Confessions & Observations...
I am a bit late with the previews this time around. The preseason was pre-empted with news and speculation about team movements among three BCS conferences and two-to-three nonBCS conferences, a process that seemed at times to take all of the oxygen out of the room. An especially distressing development as I was again reminded of the miniscule impact basketball had on the calculus of movement. Time to take a quick review of last season...
Through a Looking Glass Darkly...
Ugh. It was a great season for the conference, as the Big East pulled down 11 invitaitons to the NCAA post season tournament, a record high for a conference, and with 68.8% of the members drawing bids, a record for post season money earned. Too bad the conference struggled in tournament play, moving only Marquette as far as the Sweet Sixteen last March. Though talk throughout the season centered on the notion that 11 bids were possible, I was a bit late to the party. I believed that the teams not invited would have to absorb a large number of losses (to insure most of the conference would have at least a 0.500 record) while those likely to draw the bids would have to split amongst themselves. Insuring the "perfect storm", the balance of Division I would have to relatively poor by comparison. It seems Division I was accomodating (unexpectedly) -- consider Butler, despite an unsteady 3-4 start that included a loss to Evansville, nevertheless ran to a consecutive Final Four, upsetting Pittsburgh before falling to #9 ranked (in conference play) Connecticut in the Championship Game. Within the Big East, sorting out the teams doomed to struggle was far easier than identifying the teams that would succeed.
If I predicted the fourth quartile to the team, I missed pretty badly elsewhere. Of the four teams projected for first quartile finishes (Georgetown, Pittsburgh, Villanova and West Virginia), two (Georgetown and West Virgnia) finished in the second quartile while one (sigh, Villanova) fell all the way to the third quartile. I did manage to identify one second quartile finisher correctly (Cincinnati, though I would not have guessed they would finish higher than Villanova) to go with two third quartile finishers (Connecticut! -- right answer, wrong reason -- and Seton Hall). Notre Dame, a third quartile team in my projection ran to an excellent 14-4 record to finish #2, good for a BET bye seed and first quartile finish. I correctly placed half of the conference (within a quartile), but missed by two quartiles on two teams. Ouch.
I decided to revert to a quartile-by-quartile preview, providing thumbnails of each team projected to finish in that specific quartile. The quartile previews will be posted over the course of this week. Other projects took time normally devoted to preparing the team-by-team previews, and I anticipated the addition of Texas Christian would preclude another oppportunity to preview the conference by fourths. Correct answer again, but for the wrong reason.