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Inside the College Game | Way Too Big East

Fri, 02/19/2010 - 11:39pm

Tennis balls are rotated every few points. You see, every time they hit the ground, they lose a bit of bounce. The game begins to slow, so you rotate them out.

Keno DavisKeno DavisIt's too bad Keno Davis doesn't have a fresh set of players waiting with the ball boy. Then again, the Providence coach might not mind subbing himself out, as well.

After watching West Virginia bounce his team 88-74 at the Dunkin' Donuts Center in Providence, R.I., Davis shrugged off a question about keeping his players motivated. The Friars have lost six straight after a 4-4 start in Big East play, and their last three have come to top-10 teams Georgetown, Villanova and West Virginia.

Today, they face No. 5 Syracuse.

“I'm open for suggestion,” said Davis, in his second year with the Friars. “I'm worried about how to keep the coach from not being discouraged.”

Can you blame him?

The Big East is not the best conference in college basketball. That title belongs to the Big 12, as the Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) more than verifies. But the 16-team structure allows for unbalanced conference schedules capable of burying a team's playoff hopes.

Consider this: Seton Hall has the 11th rated conference-only strength of schedule in the country. Meanwhile, Villanova comes in at 48th in the statistic meant to analyze how tough a team's conference schedule has been.

With that said, it seems pretty fair to assume that the 6-7 Pirates might be at least a game or two better and the 11-2 Wildcats a game or two worse, were they to switch Big East schedules. That's enough of a difference to probably push Seton Hall onto the right side of the bubble.

I don't believe the league's scheduling system is intentionally biased. But we're talking about Seton Hall coach Bobby Gonzalez's job, here. Something has got to give.

There are a lot of possibilities being thrown out there as far as scheduling goes. Personally, I like the Pac-10's system. In football every team plays once. In basketball, every team plays twice.

It makes sense. It's orderly. It really works well for basketball. But it's also only feasible in a conference with 10 or fewer teams, which are being phased out thanks to the NCAA's refusal to allow football conferences with fewer than 12 teams to play a championship game.

Instead of Big East contraction, we're forced to hear about Big Ten expansion. Even the Pac-10, as shining a model of fairness as it is, has reportedly strongly considered adding two teams and getting that title game on the gridiron.

I admit I side with basketball in all situations. My friends know I prefer basketball to them. As a result, it pains me to see college football ruining college basketball.

The ACC only added Boston College, Miami and Virginia Tech, to be able to play the wonderful Dr. Pepper ACC Championship game. Was it worth it? Monetarily, sure.

But the ACC has choked time and time again in the Orange Bowl since expansion. It's still a basketball conference, except now its fans don't get to see treasured home-and-homes with every team in the league.

Hate Duke? Well, unless you root for Maryland or North Carolina, you can't count on them coming to your place every year anymore.

Still, the Big East's flaws lie not with football, but with general stupidity. For some reason, at some point, someone decided 16 sounded like a good, round number. Eight football schools, eight basketball-only schools.

In other words, the Big East isn't making extra football cash off having 16 teams. It's a basketball decision that hurts the scheduling equity in that very sport.

As a result of its size, the Big East will always have as many ranked teams as any other league. You've got to keep in mind that it's really more of a league and a half than it's own entity.

So yes, the Big East will continue to produce top tier teams. In good years, the Big East may have three No. 1 seeds, as it did last season. There's a lot of tradition that goes into that. You know, like 1.5 times as much tradition as other leagues have to offer.

Still, the system is broken. The conference addressed one concern last year by allowing every team, not just the top 12, into its postseason tournament. The result? DePaul won its only Big East game of the season in its first round game, topping Cincinnati.

That decision was a step in the right direction, but I'm afraid realignment may be the only solution.

Until then, even if the Big East is the most talented conference in America, it won't be the best.

Give Keno Davis a break, already.

Also in need of a break

For the most part, I'm the cold-hearted type. I don't root for the underdog, perhaps the byproduct of a childhood passion for the New York Yankees.

Frankly, I don't care for incompetance of any type. If you have a job, do it well. If you can't, find another job.

