The Times West Virginian

February 12, 2011

HERTZEL COLUMN: The effect of Big East play great

By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian

MORGANTOWN — It has echoed throughout the college basketball world for so long now that in many ways it has lost its meaning.

“The Big East is the best conference in college basketball … all … all … all,” goes the echo.

“The Big East is the toughest conference in college basketball … all … all … all,” goes the echo.

“The Big East is … is … is …”

It has been heard so long and loud that it is been accepted as the truth, without anyone really taking stock on just what that means.

The best, the toughest, the deepest … great, but how does that affect anything?

Tournament time is coming on, first the Big East Tournament, then the NCAAs. What effect does playing in the Big East have on a team’s postseason play, especially in what they call “The Big Dance” but if that’s dancing, then WWE is the tango?

Think about the Big East for a minute. This past week you might have noticed that Rutgers upset Villanova and St. John’s upset Connecticut. Before that, Providence won at Georgetown and Seton Hall slaughtered Syracuse.

The league is so deep, so good that it’s an upset when there is no upset.

Kevin Jones was asked how many teams he thought had a chance to win the conference title.

“The top 10,” he said, after thinking a while. “I mean, Pitt is the best team but it’s a tossup from there on. We’re still in the mix.”

West Virginia University surely will be a dangerous team come tournament time and the Mountaineers are tied for seventh and have five ranked teams left in their final seven games.

There is talk, honest, of 10 Big East teams making the NCAAs —10!

The Mountaineers can give you an idea of just how tough the conference is. On rank of schedule, they are fourth in the nation and they rank 17th in the RPI power ratings. That’s 17th in the country and seven in their conference.

Bob Huggins lets his players know how tough the conference is.

“I try to be honest with them,” the WVU coach said. “Some say that puts pressure on them, but I’d rather they know what’s going on than at the end come to me and say I didn’t know that.”

As far as Huggins is concerned, any team with 10 wins in the Big East is an NCAA team … but then there’s that conference tournament in which you have to play.

First of all, it’s so big that some teams get double byes and there is much argument about whether or not that is a good thing.

Huggins was against it, until he tried it.

“I think it was good for us last year,” he said, referring back to having a double bye, having to win only three games to win the title and then go to the NCAAs. “We were on such an emotional high entering the NCAAs that I thought it helped us, but we didn’t have to win four or five games.”

Having to win five games in a row, no matter who you are, is a chore, especially when you see upsets like Seton Hall and Rutgers and St. John’s popping up during the regular season.

Teams like that winning the Big East Tournament, if they have to win four or five in a row, are slim, but chances of them upsetting the top seeds are not. Consider that last year WVU was the only one of the top four teams that had double-byes to win their first game in the tournament, throwing it wide open.

To make matters worse, playing the grueling Big East schedule, then the tournament takes a physical and mental toll on Big East teams, enough so that the NCAAs almost become secondary to what it takes to get there.

By the time you reach the finals you will have played as many as 36 games or more during the year and, rest assured, you have sprained ankles, aching joints, bruises and a player or two who has gone down to a season-ending injury.

And, in the case of Da’Sean Butler, the season went 32 minutes too long before his injury finally occurred.

E-mail Bob Hertzel at bhertzel@hotmail.com.