Tag Archives: Big East

It’s not a Homer Pick if my Team can Win it All

As much as I love the Louisville Cardinals basketball team, I always muse that it’s much easier to remain objective picking my March Madness bracket if the Cards don’t make the field.  Now, that’s typically a rare occurrence, and fortunately, over the last decade or so, UofL has been in the discussion as a national title contender, so picking them to win isn’t an outlandish proposition.  This past Monday, I rapidly completed my bracket, and immediately tweeted my prediction that Louisville will win it all.  Within minutes of making announcing my choice, I had several friends drop the “Homer” label on me.  So, I ask the question, is it really a homer pick if the team you root for is a legitimate contender?  I say no.  Ponder that as you read through my predictions for the entire bracket.

East Region

The defending Champion Villanova Wildcats reside here, and it’s their region for the taking.  Jay Wright’s team is battle-tested, and looks more than capable of a repeat.  Let’s not be too hasty, as there are a number of hazards on the road to Phoenix.

Dangerous on Day 1:

Watch out for the UNC-Wilmington Seahawks.  Kevin Keatts is from the Rick Pitino coaching tree, and he has put together a dangerous squad.  In last year’s tournament, the Seahawks pushed Duke to the limit in the Round of 64 before losing a hard-fought game by just eight points.   The Seahawks will push the pace and play pressure defense, which will be in direct contrast to Virginia, as they get another ACC foe this year.  If UNCW can dictate tempo, it could spell early round trouble for the Cavaliers.  While Tony Bennett’s team is always one of the toughest defensively, their style keeps opponents within striking distance, which could play right into Wilmington’s hands.

Early Exit:

Baylor ripped off 15 straight wins to open the season, and looked like an elite team.  While the Bears aren’t completely abysmal, an early disappearing act may be on its way.  Baylor is 5-5 over its final 10 games; and is scuffling enough that a loss to New Mexico State in the opening round, or a run-in with a powerful and hungry SMU team in the Round of 32 should be the demise of Scott Drew’s club.

Pivotal Match-Up:

The most critical match-up to affect this region will be Virginia vs. Villanova, part two.  Part one on January 29 was an absolute classic, as the Cavaliers led most of the way, on the road no less.  The Wildcats scratched and clawed their way back into the game late, and won 61-59 on Donte DiVincenzo tip in as time expired.  I suspect round two will be just as grinding as the first meeting, only with a trip to the Elite Eight on the line.  I have Nova surviving it, but no matter which team comes out of it, they’ll be in prime form to make it out of the East Region.

Dark Horse:

Fittingly, the SMU Mustangs are the dark horse in the East.  A bit under the radar, and under -appreciated coming out of the AAC, Tim Jankovich’s team has something to prove.  The Mustangs have an awful lot of length, and a ton of experience, led by the powerful Semi Ojeleye.   The Ponies haven’t lost since January 22 at Cincinnati 66-64, and the Bearcats finished just a game behind SMU in the standings.  Facing a favorable #3 Seed in Baylor, and then a Duke team which is heavily reliant on young players, there’s a strong chance the Mustangs can aptly fulfill the dark horse role.

Who Wins the East?

I’ve gotta stick with the Villanova Wildcats.  Whether the Cats have it in them to repeat once they arrive at the Final Four, I can’t say, or at least won’t say just yet; but this team has enough talented pieces to chase a mini dynasty.  With a rock-solid backcourt of Jaylen Brunson and senior leader Josh Hart, along with last year’s hero, senior Kris Jenkins, it would be a good bet to book a reservation for Nova in Phoenix.

West Region

The OCD in me loves that we actually got two western teams as the top seeds with #1 Gonzaga and #2 Arizona.  It feels like there’s a real opportunity for the west coast to get some representation in the Final Four; and in the case of Zona, have a distinct home court advantage.

Dangerous on Day 1:

The West has many double-digit seeds that I think can stop some hearts in the Round of 64.  Xavier is one, although they’re not an under-the-radar candidate.  The same goes for VCU.  However, the 12, 13, 14 seeds, Princeton, Bucknell, and Florida Gulf-Coast may also pose some problems.  My personal pick is Bucknell.  The Bison have the mid-major formula of solid veteran guards, along with sufficient frontcourt size, which leads to upsets.  Guys like Zach Thomas, Nana Foulland, and Stephen Brown may inject themselves into the American consciousness with a win of West Virginia, and potential battle with Notre Dame.  The West may be blown up by day two.

Early Exit:

West Virginia is my odds-on favorite to get bounced.  Naturally, as I picked Bucknell, as my double-digit danger choice; and the Bison face the Mountaineers.  Not that there’s anything particularly wrong with West Virginia.  Bob Huggins’ team got plucked in the Round of 64 last year, and feel like a good candidate to get bounced, in what could be a topsy-turvy region.  If I had to pick another top seed that may be at peril, it would be Florida State.   Leonard Hamilton has put together a talented group led by sophomore 6-7 guard Dwayne Bacon.  However, these Seminoles haven’t experienced the tournament yet.  If the Noles get past Florida Gulf Coast, the Round of 32 could be the end of the road.

Pivotal Match-Up:

A Sweet 16 tilt between Gonzaga and Notre Dame is my key match-up for this region.  Mark Few has had the Bulldogs on the precipice of the Final Four in the past, only to have his talented, expectation-laden teams fall short.  This rendition of Gonzaga has a go-to star in Nigel Williams-Goss, and plenty of heft manning the middle with Przemek Karnowski.  Many feel like this is the year for the Zags to finally break through.  Not so fast.  The Golden Domers are essentially the same team that has been to the Elite Eight the past two seasons.  Mike Brey’s team is led by the versatile Bonzie Colson, and has plenty of exterior firepower as well with Steve Vasturia and V.J. Beachem.  I think the Irish make a third consecutive trip to the Elite Eight, and leave Gonzaga fans longing for that elusive Final Four run.

Dark Horse:

The aforementioned Notre Dame Fighting Irish team is my dark horse.  Yes, the Irish are a #5 seed, but certainly are not considered favorites to escape the region.  The experience on hand, along with the tournament success this team has gained over the previous two seasons, makes Brey’s team extremely dangerous.  Assuming Notre Dame gets past Gonzaga, there’s no reason that Arizona, or whichever opponent finds their way to the Elite Eight, can’t be eliminated by the Fighting Irish.

Who Wins the West?

