Every year, there's a debate amongst the college basketball cognoscenti regarding the best conference in the land. Last year, with the PAC-10 falling on hard times and the ACC woefully top heavy and the SEC West a smoldering crater of mediocrity, that debate centered around two conferences: the Big East and the Big Ten (which, for the sake of accuracy and general smartassery, we'll hereinafter refer to as the Big 10/11/12).
Because both conferences feature incredibly strong programs at the top of the standings, the debate about the relative strengths of the conferences sometimes turns to the dregs of the respective leagues, with the Big Easters pointing to Iowa and Indiana and Northwestern as proof that the Big 10/11/12 isn't all it's cracked up to be, and the Big 10/11/12 supporters citing DePaul and South Florida and Providence for the same proposition.
The debate only intensified last season when the NCAA Tournament began and the Big East limped to the Sweet Sixteen with just two of its eleven qualifiers remaining in the field ... and then swung in the other direction when the Big 10/11/12 didn't advance a team to the Elite Eight. (And then the team that tied for ninth in the Big East regular season won the whole thing. Just in case you forgot.)
ANYWAY, to finally get to the point of the post: yesterday, with the news that Penn State basketball coach Ed DeChellis is leaving the Nittany Lions to take the head coaching job at the Naval Academy (no typo), the Big East may finally have its once-and-for-all trump card.
Consider the damning evidence when it comes to the conferences' respective bottoms of the barrel:
- The Big East features a team -- South Florida -- that has yet to win an NCAA Tournament game. The Bulls have Danced twice, most recently in 1991-'92, when they got whupped in the first round by Georgetown, 75-60. Starting this fall, the Big 10/11/12 will have a team that's yet to claim an NCAA Tourney win, too -- Nebraska, which has qualified for the field of 64 six times (most recently in 1998) but is still sitting on a bagel in the win column.
- But it doesn't stop there for the Big 10/11/12, because the conference features a program that's got the all-time debate ender when it comes to sustained putridity: Northwestern has fielded a basketball team for over 100 years, in some form or another, and somehow has never made an appearance in the NCAA Tournament. Northwestern is the only member of a BCS conference that holds that sorry distinction.
- And now Penn State has lost its coach to a service academy. In case you haven't looked at your calendar recently: it's 2011. If it's 1954 -- hell, if it's 1987, and David Robinson is playing center for Navy -- maybe this isn't a big deal. But the Naval Academy is currently a middling Patriot League team -- most recent records: 11-20 (6-8); 13-17 (7-7); 19-11 (8-6); 16-14 (9-5); 14-16 (4-10); 10-18 (3-11) -- that certainly isn't going to break the bank to pay its coach. And yet (at least to Ed DeChellis): that job was more attractive than Penn State's. Yikes.
I'm obviously biased (and I'll make no apologies for it), but counting amongst your members two of three BCS programs who have never won an NCAA Tournament game and losing one of your coaches to a Patriot League team seals the deal for me: the Big East is way mo' better.