The twilight days of Big East basketball have been nothing if not confusing.
What once looked like a top-heavy conference headlined by national-title contenders Syracuse and Louisville has devolved into a 10-team melee that could yield anywhere between six and nine NCAA tournament bids.
The past week has been particularly messy, with previously unheralded Villanova notching consecutive home wins over Syracuse and Louisville while the formerly top-ranked Cardinals dropped three in a row.
So what does 'Nova's sudden success and Louisville's equally sudden slide tell us about the Big East? What can we make of a conference where every team has lost at least once and seven different squads sit at 4-3 in league play?
Did we overrate preseason favorites like Syracuse and Louisville? Or did we simply underestimate the conference's depth?
Let's examine the case for each claim.
The Big East Is Overrated
We could rename this "The 'Nova Theory." Everything about the Wildcats, from their pre-conference resume to their peripheral statistics, paints them as an average-to-below-average team.
Jay Wright's squad is just 13-7 on the year, with losses to LaSalle, Temple, Alabama and most egregiously, Columbia. And not only did Villanova lose to the perennial Ivy League doormat, it lost by 18 at home.
When a team with that kind of baggage beats Louisville and Syracuse back-to-back, it tells me a lot more about the guys they're beating than it does about them.
And what about some of these other supposed tournament teams in the Big Least?
Marquette? 49-47 loss to Green Bay.
Cincinnati? Home loss to St. John's.
St. John's? Lost to UNC-Asheville, San Francisco and Murray State in non-conference play.
Pittsburgh? Lost to Rutgers and needed OT to top Oakland at home.
Georgetown? Lost to South Florida and needed every one of its 37 points to top rebuilding Tennessee.
And you wonder why none of these teams can separate from the competition. Probably because none of them are any good.
The Big East Is Crazy Deep
Pump the breaks on all that negativity. The Big East is still third in Conference RPI, and almost all of its top teams have marquee wins worthy of their lofty rankings.
Louisville, with its second-ranked defense according to kenpom.com, smacked Mizzou, Memphis and Kentucky earlier this year.
Georgetown topped UCLA before taking then-No.1 Indiana to OT.
Syracuse has wins over San Diego State, Louisville and Cincinnati.
Pittsburgh played Michigan tougher than almost anybody and has one of the nation's most efficient offenses.
Cincinnati beat Oregon and Xavier by more than 10 points each and hasn't lost a single game this year by more than six points.
Even bruised-and-bloodied Notre Dame can point to wins over BYU, Kentucky, Purdue and Cincinnati.
Heading into Saturday, the Big East had three teams (Syracuse, Louisville and Pittsburgh) in the top 10 as measured by Ken Pomeroy's Pythagorean Winning Percentage. Only the Big Ten, at four, had more.
The fact that teams like Louisville can lose three straight conference games, two of which came on the road, mind you, illustrates the devastating depth of America's most balanced conference.
Even the projected bottom feeders have enough talent to knock off the big boys.
So, What Do You Think?
Is the Big East still a dominant conference? Or a weak one that lacks dominant teams?
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