With that said, this one's not going to go down easy. I'm usually the guy ripping the power conference team unfit for that tag. I'm the guy who jokes Penn State's football team probably would beat its basketball team on the hardwood.

With that said, I've taken to finding a silver lining for the five worst major conference teams in the country, selected entirely by conference record. I'll even pick a game left on the schedule that each team could – and maybe even should – win.

Here it goes:

1. Louisiana State Tigers (9-16, 0-11 SEC)
Top players: F Tasmin Mitchell (17.3 ppg, 9.6 rpg), G Bo Spencer (15.1 ppg, 2.7 apg), F Storm Warren (12 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 1.4 bpg).
Winnable game: March 6 vs. Georgia.
The Silver Lining: There's not a whole lot to like this season, I realize that. But unlike every other team on this list, your Tigers made the NCAA Tournament last year. Heck, they were even a pretty good team that suffered from a ridiculously poor seeding. I'm not sure any other team in the Tournament gave North Carolina that much of a scare. Now, will the Tigers be significantly better next season? They should win at least a game or two more in conference play. Losing Mitchell, the final relic from the 2006 Final Four team, will hurt. But Warren may have an even brighter future, and next year's recruiting class, starring pint-sized point guard Andre Stringer, is pretty solid. Expect a breakout season from Aaron Dotson and a bit more efficiency from Spencer, who is shooting an unbelievably horrendous 33.8 percent from the field. But more than the players, LSU fans have a really great reason to smile: Trent Johnson is a heck of a coach. Even if Stanford was too blind to recognize it, Tigers fans shouldn't lose confidence. I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if LSU made a return to the NCAA Tournament by 2013, maybe even 2012.

2. DePaul Blue Demons (8-17, 1-12 Big East)
Top players: G Will Walker (16.7 ppg, 1.5 spg), C Mac Koshwal (14.3 ppg, 9.9 rpg).
Winnable game: March 5 vs. St. John's.
The Silver Lining: The past year of DePaul basketball has confounded me. First, leading scorer Dar Tucker declares for the NBA Draft with absolutely no chance of being picked. Next, the Tucker-less Blue Demons somehow manage to be worse than last year's team despite pretty solid contributions from Walker and Koshwal. Finally, DePaul offers a scholarship to 6-foot-7 14-year-old Jahlil Tucker. Jerry Wainwright's firing has been about the only thing that's made sense for this program lately. But the thing about being at the very bottom of it all is, it can only get better. It all starts with the hiring decision, and the funding of the program. The Chicago Tribune published a story in mid-January questioning whether anyone could win at DePaul at this point. The Athletics Department predictably suggested the means where there for a coach to compete, even in the bloated Big East. With the right hire, that may be true. A coaching search is always a good time to be optimistic for improvement as a fan. With Chicago as a recruiting homebase, there's reason to believe in a turnaround.

3. Penn State Nittany Lions (9-16, 1-12 Big Ten)
Top players: G Talor Battle (19.2 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 4 apg), F David Jackson (9.6 ppg, 4.6 rpg)
Winnable game: February 28 vs. Northwestern.
The Silver Lining: The Nittany Lions are alone on this list as a team coming off a win. Consider it a message: This team was never this bad. A whole lot has gone wrong in University Park, Pa., and I'd be remiss to tell you this team has been just a few breaks from a good season. But it has been a few breaks  from an acceptable year. And last year, this team won the NIT. I believe Ed DeChellis is the man for the job at Penn State. I believe the Nittany Lions will be an NCAA Tournament team next year for the first time since the mid-1990s. Every single player returns from this year's squad. Battle is already established as one of the best players in the Big Ten, and shooting guard Chris Babb has looked more and more like a worthy accomplice on the wing. Penn State must improve its consistency. Size would be a big help, as this team blocks just 1.6 shots per game. But with point guard Taran Buie coming in next season, things have really turned around in the last few years for Penn State, and a dismal 2009-10 could very well be a blip on the radar in five years.