I’ve barely mentioned the Arizona Wildcats up until now, but Sean Miller’s squad is my choice to win the West.  The Wildcats are at the top of their game heading into the NCAA Tournament, having won nine of their last 10 games, including capturing the Pac-12 tournament title.  6-5 sophomore Alonzo Trier is a do-everything type of player and 7-0 super frosh Lauri Markkanen is rapidly becoming one of the best players in the country.  Miller just missed the Final Four in 2015.  This year he’ll get Zona to Phoenix for a shot at the National Championship.

Midwest Region

The Midwest Region seems to have laid out fairly well for my Louisville Cardinals.  Without a doubt Kansas can’t be taken lightly as the #1 seed.  However, #3 seed Oregon just lost a key player.  #4 Purdue is good, but definitely not elite, and the Cardinals have already beaten the Boilermakers.  And #5 seed Iowa State has been a huge disappointment the last few years come March.  Of course, I say this, and the entire region could blow-up in my face.

Dangerous on Day 1:

When I look at the Midwest, I think chalk.  It just feels like a section of the bracket that will end up staying to form, as few of the double-digit seeds feel like a huge upset threat.  If I had to guess which teams have a shot, I’d point out Nevada and Vermont.  The Wolfpack won the Mountain West regular season, and tournament titles, and closed the season winning eight in a row.  The Catamounts haven’t lost a game since December 21, closing out the regular season with 21 wins in a row.  Both teams face opponents – Iowa State and Purdue – which have displayed the propensity to get clipped early in the tournament.  Beware.

Early Exit:

I referenced in my Midwest Region Preview yesterday, that Oregon’s biggest challenge heading into the NCAA Tournament is the loss of Chris Boucher to injury.  Most teams that suffer loss of key personnel typically either rally around it, or sulk and lose focus.  My bet is on the latter.  Top player Dillon Brooks can be a star, but he also has his own meltdowns and antics which distract from the team.  Round of 64 opponent Iona played NCAA tourney participants Florida State and Nevada early in the year; and knocked off Nevada in the second match-up.  The Ducks will likely get past the Gaels, but my prediction is that Oregon will run into red-hot Rhode Island, and get shot down quickly.

Pivotal Match-Up:

It may seem a bit early to be considered a pivotal match-up, but the potential Kansas/Michigan State game will play a major factor in this region.  The Spartans have been down this season.  So down, that for a while it felt like Tom Izzo’s team wouldn’t make the Big Dance.  Well, here come the Spartans, landing at a #9 seed, just in time to bug the hell out of top seeded Kansas.  Honestly, there’s no reason the Jayhawks shouldn’t knock off MSU.  However, the one major weakness for Kansas is in the frontcourt where Bill Self’s team is a bit thin.  That just happens to be a strength of the Spartans.  If Kansas escapes, it will likely propel the Jayhawks to great fortune.  If not, the Midwest Region really opens up.

Dark Horse:

#11 seed Rhode Island is the sleeper in this region.  The Rams closed strong, winning eight of nine; and have a win over Cincinnati under their belts early in the year.  Undoubtedly, URI starts with a difficult contest against #6 Creighton, and would likely have to take on #3 Oregon in the Round of 32.  With the way the Rams are playing, solid inside-outside balance, and up-and-coming Dan Hurley at the helm, Rhode Island has the look of a Cinderella.  I envision the Rams riding that late-season success into an Elite Eight appearance.

Who Wins the Midwest?

I have the Louisville Cardinals coming out of the Midwest.  As I mentioned in my preview of the Midwest, the Cardinals have their flaws.  Most of those flaws however are self-inflicted.  This is a team that can play multiple defenses, get out in transition, and pick teams apart.  Focusing on applying the death blow is what Louisville needs to add to the repertoire to advance deep into the tournament.  Rick Pitino will adjust the rotations, and as usual, have some tricks he kept hidden all season, which will put UofL on the right path toward the Final Four.

South Region

There’s always one region which seems to have a lion’s share of top programs, and could almost be considered a “Group of Death”.  The South is it this year.  Arguably the top three college basketball programs of all time – KentuckyNorth Carolina, and UCLA – all reside in the South.  What makes this region really fun though, is that in addition to all that tradition, some of the most dangerous double-digit seeds also found their way here.

Dangerous on Day 1:

This one is easy; the most dangerous high seed is #12 Middle Tennessee State.  The Blue Raiders pulled off the biggest upset in NCAA Tournament history last year, knocking off #2 seed Michigan State.  Much of that squad is back for a second helping, and now they have 6-8 senior JaCorey Williams.  The Arkansas transfer leads MTSU in scoring at 17 points per game.  In the Round of 64, the Blue Raiders get Richard Pitino’s #5 Minnesota Golden Gophers.  The Gophers are back in the tournament field after having a miserable 2015-16 season, finishing 8-23.  Without a doubt, Pitino did a masterful job turning this team around, but the visit to the tournament may be short-lived.

Early Exit:

Once again John Calipari has an uber-talented group of freshmen, forecasted for greatness, which captured the SEC regular season and tournament titles.  Kentucky has won 10 games in a row, and may possibly be hitting their stride.  Like most of Calipari’s teams, in-game focus, and reliance on physical ability over substance, are the most glaring flaws.  On most nights, the Wildcats can overcome those.  Enter Wichita State as the foe in Round 2.  Greg Marshall’s team has reeled off 15 wins in a row, and has faced tournament teams, Louisville, Michigan State, and Oklahoma State this season.  The Shockers were also woefully under-seeded by the tournament committee.  That sounds familiar.  Like 2014 familiar when Wichita State was undefeated and a #1 seed, and had to face a Kentucky team that ended up with a peculiar #8 seed.  Turnabout is fair play.  Wichita gets revenge on Kentucky, and sends the Cats packing.

Pivotal Match-Up:

It has to be Kentucky vs. Wichita State.  If my forecast is correct, and the Shockers knock off the Wildcats, then things open up for UCLA.  Not that the Bruins can’t take down Kentucky, they’ve done so the last two years in row.  This year, Steve Alford’s team traveled to Rupp Arena and did it.  Despite my prediction, it will take everything Wichita has to defeat the Wildcats.  Many times, that type of effort leads to a let-down the following game.  If Kentucky gets through the Shockers, then Calipari’s team has vengeance on the mind, and a more talented opponent for the Bruins to have in their way.

Dark Horse:

The Cincinnati Bearcats haven’t been able to recapture the success experienced under Bob Huggins in the 1990’s.  Now relegated to the AAC after the Big East restructure several seasons ago, UC doesn’t garner a lot of respect.  Mick Cronin’s team could punch some teams square in the face and take back respect.  Cincy plays a physical brand of basketball, particularly on the defensive end.  That has been Cronin’s hallmark.  Senior point guard Troy Caupain runs this team with aplomb.  Juniors Gary Clark and North Carolina State transfer Kyle Washington provide a strong frontcourt, to go with the scoring punch of 6-6 sophomore Jacob Evans.  Assuming the Bearcats get by Kansas State in the opener, UC could present a tough match-up for UCLA in the Round of 32.

