Thursday, February 22, 2018

The Old Big East

As a Syracuse Orange fan, I grew up on Big East basketball in the 80s. Those were some great teams, coaches, players and rivalries. Thompson, Massimino, Carnesecca, Boeheim, and a young Pitino, soon joined by Calhoun and Carlessimo... look at that coaching power.

In 1985 the league got three teams into the Final Four, with top seeds Georgetown and St. John's joined by 8-seed Villanova. Two years later both Syracuse and Providence made it. League members Georgetown ('84) and Villanova ('85) won titles, and Syracuse ('87), Seton Hall ('89), and Georgetown ('82, '85) lost in the title games. Two titles and four runners-up in eight years. Seven more teams made the Elite Eight in that span. This was one heck of a league.

The league expanded in the 90s to accommodate football, and then in the 2000s the league lost and added members until finally splitting in two after the departure of original members Syracuse and Pitt along with (relatively) new member Louisville to the ACC. These schools followed BC and longtime but not original member Virginia Tech. I'm not complaining about these moves, though they were painful at the time. I'm a Syracuse fan, born and raised. I did not want the Orange to leave the league that Boeheim helped to build. When Louisville and others joined the Big East, they were joining Syracuse's (and UConn's, and Villanova's, and Georgetown's) league. Now, half a decade since joining, Syracuse is still in Duke's and Carolina's league.

I'm glad the basketball-only schools retained the Big East name, and I'm glad that Villanova, St. John's, Georgetown, Providence and Seton Hall stuck together. The three teams that gradually drifted to the ACC are in a superpower conference with great teams. The five original teams that stuck together preserved their intense rivalries and added some strong basketball-centric programs (at the cost of some geographic tightness). I think the team that kind of got the shaft in all this shuffling was UConn. The American is a more than solid conference, with basketball-tradition-rich schools like Cincinnati, Memphis, Temple and now Wichita State in the fold. But that was a football decision, through and through. Connecticut should be playing with nearby BC, Providence, St. Johns and Seton Hall, not with (no offense) SMU, Houston and Tulsa. The Huskies were a basketball dynasty with Jim Calhoun, but it's got to be a little tougher to get excited to see the far-flung American schools coming to visit - and it's got to be much tougher to go to a road game in Tulsa than to Providence or Boston!

Anyway, I really miss the original Big East Conference and the must-see Big East Tournaments every March. So I decided to try and figure out how those 9 teams might be doing if they had stuck together as a 9-team conference. Of course, a conference that size is tiny nowadays... even the Big 12 has 10 members (and the Big 10 has 14, and the A-10 has 14... these numbers don't match!). But that's still a 16-game home-and-home conference season.

Here's my "methodology":
1. Actual games played against one another count.
2. To determine a winner for the other games, I used BPI. If the BPI was relatively close, the teams would split. If there was a big disparity, I gave the higher rated team the sweep.
3. I projected the games in that way through the end of the regular season.
4. If the teams played each other in the non-con part of the season (for instance, Syracuse played UConn), I counted the result but also let it stand as a non-con win for SU and a non-con loss for UConn, assuming that they'd play an opponent of similar quality leading to a similar result.

(Note: I know there are better ways to do this. I just don't have time.)

So the Big East Tournament would shape up like this:
8 Connecticut, 9-21 (3-13)
9 Pittsburgh, 8-21 (1-15)

1 Villanova, 27-2 (14-2)
8/9 winner

2 Seton Hall, 23-6 (12-4)
7 Georgetown, 17-10 (7-9)

3 Syracuse, 22-7 (11-5)
6 Boston College, 17-12 (7-9)

4 Providence, 20-9 (11-5)
5 St. John's, 19-10 (8-8)

I'd say this Big East league would have four almost certain locks for the tournament, with St. John's having the Duke and Nova wins to boost their case as a likely fifth team. However, I'd say that nobody outside of Villanova would be a serious title threat or even a protected top 4 seed. The reinsertion of a pretty bad Pitt team and a down UConn team padded the W/L records for the top teams (at least it did in my lazy way of doing wins and losses) as it gave most teams above them four free wins (I had UConn and Pitt split, which is probably generous to Pitt, and I had UConn split with both Georgetown and BC, which might be generous to the Huskies).

I'm guessing that seeing St. John's with 19 wins looks really weird, but they did have a good non-con season, and their BPI is middle of the pack within this group (it's third from the bottom in today's Big East). They also trade Xavier, Creighton, Marquette and Butler for BC and Syracuse and Pitt and UConn, a much more manageable slate.

Comments welcome!

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