Big East Basketball: Conference Style of Play Hurting Schools in NCAA Tournament

By Michael Roberts
Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

The Big East conference’s unique style of play has come back to significantly hurt the league’s teams in the NCAA Tournament.

For years Big East basketball has been a grind-it-out style of play that many coaches within the conference have built their teams around in order to have success in league play. Unfortunately, early exits from five of the eight teams in the NCAA Tournament has proven that playing the grind-it-out, physical style might have benefits in league action, however, adjusting to different styles from team’s outside the conference could be problematic.

Look no further than the Georgetown Hoyas being upset by the Florida Gulf Coast Eagles. A week ago hardly anybody had ever heard of Florida Gulf Coast, now several people are aware of the fact the Eagles’ coach has an extremely attractive wife. The biggest reason why that fact is now common knowledge is due to Florida Gulf Coast’s ability to get out and run the basketball against the Hoyas.

Georgetown tried continuously to play a half-court, grind it out style like they were used to in the Big East, only the Eagles didn’t play along and ran the basketball down the Hoyas’ throats all game.

The North Carolina Tar Heels used a much more athletic style of play to knock off the Villanova Wildcats. Once the Pittsburgh Panthers fell behind against the Wichita State Shockers, they couldn’t score quick enough with their defensive first style to ever threaten cutting into the lead. The Iowa State Cyclones completely blew past the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Even when the Cincinnati Bearcats played a grind-it-out style against the Creighton Blue Jays, they couldn’t come up on top.

The fact of the matter is the Big East style of basketball has clearly proven to hurt the schools this year compared to previous seasons. Some will argue the conference still has three teams in the tournament, and it is a fair statement to make. However, the Syracuse Orange and Louisville Cardinals are two of the most athletic teams in the nation, while the Marquette Golden Eagles have barely hung-on by the skin of their teeth twice so far.

The lack of success by Big East schools only continues to prove the ‘lack of parity’ argument that is often being used to describe college basketball this year. Smaller schools are no longer afraid of big conference brand names and are often easily motivated to prove it. Georgetown looked like they thought showing up as a second feed facing a 15 seed was good enough to win the game, before ever actually playing the game. The old saying suggests the bigger brand name school was expected to show up and push around the smaller school players, walking away with a blowout victory.

Florida Gulf Coast refused to be pushed around and simply ran around, out-hustling the Hoyas to victory. It also happened in four other games where Big East schools fell short, as the gap in athleticism has closed significantly.

The struggles by Big East teams, in the final great year of the conference, has proven it doesn’t matter the school or how big the players are, it’s the heart of the player that matters most. It’s not the size, it’s not the physicality, or the playing style, it’s about which team wants it more.

For the most part, Big East schools have proven trying to out-bully the opponent isn’t going to work anymore.


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