Who Wins the South?

Although I’m never sold on Steve Alford coached teams, I’ve got the UCLA Bruins getting out of the South, and giving the Final Four its second west coast rep.  There’s an awful lot of talent on board for the Bruins, particularly super freshman Lonzo Ball and T.J. Leaf.  Ball does just about everything, and Leaf leads the UCLA in scoring.       Blend that with veteran contributions from senior Isaac Hamilton and junior Thomas Welsh, and the Bruins have the arsenal available to make a run at the NCAA title.


The first semifinal pits a couple of Wildcats against each other.  Defending champion Villanova against traditional power Arizona.  Nova has all the moxie, veteran experience, and the championship in their hands until someone rips it away.  Josh Hart is one of the toughest players around, and always seems to make the necessary play to win.  I think the biggest difference will be up front.  Lauri Markkanen is getting better by leaps and bounds every game.  The size issue that Zona presents will be the difference as Arizona gets back to the NCAA title game for the first time since 2001.

On the other side of the bracket, Louisville and UCLA square off.  It’s been some time since the Cardinals and Bruins have played, so it’ll be nice to see these traditional powers, and rivals of the 70s and 80s get back together.  The Bruins can put up some serious points, and have an edge in overall depth of talent, but that gap isn’t as large as you’d think.  Getting out in transition is just what Donovan Mitchell and Deng Adel want to do for the Cardinals, and if UofL doesn’t have to settle for jump shots, it’s for the best, as that runs hot and cold for the Cards.  The biggest difference here is coaching and experience.  Rick Pitino is a far superior strategist than Steve Alford.  The Cardinals also have several holdovers from the 2015 Elite Eight run, including Quentin Snider and Mangok Mathiang.  After having to miss out on the Big Dance last year, the Cardinals are hungry for more, and get through to the Championship game.


Arizona Wildcats.  Louisville Cardinals.  This is a National Championship game that I crave.  Sean Miller’s star continues to rise, as he brings Arizona back to the prominence.  Rick Pitino continues his master craftsmanship of molding elite basketball teams.  Alonzo Trier and Donovan Mitchell will be the showstoppers.  Much of the talent position by position will be crossed out.  Louisville has the big men to throw different looks at Lauri Markkanen, and limit the freshman’s impact on the game.  The X-factor will be junior point guard Quentin Snider.  Q can very quietly step up in the biggest moments, and his control of the game, and perhaps a big shot or two, will decide this one.  Rick Pitino gets his third, and the Louisville Cardinals grab their fourth National Championship.

E-mail Damon at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @DamoKnowsSports.

There’s Nowhere To Go But Up For Rutgers Men’s Basketball

Rutgers basketball fans kept waiting to hit rock bottom.

In typical New Jersey fashion the university and it’s fans became impatient 10 years ago. Gary Waters had just led the Scarlet Knights to a 19-14 season, 7-9 in the Big East, when the Big East was still THE Big East. Kenpom had them as the 71st team in the nation– nothing to write home about, but respectable enough that there was light at the end of the tunnel.

Instead of keeping Gary Water on the banks Rutgers turned its program over to Fred Hill, a man who had built his reputation as a recruiter. Quincy Douby, the last Rutgers player to be drafted into the NBA was gone — Rutgers finished 207th.

2008 brought highly coveted local recruit Corey Chandler, it didn’t work out — the team finished 11-20 overall and 3-15 in the Big East. 2009 brought in another highly touted local recruit in Mike Rosario, along with a talented big body in Gregory Echenique.

The 2009 team had a ton of talent, but for as much talent as they had, they possessed even less discipline. Rutgers finished 11-20 overall and 2-16 in conference and 159th in the nation.

In 2010, Dane Miller and Jonathan Mitchell came on board. Mitchell, a junior who had sat out the previous season after transferring from Florida was a do it all forward/wing. Dane Miller fit the same role, a slasher who ran on pure athleticism at times. Rutgers finished 15-17 overall, 5-13 in the Big East.

That would be Fred Hill’s last season as Rutgers head coach. As he departed so did Mike Rosario (transferred to Florida) and Greg Echenique (transferred to Creighton).

After going in the recruiting direction with the Fred Hill hire Rutgers turned to a hard working X’s and O’s guy in Mike Rice for 2011. He took the remaining talent and mixed in two freshman — a New York City guard in Mike Poole (would end up redshirting) and big man Gilvydas Biruta.

The result was the Scarlet Knights best campaign since Gary Waters’ final season. Rutgers finished just 5-13 in the Big East but 15-17 overall, good for a final KenPom ranking of 78th.

There was hope on the banks, the 2011 team played hard and was fun to watch. Mike Rice got the most from a team led by seniors Jonathan Mitchell, Mike Coburn and James Beatty.

Adding to the fans optimism was a 2012 recruiting class that infused the program with talent. Guard Myles Mack, Eli Carter and Jerome Seagers were joined by wing Malick Kone and big man Kadeem Jack.

Mack and Carter were local Paterson products, Kadeem Jack was from Queens. The Scarlet Knights had not only brought in talent, they had landed local talent. The team finished 14-18 overall and 6-12 in the Big East. The final KenPom ranking of 120 was a step back, but it was to be expected with such a young team.

After the 2012 season sophomore Gilvydus Biruta decided to transfer to Rhode Island (where former Rutgers assistants were now employed). At the time there wasn’t much concern, in hindsight it was a sign of things to come.

For the 2013 season, Rutgers would add Wally Judge who was now eligible after transferring from Kansas State. It helped ease the blow of losing Biruta the previous offseason. The Scarlet Knights now had talent which had gained valuable experience the year prior.

Half way through the season things started to get ugly. They finished the season 5-13 in the Big East and 15-16 overall — one Big East Tournament win away from their first .500 season since Gary Waters roamed the sidelines.

Then everything imploded.

Rutgers needed to do damage control, they went with program legend Eddie Jordan.

Jordan returned home with a NBA pedigree as he had both played and coached in the league. Many viewed it as a way to move past unfortunate recent events, while reminding both fans and potential recruits of Rutgers illustrious past.

In 2014, Rutgers would be playing in the American Athletic Conference, a one-year stop mover before their new home in the Big Ten. While expectations were low following a flood of transfers after the firing of Mike Rice, the AAC set Rutgers up with a softer conference schedule than the Big East they once competed in.

