The Catholic Seven might have made for a powerhouse basketball conference in the 1980s, but times have changed.
I freely admit I'm not the sharpest tool in the shed. I'm not stupid, but I came to the conclusion long ago that I have way too much useless information floating around in my brain, crowding out more important stuff. I know I would be infinitely better at math if I didn't have the entire script of Anchorman memorized, and I'd probably have a more sophisticated appreciation for ballet if baseball statistics didn't come to me like Rainman looking at a spilled box of toothpicks (probably just dated myself with that movie reference but, whatever).
I admit this because it is entirely possible I am missing something when it comes to the "new" Big East and its supposed place atop the basketball foodchain. For instance, a Friday piece in the Washington Post quoted a television "insider" as saying the following about the expected partnership between the Big East and Fox Sports 1: "And from the Fox side, they gain an incredible amount of very good basketball inventory because the Big East supplies an awful lot of basketball teams to the NCAA Tournament. They picked up what might be one of the best basketball conferences in the country; it's not like this is something new. These teams have been basketball powerhouses for years. [Fox is] buying instant credibility and a lot of basketball inventory for their new network.''
Look, I understand the value of market place. It's why I thought UConn would have the upper hand over Louisville when it came time for the ACC to decide which school was getting the Wonka Golden Ticket. The "new" Big East still has St. John's, Villanova, Georgetown, and may be bringing in Xavier. They will also be playing in Madison Square Garden, always a huge selling point for television. But when people have celebrated the breakaway of the Seven their arguments haven't been based on markets, but instead on basketball. It's not about market size and the value of New York, Philly, and Chicago. It's about actual performance on the court, and in college basketball that means performance in March. So that begs the question, what exactly what has the "new" Big East accomplished in their most recent history to warrant being called one of the best conferences in the country?
Georgetown is by far the most accomplished of the programs, and they went to the Final Four in 2007. Their last trip to the sport's most important weekend before 2007? 1985. For those scoring at home, that's 22 years between appearances. Georgetown also has seven Big East Tournament championships, the latest coming, again, in 2007. Before that? Their last win came in 1989. So, in the last 29 years, Georgetown, the "new" Big East's most accomplished member, has won one Big East Tournament and made one Final Four.
Villanova's resume? Final Four appearances in 1985 and 2009, conference tournament title in 1995 (their only one in the Big East).
St. John's? Conference tournament champ in 2000, and they won one more before that: in 1986. Their last Final Four appearance was in 1985. They haven't made the Elite Eight since 1999 and didn't make an NCAA Tournament appearance from 2002 to 2011.
I suppose you'll say I'm cherry picking and ignoring a solid program like Marquette, right? Not quite. No Big East Tournament titles, only one Conference USA championship (1997), a pre-Big East appearance in the 2003 Final Four (thanks, Dwayne Wade) that was the first for the school since 1977, and only three visits to the Sweet Sixteen since 1994.
Now, you want to laugh? Take a look at Providence, Seton Hall, and DePaul. I won't run them down individually, I'll just say that, since 1995, those three schools have combined for eight NCAA Tournament appearances, two Sweet Sixteen berths, no Final Fours, and no Big East Tournament titles.
And let's not overrate the incoming "new" Big East members all that much. It's rumored that Xavier is coming with Butler as quickly as the phone calls can be made, and Creighton won't be too far behind. That would give them 10 teams, with an eye on 12. Let's just look at those three new members.
Xavier, since 1995, has made the Sweet Sixteen five times, the Elite Eight twice, and no Final Fours. That's a solid resume (it is the same as Georgetown's without the Final Four appearance), but this feels like a good time to point out that UConn has made 10 Sweet Sixteens since '95 (if you're wondering: Syracuse has eight trips over at time period, and noted choke machien Pitt has five as well).
Creighton hasn't made a Sweet Sixteen since 1974 and has never made it past that point.
Butler has the most cachet at the moment, coming off two recent appearances in the Championship game (2010, 2011), but you better hope Brad Stevens sticks around. Prior to 2010, Butler had never made an Elite Eight.
Is there some good basketball in the new conference? Definitely. Georgetown, Marquette, Butler, and Xavier are all respectable programs, but let's not pretend this is some amazing new college basketball powerhouse.
I understand that most people who cover college basketball never left 1985 when it comes to the Big East. In their minds, Patrick Ewing, Chris Mullen, and Rollie Massimino are frozen in time, forever to be regarded as the kings of the conference. It's why so many prominent college basketball writers have refused to accept that, since 1990, UConn has been the biggest name in the conference and its most important member. It's also why so many could look at a "new" conference featuring Villanova, St. John's, Depaul, Providence, Seton Hall, and (possibly) Creighton and assume that it will automatically be one of the best conferences in the country.