by Robert Ferringo - 01/13/2006
So I'm flipping around Saturday afternoon and I come across the Cincinnati/Marquette men's college basketball game. Sweet. I watch for a few minutes and then am momentarily confused by the Big East logos all over the court. Now, it's not that I didn't know these guys had moved from Conference USA to the Big East, it's just that I didn't really believe it until I saw it with my own eyes.
Then it started to sink in: college basketball has entered the era of the Hyper-Conference, and The Game will never be the same.
But that's OK. This is America, isn't it? Bigger is Always Better. And in the same way that media and telecommunications consolidation has been all the rage in our 21st century, the formation of a genetically superior college basketball conference is the logical next step on the path toward Total World Domination.
Three of the last five national champions have hailed from the Big East. So even before the absorption of Louisville, Marquette, DePaul, Cincinnati and South Florida, the conference had proven itself the best in the land. Now it's just out of control.
The Associated Press Top 25 features six Beast schools, including two of the top four, and has a pair of others ranked in the top 42. That means that 20 percent of the country's top college basketball teams come from the same league.
The 16 teams in the REALLY Big East are now locked in a War of Attrition for the conference championship. Then, after six more weeks of cannibalizing itself, the Beast will unleash it's minions for an all-out on March Madness.
The record for most bids to the NCAA tournament from one conference is seven. I believe that this season the new super-sized Beast will be sending at least eight to the Big Dance. Here's a breakdown of the 10 teams that I see vying for those eight slots:
(In projected order of finish)
No. 4 Connecticut (13-1 overall, 2-1 conference) - This is the most talented team in the country. I didn't say that they were the best, but they are the most talented. Marcus Williams decided to switch his major from "Laptop Theft" to "Point Guard for National Championship Contender", and his presence been welcome. Rudy Gay is a lottery pick, and a trio of seniors (Hilton Armstrong, Rashad Anderson and Denham Brown) provide clutch scoring and leadership.
No. 3 Villanova (10-1, 1-1) - In 2003-04 it was St. Joes. In 2004-05 it was Washington. This year, the Wildcats are running circles around opponents with a four-guard offense. Allen (Iverson) Ray is explosive, and Randy Foye brings versatility and an all-around game. But like their predecessors, the Wildcats have the skill to make a run in the tournament but not the juice to go the distance.
No. 16 West Virginia (10-3, 2-0) - Think of a really good YMCA team - a bunch of white boys chucking 3-pointers and running backdoor cuts - and you have the Mountaineers. Last year's tournament Cinderella is still crashing parties this year - most recently beating No. 3 Villanova. WVU is streaky because of its style of play, but they can beat anyone in the country when they're hot.
No. 10 Louisville (13-2, 1-1) - Overrated. The Cardinals are pretty on paper, but lack the strength - both mentally and physically - to win this league. They're a legit tournament team, and will be more comfortable against run-and-gun teams. I like David Padgett (12.5 ppg) as a go-to post player, but only one of Louisville's regulars is hitting more than 38 percent of his 3-point attempts. That's odd for a Pitino-coached club.
Georgetown (10-2, 2-0) - This team returned all five starters from a club that won 19 games last season. That type of experience and balance (six players average nine or more points) lends to a cohesiveness that can't be quantified. Seven-footer Roy Hibbert is the team's leading scorer (12.3 ppg), and Jeff Green and Brandon Bowman both stand 6-8 and provide versatility. The Hoyas benefit most from the new "unbalanced" schedule.
No. 29 Syracuse (13-2, 1-0) - The Orange could be headed to the Final Four…or the NIT. Syracuse has as much raw talent as anyone in the conference. Point guard Gerry McNamara is the senior leader, and epitome of the Cuse's plight. He could go off for 40 or go 2-for-15. Juniors Demetris Nichols and Terrence Roberts have stepped up their games, but they'll need more bench support to be a threat in this league.
No. 12 Pittsburgh (12-0, 1-0) - Led by NYC point guard Carl Krauser (17.6 ppg, 4.3 apg, 4.3 rpg) the Panthers will be in the mix. Their record is inflated due to a soft non-conference schedule, but the Panthers do have a marquee win over Wisconsin. Pittsburgh still has a strong home-court advantage, and the flashy Krauser is leading an offense that has gone Over in five of its eight posted games.
No. 25 Cincinnati (13-3, 2-1) - Bearcats fans have seen more aggravated assault charges than they have tournament wins over the last few years. This group of rapists, thieves, and thugs (allegedly) has a hoops style that will fit right into the rough-and-tumble Big East. Don't expect many road wins in unfamiliar gyms this year. Also, the loss of senior forward Armein Kirkland is a serious blow.
Marquette (11-4, 1-1) - Steve Novak must be on the Jess Settles Program. The 6-foot, 11-inch Novak seems like he's been a Golden Eagle for about eight years. He put on a show that Connecticut fans may not ever forget last week, filling up the Huskies for 41 points in a victory that could make the difference between NCAA and NIT. I didn't expect much from this club, but their massive frontcourt and steady guard play make them a dark horse contender.
Notre Dame (9-4, 0-2) - The Irish have been the selection committee's bitch over the last two seasons, missing out on the tourney each year. They were the unofficial "66th team" both times, and I'll be surprised if they break through this season. The best-case scenario for Mike Brey's Clan of Christians is that they go 8-8 in the league (tough, but doable) and then win a pair of games in the BE Tourney. However, that will still leave them at 19-13 and unless one of those wins is against Connecticut or Villanova, they'll be on the outside looking in. Again.
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