Big East Roundtable July: Pt 4

(This is the last of a 4-part series. For a list of participants and who is leaving the Big East, see Part I | For a look at some of the players coming into the league, see Part II | For a look at teams' 2011 targets, see Part III)Big East basketball logo

This is the fourth and last installment of the July roundtable series with Big East bloggers. Thanks for reading, and thanks to our panel for participating: Bearcats Blog; TheUConnBlog; Blue Demons Nation; Chicago College Basketball; Hoya Prospectus; Cracked Sidewalks; Cardiac Hill; GonzoBall; The Nova Blog; Villanova by the Numbers; and VUHoops. These are excellent blogs, please check them out. And if you feel like you were left out or want to comment on the series, leave a comment below or hit me up at pico.dulce [at] gmail.com.

This series will return by mid-September. I would say August, but the wife and I will be stalking Prince in Minneapolis to see if he's as strange as depicted in this article (he won't know we're coming, since he thinks the Internet is over).

Back on topic, this last installment covers bloggers' responses to the idea of the Big East being down. We hear it again and again. And in the words of Rush the Court, in their post about the top 20 players in the Big East (a good insightful read, even if I don't agree with their #1):

When it’s pegged as the premiere conference prior to the season, it always seems to live up to the hype. When prognosticators predict its decline, it surprises us all and we’re left wondering why we underestimated the Big East again.

Truer and more timely words were never spoken. The league is a basketball monster, especially now that the Conference USA additions - Cincinnati, DePaul, Marquette, South Florida, and Louisville - are fully integrated into the fabric of the league, finding ways to bring in Big East-level ballers. You may snicker at that in the cases of DePaul and South Florida; but even with those teams and Rutgers and St. John's, there have been few easy outs.

This year, the names may change, but the talent level is still about the same. There will be some serious breakout candidates, for sure. We think. Ballin' Is a Habit DID make a plausible argument about the exodus of high-level talent a few months ago. But with the Hall of Fame coaches and the solid recruiting... I wouldn't bet against the Big East.

On to the responses, where Bearcats Blog gives us an excellent definition, and Greycat from Villanova By The Numbers gets us going with a tempo-free argument.

Q4: For the last 2 years, some media members have remarked that the Big East will be "down next year." Has the league been "down" recently (and define what down would mean to you) and will it be next year?

answers... after the jump.


Cincinnati Bearcats logoBearcats Blog: First off, down to me means that there are no 1 seeds, no more than 4 good teams, and the bottom of the conference are automatic wins. But, I ultimately think it comes down to if there are no Big East teams in the elite 8 or final 4, then it's a down year. I think the league was disappointing in the tournament last season, but they had a final 4 team, so I don't think it was down.

I don't think it will be next season. There look to be a couple of top flight teams already, plus there are always surprises. Conference play will be a joy to watch, unless your school is involved, then it will be nerve wracking, and the BET is good stuff. But, if teams drop out of the NCAAs early again, the talk will start back up.

Villanova Wildcats logoVillanova by the Numbers: The quick answer -- the conference will be a little stronger than last season (a little "up"?), most likely receiving between six and eight NCAA bids, that will include (most likely) a single #1 seed and between one and three seeds in the #2 - #4 range. The media drive a good deal of the "Top 25" discussion throughout the season, which in turn shapes perceptions about which teams/conferences are better/"moving up" and which are worse/"moving down". The preseason Top 25, along with the currently steady flow of "Too Early Preseason Top 25" articles and lists can provide clues on how that perception is being shaped going into the season. If the Big East has two or more teams in the top 10, and six or more in the Top 25, the conference is "up". If no team makes the top 10 (or a single team in the #8-#10 range...), with four or fewer listed in the Top 25, then the conference is "down".

