ESPN’s Joe Lunardi, the Worldwide Leader’s "Bracketologist", doesn’t seem to think much of the Big East. His latest bracket includes just three teams from the conference, while the Atlantic 10 placed six teams in his bracket. Lunardi did a chat yesterday where he expressed some clear disdain, to the point where I think you could call it animus to the Big East.
One question asked why Georgetown needed both a win at Villanova and a strong performance in New York to make the tournament, given Georgetown’s unusually high number of six Top 50 wins. Lunardi responded with:
No, they'd be knocked for going 9-9 in a league with only two surefire NCAA teams. Bad losses count, too.
Later, somebody challenged his logic about that, pointing out that Pomeroy and RPI both identify the Big East as the nation’s third best conference. Lunardi came out firing:
Now you're being delusional. The third-place teams in the following conferences are all better than the third-place Big East team: A-10, Pac-12, ACC, Big 12, American and Big Ten. And I'm not sure Boise State wouldn't beat Xavier on a neutral floor. It's time for the Big East to realize what it isn't.
This kind of answer makes one seriously wonder if ESPN’s attempts to bury the Big East aren’t bigger than previously thought. This is terrible logic. So the Big East has a gap between teams two and three? Our second place team is better than the second place team from any of those conferences? So is our eighth place team? What’s so special about third place?
He comes back to it later.
Okay, so what are the best non-league wins outside of Nova and Creighton? I'll tell you: Georgetown (N-Michigan St) and Xavier (N-Cincy). Both very good wins, but hardly what you would expect by group of six teams you say are NCAA-level. Don't shoot the messenger.
Let’s compare this to two teams from the Atlantic 10, Saint Joseph’s (which employs Lunardi) and Dayton.
St. Joe’s is 21-8, 11-4 in the A-10. Their best non-conference win is at Vermont. Seriously. They lost at Temple and at Richmond. They have two Top 50 wins, home wins over Massachusetts and VCU (a win Georgetown also has, though on a neutral floor).
Dayton is 21-9, 9-6 in the A-10. They have better non-conference wins, vs. Gonzaga and California on neutral floors, home against Iona and at Mississippi (we’re stretching on the last two, but let’s be generous). They also lost at Illinois St., at home to USC, and at Rhode Island. Yet, Lunardi likes this team more than Georgetown, St. John’s, or Marquette.
On the criteria that Lunardi says he (and the committee) uses, Georgetown in particular is clearly superior to these two teams, particularly St. Joe’s. But, there is one factor that is skewing the results in favor of the A-10 teams.
The Big East breaks down like this. There are two elite teams, two awful teams, and Seton Hall, which is not good but not horrible. The other five teams in the conference are very similar. St. John’s, Xavier, Georgetown, Providence, and Marquette all rank between 38 and 58 on Pomeroy. When teams are of essentially the same quality, you would expect them to generally play .500 ball against each other. This is essentially what has happened, against this group, St. John’s is 3-4, Xavier 5-3, Georgetown 3-5, Providence 4-4, and Marquette 4-3.
Now, let’s envision an alternate scenario. Pretend than when the new Big East was being formed, a consensus emerged that while the conference desperately needed the New York and Providence markets for TV purposes. However, a decision was made that St. John’s and Providence weren’t the schools to get that done. Instead, the conference decided that Fordham and Rhode Island would be better bets.
Both teams are horrible, so let’s assume that the remaining Big East bubble teams would beat team. All of the sudden Georgetown and Marquette are 11-6 in the conference, and Xavier would be 11-7.
Now, these teams are situated like their A-10 counterparts. They have shiny conference records, in a conference that would still be better than the A-10. By the logic Lunardi is using, they would easily be tournament teams.
The bottom line is that while it isn’t supposed to, conference record matters. While it would lead to worse basketball, the middle teams in the conference would be well served this year by two extra DePauls. As it is the strong middle may be the conference’s undoing.