UConn is returning to the Big East in 2020, and while it’s a boon for most sports, let’s not mince words: the Huskies’ new conference doesn't measure up to their old one in terms of quality baseball.
In 2019 — the last full season of college baseball played — the AAC as a whole put in a strong performance, ranking fifth in average RPI. Meanwhile, the Big East sat way down at 17th, sandwiched between the Ohio Valley Conference and the Southern Conference.
At least in the short term, this shouldn’t have a huge effect on the baseball program. UConn was in the Big East for their first NCAA Super Regional appearance in 2011, although the conference isn’t quite the same as it was then. UConn’s robust out of conference scheduling should help them rise high enough in RPI to make the NCAA tournament.
With that being said, let’s take a look at the teams that currently make up the baseball arm of the Big East conference.
2019 record: 13-38 (4-13 Big East, 281 in RPI)
Finish: 7th in regular season, missed Big East tournament
MLB Alumni: Mickey Vernon, first baseman for the Washington Senators for nearly 20 years, whose .337 average in 1939 denied Al Rosen the triple crown by one one-thousandth of a point.
Uniform Review: 8/10, love that baby blue/navy blue combination, and the logo looks really good on a hat
Villanova baseball, needless to say, is not the perennial powerhouse you know from the basketball world. The WIldcats haven’t won 30 games in a season in over a decade, haven’t been to the College World Series since 1995, have only won the Big East twice during a fortuitous stretch around 1990 and haven’t finished over .500 since 2013.
Head coach Kevin Mulvey graduated that year, returning to school after seven seasons in the professional ranks. The same year, Mulvey started as an assistant coach on the squad. It hasn't been an easy road for Mulvey, taking over a very long and difficult rebuild. The program bottomed out in 2018 when they went 9-39, one of just seven Division I teams to record single digit wins that year.
'Nova got off to a decent-enough start before the coronavirus shutdown against a very mediocre schedule, so they still have a lot to prove going forward if they want to drag themselves out of the Big East basement.
2019 Record: 24-26 (5-2-2 Big East, 242 RPI)
2019 Finish: 6th, missed Big East tournament
MLB Alumni: Pitcher Pat Neshek, who once got angry at Zach Greinke for refusing to sign a baseball card for his collection.
Uniform Review: 8/10, love that script and helmet logo, they have sweet stirrups too but I couldn’t find a good picture of them.
Over the past two decades, Butler has been the high plains drifter of baseball programs, true to their location in the flat empty spaces of Indiana. The program entered the new millennium in the Midwest City Conference, which changed its name to the Horizon league a year later. In 2012, the school decided to bolt to the Atlantic 10 for baseball, then just a year later joined the new Big East.
The past five seasons under head coach Dave Schrage have been similarly volatile. Schrage inherited a program that hadn't recorded a winning record since they left the Horizon League, and was able to slowly lead the Bulldogs up through the mediocrity of Big East baseball. Just 4 conference wins in 2016 grew to 5 in 2017, then 9 in 2018, as Butler recorded their first winning season in six years.
Butler drifted back into mediocrity in 2019 and 2020, but Schrage's managerial job still stands as impressive.
2019 Record: 22-34 (7-11 Big East, 245 in RPI)
Finish: 5th, missed Big East tournament
MLB Alumni: Samsung Lions pitcher Tim Adleman
Uniform Review: 7/10, not bad! Love the big “HOYAS” across the chest, the piping and the socks’ striping, but I’ve never been a huge fan of majority-white baseball hats
Georgetown baseball has been around a hell of a long time, but they don’t have much to show for it. They’ve never won the Big East, never made the College World Series, and haven’t finished over .500 in the last 20 years.
The Hoyas also might be the only team in the world just a tad bit relieved that the 2020 season was cut short. After an uninspiring 2019 where it missed the Big East tournament despite an easy schedule, Georgetown had to undergo a full pitching staff transformation. Its top four pitching staff consisted entirely of underclassmen, and the team inevitably suffered.
After an opening day win against Navy, the Hoyas ripped off six straight losses, won two midweek contests, then went 1-7 until the season was interrupted. Now, they get a year to regroup while their young rotation develops.
2019 Record: 25-28 (9-9 Big East, 186 in RPI)
Finish: T-3rd, 2 and Q in the Big East tournament
MLB Alumni: Mo Vaughn
Uniform Review: 4/10. They look like a high school team with their blue uniforms, so I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt and pick the only other updated one I could find. Nope. White hats and rip-off tequila sunrise jerseys are not the way to my heart.
