The UConn Blog approached us this week for a Q and A in preparation for a college basketball season that may or may not happen. The Twitter banter between the fanbases has gone back and forth, but the big question still lingers: “What have the last seven years been like without UConn in the Big East?” That’s the one Dan Madigan opened with.
Like a great basketball conference
In the first year of the new look conference, the Big East was the fifth best conference in the nation. Appalling and in no way reflective of the quality the old Big East had, right? Well, no. In 2007 it was also fifth. In the days of the classic Big East the conference had a stretch from 1997-2004 when it was never better than fourth and dipped as low as seventh. All that nostalgia for the best conference ever? The Big East hit that mark once, in 2006. Other than that, this new iteration has been every bit as good as the alleged halcyon days. It has even produced a national champ as many times as the bloated Big East did.
A Villanova dominated conference
From 1997-2013 (the KenPom Era) the Big East had repeat regular season champions exactly twice. Since then the only team other than Villanova to win it is Xavier, and they’ve done it once. The tournament has been a veritable free for all, with teams not named Villanova winning twice. The KenPom best team has been Villanova six times, one other team once. The Wildcats have dominated the latest version of the Big East, there’s just no way around it.
A conference that has been good, and bad, for Xavier
The bad first. Xavier has no breathing room right now. At 45th in the KenPom the Musketeers would have been in the top three of most conferences in the top 10 and would have outright won every conference from 11 on down. They were seventh in the Big East. Long gone are the days of Xavier being the best team in the conferences even on down years and being able to coast through until March. Now even the slightest blip means a year like last. 45th, by the way, is better than three Coach Mack teams, two Sean Miller teams, and one of Skip Prosser’s KenPom Era teams. It was roundly viewed as a failure.
But there is so much good for Xavier. When it comes to recruiting, Xavier has made hay in the Big East. Of their top 10 rated recruits of all time, eight have played in the Big East. Travis Steele’s first team was the only one of Xavier’s Big East teams to not make the tournament. Being in a major conference brings the boost of having no bad conference games to weigh down the schedule. Throw in other benefits like the tournament at MSG, constant television coverage, and the cachet that comes from having Big East on the floor and the changes that have come since UConn left the conference have been a boon to X.