The Villanova/Creighton game yesterday was a demonstration of trade-offs. In their first matchup, Jay Wright elected to play what has become normal Villanova defense during his tenure. In a gross oversimplification, this involves taking away the paint and hoping his opponent missed three-point shots. Creighton made 21-of-35 attempts and scored a whopping 1.45 points per possession in that contest.
In yesterday’s game, the Wildcats tried to take away the three, limiting Creighton to 15 attempts. With all the space inside the arc, Creighton made a high percentage of its twos (25-of-38) and got to the free-throw line 26 times compared to 14 in the first meeting. The end result was a wash. The Bluejays scored 1.47 points per possession in Omaha.
No need to rehash the details any more than that, but the trade-offs angle also applies to the Big East, who dropped eight teams and added three for this season. The conference seems to get treated as a second-class citizen in terms of prestige this season. The perception of the Big East is that there’s some sort of a difference between the “old” version and the current version.
In a previous world, “BCS conference” became synonymous with “power conference”, but now, that’s just sloppy. Despite the lack of football-playing schools, there’s really not much difference at all between the old and new Big East, at least if you evaluate the conference from top to bottom. Here’s a look at the old vs. new using this season’s ratings.
Old configuration Current configuration Rk AdjO AdjD Rk AdjO AdjD 9 Villanova 119.3 95.5 9 Villanova 119.3 95.5 34 St. John's 110.3 95.6 34 St. John's 110.3 95.6 50 Marquette 109.1 96.7 50 Marquette 109.1 96.7 56 Providence 110.4 98.9 56 Providence 110.4 98.9 61 Georgetown 109.9 99.0 61 Georgetown 109.9 99.0 93 Seton Hall 107.7 100.9 93 Seton Hall 107.7 100.9 162 DePaul 106.0 105.8 162 DePaul 106.0 105.8 5 Syracuse 118.4 93.5 4 Creighton 125.8 99.1 6 Louisville 116.5 92.3 40 Xavier 114.0 99.6 14 Pitt 114.3 93.9 109 Butler 104.5 99.6 20 UConn 113.8 95.8 25 Cincinnati 107.8 91.5 86 Notre Dame 111.7 104.0 181 Rutgers 106.1 107.6 194 S. Florida 101.9 104.5 AVERAGE 110.9 98.4 .7985 111.7 99.1 .7990
While the conference certainly misses the presence of Louisville and Syracuse, among others, Rutgers and South Florida are both significantly worse than they were last season and their exit from the league helps its overall strength. Notre Dame’s departure actually provides a bit of a boost this season, as well.
This isn’t the only way to evaluate conference strength, but it does shed some light on the relative merits of the new and old configurations. One might not care whether Rutgers and USF are merely below average or awful in the grand scheme of things. This is the conundrum of comparing the Big Ten to the Big 12. How much do you care about TCU being one of the worst teams in a power conference?
The other complicating factor in this comparison is the size of the conference. The old version of the Big East would have five more teams and thus five more chances to produce a high-level squad. It would have had 9-11 teams in the NCAA tournament compared to the 4-6 from the current configuration.
The current Big East is extremely unlikely to send two teams to the Elite Eight, and may not even get multiple teams to the Sweet Sixteen. But in terms of overall strength from top to bottom, there’s hardly a difference between the new version and old version. If the Creighton/Villanova game didn’t generate the same interest as Louisville/UConn, that’s a mistake, because based on the collective skill on the floor, it deserved as much attention if not more.