Now we’re getting to the section of the Big East with some tremendous baseball tradition. First, we have to mention the stadium. Seton Hall has been playing at Owen T. Carroll field for well over 100 years, a stadium that also hosts the Pirates’ soccer teams and was the home of its football team until the program’s elimination in 1952.
The Pirates have been to the College World Series four times in program history, the last three coming during a dominant stretch in the 1970s with manager Mike Sheppard at the helm.
Sheppard went 998-540-11 as a manager at Seton Hall, but was never able to make it past a regional final with the squad, and his career that had spanned four decades came to an end in 2004 after multiple players spoke out against his cruel — sometimes even racially-abusive — coaching style. 18 of them had left the program in the last three years before his resignation.
His son, Rob Sheppard, took over and led Seton Hall through the rest of the new millenium with a respectable 482–373–4 record, reaching an NCAA Regional once in 2011. Otherwise, the Pirates just been consistently solid, with just two losing seasons in the past 12 years.
2019 Record: 31-23 (9-9 Big East, 113 in RPI)
Finish: T-6th, Big East Tournament semifinals
MLB Alumni: Rich Aurelia
Uniform Review: 9/10. It seems unfair to include throwback uniforms in this ranking, but these were just so nice.
Moving on, now we come to the Big East’s traditional power and UConn’s regional rival. They need no introduction, and they’ve been the class of the Big East conference since its inception in 1979: St. John’s Red Storm.
Boasting 37 NCAA tournament appearances and nine conference championships, St. Johns is the class of northeast college baseball right alongside UConn.
Manager Ed Blankmeyer was the architect of their recent success with just one losing season since the turn of the century but, in one of the oddest stories in college baseball last year, he resigned to go manage the minor league Brooklyn Cyclones. Mike Hampton, a longtime assistant under Blankmeyer took over in 2019, so it looks like the Red Storm won’t miss a beat going forward.
2019 Record: 27-31 (12-4 Big East, 64 RPI)
Finish: 2nd, Big East Tournament runner-up
MLB Alumni: Hold up, Frank Robinson went here? Oh my god, that rules.
Uniform Review: 6/10, kinda boring honestly. Not sure what’s going on with that font.
Alright, time to get weird with out penultimate team on this list, the most chaotic team in the baseball Big East: the Xavier Musketeers.
Despite a 27-31 record and a minus-40 run differential in 2019 — mostly due to their insane out of conference schedule, which featured trips to North Carolina, Louisville, Arizona State and Texas — Xavier came within one run of representing the Big East in the NCAA tournament in the Big East tournament final.
And that’s not where the chaos ends: Since 2000, Xavier baseball has boomeranged between winning and losing seasons every few years, never staying too long on one side of the coin in-conference or out of it. The Musketeers had four coaches during that time, uncommon in a sport where coaches are usually given a good amount of time to work.
In terms of their outlook going forward with UConn in the conference, it seems tough — and even irresponsible — to predict. They might spoil UConn’s coronation in the conference tournament next year, like they did to St. Johns as a three seed in 2017, or they might nosedive to the bottom of the standings like they did in 2015 or 2018.
2019 Record: 41-13 (14-4 Big East, 20 RPI)
Finish: 1st, Big East Tournament champions
MLB Alumni: Bob Goddamn Gibson (Honorable mention: Pat Venditte, the famous switch-pitcher)
Uniform Review: 7/10, for the reigning conference champions, they sure have some bang-average uniforms.
If you think about it, it makes perfect sense that the current baseball power in the Big East is 1. located nowhere near the rest of the schools in the Big East, 2. Is not an original member and 3. Plays their home games in the FKA Johnny Rosenblatt Stadium.
Creighton has always been a solid college baseball power, appearing in the NCAA Tournament five times before 2000, but has really turned on afterburners in the new millenium under manager Ed Servais.
Since he took over for long-time steward of the program Jack Dahm in 2003, Servais has led the Blue Jays to a .628 winning percentage, four conference championships and five appearances in the Regionals.
Creighton and St. Johns will make formidable foes for UConn in their new conference, baseball-wise, and there’s always a threat of Xavier or Seton Hall jumping up and biting the Huskies in the backside if they’re not careful. UConn will have a tougher time getting its RPI up due to the massive drop in conference quality, but its made it up out of conference for years, and I don’t see that changing now.