December 27, 2013 - On the verge of conference play which starts next week for all BIG EAST teams, the league has just a solitary Top 25 team, with Villanova being slotted 8th and 11th in the AP and USA Today polls, respectively. Some have taken to labeling the BIG EAST an early disappointment, pondered that NCAA Tournament bids may be hard to garner by league schools, as will individual player recognition.
To a man, the league's coaches don't share those sentiments.
"I think everything will be fine" said Head Hoya John Thompson III, today during the conference coaches' media call, refuting any position that the BIG EAST his underperforming. "I think you should wait until the season is over and look at the complete body of work".
Brandon Miller, head coach at conference newcomer Butler agreed and used numbers to back up his argument, saying "Statistically I believe we we're they third ranked league in the country". He went on, noting "we have four teams that have two losses or less...six or seven teams that have three losses or less", all conspiring to undermine any down talk the league may be suffering regarding not measuring up.
For the record, the BIG EAST has six teams in the top 70 RPI, seven amongst the same sample in Kenpom rankings. The conference consists of 10 schools.
If there is popular - possibly uninformed - sentiment the BIG EAST has failed an early test, and given the fact perception can become reality, could the league be shunned by the NCAA Tournament selection committee, and is an education campaign necessary to combat that school of thought?
"All of the above" said Thompson. He believes "every team has to continue to sell its self in this day and age", regardless of conference restructuring, an effort that includes not only education efforts, but wins, all of which will help situate it for Big Dance selection.
DePaul's Oliver Purnell was more old school, commenting "No, I don't think the BIG EAST has to do a sales job", as "you go right down the line...people know about these teams and know they're good". In his estimation "Come tournament time, people are not going to want to play these teams".
A cousin of undervaluing a conference's stature on the national level is doing the same for its players, on an individual basis. Creighton's Doug McDermott was the preseason league player of the year, but his name has been drowned out in the national POY chatter.
Marquette's Buzz Williams, adamant McDermott is "unquestionably the (BIG EAST) player of the year" so far, values what the senior wing player brings to the table, besides his offensive repertoire producing 24.8 points, 7.5 rebounds per game.
"I think it's hard as a coach, when you are inundated with all the media about the freshman" nationally, such as Kansas' Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker of Duke and Kentucky's Andrew Harrison, Aaron Harrison and Julius Randle, to focus on guys such as McDermott, said Williams. "I think sometimes lost in the shuffle is the upper class guys". He also believes the "experience of playing in the NCAA Tournament" and having played entire years and conference slates - thus dealing with challenges, adjustments and the like - benefits one individually and from a team focus.
For Williams' money McDermott, whose father and head coach at Creighton, Greg McDermott said of his son "He's seen every defense known to man in the first 11 games" is certainly worthy of national POY consideration.
"We beat Iowa in the Battle for Atlantis championship" said Villanova's Jay Wright, summing up what he sees as the BIG EAST's competitiveness. "Xavier had Iowa down...the closest game Syracuse had was St. John's...Everybody in the league can beat Top 10 teams. Most people in this league are top 25 teams".
Wright also shared "I think the BIG EAST is just a unique entity...that people are going to have to see for a couple of years to get to get used to". Thompson sees no needed adjustment period, saying "At the end of the day, this is and will be one of the best basketball conferences in the country".
With all 10 teams beginning league play December 31st, and the five games being televised live by FoxSports1, conference supporters, detractors and the national at-large will see the start of BIG EAST 2.0.
For more from Thompson, including his take on Georgetown's ugly 86-64 loss at Kansas this past Saturday, see our Premium Court message board. Monthly subscribers can still take advantage of an upgrade offer, one providing 18 months of service for the price of an annual subscriptions by calling 1-866-2-Rivals and inform the agent an upgrading to the '18-Month-Member' offer is occurring.
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