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Monday, September 17, 2012
Big East says it's still best hoops league

By Eamonn Brennan

Well, of course newly hired Big East commissioner Mike Aresco is going to say that. It's practically in his contract to do so. What is he supposed to say? "Actually, no, you guys are right -- the Big East used to be the best hoops conference in the country, hands down, but this latest bout with conference realignment has really left us bloodied. But that new-look ACC sure is strong!"

That is not the quote you're going to get from Aresco. Instead, what you get is what Aresco told the Associated Press before Saturday's Louisville-North Carolina football game:
"Is the Big East dead? That's utter nonsense," Aresco said. "You always have a perception issue to deal with and that's why we were out there, vigorously talking about what our conference is. We're not looking back, we're looking forward." [...] "We're going to be fine. We have a very bright future and vast potential. ... We have a ratings-proven product in basketball, a ratings-proven product in football."

"Nobody's going to argue that we're not the strongest basketball conference in the country," Aresco said.

Actually, yes, many people are going to argue exactly that. Many already have. Among them is our own Dana O'Neil, who penned a column on just this very topic following Notre Dame's departure last week. But even if you think the new Big East is going to be stronger than the new ACC -- a dubious claim, but one not wholly without merit -- let's not forget that for the past two years, top-to-bottom the strongest conference in the country hasn't been either. It's been the Big Ten. By 2012, it was hands down the strongest league in the country, according to Ken Pomeroy's calculations.

Which leads us down a familiar path: How, exactly, do you quantify the best league in the country? Is it the strength of the top teams? Depth of NCAA tournament contenders? Total top-to-bottom strength? Some combination of the three? The metric varies depending on who is making the argument. Which is why it's sort of a silly argument in the first place.

So let's settle on this: The Big East isn't going anywhere, basketball-wise; it still has an array of quality northeastern basketball schools and is adding the likes of Temple and Memphis, hardly hoops lightweights. It's in decent shape. But to argue the league is going to be stronger than it was in recent years -- or to argue that it is de facto going to remain the best league in the country without Syracuse and Pittsburgh, when it's not clear it was the best league in the country in the first place -- seems wildly optimistic.

Of course, being wildly optimistic, and selling that optimism to television partners, is Mike Aresco's job. He may not be right, but come on: What do you expect him to say?