Lack of Big East Competition Hurts Villanova in the NCAA Tournament

Hello, college basketball/Villanova fans!

While Villanova won the national championship last year, the upset loss to Wisconsin was disappointing and unfortunately a familiar experience (although for sure this loss wasn't as painful as 2014 and 2015 since we still have last year's national championship fresh in our minds).

Villanova has lost in their second NCAA game three of the last four years despite being seeded #1 twice and #2 twice. Take away their championship last year and you would say Villanova did not live up to seed expectations for the most part. #1 seeds rarely lose in the "second round" but Villanova lost twice in three years as a #1 seed.

So the question is what is happening here? You can say Villanova seems to choke in the tournament but last year's national championship throws that in the water. And while it is rare, #1's losing in the 2nd round (no #1 seed ever lost in the 1st round) has happened a few times lately other than Villanova. Gonzaga in 2013 and Wichita State in 2014 also lost in the 2nd round. What does Villanova have in common with Gonzaga and Wichita State? They dominate their conferences but the conferences are relatively weak. I'd argue the Big 12 is relatively weak as well (Kansas won or shared 13 consecutive regular season titles).

It's obvious the Big East Conference is not what it was. Since 2010 the current members of the Big East have won 42 NCAA Tournament games since 2010, putting them ahead of the Pathetic 12 but behind the Big 12 and SEC and well behind the ACC and Big Ten. But there's no more Connecticut or Syracuse (or Louisville, Notre Dame, or Pittsburgh), Villanova has won the Big East regular season title four years in a row. Before that in over 30 years they won four regular season Big East totals total. The Wildcats won two of the last three Big East Tournament titles? Before 2015, they won just one.

Villanova has dominated the Big East recently so that gives them a great record and a high seed in the NCAA Tournament. But it's hard to really know how good you are if the competition isn't as strong.In 2015 Villanova lost to NC State, an "average" ACC team. This year they lost to Wisconsin. Although Wisconsin was to many people seeded lower than they should be (I had them as a #6 seed), like NC State they come from the Big Ten. Neither team dominated the league like Villanova did. But NC State plays Duke (who won the national championship that year), North Carolina, Louisville, and Syracuse while Wisconsin plays Big Ten competition (a down year for the Big Ten but they still got three teams in the Sweet 16). I'm not saying either NC State in '15 or Wisconsin this year were better than Villanova. But they are used to playing the top opponents while Villanova is used to playing Providence and Marquette.

On the other hand, in a five year span (2005 to 2009) in a way stronger Big East Villanova made the Sweet 16 or better four out of five years, the Elite 8 twice and the 2009 Final Four. In 2008 Villanova made the Sweet 16 as a #12 seed while in 2009 Villanova was a #3 seed. Based on tournament performance, the 2005, 2008, and 2009 teams advanced further than the 2014, 2015, and 2017 teams even though the more recent teams were seeded higher (in 2006, Villanova was a #1 seed). So in most cases the more tested Big East teams outperformed the more recent ones who played in a lesser Big East even though their record and seeding was better. I don't think that's a coincidence. Remember that the #1 seeded Gonzaga and #1 seeded Wichita State have similar profiles (in even weaker conferences). The 2014 Shockers finished the regular season undefeated. It didn't really help either team (although Wichita State was screwed over by having to play an under seeded Kentucky like we were with an under seeded Wisconsin this year).

So the "new" Big East makes us look better going into the tournament than in the past but for the most part our performance wasn't as good (last year excluded). Our conference is in general not preparing us well for the NCAA Tournament. Sure we can play (and probably have played) strong non conference schedules to test us. But playing top teams in December isn't the same as playing in January or February. In reality if Villanova wants to win in the NCAA Tournament on a consistent level then Villanova needs stronger conference competition.

The dream scenario would be for Villanova to play in a stronger conference. In terms of basketball, the ACC is the cream of the crop and fits the best geographically (no way the Big 12 makes any sense for 'Nova). The fact that we have football may not necessarily be a deal breaker. Notre Dame doesn't play football in the ACC either. If Villanova joined the ACC in all sports but football, the ACC would have 16 teams in basketball and 14 in football and an even number of teams is more ideal than an odd number of teams, especially in football. The ACC would also gain a huge market in Philly which they don't have a presence in now (and we're closer to New York than any other current ACC member). Plus with Villanova's recent jump to the US News & World Report it improves the ACC's already strong academic presence.

I had proposed last year a big 20 team ACC superconference. with Villanova (along with Georgetown and Connecticut) joining along with a few other teams (and a few others leaving). Not only would Villanova play Georgetown, UConn, and Syracuse but Duke and North Carolina (and Kentucky and Florida from the SEC). I could guarantee Villanova wouldn't go 16-2 in the super ACC but maybe Villanova becomes the #8 seed that makes the Sweet 16 instead of the #1 seed that doesn't.

The more realistic scenario would be trying to improve the Big East. There were a few FanPosts suggesting bringing in UConn which I would absolutely love. Football is an issue. Unless the AAC allows UConn to stay in the conference for football only (highly doubtful) then the Huskies would have limited conference options for just football (alternatives are be an independent for football which is near impossible today or drop down to FCS and that's not happening). I'd like to bring in Temple for the rivalry although I'm guessing most Villanova fans would be against it (hey, why should we be afraid of competing with Temple in the city/conference now?)

I'm not a fan of Creighton in the Big East because they are halfway across the country from Villanova and other Big East teams. But if we're out there why not just pick up Wichita State? Maybe the Big East could do travel partners like the Pac 12 does to minimize travel. They'd be the only public school in the conference but I don't think that's a big deal. Another more realistic option would be Dayton and they are a Catholic school like most Big East schools. I'm guessing Xavier wouldn't want Dayton in the conference any more than we want Xavier but close conference rivals in my opinion are good for the conference in general. Imagine if the ACC didn't have both North Carolina and Duke. Does having Seton Hall and St. John's who are right across the river hurt the Big East?

So a "better" 12 team Big East with travel partners: Villanova/Georgetown, Seton Hall/St. John's, Xavier/Dayton, DePaul/Marquette, Creighton/Wichita State (old Missouri Valley Conference rivals), Providence/Butler (have to be together). Now more teams in conference will mean Villanova won't play every conference team twice. But Villanova needs stronger competition and I don't see the Big East kicking teams out.

But I think the lack of competition in the Big East is not preparing us for the NCAA Tournament and that has hurt us in general when we get there. I think Villanova needs to find a way to improve the level of competition, whether in the Big East or a different conference.

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