The team would finish 12-21 overall, 5-13 in conference. At the time it was easy to overlook, the program had just been through a lot. Talent had been lost and pieces needed to be plugged in last minute.

In hindsight there was still plenty of talent left in the program. Myles Mack, Jerome Seagers and Kadeem Jack were now all juniors. Rutgers had committed a fatal flaw when they handed the program over to Eddie Jordan — he had no idea how to run it.

College isn’t the NBA, in the NBA players are often as talented as they think they are– in college that’s rarely the case.

More than anything college players need to be broken down, their game dissected and torn apart before being rebuilt into a superior finished product. While John Calipari at Kentucky often has NBA level talent, he’s great at doing this.

Now in the Big Ten, Rutgers would finish the 2015 season with an overall record of 10-22 and a conference record of 2-16. Overall KenPom would have them ranked as the 198th team in the nation.

A team with talented seniors in Myles Mack and Kadeem Jack was getting blown out in non-conference play by 27 to George Washington and 18 to Saint Peter’s.

In 2016, now with both Mack and Jack gone, the Scarlet Knights would bring in talented playmaking guard Corey Sanders. Sanders would be joined by Deshawn Freeman and Jonathan Laurent, Rutgers was once again young but somewhat talented.

Poor play and injuries defined the 2016 season.

Rutgers would go on a 17 game losing streak, double digit conference blowouts were more likely than wins. There was a 22-point loss to Wisconsin, followed by a 25-point loss to Maryland, followed by a 34-point loss to Nebraska, followed by a 26-point loss to Ohio State, followed by a 50-point loss to Purdue

…followed by a…you get the point.

Rutgers finished last season 7-25 overall and 1-17 in Big Ten play. Their lone Big Ten win coming in their final conference game — at home over Minnesota.

KenPom had the Scarlet Knights ranked as the 279th best team in the country come seasons end. Their offense ranked 303rd, their defense ranked 235th. Rutgers would be labeled by most national media reporters covering college basketball as “the worst Power 5 program in the country”.


Now Steve Pikiell takes over — the UConn product who was able to build his previous universities program from the ground up (Stony Brook).

Here’s to digging our way out of this hole together.

E-mail Zak at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @playorbplayd.

Photo Courtesy of sheilnaik, Flickr

For Villanova, A Champion’s Hangover

It’s happened in consecutive years now, the media overrates the defending national champion heading into the following men’s basketball season. We saw it with Duke after its 2014-15 championship– the Blue Devils were picked to win the ACC and return to the Final Four in 2015-16 by most major publications.

Now it’s happening with Villanova.

The Wildcats return talent, most notably Josh Hart and Big Shot Kris Jenkins. Jalen Brunson returns with a full year of play under his belt, expect him to take a leap.

There’s a lot to be excited about.

Talent, experience, a proven head coach who now has a national championship to solidify his place in the upper echelon of NCAA head coaches. How could the 2016-17 Villanova Wildcats possibly be overrated?

Ryan Arcidiacono is gone.

Arcidiacono led Villanova in assists, three point percentage, steals and minutes. The stats don’t begin to define his importance to the 2015-16 Wildcats. Not only was he their leader on the floor, he was their leader off it. A man Jay Wright could trust to get everyone in position both offensively and defensively.

Coming off of its 2014-15 national championship, Duke lost Quinn Cook. While his fellow departing teammates Jahlil Okafor, Tyus Jones and Justise Winslow would grab the headlines, Cook is who the Blue Devils turned to when they were out of sync during that season.

His departure left the Duke with a leadership void (and along with the departure of Tyus Jones) one true point guard on the roster in incoming Freshman Derryck Thornton. It didn’t work out for Duke and Thornton, and the Blue Devils would finish with seven conference losses and a Sweet 16 loss to Oregon.

It’s easy to point out Duke competed in a tougher ACC, and lost more talent coming off of their national championship than Villanova has coming off last year’s title. The Wildcats should be able to compete for a regular season Big East title, with safe money going on them finishing anywhere between first and third in the conference.

The issue is not with where they will finish in conference, it’s where people have them placed nationally. Many have the Wildcats as a top-five team nationally in their preseason polls, which is puzzling.

The same media members who refused to take Villanova and the Big East seriously throughout the 2015-16 are now stating the Wildcats have a good chance to repeat as national champions. A team which got hot, playing their best ball down the stretch, is expected to continue to play at such a high level without the man who enabled it all the come together.

I’m not buying it, and neither should you.

Josh Hart should be better, Kris Jenkins should be better, Jalen Brunson should be better– Villanova will not be better.

Arcidiacono, their leader, is gone. Daniel Ochefu, their main interior presence from last season is gone. Omari Spellman, who many media members touted would replace the play of Ochefu, is ineligible.

The Wildcats has returning talent, and one heck of a head coach, but believing they’re a top-five team heading into the 2016-17 season is an insult to what Ryan Arcidiacono brought to the 2015-16 Villanova Wildcats.

Email Zak at [email protected] or follow him @playorbplayd.

Image courtesy of justinknabb, Flickr

Rutgers is a Disgrace to the Big Ten

If I had to sum up my feelings about Week 6 in one word, I would say ashamed. I am ashamed to be a fan of the Big Ten and be associated with that ever-burning dumpster fire known as Rutgers especially after that 78-0 decimation by the hands of Michigan. The larger the deficit grew, the more I cringed and shook my head in disbelief.

I don’t care about Rutgers or have any allegiance to the Scarlet Knights but the reason it bothers me so much is that the laughing stock of college football is a direct affiliate of our conference. I can just hear SEC fans scoffing at the Big Ten and brag how they have premium matchups seemingly every weekend. They can brag and justifiably so that the worst team in the SEC, the Vanderbilt Commodores lost their three conference games by a combined score of 43-21 and had a legitimate chance to come away with victories in those contests, losing by one score in all three. Rutgers has been outscored 150-7 in conference games and it could have been even worse.

How did Rutgers football get this incredibly bad? Granted, Rutgers was never great but it wasn’t this terrible either. It was only two seasons ago they knocked off Michigan and they did return 11 starters.

I understand their quarterbacks Chris Laviano and Zach Allen can’t make a throw to save their lives (2 of 18 for 5 yards against Michigan), their chief playmaker Janarion Grant is injured and lost their top three linebackers but this is a monumental loss of epic proportions. This is supposed to be Division 1 football, not high school junior varsity.

Anyways, I never was fond of Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany’s decision to invite Rutgers to our conference because even though they had mild success in the 2000’s culminating with an 11-2 record in 2006, they were never a football powerhouse or even a perennial contender in the now defunct Big East. I understand he wanted to expand the conference’s presence on the East coast and increase the Big Ten’s revenue stream through more viewers and bigger broadcast deals. It makes sense but as a fan, I couldn’t care less about more money because it doesn’t directly affect me or compensate the athletes. That’s a different argument for another day.

