column: Changes ahead for Big East basketball. Will it be the end of an era?

By on November 15, 2011

By Nathan Gardner–

The upcoming basketball season will mark Louisville’s seventh year as part of the dominating force that is the Big East conference. The Big East showcases numerous high-profile basketball programs that combine to make the conference such a powerhouse. Among these consistently strong teams are Connecticut, Georgetown, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, West Virginia, Villanova, Syracuse, St. John’s, Notre Dame, Marquette and Louisville.

Since the recent shuffling of conferences throughout the NCAA, three of these schools will be leaving the Big East after this season. With the departures of West Virginia, Syracuse and Pittsburgh, many people are speculating that this is the end of Big East dominance. The powerhouse conference we have come to expect year after year is being split up and many think this is the end of an era.

To some, this may seem like a good move considering the flack the Big East receives every year for its poor performance in the NCAA tournament after such a dominating regular season.
But if you look at the numbers over the past six years, since Louisville entered the Big East, no conference has been to the Final Four as many times as the Big East, with five appearances. The Southeastern Conference has the second most appearances with four, and the Atlantic Coast Conference, Big 10 and PAC 12 each have three. Louisville’s Final Four run occurred in 2005, which was their last year in Conference USA and is not factored into these numbers.

The question still remains whether the conference realignment will be the fall of the Big East, and the answer is “no.” It is true that three solid programs will leave vacancies in the conference, but the Big East will still be loaded, featuring eight teams that made it to the big dance at the end of last season.

To be perfectly honest, the three teams leaving haven’t really been all that impressive come March. Over the past six years, West Virginia is the only one to make a Final Four appearance. If we take that appearance out of the equation, the Big East still ties for the most Final Four appearances in the past six tournaments. Aside from that, Pittsburgh has only made it past the Sweet Sixteen once, with a loss in the Elite Eight in a year they were a No. 1 seed. Not to mention their loss was to No. 3 seed Villanova, a Big East school that won’t be leaving. Syracuse, although being a highly competitive program every year, has not made it past the Sweet Sixteen in the last six years, and has only gotten that far twice.

The worst part about the conference shake-up is that after this season, Louisville will no longer have the luxury of a sure Top 25 and Big East “W” over the Syracuse Orangemen. Louisville’s win streak over Syracuse is currently at seven games, due in part to the fact that Rick Pitino’s hot handed three point shooting squads have a field day against Syracuse and Jim Boeheim’s willingness to play the zone defense.

Although many think this season will be the last hurrah for the Big East, that isn’t true. With teams like Louisville, Connecticut, Villanova, Georgetown, Cincinnati and Marquette, all with National Championships under their belts, there is no doubt the Big East will continue to thrive for many years to come.

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Photo: Cody Hibbard/The Louisville Cardinal

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