Sizing up the new Big East

The Big East announced yesterday the long anticipated additions of Butler, Xavier, and Creighton for the 2013-2014 season. Along with the “Catholic 7”, this brings the Big East to 10 schools, allowing for a traditional home and home round robin conference season, at least for the upcoming year. The Big East is reportedly looking to add 2 more schools in the future to reach 12 teams total.

The aforementioned 7, consisting of Georgetown, Marquette, Villanova, St. John’s, Providence, Seton Hall, and DePaul, have done very well to add schools that are similar in size and athletic focus, along with adding three new media markets, which was very important to the new television deal signed with Fox. Below, I’ve evaluated the make-up of the new conference, separating the schools into 3 categories: old Big East strong programs, old Big East weaker programs, and the newcomers.

The Strong (Georgetown, Marquette, Villanova, St. John’s)

Let’s get this out of the way first: Some may argue that St. John’s is not a strong program. It is true that the Red Storm hasn’t reached an Elite Eight in 14 years, and has not been a force in the Big East for quite a while. But this is still a school ranked #7 on the list of teams with the most victories in college basketball history. The Johnnies play their home games at Madison Square Garden, the undisputed mecca of basketball. New York City is a recruiting hotbed, and St. John’s is on the upswing under new coach Steve Lavin. In this new iteration of the Big East, there is no reason why the Red Storm cannot compete for a title every year.

The other three are without a doubt some of the best basketball schools in the country. Georgetown, Marquette, and Villanova have all won national championships, have all reached multiple Final Fours, and all sport some of the top coaches in the nation. With some very good schools leaving for the ACC, these three programs should be consistently challenging for top 25 rankings, Big East titles, and top seeds in the NCAA tournament.

The Weak (Providence, Seton Hall, DePaul)

It’s clearly evident that this group has not been good for a while. However, it must be noted that for the past decade the Big East has been undoubtedly the best conference in college basketball, at least during the regular season, and it’s been difficult for these three to compete with the bigger, richer, more desirable programs. They should all benefit from being in a smaller, watered down conference that nevertheless has national exposure, a proud history, and a lucrative television contract. DePaul has probably been the worst of the group over the years, but if it can figure out how to tap into the gold mine of talent in the Chicago area, the program could rise up and challenge for Big East titles going forward.

The New (Butler, Xavier, Creighton)

One paper, these appear to be much more solid programs than the three discussed above. Butler is just two years removed from its second straight national championship game appearance. Xavier has been one of the most consistently good basketball programs in the country over the past decade, and is the only member of the new Big East ranked in the Forbes Top 20 most valuable college basketball programs. Creighton might not have the quality or appeal of Butler and Xavier, but it’s had good years recently and is among the top 10 in the country in attendance. All three schools are in the midwest and will expand the Big East’s footprint.

Conclusion

This group is certainly worse as a whole than the old Big East, but still can stake a claim as the third best basketball conference in the country, after the ACC and the Big Ten. It’s a shame to lose great programs like Louisville, Syracuse, Pittsburgh, and UConn, but in reality, the “Catholic 7” had little choice after football completely reshaped the college landscape. The conference has made excellent moves in a short period of time, adding like-minded schools, retaining the Big East name, and most importantly, keeping MSG as the home of the conference tournament. The new Big East should send at least half of its teams to the NCAA tournament every year and regularly contend for national titles.

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