I care deeply about the product we put on and want to be proud of how our conference is perceived but Rutgers is like an anchor that continually brings us down, on and off the field. It’s 4-15 in the Big Ten since it joined in 2014 and I haven’t even got to all the turmoil that took place in 2015 with the three-game suspension by then-head coach Kyle Flood and the arrests of several players.

It will take a long time for Chris Ash to turn this program around and even if he manages to somehow someway keep recruits from bolting, I see them being just another middle-of-the-road team like Indiana or Purdue at best that could possibly challenge the top dogs but never compete for a division especially in a loaded Big Ten East. However, even that would be a significant improvement and I would surely welcome that as opposed to being subjected to this garbage.

Yet, any sign of hope is a long way away and we are still stuck in the present where the Scarlet Knights are actually part of our conference. Like Groundhog Day, it’s a recurring nightmare that you can’t escape.

It’s times like these I wish satire didn’t exist and Delany really would kick Rutgers out forever but with all the money involved, the Big Ten doesn’t regret its decision to invite Rutgers and would never admit it.

The only thing I guess I can do is endure the ridicule as Rutgers continues to embarrass us and hope that the Big Ten gets the last laugh by making the College Football Playoff and winning the national title.

Until then, all I have to say is that Rutgers is a disgrace to our conference and you’ll need more than luck to turn the ship around.

E-mail Mike at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @MDeuces2051.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

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The Cartel and the Mid-Majors, Why Scheduling Matters

Imagine pulling for a team that can’t possibly win a championship, and not just because they aren’t good enough.  In College Football, it might literally be impossible to even qualify for a championship based on the company we keep.  Because of that, and that alone, it falls on the schedule-makers at Nobody U to make said program outside the Cartel relevant to the national conversation.

That’s not to say any of the participants from “non-qualifying” conferences ever really diluted the product, quite the opposite, in fact.

Boise State was the nation’s only unbeaten team from the 2006 season. The Broncos had to ‘settle’ for that historic Fiesta Bowl win over Oklahoma.   Meanwhile, one-loss Florida took down Ohio State in the bigger game on that same field in Arizona a week later.  After Boise State’s 43-42 overtime win over Oklahoma, their quarterback was asked if they deserved a title shot, and he said he thought so.  He wasn’t wrong, but he wasn’t quite all-the-way right either.

That perfect Boise State squad scheduled Division I-AA Sacramento State, a 10-win Oregon State team, Wyoming, and Utah in a down year, out of conference. None of their Western Athletic Conference rivals were ranked at the time of their game against the Broncos or the end of the season, so it was very difficult to argue their body of work against that of Ohio State’s or Florida’s for a spot in the two-team playoff.  Being undefeated basically became the standard for the Broncos, but even non-league wins over Oregon, Virginia Tech, and Georgia were not enough for National Championship consideration.  Playing other mid-majors in 8 or 9 contests per year, it impresses no one.

What are the contenders in the American, Conference-USA, MAC, Mountain West, and Sun Belt doing to chase down more than just small conference glory? What type of 2016 schedule might qualify these nobodies for the very exclusive tournament that College Football uses to crown its champion?

American Athletic Conference

The geography of this league lends itself to some really good non-conference games, as SMU gets backyard games with TCU and Baylor, but the team with a schedule worthy of national consideration is Houston.  Sure, they’re playing Lamar, and I will not support any playing of FCS opponents by teams that want to be the best of the FBS, but I’ll let it go for Oklahoma and Louisville.  The Sooners and Cardinals will both play Houston in Houston, which should be good enough if they survive the AAC.

Conference USA

Texas-San Antonio (UTSA) is going to attract the big boys to the Alamo Dome, but they will usually have to reciprocate with a road game. This year, they host Arizona State in September and take a trip to College Station, where Texas A&M will host them in November.  Don’t expect competitive games.  I might like Marshall’s gauntlet of ACC adversaries, if they weren’t coming immediately after an opening slate of Morgan State and Akron. Like Marshall, Western Kentucky will be taking on Louisville, but we’re focused on their Week 2 matchup. They’ll tussle with Nick Saban and the Alabama Crimson Tide, so should there be a running of the table, the Hilltoppers may get to dance.

Mid-American Conference

There might be a case to be made for Northern Illinois, but Bowling Green accompanies their visit to Columbus to play Ohio State with solid mid-major matchups against Middle Tennessee State and Memphis. They’ll see both NIU and Toledo in conference play, games they need to win for anyone to take them seriously, especially if Ohio State doesn’t boat-race them in the opener.

Mountain West

Boise State will make headlines in some markets with their Pac-12 opponents, at home against Washington State and in Corvallis versus the Oregon State Beavers, but BYU may give them their biggest challenge. However, it is the much traveled Hawaii Rainbow Warriors that play Cal, Michigan, and Arizona.  Those are all long-ish to long road trips against 2016 teams that are much better than their 2015 counterparts.

Sun Belt

If I skipped this section or listed FCS schools in this paragraph, would you even notice?

On a serious note, Troy plays Clemson, which is cool, but it’s off-set it is by playing the dregs of the FBS in Idaho. Austin Peay and Southern Miss don’t move the needle for me either, looking at the Trojans schedule. However, our eye is on Appalachian State.  The team best known for upsetting Michigan in 2007 is going FCS-free in ‘16, visiting the best Tennessee Volunteers team anyone has seen in years, and they convinced The U to come to Boone, North Carolina. The Mountaineers have already won, if you ask me.

At the end of the day, if we’re talking about those four lines and those two semi-final games, to open our game’s championship up to the anyone outside of the Cartel, it’s probably Houston.

E-mail Jeff at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @ByJeffRich.

(featured photo via Sporting News.com)

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Creating Bracket Equity

Complaining about how each region of the NCAA Tournament bracket is structured has been a time-honored tradition for as long as I can remember.  2016 is not the year for that ritual to change.  Aside from the issues with who got in, and who was left out; the grouping of teams within regions becomes the hot topic.  Mike DeCourcy of the Sporting News wrote an excellent piece regarding the topic of bracket imbalance today.  While I agree with most of what he has to say, I thought I’d weigh in on the subject.

The major issue the higher seeded teams gripe about is the fact that their bracket is stacked.  It happens every year, and I liken it to the dreaded “Group of Death”, which occurs in any major international Futbol (Soccer) tournament around the globe.  It’s the idea of having too many of the best teams in one region, who ultimately eliminate each other; thus robbing the fans of the marquee match-ups late in the tournament.

