The week, Daily Campus Sports remembers the nostalgic highs of the old BIG EAST Conference, while also asking ‘where did it all go wrong?’ This is Big East Week.
The Villanova Wildcats are winners of two of the three most recent National Championships, Xavier was a No. 1 seed who won the conference and the conference finished ranked third in KenPom’s Conference Ratings. Things seem to indicate good health and the Big East is by most objective measures doing quite well.
But is it built to last?
Let’s start with the bad and work our way up.
In Chicago, DePaul has continued to be a punching bag of a program, and despite marginal improvements in performance and off-the-court resources, they’re still running with a mediocre, retread head coach in Dave Leitao and failing to retain the city’s best players. Elsewhere, Loyola-Chicago just went on a Final Four run, including a star from Simeon in Donte Ingram. The Blue Demons have some ingredients, but they’ve been there for awhile now and nothing productive has cooked up yet.
Steve Wojciechowski, once a possible heir to the Coach K throne in Durham, is guiding a Marquette program that had an incredibly strong program the past decade. However, he doesn’t appear to be leading them anywhere particularly promising. Tom Crean made a Final Four and Buzz Williams made an Elite Eight, but Wojo made the NIT this year, is losing arguably their most productive player and has had double-digit losses every season so far.
St. John’s, stationed in New York City, has promise as well. They’re in a recruiting hot bed with Hall of Famer and legendary alumnus Chris Mullin at the helms. Yet outside a surprise takedown of Duke, the Johnnies haven’t won. And they cannot stop bleeding players. Federico Mussini and Richard Freduenberg went back to Europe. Yankuba Sima transferred to Oklahoma State, Sid Wilson to UConn, and most recently, Tariq Owens to Texas Tech and Kassoum Yakwe to UConn. Marcus Lovett just up and left midseason as well. Mullin has cachet and had a long leash, but it has to be getting shorter by the second.
Player retention isn’t the only issue in the conference. Chris Holtman, who was doing well, left Butler for Ohio State last season and had a great first year in Buckeye country. Musketeer-bred Chris Mack, who led Xavier to that one seed, was willing to leave for a seriously embroiled Louisville Cardinals program. The elephant in the room is Jay Wright, maestro of Villanova’s ascension to the premier program in the nation, being a major target of the higher paying and higher prestige NBA.
It’s not all bad. Ed Cooley is doing a great job cultivating talent at Providence and making the Friars viable nationally. But they haven’t won in the NCAA tournament. Kevin Willard has done a very similar job at Seton Hall. Yet his roster loses a tremendous amount of talent and experience and people are still dubious of his true “X’s and O’s” merit. Greg McDermott, who struggled at Iowa State and was a flameout risk post-graduation of his star son Doug, has actually turned Creighton into quite the workhorse.
The “new” Big East is still young and some of its coaches, including the legendary Patrick Ewing at historically powerful Georgetown and Lavall Jordan at more recent disruptor Butler are too early in their tenures to make valid predictions. But the league needs them to flourish. If they flounder, combined with the lack of football TV revenue, it will be problematic. Same goes for the talent; athletes and coaches moving on faster, or unrepeatably, than they can be refilled, is a real red flag. Should these fears become realized and tied with current underachievements, the essential Bill Simmons question must be posed: Are we sure the Big East is good?
Matt Barresi is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at email@example.com.