MORGANTOWN - Before we begin crawling to the defense of the Big East - we won't rush there but yes, we will crawl - let's get the bad news out of the way and be brutally fair and honest in doing so.
The NCAA tournament has not been kind to the league. And yes, the league has been a disappointment to the NCAA tournament, which lavished it with 11 bids.
Of those 11 teams, only two remain after just the first weekend of play. And in order to get past the first weekend, the two that did - Connecticut and Marquette - won half their first-week games against other Big East teams.
In other words, by Sunday's Round of 32, the worst the Big East could do was send two teams to the Sweet 16. Wouldn't you know the league would oblige and accomplish the worst possible?
You want stats? We'll give you stats.
The Big East stands at 9-9 in tournament play so far. There were 10 leagues that sent multiple teams to the tournament. Of those other nine, seven have a winning record, one (the Big 12 at 4-4) is tied with the Big East with a .500 winning percentage and the only league that was worse was Conference USA, losing a play-in game and then a Round of 64 game to go 0-2 and exit the event all together.
As long as we're piling on, let's break down the Big East's 9-9 mark. In the Thursday-Friday games, the league was a fairly respectable 7-4. But look closer. Of those seven wins, only two came against teams from other power conferences. And in those two, West Virginia beat a Clemson team that had to win a play-in game just to get into the bracket and Cincinnati beat the last Big 12 team that made the field, Missouri.
Want more bad news? Of those 11 Thursday-Friday games, the Big East team was seeded higher in all but two, sometimes ridiculously higher, like No. 1 Pitt against No. 16 UNC-Asheville. In nine of the 11 games a Big East team was playing an opponent seeded 11th or worse, yet lost three of those games. The only Big East win that didn't seem almost preordained was 11th-seeded Cincinnati beating No. 6 seed Xavier. Villanova was the only Big East team playing as a lower seed and the Wildcats lost, along with a fourth seed (Louisville) and two sixes (Georgetown and St. John's).
Oh, and six of the initial 11 games were played against teams from one-bid leagues. The mighty Big East was just 4-2 in those games. Throw in the Round of 32 games on Saturday and Sunday - minus the two Big East vs. Big East games - and the league was 4-3 against teams from one-bid leagues, an awful 6-5 against lower-seeded teams and 1-2 against higher-seeded teams.
Comparisons? The ACC stands at 7-1 and the only loss was by Clemson, while playing its second game in 36 hours, to West Virginia. The Mountain West, with BYU and San Diego State, is 4-1. The Colonial Athletic Association is 4-2 and has a team (Virginia Commonwealth) that became the first to ever win three games to get to a Sweet 16. And the Big Ten (7-5), SEC (4-3), Pac 10 (4-3) and the Atlantic 10 (3-2) all have won more games than they've lost. But not the Big East.
So, what's the good news here? Well, there is none. The fact that the Big East was given 11 spots in the tournament and needed two insular brackets in order to advance anyone into the Sweet 16 is going to be fuel for critics for years. That Connecticut beat Cincinnati and Marquette beat Syracuse to reach the next stage can be looked upon pretty much as a matter of advancement by default. It borders on putting eight league teams in the same bracket and then being proud that two advanced.
There is, however, a dose of reality that needs to be injected here, and that's where we rise to the defense of the Big East as still the biggest, baddest, toughest conference in the history of college basketball. It's all a matter of perspective and what one considers the litmus test for that characterization.