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Thursday, March 11, 2010
Big East's double bye bye

By Dana O'Neil

NEW YORK – When the Big East elected to change its tournament format two years ago, coaches had two goals: to open the doors to everyone instead of cutting the bottom four out of the Garden party and to protect the league’s elite after a grueling regular season with an extended vacation via a double bye.

Only problem?

Pitt
Pitt's loss to Notre Dame was the third upset in three tries at the Big East tournament on Thursday.
The double bye has turned into a double bye bye.

With Pittsburgh’s 50-45 loss to Notre Dame here this evening, three of the top four teams (Syracuse and Vilanova being the other two) have been dismissed from New York City early.

Mix in Connecticut and Pittsburgh’s quick exits last season and it’s easy to see why some coaches think the so-called advantage has become a disadvantage.

The league toyed with changing the format once again this year, but in the end declined, figuring three tournament changes in as many years would be disruptive if not downright confusing.

With more bad results, though, that feeling might change.

“We tend to listen to our coaches,’’ associate commissioner Dan Gavitt said. “When they want something to change, it changes. If they think a change would be a better path going into the NCAA tournament, then I’m sure we’ll look at it.’’

Jim Boeheim has screamed the loudest in favor of a change, telling the New York Daily News earlier this week, “I think the double-bye is awful. It’s a huge advantage to be playing instead of waiting.’’

History proves Boeheim right. Even before the double-bye was installed, teams who delayed their tournament start have had their share of troubles.

Since 2001, 14 of the 36 teams given a one- or two-game day off have lost in their first time on the court.

If the tourney were revised yet again, the most likely scenario would be a first-round similar to the NCAA tournament: 1 vs. 16, 2 vs. 15, 3 vs. 14 and 4 vs. 13 on Tuesday. The winners would take Wednesday off while seeds 5-12 played and then the quarterfinals would roll on Thursday.

“It would also help the teams at the bottom potentially,’’ Gavitt said. “Trying to win five games here in five days is almost impossible.’’

But not everyone is so sure that the time off is the culprit.

Jamie Dixon, twice victimized in his first game in as many years, said the losses are more a testimony to the toughness of the league than the mini vacation.

"We just lost to one of the hottest teams in the country and they were a seven-seed," Dixon said. “I think this just speaks to the strength of the league."

Gavitt said that the feeling to eliminate the double bye wasn’t unanimous, that many coaches were in favor of the break.

Count Jay Wright among them. The Villanova coach sat out the first two days this year and last and said in both cases, the extra time off was more helpful than harmful.

“The NCAA tournament is important and this way, your top teams aren’t beat down,’’ Wright said. “I think we would trade that. We’d all trade that. We’re all ready. We’ve been playing so many games. There’s still a great advantage to only playing three games in a tournament and having a chance to win it.’’

Gavitt said the conversation most likely will come again in May at the conference’s annual meetings.