NCAA March Madness: The “Big Least” Struggles Mightily in First Weekend

Nick Mordowanec@NickMordoCorrespondent IMarch 21, 2010

PROVIDENCE, RI - MARCH 20:  Head coach Jay Wright  of the Villanova Wildcats reacts to a foul call against one of his players in the first half against the Saint Mary's Gaels during the second round of the 2010 NCAA men's basketball tournament on March 20, 2010 at the Dunkin Donuts Center in Providence, Rhode Island.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Elsa/Getty Images

As less than three days of the heavily anticipated NCAA tournament have been completed, we have learned quite a bit already.


We now realize that mid-majors are about as afraid of power conference opponents as mountain lions are afraid of field mice.


We are coming to drips with the usual lack of seeding competence by the tournament committee as programs like Murray State and Saint Mary’s have won multiple games against “powerhouse” schools.


And maybe above all, we have seen the Big East conference get more embarrassed than a fifth-grade boy with his pants around his ankles in gym class.


For a conference which sent eight—count ‘em—eight teams to postseason play, the supposed depth of the conference has been exposed. While one No. 1 seed (Syracuse) continues to play on, the rest of the Big East teams weren’t so lucky.


In fact, of the eight teams selected by the tournament committee, five were eliminated by mid-afternoon on Saturday.


Georgetown, a heavy favorite to go to the Sweet 16 and quite possibly even further, got its bracket busted when the Bobcats of Ohio clawed into them and sent them home early. Yep folks, that was a No. 14-seed defeating a No. 3-seed. Where’s Patrick Ewing when you need him?


Notre Dame played in the first set of games Thursday afternoon to kick off this beautiful tournament. If only somebody had actually told them a game was taking place, maybe they would have escaped from Old Dominion. Luke Harangody’s career ended with a giant thud, scoring only four points in the one-point loss (and those two baskets came in the final minutes as the Fighting Irish were reeling!).


Marquette, a team believed to be overseeded to begin with, lost a tight one to Pac-10 champion Washington. And Louisville also lost to a Pac-10 foe, losing to California on Friday.


Although the Pac-10 was ridiculed all season long, the conference’s two teams in the tourney came in and knocked out two Big East teams. I’m not sure if it was just two west-coast programs trying to prove they belong in the field, but it does hint that some east-coast squads were in a position higher than they should have belonged.


And then there is Villanova.


After nearly avoiding an epic first-game collapse to No. 15-seed Robert Morris, the No. 2-seed Wildcats couldn’t escape another close call. Saint Mary’s used its size down low to exploit the rather small lineup of Villanova, ending up costing another Final Four run and giving Saint Mary’s its first trip to the Sweet 16 in school history.


Just like that, Scottie Reynolds’s career is over and another collapse of epic proportions shoots the Big East like an arrow out of Cupid’s repertoire.


As I am writing this, Syracuse is blowing out perennial tourney player Gonzaga—a sure welcome sign for the Big East conference as the big games progress. The other teams remaining are Pittsburgh and West Virginia, and the Mountaineers have a legitimate shot to reach the Final Four.


It may take some monster performances by the remaining Big East teams to bring a bigger sense of respectability to the conference. Otherwise, many will be saying “overrated.”