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Is the Big East Still the Best in Basketball?

Christopher Hanewinckel-US Presswire

Even with the losses of West Virginia, Syracuse, Pittsburgh, and now Notre Dame, Big East commissioner Mike Aresco still believes that his conference is the best in college basketball. Widely regarded by everyone as the top conference in the nation, the Big East has certainly been a basketball powerhouse. However, with these losses, many think that Aresco’s comments are foolish.

But he may be right.

Yes, losing the Orange is a huge blow. West Virginia, Pittsburgh, and Notre Dame were all top Big East schools as well, so their departures were by no means easy. But there are still a handful of very good schools left and a few new ones coming in with a lot of tradition.

Louisville, Marquette, and Georgetown are three Big East schools that are not only very good right now, but always have been. Rick Pitino, Buzz Williams, and John Thompson III have built a winning culture at their colleges, something that will not go away.

Villanova and Connecticut are two schools that, despite their current funk, have been a constant for winning in the Big East. We’ve grown so accustomed to punching the tickets of the Wildcats and Huskies to the big dance that it’s strange to see it without them. But they will be back.

Cincinnati, South Florida, and St. John’s are the up-and-comers. The Bearcats have been very strong the past two years. The Bulls’ defense is making a name for itself. And head coach Steve Lavin is touting a super-sophomore squad for the Johnnies. These teams haven’t always been synonymous to winning, but they are now true contenders in the Big East, and look to be there for a long time.

The bottom of the conference in recent memory has been home to Seton Hall, Rutgers, Providence, and DePaul. Even the basement doesn’t look so bad, because these teams have a promising future. Kevin Willard and Mike Rice have put the Pirates and Scarlett Knights on the right path. The Friars are bringing in a freshman class budding with talent. The Blue Demons finally have a superstar player in Cleveland Melvin Jr.

And, of course, there are the new guys: UCF, Memphis, Houston, SMU, and Temple. Houston and SMU have a long ways to go. UCF has been decent. But the true gems are Memphis and Temple. These two teams have played in big conferences (Conference-USA and Atlantic-10), although not as big as the Big East, and have produced winning teams, conferences titles, and consecutive NCAA performances. The Tigers even made it to the national championship in 2008. Both of these squads will bring a nice kick to the Big East.

When you look at the other conferences, it’s not exactly overwhelming. The Pac-12 has improved off of last year, although last year was horrible for them. The SEC and Big 12 are more top-heavy. The ACC and Big Ten would really be the only ones you could compare to the Big East.

It remains to be seen how the conference will fare next year with it’s new set-up. But you never know, Aresco could be right.

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