The Big East will forever be remembered in history as one of the most decorated conferences of all time. The conference has 18 Final Four appearances, seven National Champions and has produced an abundance of NBA talent past and present such as Patrick Ewing, Allen Iverson, Dwayne Wade, and Carmelo Anthony.
But the Big East Conference I’m referring to is not the same as that one that presently exists.
From 1979-2013, the Big East consisted of as many as 16 universities and was also a Division I conference in football. That was until December of 2012 when the “basketball seven” (DePaul, Georgetown, Marquette, Providence, Seton Hall, St. John’s, and Villanova) decided to separate from the conference to focus on basketball. They were later joined by Butler, Creighton, and Xavier. On July 1, 2013 today’s Big East was official.
Many were unsure if the conference would remain relevant or competitive without the perennial powerhouse schools such as Louisville and Syracuse with their legendary coaches Rick Pitino and Jim Boeheim.
Those doubters were soon reassured, as a television deal with Fox Sports 1 allowed fans around the country to see the conference play on national television, thus allowing the new conference’s popularity to grow.
The on-court product may have also exceeded expectations, as the conference is improving each year. In its inaugural year the Big East sent four teams to the NCAA Tournament (Villanova, Creighton, Providence, and Xavier). Last year, that number grew to six (Villanova, Georgetown, Providence, Butler, Xavier, and St. John’s).
This year, the Big East has four teams in the AP Top 25, including two in the top five (No. 4 Villanova and No. 5 Xavier) in addition to No. 16 Providence and No. 18 Butler.
The Big East, despite the absence of the big name schools that once made up the conference, still has potential first round NBA talent in the likes of Kris Dunn (Providence) and Henry Ellenson (Marquette). But it isn’t the NBA talent that has the four teams in the Top 25 and eight of the 10 teams with record over .500.
What we are seeing in the Big East is vintage college basketball.
The college basketball landscape today is known as the “one and done” era. The NBA prohibits players from making the leap from high school to the pros. Therefore the nation’s top prospects and lottery pick hopefuls generally flock to the Dukes and Kentuckys of the world in hopes of boosting their draft stock. This concept makes it difficult for teams to build the chemistry and have the ability to improve year after year while growing as a team.
This is not the case in the Big East. The top teams in the conference have a core of upperclassmen like Villanova seniors Ryan Arcidiacono and Daniel Ochefu and Xavier juniors Jalen Reynolds and Myles Davis. The consensus best player in the conference – and possibly the country – Dunn, is also an upper classmen.
Even the teams that are not veteran laden have built a nucleus to continually improve in the Big East. Seton Hall trots out a starting five made up of all sophomores who continue to get better. St. John’s has seven freshman on the roster, but tabbed Chris Mullin as head coach. Mullin is arguably the greatest player in program history, and should be a valuable recruiting asset in the future.
So if you are a fan of college basketball the way it used to be, do not overlook the Big East, even though it is not the same conference it used to be.
Matthew Zeigafuse can be reached at email@example.com. edu or on twitter @mattzeigafuse.