4. Nebraska Cornhuskers (13-13, 1-10 Big 12)
Top players: G Ryan Anderson (10.7 ppg, 4.8 rpg), G Lance Jeter (7 ppg, 4.3 apg, 3.5 rpg).
Winnable game: March 2 vs. Colorado.
The Silver Lining: Doc Sadler is the right man for the job. There's hardly a question about it. Sadler, in his fourth season, took Nebraska to the NIT each of the past two seasons. If you're a Kansas fan, you're snickering. But the Cornhuskers haven't made the NCAA Tournament since 1996, when Tyronn Lue was the team's best player. They haven't had a player reach the NBA who graduated this millenium. This season was inevitable. The team lost four of its top five scorers from last year and was left with a fairly young roster. Losing Anderson and Sek Henry will hurt next season, but the Cornhuskers have established some depth and 6-foot-11 freshman Brian Diaz looks like, in time, he could be an elite Big 12 center. With that said, Sadler still has a lot to prove as a recruiter. He's yet to land a marquee signing in a league loaded with them. The Big 12 is a tough conference to compete in when you're working from a talent deficit. But next year, Nebraska should improve enough to return to the NIT. Even if it can't, Sadler shouldn't be blamed immediately. Give him time. Let him get his footing. There's not a whole lot of homegrown talent in Nebraska, and Sadler has a system that seems to work.

5. N.C. State Wolfpack (14-13, 2-10 ACC)
Top players: F Tracy Smith (17.2 ppg, 8.1 rpg), Dennis Horner (12 ppg).
Winnable game: March 7 vs. Boston College.
The Silver Lining: Herb Sendek made five straight NCAA Tournaments with the Wolfpack before being handed his walking papers. I wasn't alone in questioning the decision. Now, in just less than four years, Sidney Lowe has accumulated a 17-43 career record in ACC play. He has yet to finish better than 10th in the conference standings. While DeChellis and Sadler have turned around programs and are just experiencing bumps in the road, Lowe has drowned N.C. State. I don't believe Lowe is a qualified ACC coach. But rumor has it he may have another year left before he's given the same type of ouster Sendek received. While part of that comes from his status as a school legend, having a very strong recruiting class helps. Lowe is bringing in two top-tier guard recruits, Lorenzo Brown and Ryan Harrow, along with skilled forward Luke Cothron. Brown and Harrow have already signed their letters of intent, so if the school decides it's seen enough of Lowe, both of those two could potentially remain committed. Either way, Sendeck proved that a good coach can win at N.C. State. Lowe proved that a good recruiter can bring high-quality prospects to Raleigh. It's a stretch to imagine the Wolfpack ever competing on a regular basis with North Carolina and Duke. But days of competing in the ACC may not be far away.

Game notes:

If you believe in solid 16-9 teams, Marquette should top that list. There's a lot of pieces to like at Buzz Williams' disposal, and his Golden Eagles could potentially be a dangerous NCAA Tournament team. Lazar Hayward might be the least talked-about star in the country. … Richmond just earned a ranking for the first time in 25 years, but the Spiders will have a hard time defending that position through the end of the regular season. Kevin Anderson and company head to Xavier on Feb. 28 then get a home game against Dayton and go to Charlotte to round out the regular season. … The ACC Player of the Year race is really heating up. Virginia Tech's Malcolm Delaney and Maryland's Greivis Vasquez have been on tears lately, while Al-Farouq Aminu is the league's most talented player and Jon Scheyer remains the best player on the best team. … Michigan State lost three straight games. In one, Kalin Lucas was hurt during the game. In the next, he was out. In the third, he came off the bench. The Spartans haven't lost any other Big Ten games this season. There are no coincidences. … Enjoy the weekend, everyone. I'll be back with another column next week, and hopefully, it will be better than this one. You can reach me at [email protected] with comments, questions or criticism. Thanks.

Grandmama
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At least the picture you

At least the picture you chose isn't as annoying as the Lance Stephenson pic that was frontpage for two weeks.

Not sure what your rationale behind your thought was, but the Big East IS and HAS BEEN the best conference the last five years....and probably will be until/unless the ACC can figure it out.

*Good game in the Super Bowl Joe.

LiveMockDraft
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The Big 12 is the best

The Big 12 is the best league in the NCAA this year, the Big East's size is just blinding.

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