The name just doesn’t seem to fit anymore. The Big East. It doesn’t sound right, not without Syracuse, UConn and Pittsburgh, and even Louisville, Notre Dame and Cincinnati.
It no longer has the look and feel of a powerful conference, the same one that sent a record 11 teams to the NCAA tournament just two seasons ago.
There’s no flagship program. The ACC has Duke and North Carolina and has added Syracuse. The Big Ten has Indiana and Michigan State, with Michigan rising. The Big 12 has Kansas, and the Pac-12 boasts UCLA and Arizona.
The new-look Big East has 10 members, all with similar profiles centered around their basketball programs instead of football as a foundation.
But these guys need someone to emerge nationally. Sure, Buzz Williams has done a tremendous job since he took over at Marquette, taking the Golden Eagles to an Elite Eight and a pair of Sweet 16s. John Thompson III has made Georgetown relevant nationally again -- but the program has been lackluster come March since a 2007 Final Four appearance. Jay Wright took Villanova to the Final Four, but 2009 seems like an eternity ago for the handsomest coach in America. Xavier is coming off a sub-par campaign by Xavier standards, St. John’s has been irrelevant for the past two seasons and Providence, Seton Hall and DePaul are, well, Providence, Seton Hall and DePaul.
Brad Stevens was supposed to be the face of the Big East, but now Boy Wonder is gone to the NBA before ever coaching a game in the new-look league. Stevens was slated to enter the Big East and give it a much-needed jolt, along with Creighton’s National Player of the Year contender Doug McDermott (at least for the first season).
Stevens is history, and McDermott will be gone a year from now. That’s worrisome for a league that needs to establish an identity.
This league possesses a similarity to that of the Mountain West, a solid yet unspectacular league with a handful of quality, fringe top-25 teams -- but none that you can envision making a run to the sport’s final weekend.
One head coach who wished to remain anonymous said that he’s worried about the league’s perception now that its conference games won't be on ESPN.
“No one’s going to know our league,” he said. “Everyone’s going to beat up on everyone, two or three teams will separate themselves and we won’t get as many teams in the tourney. It’s going to hurt with seeding, also.”
In its first season, there is no shortage of questions regarding the Big East, both on and off the court.
Here’s how we handicap the league's inaugural season: