or the criminally underrated Atlantic 10, the Big East is strong from its top to its bottom, with a very sturdy mid-section.
While the Big East is no longer home to Syracuse and UConn–once two of its flagship programs–the new Catholic-only Big East also had a bit of addition by subtraction in the off-season via the departures of USF and Rutgers, a pair of the worst big time programs in college basketball. The league’s biggest off-season addition was Creighton. The Bluejays sit at 11th in the polls and are legit national title contenders thanks to the hottest offense in the nation.
A testament to the Big East’s depth: the seventh team in the 10 team conference’s standings, Georgetown, is a bubble team with wins over Michigan State, VCU, and Kansas State. Meanwhile, the team that occupies the bottom spot in the standings is Butler, a team that entered conference play with a record of 10-2 and that took Villanova (the conference’s highest ranked team at #9) to overtime in December.
Directly below Creighton and Nova, two outstanding teams, are a handful of quality teams. Xavier has taken some lumps recently in conference play, but the 17-8 Musketeers are tough (just ask Cincinnati). Marquette has shaken off a slow start and Buzz Williams somehow has his team trending towards March once again. And then there’s 18-9 St. John’s. Coach Steve Lavin’s team is one of my favorites. The ultra-athletic Red Storm are on fire lately. They’ve won their last six, including a victory over Creighton. St. John’s could be a scary dark horse in the Big East Tourney. There’s also Providence. The Friars have been hovering around the bubble all season. They nearly produced a marquee win last night in a thriller against Villanova, but fell in double overtime. Their January 18th win over Creighton remains impressive, but the Friars still will need a late push to have a chance to dance in March.
The worst part of the fact that so many Big East games have been relegated to the Fox Sports channels, a pair of networks still in incubation, is that conference play in the league has been awesome. It has felt like a steady stream of thrilling overtime contests and highly competitive games.
Last year, there were two Big East teams in the final four. The new, streamlined Big East is highly unlikely to produce that again. But the Big East remains a strong, deep, and extremely entertaining conference.