Friday, March 19, 2010

Relax Big East critics

The first day of the NCAA tournament is over and already pundits are ripping the Big East.

The conference got eight teams into the dance, but only saw one of four teams win first round games on Thursday. Georgetown was bounced by 14th-seed Ohio University, Old Dominion clipped Notre Dame in a 11-6 upset, and Washington knocked out Marquette at the buzzer. No. 2 seed Villanova managed the only win, in overtime, over Robert Morris.

Was it a bad day for the Big East? Of course. Any conference supporter wants all its teams to advance. But really, should the conference be embarrassed at its first-day showing? Absolutely not.

As an alum of a Big Ten school, I've had to listen to these grumblings during numerous past tournaments. Six or seven Big Ten schools get into the dance, and only one or two advance beyond the first round, which cues the criticism. But if you notice, rarely are the top-tier of the conference exiting early. Pundits should complain about the weakness of the Big Ten if Ohio State, Wisconsin and Michigan State are upset today, not if Minnesota and Purdue lose.

No one expected Ohio to dominate Georgetown, but the Bobcats shot 57 percent, including 56.5 percent from the 3-point line. You put up those numbers you're going to win, even if you play Kansas.

As for Marquette or Notre Dame, both losses were expected. I hate to burst some bubbles, but the Irish were lucky to get into the tournament. Their best player is hobbled by an injury, which made the game a toss-up. Marquette fans should not have been surprised either. Washington won the Pac 10 tournament -- certainly not a push-over -- while the Eagles posted a 12-loss regular season.

There are no easy games in the NCAA tournament. Fans, especially those of big six conference teams, have to recognize that mid-major teams can play big-time basketball. These teams may not land starting line-ups filled with high school All-Americans, but they are well-coached and experienced. These mid-major teams aren't scared of the big schools any more.

I really can't call the Notre Dame or Marquette losses upsets this year. An above-average team in a big six conference is no longer miles ahead of the winner of a mid-major counterpart.

Now if Pitt, West Virgina and Syracuse have trouble or find themselves out after this weekend, then I would push the panic button. But don't dump on the Big East because its second tier couldn't compete with the best mid-majors.

No comments: