Ever since we posted our award-winning take on why UConn shouldn’t be coming back to the Big East, everybody and his mom have been blowing up our mentions on Twitter with opinions on expanding the conference. Some people have had really good takes:
I love the current format.— Fifty Shades Of Gratuitous Class (@JMLedgewood) January 25, 2018
Others have wanted UConn to come back. Because we’re nice people, we’re not going to publicly shame them here.
We’re taking it as a given that the league should expand by a maximum of one team. Anything that disrupts the double round robin format of league play is rejected out of hand. With that as our premise, let’s start cutting down the 341 non-Big East teams in D1 and see what we end up with. First...
It can’t be a major conference team
I mean, this should be fairly obvious. A team that already has a major conference home probably isn’t looking to leave. Any team that is in a major conference and looking to move probably isn’t going to be a good fit for Big East.
It has to be in the two easternmost time zones
Think of the student athletes here. I know everyone is in love with the idea of adding Pepperdine, but that’s a ton of travel. That flight from Malibu to New York for the St. John’s game is going to be a bear, to say nothing of every school having to head out there once. Keeping everything within the basic geographic footprint the league already has is a must.
Side note: do you ever think about how big the central time zone is? It’s huge.
It has to be a good program
Surprisingly, this has been our most controversial tenet on Twitter. There have been plenty of people ready to add teams to the league despite the fact that they would slot in behind DePaul and Georgetown at the bottom. To not have to play on the first day of the Big East Tournament, you have to finish better than 7th in the league.
Over the past three years plus this season, Seton Hall has been the 6th best team in the league, averaging a 50th place finish in the KenPom. Marquette has been 7th with an average of 66th. Since I’m feeling generous, I’ll say it has to be a team that averages a finish in the top 80 of the KenPom. Surely they’ll get a bump by moving to the Big East.
That cuts us down to seven teams: Wichita State, SMU, UC, URI, VCU, Dayton, and Davidson. One more hurdle to clear...
It can’t be a program with FBS football
Chasing football almost killed the Big East once; only a massive amputation of the infected appendage saved the league by returning it to its initial basketball-centric roots. This cuts us down to Wichita State, URI, VCU, Dayton, and Davidson.
Of those five teams that we haven’t rejected out of hand, which one do you want? I’m going to throw out there that VCU and Dayton were both high in the KenPom thanks to coaches who have now left; adding either of them would be a big gamble.
URI still has its talismanic coach for now. They are an incredibly veteran-dependent team; they’ll lose their top three players by usage rate to graduation after this year. If you think Dan Hurley can keep it going through that, maybe they’re your team.
Wichita State just moved conferences. I can’t imagine they’re going to turn the same trick again anytime soon. If they did and if you think Gregg Marshall is sticking around - or that his replacement will keep up Wichita State’s remarkable momentum - then prepare for a real Shocker of a move (I’ve got a degree in this stuff; that’s how I can come up with this wordplay).
Last up is Davidson. They’re not just Steph Curry’s alma mater; they’re a legit mid-major player. To me, the most appealing part of this program is Bob McKillop. The anti-Mick Cronin, he just flat-out knows how to coach offense. His teams seem to be based on two principles: don’t turn the ball over, and shoot as many threes as possible. The upshot of this is very entertaining basketball; the limitations of this strategy are already being illustrated by Marquette under Coach Wojciehowski (I’m so proud that I can spell that without looking it up).
Coach McKillop is 67 years old; just something to keep in mind.
For people who want to expand, there’s just not a long list of teams that aren’t playing football, aren’t already in a major conference, aren’t way out west, and aren’t sucking at basketball. Abandoning any of those four failsafes risks running the Big East back into the same trouble from which it so narrowly just escaped. The league is perfect the way it is. To try to improve on that might definitionally be a fool’s errand.