This 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.
If you look at the current state of women’s basketball in the Big East Conference, you feel as though something is missing. That something being a true powerhouse. Or even a few true powerhouses.
Big East women’s basketball just hasn’t had that excitement factor as it used to when teams like UConn, Notre Dame and Louisville, among others, were competing at the highest level in the game. While the Huskies were and are still the dominant team in the game of women’s basketball, something about being in the Big East with a little more competition and fierce rivalries made for a lot better television than there is today in the American Athletic Conference.
While I still thoroughly enjoy watching the Huskies win by 70 points in conference matchups today, I would be lying if I said we had fine competition in comparison to the old Big East.
I miss the days of tightly-contested battles between UConn and Notre Dame for conference championships year after year, usually in the third matchup of a given season. I miss facing Top-10 ranked opponents in conference play.
Women’s basketball in the American can boast a maximum of two ranked teams, including UConn. South Florida is a good team – the only other one to sneak into the rankings – and has put up good fights against the Huskies in some games, but is the only other reputable team in the conference. The new Big East struggles to place even one team in the Top-25 and has featured teams like Marquette and DePaul in the conference championship two years in a row.
No disrespect to those programs, but that is a far cry from championship games featuring the Huskies, the Irish, the Cardinals or some other big-time school. It’s sad, but true. And neither the American nor the new Big East conference fares well in comparison to the old Big East.
Without Notre Dame and UConn facing off multiple times in a season, it feels like the rivalry factor of playing in the same conference is gone. The games speak for themselves – when both teams were in the Big East, they met four times in three consecutive seasons (2011-13), and five of their six Final Four meetings have come in the past seven years – and the coaches feel the same way, too.
“They were always great battles,” said Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw before a 2018 Final Four battle with the Huskies in a story from the Hartford Courant. “Now that we only play them once a year, I think there is some distance to the rivalry… I think there’s not that intensity that we had when we were in the Big East because you’re constantly watching your (current) conference.”
Now, while the competition gap in women’s basketball is constantly closing and the number of talented players playing in the NCAA is increasing, it’s difficult to say the game wouldn’t be even more exciting if those three teams – UConn, Louisville and Notre Dame – weren’t all still in the Big East. I mean, those three teams were all in the Final Four. Notre Dame won the title. We’re talking about the premier conference in women’s basketball if things worked out differently. But that’s just a pipe dream now. Notre Dame and Louisville have found themselves at home in the ACC while UConn has perched itself atop the American with an undefeated conference record.
The old Big East is long dead, but boy, women’s basketball just isn’t the same without it.