The reconstituted Big East was formed last spring with the goal of being one of the strongest conferences in men’s basketball.
If the all-important Ratings Percentage Index is to be believed, the Big East is one of the best in the land. Only the Big 12 and Big Ten are better by that measure through the first two months of the season.
The question is whether the Big East can maintain its position.
Eighth-ranked Villanova is the only Big East representative in this week’s AP Top 25. The 10-team conference is a combined 2-12 against opponents currently ranked, with Villanova owning both of those wins.
With conference play beginning Tuesday, the Big East still has the goal of placing four to six teams in the NCAA tourney, commissioner Val Ackerman said Friday.
“You always have injuries or a game or two that don’t go like you want,” she said. “We’re in a great spot right now.”
The RPI, of course, is only a snapshot in time and doesn’t mean nearly as much now as it will when the selection committee meets in March. Strength of schedule and strength of opponents’ schedules are key components. The dearth of wins over high-quality foes will make it hard to stay as high as No. 3 at the end of the season.
“Everything will be fine,” Georgetown coach John Thompson III said. “I think you should wait until the season is over and look at the complete body of work. The one thing this conference has always done is have teams go out and play very tough pre-league schedules. … This is and will be one of the better basketball conferences in the country.”
The new incarnation of the Big East came to fruition last March, when seven basketball-centric schools broke away to find a safe haven from football-driven conference realignment. Those seven invited Butler, Creighton and Xavier to join them. They secured a 12-year television contract with Fox worth $500 million.
The other former Big East members went into the new American Athletic Conference or the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Villanova (11-0), picked fourth in the conference’s preseason poll, has been the pride of the Big East so far. The Wildcats knocked off Kansas and Iowa in a Bahamas tournament and will go for another huge win today at second-ranked Syracuse (11-0).
Ackerman said the Villanova- Syracuse game is a strong segue for what she called “the big event” – the start of conference play Wednesday. Fox Sports 1 will televise all five Big East games back-to-back.
The Big East has one major positive so far. The conference features a bona fide national player of the year candidate in Creighton’s Doug McDermott, whose 24.8-point scoring average is second nationally.