This year, the East Region is coming under the most scrutiny.  In particular, the grouping at the top which includes historical powers, Indiana, Kentucky, and North Carolina, has been the focus of the clamoring masses.  Now, this could’ve been resolved without removing any of these teams from the region.

Shift Kentucky down to the three slot and West Virginia to the four; and there may have been some minor grumbling, but the headliner match-up of North Carolina vs. Kentucky for a spot in the Final Four would’ve been possible.  There are other ways to rectify this, but we’ll circle back to that.

In DeCourcy’s piece, he references a quote from John Calipari, in which he questions the seed that Texas A&M received, despite the fact that the Wildcats beat the Aggies that afternoon.  Again, while I agree that UK deserved a higher seed in this case, I caution in general to overvalue conference tournament results in seeding one team or another.

Far too often we see prominent programs have an off-year, put together an outstanding four to five-day run in the conference tourney and end up getting rewarded with much too high of a seed.  Taking nothing away from Kentucky again in this case, but the committee needs to ensure seeding is based on the entire body of work.

Two glaring examples of this I can recall are Syracuse in 2006; and Maryland in 2004.  The Orange were hovering around the bubble going into the Big East Tournament, then ripped off four straight wins behind red-hot Gerry McNamara shooting.  The committee rewarded them with a five seed, when in reality they were deserving of probably a seven or eighth. They were inconsistent all year, got hot, and got over seeded.  ‘Cuse went out and laid an egg to 12 seed Texas A&M in the first round.

Then there’s 2004 Maryland.  The Terrapins were bubbilicious heading into the ACC Tournament at 16-11, in all honesty, not Big Dance worthy.   Well, the Terps went out and won the ACC crown, and despite being on the brink of missing the tournament, they ended up with a four seed.  How does a team which proved how supremely average they were all year get a four seed?  Sure, they won a game, and then lost to Syracuse in the second round.

I’m a proponent of the concept that the results don’t justify the decision.  So regardless of what happened in those two examples, those teams weren’t worthy of the seed they received.  This type of error in seeding feeds the imbalance of the brackets.  The committee probably had more deserving candidates in those slots before the crazy tournament runs by those teams, but was blinded by late season heroics.   That’s a critical error when trying to structure equitable brackets.

Going back to what DeCourcy intimated earlier today, attempting to placate the higher seeds with a favorable location needs to be completely removed from the equation.  Seeding should be based on doing everything that can be done, to allow the best teams to navigate to the Final Four.

Sure, the East Region should be held in locations in the eastern part of the country and the other regions should follow suit.  And of course, if Kansas for example is the top seed as they are this season, they should be in the geographically appropriate region, but stop bending over backward to try to get as many top seeds in their actual backyards.

There’s no way to ensure this can accommodate all of the higher seeds, so it shouldn’t be done at all.  I think back to the 2007 NCAA Tournament.  Somehow as a six seed, my Louisville Cardinals ended up in Lexington.  Now despite the fact that the Cardinals were playing in their direct rival’s gym, they were only 45 minutes from home.  A pretty cozy location given their seed.

The point is somewhere in the process of creating that bracket, someone screwed up, and in an attempt to focus on location, they created a situation that could’ve screwed a more deserving team.  Remove the “close to home” factor completely from the equation; and the formula will become much simpler.

Jay Bilas was on Mike & Mike in the morning earlier this week, and he mentioned the concept of seeding the field in advance.  Place values of 1-68 on every team, one or two weeks before Selection Sunday, and as upsets happen in the conference tournaments, remove at-large teams from that list of seeds.  This is a pretty excellent and simple concept, which should be adopted without question.

Tie this in with what I proposed last week regarding the play-in games and you have a winning formula for crafting balanced brackets.  By seeding every team from top to bottom, you’re also assigning value within the seed lines.  Using this year’s bracket, Kansas, North Carolina, Virginia, and Oregon aren’t just the number one seeds.  They’re also 1a, 1b, 1c, and 1d.  Each and every seed line will have its own sub-ranking.

This will allow the committee to build the bracket so that if everything stays to form, then the highest ranking one seed would get to play the lowest ranking four seed and then mix and match the other top four seeds in each region accordingly.  Once that is established, and the bubble teams are all assigned to the play-in games on the 11 line, it will be significantly easier for the committee to work directly off of the preset rankings, in order to balance out the regions.

The only caveat I see to the rankings will be how the committee treats the mid-majors.  The inconsistency with which teams like Monmouth and Valparaiso are treated for example may continue to be the spanner in the works.  In my estimation, if the committee would begin to lean toward the deserving mid-majors, over the underachieving majors – Syracuse and Michigan serving as this year’s examples – there will be less difficulty in creating the rankings list and seeding properly.

Any mid-majors included in the list of 68 would surely fall closer to the bottom of the at-large grouping, allowing the higher seeds in the four to five range, to play less prominent schools which fall to the 12-13 line in the early rounds.  Ultimately that will lead to the elite programs navigating further into the field, giving everyone the marquee match-ups we’re looking for.  Creating the perfect bracket isn’t very difficult after all.

Email Damon at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @DamoKnowsSports.

Photo via Wikipedia

How Does SEC Basketball Compare?

College Football began its’ hibernation this week, but the good news is College Basketball returns, and it takes center stage until April. As we brought in the New Year, teams finished non-conference games, and started their conference schedules. The SEC, in particular, has already gotten into the conference swing of things. When we talk about College Basketball, the SEC rarely gets notoriety (other than Kentucky); in fact, most would consider the SEC average (if that) when it comes to basketball. I asked myself the question, “How does the SEC ACTUALLY compare to other conferences?” Then I thought, “Well, let’s analyze College Basketball to see how they really stack up.” Immediately, I thought up three phases of College basketball to compare; Head-to-Head non-conference records (against ranked opponents), style of play, and personnel. These criteria should give us a good picture of the conference hierarchy.

To see if you’re better than someone, what do you do? Play them right? Yes. Exactly. So, if we examine the SEC’s non-conference schedule, then we will know a little more about the SEC. Instead of listing all the teams the SEC played that were non-conference, I took note solely of ranked teams. To be fair though, the SEC, for the most part, only played non-conference teams that were ranked, and if they weren’t ranked, they had a reputation for success in the tournament. Notable ranked teams the SEC played so far; Kansas (3 times), VCU, Butler, Iowa State (3 times), Gonzaga, and Wichita State. Out of all the ranked games, the SEC went 8-10, and the SEC East went 6-7. At first glance, 8-10 looks decent, and could be consider good, but no, Kentucky had 4 of those wins (4-0 in fact). Assuming Kentucky is an outlier for the SEC, which it is, especially this year, the non-conference record looks pitiful. The only SEC wins against ranked teams other than Kentucky was Tennessee (Beat #15 Butler) and South Carolina (Beat #9 Iowa State). However, in the Big 12 challenge, the SEC went 4-6, and had multiple teams win. What does all this mean? It means top to bottom, the SEC isn’t near the upper echelon of college basketball conferences, but held its own against a solid Big 12 conference, in my opinion.

