Big East is a demolition derby, but coaches say not to worry
By TOM CANAVAN
AP Sports Writer
NEWARK, N.J. (AP) - The Big East Conference has become a demolition derby.
Look at the men's basketball standings after Wednesday night's game. No. 12 Marquette and No. 18 Villanova, the defending national champion, are the only teams with winning conference records. The eight other teams are below .500. All have four losses.
Some might call it a down year for a league that received 28 bids to the NCAA Tournament over the past five years. Some predict the league might get only three this season.
Big East coaches insist the league is still a power. Every team has a winning record despite seeing 19 of the conference's top 30 scorers leave because of graduation and early entry into the NBA draft.
There have been some big wins, too.
Seton Hall (12-7) beat then-No. 9 Kentucky and won at Maryland. Creighton beat Clemson when it was ranked. Butler split with Florida. Providence beat South Carolina and won at Texas. Marquette has wins over Louisville, Kansas State, Wisconsin and Buffalo. Nova beat Florida State and lost to Kansas on the road by three.
Overall, the Big East is 6-8 against ranked teams this season.
Creighton coach Greg McDermott, who lost Marcus Foster and Khyri Thomas to the pros, said a lot of players are learning to play in crunch time.
"You hope as the season progresses some of that inconsistency will cease," McDermott said during a league conference call Thursday. "I think the league has been kind of what we thought it would be. There is parity throughout, but there are still six or seven teams good enough to be in the NCAA tournament. It's just a matter of we probably have to provide some separation at some point, and that has not happened yet. But it's really early."
Three Big East teams have cracked the Top 25 this season: Marquette (17-3), Villanova (15-4) and St. John's (15-4), which lasted a week.
While that might indicate an off year, the league had two teams ranked at this time last season (Villanova, Xavier) and four overall (Seton Hall and Creighton).
When the NCAA announced its tournament, Villanova and Xavier were No. 1 seeds and Seton Hall, Creighton, Providence and Butler were in the field.
This year's parity was expected.
"When you lose the amount of seniors this conference did, not only seniors, high-level players - Trevon Bluiett, J.P. Macura, Villanova's guys, my guys, Creighton's guys - it takes a little time for that next group to kind of find and learn what it takes to win," Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard said.
Even Villanova, which has won the national title two of the last three seasons, struggled after losing player of the year Jalen Brunson, Mikal Bridges, Donte DiVincenzo and Omari Spellman. The Wildcats have won seven in a row, but coach Jay Wright said a few of those games could have gone the other way.
Marquette coach Steve Wojciechowski adds that having a schedule where teams play home-and-away games against other conference teams makes things tougher.
"In terms of the overall health of our league, it is a really good one," Wojciechowski said. "There are a lot of games left to be played and I think at the end, in March, we are going to have great representation."
The question is how will the selection committee look at the league if several teams finish at .500 or just above it in conference play? Providence coach Ed Cooley says he doesn't know.
"We are going through some growing pains with the league," he said. "But the promise moving forward is we will be one of the most dominant leagues in the country."
Wright calls this a transition year for the Big East, not a rebuilding one.
"I think all of these teams are going to be much stronger by the end of this season and I think all of them are going to be great next year," he said.
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