A longer answer -- As the table below shows, the Big East has been ranked in the #1 - #5 range in each season since the 2006 reformation. As the numbers (especially Pomeroy's Pythagorean Winning Percentage Average ranking) suggest, the conference was actually comparatively better in both 2009 and 2010 than in the preceding two seasons. Those measures are supported by empirical data, the number of NCAA bids and the seeds assigned, the tournament results, wins versus other power conferences, etc.

RPI Rnk Pomeroy Rnk
2006 2 1
2007 5 5
2008 5 4
2009 4 3
2010 3 3

At the end of the past 3 - 4 seasons I have created scatter charts (X-Y charts) -- called "Aerial Views" -- using Pomeroy's Offensive and Defensive efficiencies (conference games only). When the conference has been considered "up" (2009 for example – scatter chart) most Big East teams were distributed primarily into the upper right (Good Offense/Good Defense) and the lower left (Bad Offense/Bad Defense) quadrants. The 2009 Aerial showed 13 of the conference's 16 teams clustered in one of those two quadrants. During typical years, the distribution is closer to 9 - 10 teams in those two quadrants (see the 2010 aerial, located at ).

I believe the bifurcated distribution results from the very good teams dominating weaker -- but not necessarily bad/mediocre teams -- in conference play. During the summer of 2008 I developed another X-Y Chart, comparing each team's Pythagorean Winning Percentage and their returning minutes with the conference averages. In that aerial six teams landed in the "Good/Good" quadrant, comparatively a higher than usual (as I later discovered).

The 2010 pre season aerial had three teams in the "Good/Good" quadrant West Virginia, Georgetown and Villanova, with only one -- Providence -- located in the "Bad/Bad" quadrant. An early chart for next season has, like the summer of 2009, three teams in the "Good/Good" quadrant -- Pittsburgh, Georgetown and Villanova -- which suggests these three will compete strongly for the conference's top rankings. The averages for both measures were higher this time, also suggesting the conference as a whole will be more competitive than last season.

DePaul Blue Demons logoChicago College Basketball: The league seems to have hit a consistent place where there is a group of teams that continually competes for titles and then a group that's the second tier of the league. The strength of any league is determined by the bottom half and right now some of the Big East's bottom half - like DePaul - aren't pulling their weight in making the Big East an elite conference.

I firmly believe that the Big East has the best coaches in the country and it's coaches that make a conference though and with Steve Lavin and Oliver Purnell joining the conference that's not going to change. Next year could actually be a good year for the Big East. Notre Dame, Marquette, Pittsburgh and St. John's should all be better next season.

Seton Hall logoGonzoBall: Over the course of the last few years the mainstream media has thought that the Big East conference would be "down".

Of course the conference is going to be down, how many times have can one conference get two teams to the final four? Nine teams to the Big Dance? The Big East, in basketball, is what the SEC is in football a conference that features the best teams with the most depth from top to bottom. Is the ACC good? Yes. Is the Big 12 good. Yes. Can they compare to the Big East? Can Pat Sajak compare to Vanna White? No. If the Big East is "down" like this every year…doesn’t life just stink??

Villanova Wildcats logoThe Nova Blog: Anyone who thinks the BEAST is down needs to have their head checked. It's by far the best conference in the land, year in and year out. I think this year will prove that again. As a whole, CBB lost a lot through graduation and the NBA Draft last year. I think this year will be about learning who the next wave of household names will be. Georgetown Hoyas logo

Hoya Prospectus: Clearly, two years ago was a historically strong year for the Big East (three #1 seeds in the NCAA tournament, all NCAA teams 6-seed or higher), so by that standard most years will be down. I don't think the Big East will be as bad as last year's PAC-10 or the SEC from 2009, but otherwise no real idea.

DePaul Blue Demons logoBlue Demons Nation: Coming into last season, Wesley Johnson was noted as a transfer to watch, but a lot of the pre-season talk for the Big East revolved around Luke Harangody and Scottie Reynolds.

Though all three are now gone, the Big East will only suffer a slight dip, as many teams have stockpiled talent over the past few years, and it is now their time to shine. Is there a definitive pre-season Big East player of the year favorite? No, but there are a good number of legitimate candidates who can step up and become the player of the year.

An argument could be made that the less successful Big East teams over the past couple of years have made strides in significantly improving their programs, with new head coaches and improved recruiting. So while the Big East may not be as strong at the top as in years past, the parity looks to have improved.

Marquette Warriors Eagles logoCracked Sidewalks: The BE was not down as much as people might have thought last year. It’s tough to continually place three #1 seeds in the NCAA every year, so certainly the BE was down a little bit. However, we thought the conference in general was deeper last year with fewer bottom feeders. For next year, we honestly haven’t given it much thought. It’ll probably be about the same as it was this year.

Villanova Wildcats logoVUHoops: A "down year" is more like what the Pac-10 saw last year -- a complete around-the-conference drop in competition. In a conference like the Big East, however, down years just don't happen. The schools in this conference stockpile talent, and in many cases can surprise onlookers -- Pitt's season last year is an example of that.

While any one school might see a temporary drop off for a year or two, the conference as a whole always seems to stay strong. With the exception of one or two programs, it seems that every game is winnable for every team in this conference, and that is how I define strength.

Pittsburgh Panthers logoCardiac Hill: With 15 bids over the last two NCAA tournaments (the most of any conference), I don't see how anyone would consider the Big East having down years as of late. To me, the true measure of a conference is how many of its teams receive tournament bids.

Some, mistakenly in my opinion, consider how far those teams advance as a true indicator. The NCAA Tournament is a one and done scenario and any team can have an off night. Just because teams may not go as far doesn't mean that the conference as a whole is overrated. Last year Butler reached the final - no one would likely regard the Horizon League as one of the best in the country.

Looking ahead to next year, the Big East might not be as strong as it has in recent years. In terms of what the conference has done over the past two seasons, not getting eight teams in the NCAA Tournament would be considered a down year. And when you take a look at who the conference has lost, it's easy to see a decline from the past two seasons: Wes Johnson, Greg Monroe, Luke Harangody, Arinze Onuaku, Devin Ebanks, DaSean Butler, Scottie Reynolds, Mike Rosario, Lazar Haywood, Sharaud Curry, Dominique Jones, Lance Stephenson, Andy Rautins, Mac Koshwal, Jerome Dyson, and Samardo Samuels all have moved on. That's maybe as much talent I can recall the Big East losing in recent memory.

I could see several teams beating each other up in the conference schedule, thus leaving some teams on the outside of the NCAA tournament. Teams will really need to dominate their non-conference schedule to string together as many wins as they possibly can.

St. John's red Storm logoRumble in the Garden: Every year, some yokel with internet space to fill tries running the narrative about the Big East being down. They don’t know the Big East’s seniors, they don’t project stardom from guys who just couldn’t get out from behind the shadows of stars. And they assume that the league will get fewer than their 7-8 bids in the NCAA Tournament, that the league’s teams will get smacked around in inter-conference matchups, that only a few players will warrant national recognition.

In Big East basketball, this is simply not ever true. It’s not the Pac-10. Talent in the Big East doesn’t die, it multiplies (to paraphrase Bebe’s Kids). There are always a few highly recruited talents languishing on the bench for good coaches – biding their time, getting stronger, working their defense or offense to appropriate crispness. And the coaches and players will combine to make the Big East yet another fierce brawl for the NCAA Tournament. If anything, the Big East is getting closer and closer to a league with no easy outs – DePaul and St. John’s will improve, Providence will have more talent, and Rutgers can’t help but get better with their new staff.

This year, talented cats from Pittsburgh, Louisville, and Villanova will make names for themselves on the national scene. And for some teams (Cincinnati, Connecticut come to mind) there may be some addition by subtraction as players who didn’t mesh with each other or didn’t play hard are removed for hungrier ballers. I don’t know if I see any #1 seed teams in the Big East (maybe Villanova?), but the league will be repped in the Tournament.

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