Is the Big East a "power conference?"

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

The college basketball world has been conditioned to think about the Big East Conference as one of the six "Power Conferences" in men's basketball, and usually among the best in the land. In the new-look Big East this season, however, is that still true?

Villanova has risen to the top-10 of the Associated Press Top-25 poll, but the rest of the Big East schools have had their struggles early this season, with Creighton and Marquette both appearing in the lower-half of the poll early this season, and falling out of the rankings the last two weeks. Georgetown has lost to a top-20 ranked Oregon team and to unranked Northeastern already this season, but rebounded by taking down then-ranked VCU.

While Villanova has risen tremendously in the rankings, shooting up from "receiving votes" to number-14 after a huge performance in the Bahamas and now into the top-10 this week, they have been the only Big East school in the polls for the last two weeks. The American Athletic Conference (the former Big East) has three teams in the latest poll (Louisville, Connecticut and Memphis) with two in the top-10.

One school in the AP Poll is the same result as the Missouri Valley (Wichita State), the West Coast Conference (Gonzaga), Atlantic-10 (Massachussets), and Mountain West (SDSU); none of which have been traditionally considered power conferences in college basketball.

There are thirty-three NCAA Division-I conferences that sponsor men's basketball this season, and eleven of those conferences have at least one team in the latest AP Poll. Six of those conferences have more than one entrant in the ranking, and if you swap the name "Big East" for "The American," it is the same six conferences that we used to talk about at the top of the NCAA basketball world.

Rankings aren't everything, however, just because a conference has more schools that have impressed the media voters of the Associated Press, it doesn't necessarily make for a stronger conference generally.

RealTimeRPI.com has the Big East ranked fourth among all Division-I conferences in their estimation of the NCAA's all-important RPI rankings — placing the Big 12 on top, with the Big Ten and Pac-12 in second and third, respectively. KenPom.com's formula agrees with that assessment of the Big East, but posits that the Big Ten is the best in the land, with the ACC and Big 12 rounding out the top-3.

Jeff Sagarin might be the most-bullish about the new Big East's prospects, however, rating it second fourth overall— behind only the Big Ten.

(Editor's Note: We accidentally used old data on the Sagarin ratings, and Jeff Sagarin himself was kind enough to point it out to us.)

Joe Lunardi projected six of the ten conference members to make it to the NCAA tournament on November 7th. That would be almost as good as the record of 11 teams (68.8%) that the old Big East got into the postseason tournament back in 2011. Part of the old Big East's ability to maintain it's Power Conference reputation was based on its absurd wealth of NCAA tournament bids granted every March. Bracketology hasn't gone into full blast for the 2013-14 season, but thus far, Lunardi's preseason assessment is looking optimistic.

If the premise of this article is to ask whether the Big East is a power conference in men's basketball, then the answer has to be a blaring "maybe."

All of these factors play into the assessment, and while the number of top-25 members can't be the biggest factor it would be strange for one of the top leagues to feature just one ranked team when other top leagues can all place two or more. The computer rankings average the results of all teams, but one or two outliers (especially early in the season) — a small sample size — could artificially raise or lower a league's standing.

In other words, it is too early to tell.

The Big East will have to play out the rest of the season, and if that stunning league RPI average is still in place come New Years, there should be plenty of opportunities for league teams to earn NCAA tournament bona fides before March. There are also a few marquee non-conference games left on the slate too; Georgetown has a date with #13 Kansas before Christmas, Providence will travel to #22 UMass on the 28th; St. John's will host #2 Syracuse this weekend, while Villanova will travel to the Orange before starting league play.

So far, however, only the Wildcats and Hoyas have come out on-top against a ranked opponent this season

Next season things will get murkier too, with Louisville leaving the AAC ("the American") for the ACC, bringing the top of that conference and the top of the Big East closer together, but the Big East generally has to win the big games across the board. Georgetown and Marquette have done it often in the past, and should do it again in the future, but will the adjustment be more difficult for Creighton, Xavier and the now-Brad Stevens-less Butler?

Those are the questions that will be answered over the next few seasons; only at the end of which, will we have a better idea of where the new Big East sits among those thirty-three Division-I conferences.

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