The Big East’s 10th-place team earned a convincing win over one of the ACC’s NCAA tournament hopefuls Wednesday, and the final result left Creighton coach Greg McDermott pondering something.
Is the Big East getting the respect it deserves?
McDermott briefly brought the topic up at the end of his press conference Wednesday, just a couple hours after Marquette had secured an 83-70 win at North Carolina. It’s a Golden Eagles team that, before beating UNC, ranked 100th in the NCAA’s NET rankings.
“I hope that opens up some eyes,” McDermott said. “This league’s a little bit better than everybody thinks it is.”
Ultimately, the NCAA selection committee will have the final say.
As it stands heading into the final weekend of February, prognosticators are projecting that the Big East has just two locks for the NCAA tournament. Villanova and Creighton.
UConn, Seton Hall and Xavier are sitting perilously on the bubble, with St. John’s maybe still holding on to a sliver of hope with two home games and a league tournament still on the docket.
The Big East has not sent fewer than four teams to the NCAA tournament since its realignment in 2013. It’s averaged 5.3 bids per year.
The league last season ranked as the top conference in the NET, with all but one team sitting inside the rating system’s top 70. Creighton was in the hunt for an NCAA tourney No. 2 seed after earning a share of the regular season crown with a 13-5 conference record.
McDermott’s Jays this year are 13-4 in league play heading into a road game at Xavier Saturday — and yet their average predicted NCAA position slots them as a No. 5 seed, according to BracketMatrix.com. The NET lists the Big East as the fifth-best conference in the country.
“Sometimes I don’t know that our league gets enough credit,” McDermott said.
COVID-19 did impact the nonconference schedule of Big East teams, limiting their opportunities to prove themselves with wins over quality teams or to boost their efficiency margins with blowouts over inferior opponents.
But perhaps the league, simply put, is down.
It did lose 12 of its top 15 scorers from last year. Data analyst Ken Pomeroy’s numbers ranked the Big East among the top three conferences nationally in five of the last six seasons. This year, the league is a clear fifth.
The Big East coaches’ plea for legitimacy goes beyond the computer rankings, though.
This is a perception thing. It seems that McDermott and his peers are starting to recognize a certain narrative is forming, and they are campaigning against that.
“A lot of people look at our league, and I think they underestimate our league,” Providence coach Ed Cooley said. “But top to bottom, it’s so, so competitive.”
The Big East released its conference tournament bracket format Friday. The top five seeds will receive first-round byes. The bottom six teams will play on March 10. All but one game will be televised nationally on FS1 — the title game is set for a Fox broadcast on March 13. Creighton can finish no worse than fifth in the league standings.