A week ago there was much debate about the Big East Basketball Conference getting 11 teams into the NCAA Tournament field of 68. The interesting part was that there was little outrage. Actually, it seemed most of the TV analysts agreed with the selection committee’s decision to include 11 Big East teams. It had been suggested for the last month of the regular season that the Big East was on track to place 11 teams in the field. The question was if it would indeed happen.
Well, the stars lined up and the Big East landed the 11 teams in the field. Teams like Villanova and Georgetown finished the regular season and the Big East Tournament on a whimper, but their body of work throughout the season was too good for the committee to exclude them. Really, the only team entering the Big East Tournament that was on the bubble appeared to be Marquette. When the Golden Eagles won their first round game and then eliminated West Virginia in the second round their spot in the field was secured.
A week ago the chatter was that as many as eight Big East teams were possible to reach the round of 16, with four or five being very likely. Fast forward a week and the Sweet 16 includes just two Big East teams and one seed Pittsburgh and two seed Notre Dame are not among them. Neither is three seed Syracuse.
Interestingly, the two remaining teams, Connecticut and Marquette, successfully used the Big East Tournament to find their spots in the NCAA field. As already mentioned, Marquette used a two game run to just get in the field as an 11 seed. UCONN used an unprecedented five game run in New York to win the tournament and earn a three seed. The Huskies were on fire in November and December and found themselves at the top of the polls, but a mediocre Big East regular season campaign had them pegged for a seven or eight seed until the tourney run.
Another interesting dynamic to the 11 team thing is that two second round games pitted Big East teams against each other. One of the NCAA seeding guidelines is to try and avoid conference matchups until the round of 16. Having 11 teams in the field made that hard to achieve so UCONN eliminated Cincinnati and Marquette upset third seeded Syracuse to make it to the regionals. Pitt lost to Butler, Notre Dame to Florida State and WVU to Kentucky and were the only other teams to vie for a spot in the Sweet 16. WVU was an underdog; Pitt and Notre Dame were heavily favored to move on.
Big East bashers will likely point out that the only conference members to advance to the Sweet 16 had to beat up on themselves to get there. Take that for what it’s worth. The numbers supported the inclusion of 11 Big East teams, why the highest seeded ones don’t remain is indeed a puzzling subject. That is why this Tournament is called March Madness and why The NCAA Basketball Tournament remains a strong attraction to millions upon millions of people.