Now that we have examined the head-to-head battles, we can peer into the style of play the SEC demands. When I think style of play, I jump to offensive and defensive scheme, coupled with tempo. Let’s look at other conferences, make a generalization about Division I basketball, and compare that generalization to the SEC. Elsewhere in College Basketball, offenses are full of firepower. Teams are littered with great shooting, as well as big men who can score. Teams like Kansas, Texas, and Wisconsin (just to provide examples) have dominating big men. As far as shooters go, teams like Louisville, Duke, and North Carolina (typically) pride themselves in recruiting (shooters) the best. Games in other conferences tend to be higher scoring than the SEC. If there is one aspect of basketball the SEC lacks, it is the ability to score points. SEC teams usually don’t score over 80 points, in fact, most of the time, they have trouble-reaching 70, or sometimes even 60 consistently. I watched a game last week where the teams finished in the 30’s and 40’s. Some might say low scores indicate lackluster recruits, however, it has to do with style of play. The SEC puts more emphasis on defense than offense. A powerhouse like Kentucky is the best in the conference when it comes to defense, and sometimes, too good. The Wildcats have their own problems with scoring because they are so focused on defense. The Wildcats heavy defensive scheme can be extrapolated to say something about the conference as a whole. The SEC plays great defense, but not good enough offense to compete with other conferences from a style of play point of view. Kentucky can compete at the top level, but as a conference, the SEC cannot. Again, the SEC just doesn’t stack up in comparison to the other conferences style of play. My goal is not to say the SEC is terrible, but that College Basketball today has become a bit too up-tempo for SEC teams. Let the record show that College Basketball isn’t fast enough in my opinion. So, for the SEC to be that slow is significant. One way for the SEC to combat this is to create more shots for shooters. Another would be an up-tempo, aggressive scheme.

Picture yourself as an athletic director, and tell me which priorities would be at the top of the board for you. If you asked me, I would say great head coach, great staff, and recruit, recruit, and then recruit some more. What makes conferences like the ACC, Big 10, Big 12 and Big East so relevant? Coaches like Coach K, Tom Izzo, Rick Pitino, Bill Self, their staff, and great recruiting do. The next question…how close is the SEC to the rest of basketball with respect to these qualifications? As far as recruiting goes, the SEC is above average. Great shot blockers, point guards, and defenders come out of the SEC, but not a bunch of scorers do. The shooters want to go play for Duke instead of Arkansas, and that makes sense, because their play is a level above the average SEC team. Competition breeds success, and conferences like the Big 12, Big 10, Big East, etc. have a lot of competition. Comparably, the SEC is fairly bland when it comes down to it. Kentucky is always at the top, with Florida (sometimes) and everybody else behind that. When it comes to head coaches and staff, the SEC qualifies as above average again. John Calipari (Kentucky), Billy Donovan (Florida), Bruce Pearl (Auburn), Kevin Stallings (Vanderbilt), just to name a few, are the most prominent coaches in the SEC. SEC coaches, as a whole, are basically equal with the coaching staffs of other conferences. So, while the SEC can compete from a personnel standpoint, it can’t with respect to style of play or head-to-head.

The SEC doesn’t have a great non-conference record against ranked teams, runs a slow, defensive-minded game, and has above average coaching. Because the SEC is weaker in two categories, the only thing left to do is make it official. It’s true what they say; the SEC IS NOT as good as the other conferences. It’s important to note this recipe is only valid for the current season, but does say a lot about College Basketball. This might outrage SEC fans, but you can’t be the best at every sport. The recipe for SEC success is simple though. Hire better coaches, win important recruits, and then run a more aggressive style of play. Do those things and the gap might close a little bit. Until the SEC steps up its game, look for them to be on the outside looking in when it comes to College Basketball.

Did West Virginia find the right Athletic Director to fill in O Luck’s shoes?

What Oliver Luck did for the West Virginia Mountaineer Athletic Department will be a tough thing to follow. To me, he did a fine job as an Athletic Director for the West Virginia University. He helped secure WVU’s athletic future and ensured that WVU would not be relegated to second-class status once again. He has not been perfect; he is human after all. But he has taken a situation that could have literally relegated WVU athletics to obscurity for the foreseeable future and turned it into a net positive. I don’t believe their former AD, Eddie Pastilong, could have done that. Trust me, Pastilong could not have gotten WVU out of the Big East and into the Big 12. No, not at all.

Almost a month ago, Oliver Luck left his post as the Athletic Director of West Virginia University to take the position of executive vice president for regulatory affairs, a new position in the organization that the NCAA announced would oversee “academic and membership affairs, the Eligibility Center and enforcement.” Luck’s moves into a position that will essentially make him the No. 2 in command behind NCAA president Mark Emmert as part of a redesigned management team.

On January 5th, Gordon Gee, the President of West Virginia University, named their new Athletic Director in Shane Lyon. Lyon’s was also named associate vice president of the university effective in February.

Gee said Lyons, with nearly 30 years of administrative experience in intercollegiate athletics, is one of the most respected and skilled professionals in the field with extensive knowledge in strategic planning, compliance and policy implementation at the conference and national levels.
“We are delighted to welcome Shane Lyons back to his home state of West Virginia and to his alma mater,” Gee said. “He brings a wealth of experience in both university and conference athletics administration. In addition, as a graduate of West Virginia University, Shane understands what it means to be a Mountaineer. We look forward to him joining our team and leading our athletic department to new heights.”
For the past three years, Lyons has been overseeing the athletic department at Alabama, overlooking the day-by-day strategic leadership of Alabama Athletic Director Bill Battle.
The Crimson Tide also won seven national titles in five different sports – two in football, two in men’s golf, one in women’s golf, one in gymnastics and one in softball. He also has played a critical role in the hiring of four head coaches.

Prior to joining the Alabama staff in November 2011, Lyons spent 10 years as an associate commissioner at the Atlantic Coast Conference. At the ACC, Lyons focused on conference-wide compliance and academic initiatives, providing direct assistance to the conference’s presidents, chancellors and athletics directors in matters dealing with NCAA regulatory matters.

In addition, he served as the ACC’s human resource manager and was responsible for the administration, negotiation and mediation of the employee benefits program and managing the conference’s organizational policies and procedures. He was part of the administrative team for ACC events, including the football championship game, the men’s basketball tournament and men’s and women’s NCAA basketball events. He also completed a term as chairman of the NCAA’s Division I Legislative Council in addition to serving on other committees.

Prior to working at the ACC, Lyons served as associate athletics director for compliance at Big 12 member Texas Tech from 1998 to 2001. During that time, Lyons assumed responsibility for the leadership, administration and implementation of a comprehensive NCAA compliance program with emphasis toward rules education and extensive monitoring systems. He also served as oversight administrator for several of the Red Raiders’ athletic teams and had financial and operational supervision of the strength and conditioning, nutritional and sports medicine units.
Lyons began his career in college athletics in July 1988 as assistant commissioner of the Big South Conference. With the Big South, he was in charge of conference-wide compliance and championships.
“It is truly a dream come true for me to return to my home state and to WVU as director of intercollegiate athletics and associate vice president. I would like to thank Dr. Gee for the confidence he has placed in me,” Lyons said. “I have followed the Mountaineers closely ever since I left Morgantown after graduate school, and I have been consistently impressed with the success that WVU student-athletes have had on the playing fields and in the classroom, as well as the positive impact Mountaineer student-athletes have in the community.

“I am also impressed by the University’s continued commitment to student-athlete welfare, particularly regarding the major facility improvements that the athletic department has accomplished. I look forward to maintaining and enhancing the momentum generated by that commitment.

“As a leader, I will continue to push our department to strive for excellence in everything we do, and I am looking forward to the tremendous opportunities that lie ahead. I am inspired by the unparalleled support of Mountaineer Nation, and my family and I are very excited to become part of the Morgantown community.”

Now, Oliver Luck did so much for all athletics at West Virginia. He may have been the best AD the school has ever had. He got West Virginia into a great conference for all their athletic teams. He has WVU secured throughout the future of all of their programs. Getting into the Big 12 has made West Virginia University tons of money, far more than what the Big East could have provided them.

With what I have gathered, Shane Lyons is a great hire. The man certainly has been around in the NCAA for quite some time as you can see. It’ll be interesting to see how he can keep up this momentum that O Luck has established but I don’t see that being a problem with Lyons at all. With his background in the NCAA, he can handle the duties that he is responsible for. If there is a way that can better improve West Virginia University, I believe Lyons is the man to do it and he will make sure that West Virginia will be recognizable as long as he is there.





Bring Back the Backyard Brawl

Pittsburgh v West Virginia
College fans are gearing up around the country for the start of camp. Most fans have two dates circled on their calendars, the first game and the rival game, but what if you don’t have a rival, or you ‘ended’ your rivalry what’s next. This is case for the University of Pittsburgh Pitt Panthers and their fans.
The Panthers are looking forward to their 2014 season and home opener against the Delaware Blue Hens and no rival to set their sights on since their long time rival West Virginia is no longer on the schedule now or for the future. The “Backyard Brawl” was one of the oldest and greatest football rivals around (go ahead talk about the Michigan vs. Ohio State or Auburn vs. Alabama or even The Game with Harvard vs. Yale) but for my money and the level of hatred the brawl is unbeatable.
backyard brawl logo
The rival lasted through 104 meetings starting in 1895 and ending in 2011 with Pitt moving to the ACC and West Virginia moving to the Big 12. The schools were separated by only 70 miles but the distance and hatred between the fan bases was so intense and amazing and the games were electric in either venue. I attended several Brawls and was swept up in the excitement and am sad that the game is no more.
As I look through the Panther schedule I am hard presses to find an every year opponent to fill the void. I just don’t see how old Big East rivals like Syracuse could fill in, maybe going back a few years to when Virginia Tech and Miami were Big East rivals which would be OK, but Virginia Tech has Virginia and Miami has the other Florida schools. The other ACC Coastal Division members have rivals, Duke and North Carolina, Georgia Tech has Georgia.
Pitt and Penn State have scheduled a few games starting in 2017 but that is rival just isn’t the same as the Brawl. The possibility of the schools re-upping seems farfetched with each school needed to schedule nine conference games a year, but with West Virginia already floundering in the Big 12 and their fans disgruntled and the Panthers always at a disadvantaged competing against the Steelers for loyalty, maybe the schools should just do what’s right for them and their fans and invariably their wallets with attendance and merchandising sales going through the roof. That last part may be cynical but it is realistic and hitting a university in the pocketbook will get things done, so I say bring back the Brawl asap. It makes college football better.

The Best of Times; Remembering the Big East's Run With the "Big Boys"

With all this talk of committees and selection process, it’s hard to imagine college football ever used computers to pick its national championship games. Times have sure changed. The much maligned BCS era produced its share of controversy over the years, but for the old Big East (preceding the American), it wasn’t so bad.
The conference racked up a 9–7 record overall during that time in BCS games, with some huge wins along the way. While the conference was never considered the upper crust of college football, it sure had its time in the sun.
Below are the top five moments for the Big East/American between 1998 and 2013.
1) UCF wins the Fiesta Bowl. As far as wins go, it might not have been the biggest. After all, they beat Baylor, and on most years Baylor hardly passes as a division one program. But the Golden Knights winning a BCS game against a top-ten team in 2014 marks the high point for the American. Why? Because in no other year did the conference receive so much criticism, and have so much to prove, than in its inaugural year.
2) West Virginia embarrasses No. 3 Oklahoma in the 2006 Fiesta Bowl. No one saw that one coming. Not even WVU coach Rich Rodriguez, who bolted for Michigan before the game was even played. Interim coach Bill Stewart rallied his team to not just a win, but a good old fashioned beat down of the Sooners, 48-28.

3) Big East finishes 2006 season with a 5—0 bowl record. The only conference that year with a perfect bowl record was highlighted with Louisville’s Orange Bowl win over Wake Forrest. The Cardinals, Rutgers and West Virginia would all finish in the top AP top 12 that year.
4) Cincinnati goes 12—0 in the 2009 regular season. Any other year that doesn’t feature an undefeated Alabama and an undefeated Texas, and you might have lived to see the Cincinnati Bearcats in a national title game. When Nebraska blew the Big 12 title game in the final seconds versus Texas, their fate was sealed. Brian Kelly left the team a matter of days later and the Bearcats were outclassed by Florida in the Sugar Bowl.

5) Miami wins the 2002 National Title. The one and only a time a Big East team won a national title. It seems like a distant memory now that the Hurricanes were ever in the Big East, but they left a heck of an impression.
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